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  • “You ever look at your father when he mows the lawn?” My mom asks me while she stares out the back door one early summer morning watching the lines form in the grass as my father went back and forth paying attention to his tracks.
    “He’s always smiling to himself. I swear that tractor makes him happier than our twenty nine years of marriage have. He’s such an asshole, but if that’s what makes him smile…”
    I was eating my cereal, and the only thing I could smell were the blades of freshly cut grass. It was a scent that returned every warm season, the combination of gasoline and earth and it was always a reminder of my father. I watched him go back and forth while I slowly spooned myself another mouthful of cereal, and I noticed that he was actually smiling. His face bent from an ear to ear grin that I never saw anywhere else but only when the grass was long enough for a trim.
    He was always a stoic man, either stoic or angry, and more times than none I remembered his face as tense. He had a habit of grinding his teeth when he got mad, where his jaw bones would move in round motions, sometimes enough that his ear lobes would move too. The only times his face seemed looser was when he rode the tractor. My mother always told me that I was a lot like him because my face always gave my feelings away. I didn’t like listening to her explanations much when she told how much I was like him.
    He wasn’t wearing his shirt as the sun was strongest in the back yard with fewer trees than the front and he would be coming inside soon with freshly purple shoulders for an iced tea break. His age was starting to show in his gut even though he didn’t drink. The dog barked in between the mowing of the back yard and the front yard and finally the engine cut off and there was nothing but the scent of summer cropping and silence. Later on he would take the basement broom to the metal guard over the blades and push the accumulated dirt and dust onto the driveway, wheel it inside the garage, and give it a good talking to before shutting the lights off. My father and I never spoke much and when we did it was over the most meaningless things like the weather.

    “My father’s having a hard time with that tractor belt again…might go down there for the afternoon and fight with him over it once I’m done mowing. Might even take it down to Clark’s for a tune up. God forbid that damn machine, been running on and off for seventy years, ‘bout time we plan its funeral but he won’t think about pulling out a dime for one of those John Deer deals,” my dad says through the back door.
    It was very common for both my grandfather and father to mow their lawns on the same day during the summer weekends. Living in the same small town all those years, never seeing anything else, and having a passion for machines…it was bound to be that way.
    The family always had a habit of using old machines until they stopped working, even if they were unmatched with the current times of household appliances and yard machinery. Mom was still using the kitchen mixer from 1952 even after the vintage prong plug made the wall outlet spark and briefly electrocuted her.
    “Oh! It only lasted a second…Christ! I’m still alive. We’re not in Europe, an American plug is an American plug!”
    “But mom, it’s from before you were b o r-...” I said, rolling my eyes.
    “Don’t you tell your mother when she was born! I’m telling you a mother knows how to cook, and I’ve been cooking longer than you’ve been breathing. I’m not going to let a little zap keep me from these recipes. I was watching the Today show this morning and I’ve learned a great recipe for home made…..”
    Every time my mother got into the conversations of how she’d been doing everything longer than I’d been alive, I wondered if just because she’d had more time to do them if she was any better at them than I could be. Her explanations of her cooking knack reminded me of the many times I accompanied her to the store for ingredients, gripping the door handle as she cut people off on the road and she would always say “Now I’ve been driving longer than you’ve been alive, no need to be a nervous wreck over there…”
    While my mother started her new recipe and the tractor kept buzzing by, I headed back towards my room before I could know what her latest dish was. I suppose I could have had more interest. I was always reminded that homemade potatoes with delicious lumps, birthday cakes…they were all creations of my grandmother’s kitchen mixer. It rattled the counter until the cabinets would open by themselves. My dad never supported her devotion to 1952, even if it was tied to his mother who passed away. Muffins were too dry; pie fillings lacked that something extra after dinner.
    “Wanna lick the beater? Vanilla pudding…” she asked, standing there by the kitchen sink holding out the beater without looking at me, unaware that I had snuck back to my bedroom. She swirled the dish rag around the soap suds.
    “I can’t believe you’re still using that thing…don’t you think you should…” I yelled from my room.
