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Bicycles, lawn mowers & Valentine's Day

All couples have stories about how they met or the things that brought them together.  Sometimes these accounts are straightforward boy-meets-girl stories. At other times, they seem to indicate that mysterious external forces somehow conspired to bring the couple together. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share a story about how my wife Janice and I were brought together that definitely belongs in the second category.

When I was growing up, we had a couple of rules around our house that made us chafe (don’t all children?). One was that you couldn’t have a bicycle until you were ten years old.

In the world I grew up in a bicycle was very important. Not only was it untold hours of fun and entertainment, it had something to do with your status. To a significant degree, you were what you rode. You can imagine our “shame” as we tried to keep up with our bicycle riding friends on our roller skates and self-propelled scooters (not the trendy motorized things people ride today).

Having a bicycle also had quite a bit to do with independence and growing up. If you had no bike it meant you were behind the curve in these areas. No one enjoys behind the curve at any time in life, but when you are young and sensitive to these kinds of things it can be especially painful.

The second rule had fewer social implications but was nonetheless just as stifling: we weren’t allowed to have a power lawn mower. I don’t mean a riding mowerI mean one with an engine on it. My dad’s thinking on the mower and the bicycles had a common threadhe thought they were both too dangerous. My father definitely had an overly cautious side to his personality but in fairness he had four children, three of whom were boys. I suppose he thought he had to take some kind of preemptive measures. The frequent trips we made to the emergency room probably sealed the deal for him. 

When we cut the grass we used what was known as a cylinder mower. As opposed to the rotary blade on most power mowers that operates on a vertical plane, the blade on this mower laid horizontally and was propelled by gears connected to a wooden roller. The roller laid behind the two wheels and made contact with the ground. As you pushed the mower, the roller rotated and turned the gears which turned the blade. This meant you weren’t just pushing the mower to move it—you had to push a little extra because you were also powering the blades. It wasn’t like any of us were going to die from the work (it was of course, very good for us), but I do remember developing more than a blister or two from the mower’s hard wooden handles. The cylinder mower was a product of the last part of the nineteenth century and as far as we were concerned, it should have stayed there.

The most ingenious part of my dad's arrangement was this: we had a large yard and there was no way we could cut it in a single day. It had to be done in sections and usually took a few days between ballgames, bad weather and whatever else was going on. This meant as soon as we were finally finished with the last section of the yard, the first section was ready to be cut again. Mowing the yard was something we never finished! 

I’ve always been one of those people who believes you can’t judge the true significance of something at the time it occurs—you have to hang around and see how things work out. In this case, I’d have to say my father knew exactly what he was doing. Not only did we all make it safely to adulthood, but as it turned out one of the first things I learned when I met Janice was that her father owned . . . a bicycle and lawn mower shop. She was obviously perfect for me (and she was).
   

We’ve been sharing Valentine’s Day ever since.  Happy Valentine’s Day to my Schwinn sweetheart!

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