• Terry Groves

B.R.A.T.S. Pocket Money

I am certain our lawnmower had been built by the Romans from shields and swords after their final campaign. It was a horrible, all metal (even the wheels) monstrosity that I am certain was designed to punish ten year kids for all the transgressions their parents never learned of. And it was good at that.

I think too, that the grass grew so fast, faster than in any other part of Canada, just to compliment that contraption. With three of us boys old enough to push the ancient, noisy, squeaky, clattering bladed medieval, with emphasis on evil, machine around, I was only supposed to have to cut the grass every third time but it seemed my older brothers always had something else they needed to do when it was their turn. It probably wasn't that way, they probably did it as many times as I did but it didn't feel that way.

Being a single income family and with six boy to feed, there wasn't a lot of extra money laying around so we were always taught to take care of things to make them last, fix things that were broken, and to re-purpose things once they couldn't be fixed to perform their primary function. Mom and Dad had to be thrifty to make sure we were able to have the essentials. For me, a power mower was an essential. Unfortunately, I was only a tiny fart in the big windstorm that was our household priority list.

Sadly, once you were able to get the lawnmower moving, it did a pretty good job of cutting the grass. It was heavy so it had a lot of momentum. Trouble was, you had to stop it at each end of the lawn to turn it around. And, whenever a stick would get into the blades, it would jam them up, and the tires, causing you to come to a crashing stop. And cutting the grass in the ditch, don't even get me started on that monumental task. Up and down that ditch, back and forth, the entire exercise was designed to make my skinny little arms fall off, which they did frequently. Well, maybe not frequently, actually, probably never, but they felt like they did.

I saw my friends with their power mowers, fairly dancing through the chore, or, at least with one of those shiny, new yellow push mowers, the ones with rubber tires that had been built sometime after the pyramids were constructed, instead of my rusty, metal contraption that had likely been used by Adam to keep Eden trimmed up. I wanted a new mower but could not convince Mom and Dad that it was time to give up something that did still work.

Actually, I wanted a power mower so I could earn some money cutting other people's lawns. There was not enough money in the world to make me want to use our dilapidated ancient torture device to that purpose.

I thought of ways it could be re-purposed. Maybe the blades could be removed and used to slice bread, or cut up coleslaw, or threaten my brothers with when they stepped out of line and blamed me for it. Maybe we could tie a rope around it and use it as an anchor, but then we would have to buy a boat...not a bad idea.

Finally, one afternoon after having taken the handle in the gut one time too many after picking up an errant stick, I told Dad, "If you buy a gas mower, I will cut the lawn whenever you want. If I can use it to cut other people's lawns, I will buy all the gas and oil. I will keep it clean. I will fix it if it breaks. And then I came up with the clincher, "I will never complain about cutting the grass again."

2-stroke power mower
2-stroke power mower

Dad bought a gas mower. It was yellow, had a beautiful two-stroke Briggs & Stratton engine, had the most darling rope to wrap around the top in order to start it. I am pretty sure I crawled around behind him for a while, kissing the ground he walked on.

He talked me through how to operate it. How to mix the gas and oil, clean the air filter, dig the grass out from underneath, how to flip the little metal grounding tab that would shut the motor down, how to pull the spark plug, set the gap, clean it and reinstall. I lapped up all the knowledge as I planned my scheme to cut every lawn in the PMQs and make a ton of money. I was so excited I could hardly sleep that night. I loved my parents all over again.

And so began my real job. I had been delivering papers, continued to do so, but it was the mower that really put the money in the bank. I ran an ad in the base newspaper and pounced on the phone every time it rang, certain it was always for me and my services. At a dollar and a half for a regular lawn, two dollars for a big lawn, an extra dollar for raking, it didn't take long to get some customers.

What generally happened was, I would start cutting someone's lawn and then their neighbor would come by and ask how much to cut their's. This happened a lot. Some Saturdays I would have only one customer and I would start early to allow the chain reaction to begin. I would end up cutting five or six lawns.

I kept my pay in a jar on my dresser and I saw that jar fill with cash. When I needed gas, I would carry the gas can on the crossbar of my bike and ride to the gas station. It was a bit awkward but I always managed. Sometimes I would walk but that took a long time. I tried pulling the lawnmower behind my bike to jobs but, since I had to carry the gas can too, it was too awkward.

Then I heard about a kid who got hurt. He was cutting the grass on a hill, my dad explained, and he was pulling the lawnmower up the hill when he slipped and his foot slid under the mower. Goodbye foot. I never met this kid. Another kid was pushing the mower up a hill when he slipped. The lawnmower rolled over his arms, goodbye hands. I never met this kid either. I think their parents kept them hidden in the house or maybe traded them for whole kids. Anyway, the lessons stuck and I always cut across the hills.

I was always careful and am happy to report that I still have both my feet and all my hands. The worse I remembering suffering was one time when I held onto the tab used to stop the motor and got a nasty shock. I also learned that mufflers get really hot really fast and you don't want to touch them with your forearm.

That mower only lasted a few years, centuries less than the manual monstrosity, but it cut a lot of lawns and it did so without any complaints (well, not too many) from its operator. After we were transferred to Kingston, I began spending as much time fixing it as I was using it. I noticed some of my friends with nice green, 4 stroke mowers that had pull-start rewinds on them. It was time to convince Dad to upgrade the mower. What strategy would I use?

What did you do to make money when you were a kid?

2-stroke mower
4-stroke mower

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