I’m shirking my Yard Sale duty to write this. While Mom and the kids are selling the neighbors the stuff we bought from them at their last yard sale, I’m sitting on the porch typing away while the quaking aspens chatter in the light summer breeze. It’s such a beautiful day that I’m near to forgetting why we’re even having a yard sale-it’s because up the street they’re having a garage sale and we need a garage. I’m just kidding.
This is what happens at a yard sale in Alpine, Utah: The counselor in your bishopric drives by with a trailer hitched to his truck. He stops and jumps out and says “Hey, we’re taking some bikes to Deseret Industries. Want to save us a trip and just sell’em?” So we unload the bikes and one of them, the mountain bike, I’m keeping, one BMX-ish one my son John is keeping, and little Adwen is keeping the sunflower yellow cruiser with fenders. We have in the last hour sold Addie’s old bike (which she has never learned to ride-now she’s already ripping up the sidewalk with the new cruiser) to a little girl visiting from Nebraska and this afternoon we’ll take my old and busted one to Deseret Industries (the bike our neighbors gave me when it was still really nice about a week after they moved in).
This delightful perversion of capitalistic principles puts me in mind of something I shared with you forty-three months ago. (I guess I can’t be accused of plagiarism if I steal a few paragraphs from myself.) This is from Backstage Graffiti 97, a column called “ZION SWAPS”:
The Clothing Swap up at the church was kind of in-character for our ward. (I had just made major scores at the First Annual Bi-ward Clothing Swap.) Every summer we have a Produce Swap, where people bring whatever surplus they have of tomatoes, green beans, or artichokes, and pile them at the Bench’s house on a, well, bench that’s especially for the piling upon of surplus tomatoes, green beans, or artichokes, and walk off with whatever they have a dearth of. This persists through most of the summer, until the program is rendered irrelevant by the fact that from August on, ward members routinely lock their cars when they park in the church parking lot, because if they didn’t, they would come out after three hours to find their cars filled to the dome lights with zucchini.
(Nobody brings cherries to the Produce Swap, because the Browns give everybody cherries. Nobody brings eggs, because the Wilcoxes underestimated how providential thirty-five chickens could be, and they deliver them door-to-door ((Brown ones! Green ones! Yellow ones! Blue ones!)). And nobody brings jalapeo peppers anymore, since that one lawsuit against the Piersons.)
We have a kind of informal Equipment Swap going. The Benches (the actual neighbors, not their furniture) have always swapped with us. This year they’ve swapped us a huge garden plot for… um, well, I guess we’ll have to think of something (maybe past advice on guitar purchases for their kids? Yeah, that sounds good). The first few years they lived next to us, they used our lawn mower. (I think I wrote a Backstage Graffiti column back then called “The Lord’s Lawn Mower.” Check the archives. ((It’s not there. Maybe it was an elders quorum lesson, instead. Or maybe it was just an idea for a blockbuster Broadway show. Anyway, it felt like the Lord’s lawn mower because it was just this blessing we had and the Lord must have had some reason for letting us have it-I’ve been playing the Lord’s guitars for decades.)) ) This spring, Tom Bench saw me trying in vain to start said lawn mower and wheeled his over, saying, “Hang on to this-just treat it like it’s yours.” You can’t truly appreciate the kindness, here, until you realize that he’s an eyewitness to how I treat mine (or, in this instance, the Lord’s-because it replaced the old Lord’s lawn mower). There could be several columns here about mostly unilateral Bench Swaps.
In this same spring, I was out tilling the little patch of garden that’s on our actual property with my sister’s tiller, a pretty heavy-duty article. Then Dave Healy suddenly drove in on his fair-dinkum farm tractor, which is very nearly the size of my garden, and sank his disks about two feet into the soil and before long we had Nestl’s Quik. (I kind of think he showed up because earlier in the day he’d seen me over his back fence tilling the garden of Linda Mattfeldt two yards over. Linda is the recent widow who, whenever she has a bad day at work, goes shopping for dresses for our three-year-old Addie.)
So this month I’m running with this “The Lord’s Lawn Mower” idea. Here’s a story from a couple weeks ago.
25 May 2013
“Mainly to help John Riley (our 12-year-old son) succeed with a stiffish lawn-mowing contract he’s taken on, the whole family rode in Uncle Ron’s truck down to Duff Shelley’s in American Fork to buy a used Toro mower for a hundred bucks. Our old lawn mower had lost its drive and its edge and, even with all the sharpening I could do, has pretty much been beating the grass to death for the past several years rather than actually cutting it. No, I think for the last year or two it’s just been scaring it to death.
“We unloaded the Toro right on John’s job site and I hogged about half the task just because operating it is such a joy.”
At Duff’s we also saw both gas and electric edgers. I think there are electric mowers, too. When I first moved into our cabin on the corner nineteen years ago and saw how little lawn-mowing there would be, I bought an acoustic mower. I remember some little kids that saw me out there pushing it around and stopped and stared through the fence for a while. They’d never seen anything like it. They said, “Why are you using that?”
“Why aren’t you using, you know, a machine?”
I think I said “This is quieter.” They rode away on their bikes (acoustic), while shaking their heads (also acoustic).
Now this Toro (gas), also must be “The Lord’s Lawn Mower.” Mainly because its purchase was enabled by a gift of lettuce. You may want an explanation. I won’t make you ask. We have a kindly neighbor up the street who, in the spirit of the Produce Swap, drops by whenever he has a surplus of something we don’t grow. (We don’t often have anything he doesn’t grow, but when we do he’s welcome to it. Sometimes we even grow other people’s stuff-a few years ago Sister Stein’s tomatoes and this year Sandra Katzenbach’s.) And sometimes, even way outside the growing season, our friend stops by with a gift of lettuce. This would be little bundles of twenty-dollar bills. He must know that we have never, ever, grown lettuce well.
So when John needed a Toro, we could get him one.
“Ah!” you say, “Off he goes to the Bates’s lawn, to engage in good ol’ American Way Capitalism. Hoo-rah!” Nope. The Bateses pay him three times what the work is worth. “But these principles are sacred! Supply and Demand! Return on Investment! Trickle-down Self Interest!” Not in Alpine, it would appear. Or in, well, Zion either.
So your grass needs mowing? If you aren’t willing to pay John three times what it’s worth, then the only alternative we have to offer is for me to do it for nothing. Because it’s the Lord’s lawn mower.