    “A-ha!” she jittered as she found the next ingredient in the cupboard above the stove.
    Besides the one tornado that ever almost, practically, nearly touched down in our town in 1994, there was one other thing that really rattled the doors in their frames of the house. That was Gravely, and he came into our family in 1971. Gravely was a model 408 white tractor, and he had an eight horsepower engine. The sound of that engine still hums in my head and brings me back to the summer mornings of my childhood.
    In 1971, Grand Dad and his father bought twin white Gravelys and they went on for months about their purchases. Down at the polish club, my grandfather spoke so much about Gravely that word had it him and my grandmother had newly adopted and forgotten about their own son, my father who was twelve at the time and hiding cigarettes in his sock drawer.
    When my great grandfather died, my dad and my uncle tossed a coin to see who got the machine. My dad is just a younger, less grumpy, but still grumpy, version of the man who came before him. They spent a majority of my childhood working on the up keep of those tractors and I never quite understood it. My grandfather even had a blade sharpening station in the back of his garage and I remember all the days that my dad spent swearing in the garage when he couldn’t get the mower blades off of Gravely. When he did finally get them detached, he would come in the house with black hands and grab his truck keys and take them down the street to my Grandfather’s to have sharpened.
    I learned to drive on the Gravely, but I never learned how to mow the lawn. My older sister tried to drive the Gravely, too, but failed miserably. She was a cheerleader and that day was only a reminder that those types of girls aren’t meant to do those types of things.
    The morning was bright and chilly and after breakfast dad was having his morning smoke, reading the newspaper, perched up on Gravely of course.
    “Hey Dad, do you think I could finally learn to drive the tractor…you know…not learn to mow…just learn to drive, take a few spins around the yard?” I asked shyly.
    “Go get your mother and sister, I don’t see why not.” He flattened his cigarette butt on the cement floor of the garage and I ran up to the house.
    Minutes later I hear my sister squealing down the stairs, “But if you learn to drive it then I have to, I’m older!”
    Sitting on the seat of Gravely sent vibrations through my body as the engine ran in the garage and filled it with the pungent scent of gasoline. I wondered years later why my dad smiled when he was riding it. With my mom and sister standing to the side of the cars in the driveway, my dad explained to me that it was pretty simple, just had to keep the mower blades up because after all I certainly wasn’t going to mow the lawn. There were two speed settings on the 408 model. One of them had a picture of a turtle and the other setting had a picture of a jack-rabbit. One to crawl, two for speed. Suddenly I became afraid. The yard was huge and the hills were pretty steep.
    “Why don’t we let Molly try first?” I asked and stepped down from the tractor.
    The next thing we all knew Molly was in full throttle, in jack-rabbit mode, jetting out of the garage towards the steepest hill in the yard. Our yard featured two large rocks. We called them the Ice Age rocks, they were just that huge. Molly pulled the key out of the ignition as my dad screamed “Brake Molly! Brraaaaake!”
    There went Gravely, up and over the biggest rock in the yard. The old stone served as a ramp and the tractor landed on its side, blades exposed. Molly went rolling down the hill crying. My mom and I ran after Molly and Dad sprinted towards Gravely.
    “Fuck you, Dad,” Molly said and limped toward the house while my mother followed her and I stood there on the hill and watched my dad roll Gravely over and inspect it.
    Sooner or later we would have to say goodbye to Gravely; that his very name implied the machine’s own demise. The day Gravely stopped running was the day the lawn stopped getting mowed for nearly a month. My uncle came by that day with his rusty Ford pickup and hauled Gravely away. Dad stood in the driveway, barefoot, sweat on his upper lip, and watched his brother steal away his favorite toy. For the first few weeks following that he began to measure the grass in daily increments convinced that the lawn was being Miracle-Grow induced by God to grow faster than ever before. Without a replacement, the grass grew pretty damn tall. Cars started to drive by slowly. Everyone was accustomed to the constant upkeep of the yard, marveling at the sides of the driveway which were carefully trimmed and cropped by Gravely’s accuracy. I began finding my dad smoking in the garage flicking his butts here and there talking to Gravely’s ghost. Mom never got concerned while she spent more time with the 1952 mixer.
