The neighbors kitty-corner from us were members at the same church. They terrified me.
The husband...lets call him Morris...was on an oxygen tank. In his younger years he had smoked quite heavily to the point where to be without the omnipresent oxygen tank would have suffocated him because of the damage done to his lungs.
He was a relatively mellow man, but when you are pre-teen hearing someone wheeze heavily and breathily between words while wheeling around a big ugly brown tank...well, it can be a bit scary.
But really, I always thought of Morris as harmless.
His wife on the other hand, I did not think of that way. I thought of her as a harsh, bitter, mean-spirited, sharp-tongued, scary woman. I tried to stay away from her as much as possible.
Dad, being the good-hearted, loving man that he is, tried to change my perception. He acknowledged her meanness but pointed out what incredibly difficult lives both Morris and Irene had led. Their families hated them and literally tried to have them institutionalized. Not because they had mental problems but because they wanted the meager possessions they would then be able to get their hands on.
Their children had been known to tell the grandkids, in front of Morris and Irene, that they wanted them to die painful, horrible deaths.
Despite a lifetime of having been treated by this first by their own respective parents, then by virtually everyone they had come in contact with, they were trying to improve themselves. In the loving congregation at St. Helens they found people who overlooked their flaws and showed love and compassion. They mellowed over the years.
They even hosted a few get-togethers at their place which were always well attended by church folk.
I say these things to point out I was wrong. I should have had the good heart shown by my parents, the Scotts, the Fischers, the Nelsons, the Allens, the Richardsons, etc.
It was very funny that for years she called Greg Fischer "Craig." Every time she did everyone would laugh. every so often someone would tell her his name, even write it down but to the day of her death she called him Craig.
But to the point of the story.
I wish I could say I did it voluntarily. And, in my own defense, perhaps two or three times it was. Usually when I saw Irene outside getting ready to do it herself. But honestly, more often than not it was not voluntary. Dad or Mom would send me down to mow their lawn.
They had a decent size lawn. It was a solid 35 - 45 minute job to mow it based on the length the grass had gotten to. I would not have minded that part.
What I hated was the prelude.
See, St. Helens is built on a rock. 6" at most below the surface in any given place you are going to hit solid rock.
Sometimes it stuck above the surface. One such outcropping was in the side yard. I could see the rock from our house a quarter block away. It was that big. But just in case it had not been obvious, they marked it. It had stakes marking it. Bright yellow rope. Astronauts on at least two space missions mentioned seeing it. Stevie Wonder thought his blindness was cured but it returned as soon as he stopped looking at this rock and its marking.
In short, there was no humanly possible way to avoid seeing that rock without going out of your way to avoid seeing it.
But every time before I mowed the lawn, Irene would give me the tour of the yard.
It started with that rock.
"There is a rock in the yard. Be very careful you do not hit it. It will wreck the mower blade."
Lion prides sunning themselves atop the expansive surface of the stone roared with laughter. I simply nodded.
"There is no need to mow this section," she would say, pointing to the boundary marked by 7' tall sticker bushes.
I already knew they were there...I had cuts all over my arms from picking blackberries so Mom would make a blackberry pie. This would have made more sense if I liked blackberry pie. I didn't. But for some as yet inexplicable reason, every year I would beg her to make a blackberry pie and she would promise to if I picked the blackberries. I had a wonderful Mom. She had a very stupid son.
"The edge of our property is here," she would say, pointing to where the long grass that had not been mowed all season by the Harts made it pretty obvious.
When I was smart I would acquiesce with a polite, "Yes, ma'am." When I was me...well, pointing up the foot drop between the Hart's yard and hers and saying, "Do I need to mow up there?" only made the prelude longer.
Then the boundary with her equally elderly neighbors, usually freshly mowed by their grandchildren, would be pointed out.
Then we would walk to the front...which had no yard. "There is nothing to mow up here."
Back to the back yard and over to the rock. Mike had his steam shovel parked atop it but she felt compelled to point it out again.
Then, when I was mowing the lawn, every time I headed towards that corner she would step out on the back stoop to watch and make sure I did not mow over that rock.
I would be lying if I did not admit I was tempted.
This went on week after week after week. Super hot days were worse. She would insist on giving me some concoction that was allegedly lemonade. It made Crystal Light seem like it has actual flavor. It made salt water taste sweet.
She would insist I drank it. And she would stand right there until I did...there would be no tossing it in the bushes and returning the empty glass to her. She had been forced to fight so hard for every little thing she had she was taking no chances on losing a glass.
She was trying to be nice.
Looking back, I wish I had been kinder to her. More patient. More caring. More like Dad.
On the other hand...that rock was pretty hard to miss.
One day after Morris had died and before Jim Moss spent several years caring for her, the lawn needed mowed. For whatever reason I was not there to perform the task. My older sister was.
By this point, Irene was no longer able to step into the lawn to give directions. The bright yellow rope had disappeared at some point.
And yes...the mower encountered the rock.
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