Butch . . . the Lawn Mowing Expert!!!

How is an 11-year-old farm boy going to earn money? That was the question I was faced with in 1959. Sure, I helped Mom and Dad on the farm doing all kinds of chores, but the pay was meager to say the best . . . a nickel here . . . a dime there . . . maybe a quarter for an all-day barn-cleaning job. Most of the time it was “Atta boy, good job, work is good for you!”

   However, I was a Topps baseball card collector. It took a lot of nickels to try to get a Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron . . . plus I was addicted to sawdust sundaes at the drug store . . . 15 cents, and I needed a cherry phosphate to wash it down . . . another 10 cents. Then Dad came up with a great idea . . . I could mow yards in town for elderly people. He would supply the gas and haul our mower to town in the back of the old Dodge truck . . . I will do the rest! We owned one of those heavy motorized reel mowers at the time. It was hard to handle, but Dad bought me a lighter rotary mower at Warren’s Hardware, and it was much easier to push.

   My first customer was Bernice Wray, our landlady. Her husband Damon “Skeet” Wray had passed away on our farm one very hot afternoon in 1952 when I was 4 years old. It took about an hour to mow her lawn, and she paid me $1. However, if I swept her sidewalk I received another 25 cents. Mrs. Wray always insisted that I come inside when I was done to have iced tea and some of her homemade cookies. I think she was just lonely and wanted someone to talk to. One day, I accidentally mowed down some of her flowers that she had been growing for the Garden Club . . . OOPS! From then on, she usually stayed outside and supervised.

   I mowed four other yards in town . . . for Charles and Pauline Marshall, Olive Cohee, Dr. Southworth-the dentist, and my Grandma and Grandpa Dale. I was paid a dollar for each one, except for Mrs. Cohee, who paid me 85 cents. When I was mowing the dentist’s yard one time, I found six large sponge mushrooms, which I kept and didn’t tell him. That was payback for the time he jerked two of my baby teeth out when he was drunk, and the teeth landed on the floor of his office! I also mowed two other yards out in the country for Forrest Flaningam and Cecil Needham . . . seven yards for a total of $7 a week . . . I was rich! To celebrate, I purchased an entire box of baseball cards–20 packs, which cost a dollar total . . . still no Mickey Mantle though!

   Well, it was good income for an 11-year-old kid back in the day. During two summers I also sold quart jars of honey for Mr. Flaningam at $1 per jar . . . with him giving me 50 cents for each jar sold. I cleaned out the kennels at the veterinary office one year . . . 50 cents an hour. I tried delivering newspapers one time, but it was too many headaches for very little money. In the winter I shoveled snow from the sidewalks for older folks, but wasn’t paid much for that either. And one year I swept and mopped the floor of my cousin’s beauty shop.

   As I grew older, I gave up the mowing jobs, which my brother took over. At age 13, I could detassel corn in the summer for DeKalb . . . Hot and dry . . . or wet and muddy . . . leaf cuts, bugs, sunburns . . . exhausting work, but at 60 cents an hour, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week . . . for a total weekly gross income of $36 . . . many teenagers like me were thrilled to make BIG MONEY! That went on for three years. Of course, I also helped other farmers bale straw and hay . . . $1.00 an hour and all you could eat at the noontime dinner meal.

   But after all was said and done, I enjoyed mowing yards the most. After I was married in 1966, I continued to mow our yard with a push mower until the early 1990s. The yard at the first house we purchased took four hours to mow. I finally broke down and purchased a cheap used riding mower, which lasted two years. From then on I have purchased John Deere riding mowers. I love to mow. A person can do a lot of thinking on a riding mower. And when I’m done, it’s time for iced tea and cookies! John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 35 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history