“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
~from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
There’s empowerment in doing things yourself.
Last Saturday, I lined up the machines outside the garage. Weed whacker, leaf blower, power washer. Except for the lawnmower, I rarely use machines in the yard. I find them difficult to use and, in my hands, they are always temperamental. For years, it’s been a battle. But Saturday I had a goal. My mother-in-law had brought me vegetable seedlings to plant in the garden. (There’s nothing like fresh plants from your mother-in-law to create a sense of urgency.) My main goal was to get those tender seedlings into the ground before they dried up. The machines were going to help me attain my goal.
The raised beds weren’t ready for the season. There were weeds and leaves and dead stems from last year’s oregano bushes to clear before I could plant anything. Autumn leaves always congregate in a corner of the yard between the beds and the fence, making it difficult to rake. The leaf blower would be just the thing. Also, since the grass always grows the tallest closest to the wood frames around the beds and the space between the beds is too narrow to pass through with the mower, I would employ the weed whacker. Although it was true, this particular machine had proven itself my arch-nemesis in my past attempts to use it, I was feeling a little feisty myself; I was up for the challenge. And while I was at it and was going to be saving so much time, I figured I’d probably be able to power wash the vinyl siding at least on the porch.
I had looked forward to it all week. Knowing my husband and the kids would be busy, I was determined to do it all myself. I filled each with the appropriate gas and reviewed the steps with my husband. I know these are not complex machines, but because I never use them, I needed the tutorials again. Equipped with machines and directions, I confidently waved good-bye to everyone and set to work.
One by one, I tried them. I was careful to turn the right knobs the right way, in the right sequence, and then came the pull start. Grasp the handle, yank the cord, quick so the machine knows I mean business. My ears perk for the sound of the engine coming to life so I can be on my way cutting and zipping along to make my yard match the image in my mind. Nothing. No hum. I try again and again, each time more earnestly than the last, picturing the ease with which my husband manages to pull this same cord. Can I acquire that facility? I’ve been attempting it at least once every year. It doesn’t seem it will ever work for me. The motors and, consequently my dream of a tidy yard, remain dormant. I nearly throw my shoulder out. I picture myself in a sling.
Granted, I manage to get the power washer going, and it cooperates with me long enough to get the siding on the porch washed. But when I go around to wash the siding on the back of the house, the engine gives me the cold shoulder. Fine, I’ll try the other machines again. After all, my goal was to get the plants into the garden. I attempt the weed whacker again. Nothing.
What will become of us? Will the yard be overrun with vines, poison ivy, tick-laden grass?
I had wanted to achieve my goal on my own so badly. I don’t strive for absolute independence, but I had hoped to be able to reign victorious at least in the front yard so I could get those vulnerable veggies in the ground.
Independence is held in such high regard in our society.
Do we forget that we need each other?
My husband came home to find the familiar exasperated look on my face, the defeated slump of my posture. What happened? He calls out as he approaches from the pick-up truck. As if he didn’t know. This happens to me all the time. He was giving me the benefit of the doubt. Sweet man.
He gets his earplugs and gloves, grabs the blasted weed whacker, pulls the cord. It roars to life on the first try. I have been blessed with a strong, smart, handy husband who knows how to run these machines and is strong enough to do so. He casts me a furtive glance. I shrug my shoulders and say, See why I need you! Zip, zip. He trims while I pull weeds and prune roses.
Maybe some people find they can indeed accomplish every aspect of their projects by themselves. Perhaps they even enjoy it. I do not. I cannot easily work these machines on my own. And I guess I don’t really want to. After my quarrels with the pull starts, I settled into my low tech gardening with rakes, pruning shears, and my own two hands. There was something so peaceful about spending time in the yard together with my husband. Working towards a common goal.
Several years ago when he was in the Navy Reserves, very often he would be away from home. He told me I didn’t need him to be home because I was competent, capable of running the house and caring for the kids while he was away. I’m sure he said this to set us both at ease and help us not miss the other so much. I managed, but I would rather have had him home. I know I was glad he was there to help Saturday.
At the end of the day, we looked out on our little yard we had worked on together. We admired the sunset on the pond, clinked our glasses, and toasted our success. It takes both my handy, mechanical and a little less-than-patient husband and me who is definitely not as strong or mechanically-inclined, but more patient to make things run smoothly around here. Machines don’t always work, but cooperation always gets the job done.
(first published in The Plymouth Connection, June, 2019.)