    John Deer took the place of Gravely. All of those orange and green machines, the shiny rust free mower blades, the hair on the tires, the headlights, all of that just wasn’t what happened in 1971. My father spent $1200 on a bulky orange grass chopper, with headlights. There were no more smiles when he mowed the lawn for quite some time. Instead of calling it John or the Deer, he called the orange space taker in the garage Dick. Big orange Dick ran like a beauty. There was no more loose squeaking seat, no wobbly lever that would get the mower deck stuck, and no horrible idling sounds out on the back hills under the yard’s power lines. (Gravely never handled the rocks up there well and it could have been the rocks that killed him.) Summer and spring became quiet during mowing time. It became startling when we couldn’t find my dad and then suddenly his head would cruise by the living room window in a levitating sort of way. When he couldn’t be found at night, he was outside riding Dick with the headlights on.
    Well after the departure of Gravely and the investment in Dick, my dad started jogging daily, determined to work off the stomach he acquired all those years sitting on the tractor. He would run up the street and lap around the town’s high school until he finished five miles. He’d come home sweating.
    I was away at school a few springs ago and one night while studying I opened my phone to find a picture of Gravely, on display in the middle of the baseball field up the street from my house back home at the high school. Seconds later my phone lit up from a text message that said, “Look what I found!” It had been years since my uncle drove away with Gravely. I had forgotten about it. Just when I saw the picture, the hum came back into my head.
    The next weekend I took a drive home towards the shore. My dad insisted I put aside everything and go with him to confirm that the machine in the middle of the ball field was indeed Gravely, the one and only 1971. My dad parked his truck on the side of the road and we walked through the woods towards the field even though there was a sidewalk.
    “See it? See it?”
    “Yeah, I think that could be it.” I said.
    The closer we got to the beast, the more obvious the rust became. Someone tied a ratty rope from the mower blade shield to the lever, a contraption to make up for its faulty mechanics. Gravely sat with the sun beating down on its newly replaced seat. Clearly someone had been using Gravely all these years. He’d been maintained red neck style.
    Nothing came out of my dad’s mouth as we stood there in the dirt between second and third plate for twenty minutes just looking at the thing. On the drive home I expected the discovery to be a reunion for my dad. If not a reunion with an old smile I hadn’t seen in quite some time, at least a reconnection to what once was. I thought about the odd perplexities of the town. How small and vacuous it was becoming to me. That’s when I knew I had to get out for good. When machines die, they don’t die. They can come back to life. Hand me downs become hand me ups. Blades are over used, sharpened, and replaced and time takes over everything else.
    “You think you could take a picture of me up on old Gravely? It saddens me that someone would just leave him here like this.”
    “Sure Dad, go ahead…” I took the picture of my dad sitting on Gravely with my cell phone.
    I received updates of Gravely’s whereabouts from my dad through two worded text messages for the next few weeks while I was at school. “Still there,” he would say. Gravely sat basking in the sun for almost three hot weeks, then one day when my dad was on his way home from work, he saw that the tractor was gone. I took one last drive home and as I pulled into the driveway I noticed the lines in the lawn. It was like Dad was trying out a new pattern of mowing, something in him snapped. As I got closer to the house I saw the two of them in the garage.
    “Hey Dad, I’m home for the weekend. What’re you up to?”
    “Just switching a dead bulb in Dick’s headlight, owner’s manual doesn’t tell you they die every other mow…but then again who mows at night?”
    “Go figure.” I said. “Did you ever find out who left Gravely out there?”
    “Still asking around, no one seems to know anything. I swear that Uncle of yours had something to do with it.” He said while focusing on the inside of the headlight. “Men and machines, people don’t get the connection, Gravely…the memories....Now I’m riding around on big orange Dick, a dick with headlights and it just feels so wrong.”
    “Nothing’s ever wrong, Dad, nothing.”
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