1960′s in a Canadian suburban town. Nearly every house sports a huge, square, 4-door sedan. On the weekend, the sound of children playing in the street, and lawnmowers, overshadow the sounds of birds. It smells like fresh-cut grass. Families work around the yard on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, like clockwork, every weekend, in unison.
Lawn care is one activity that children seem to enjoy. Depending on their age, they may help or simply imitate mom or dad. Give little Timmy a plastic rake and he will rake for hours. He does not need to understand the purpose of this activity, or the reasons why humans work so hard at preserving a perfectly neat yard; he is happy merely because he was allowed to take part in a gown-up activity. What an honor!
On weekends, in the 1960′s suburb, little boys and little girls ignored their toys and sometimes even ignored their friends in order to work in the yard. This was important stuff. It had to be, otherwise mom and dad would not have put so much energy into it. They helped without question. At that time, without question, we applied yard maintenance practices that would make most of us frown today, and many of us downright mad.
Garage walls were lined with yard tools. If you went on a bicycle ride on weekends, you could see every single tool collection beyond open garage doors and men, mostly, going in and out to fetch or return equipment. They filled wheelbarrows with garden tools of all sorts. Few had a garden and none had a tool cart. These tools were used to remove weeds from around the driveway and remove from sight leaves and anything that was not grass, especially those beautifully cheerful dandelions. For your information, in French dandelions are called “pee-in-bed.” I guess we did not have much respect for this flower or those who named it knew something about consuming it that we did not know.
Once a chore began, the wheelbarrow had little use, other than to serve as a wagon for children to play with if dad let them. Most did. Every house had a wheelbarrow, but we did not have garden seats because there were very few gardens and it did not occur to anyone to sit. What was popular then were flowers. You could find more varieties of flowers at the lawn and garden store than anything else. Flowers and trees. Landscaping plants. A garden supply store for a town with less than .0005 gardens per inhabitant. Someone probably thought, “If I build it, they will come.”
By dawn, stacks of huge lawn garbage bags piled up at the end of driveways along the street. You could almost measure who had accomplished the most work by the number and size of the bags. They sat there, like big, puffy exclamation marks saying, “There. The chores are done. This is proof.”
As children, we sought to carry the largest bags to the curb and hoped there would be plenty of witnesses amongst our friends and neighbors to see with their own eyes clear evidence of our strength and accomplishments. In reality, and everyone knew this but it was fun to imagine otherwise, the bags were filled with grass or leaves, depending on the season.
When I think about this today, I wonder how this practice could have been so matter of fact even back then. We spent entire days raking grass, making piles and then filling one garbage bag after another; bags that were then picked up by the municipal garbage disposal trucks and brought to landfills. Was this strictly a suburban practice, I wonder? It had to be.
Perhaps there was no reason to use cut grass and leaves. No garden. No compost bin. Just a yard with some flowers and trees and an image to keep up. Today, working in the garden or even just planting flowers around the house is not so much about keeping a neat yard as it is about connecting with the land. Ha! I’ve got it! Once you connect with the land, once that sort of relationship takes root, it is not possible to throw any of it in the garbage, is it?
Those 1960′s yard chores were mostly that; chores. I am certain it was enjoyable, but it was akin to a sort of moral obligation as a homeowner more so than a moral obligation to the land (or to self). The yard was a fixture, nothing more. At least this is how it was in my neighborhood and the very thought of this is most awkward today.
On the other hand, I believe it is this very fixture that gradually brought us back to our senses. I suspect it was a natural progression. We left the hard work of the land for the city or suburban life where property was reduced to a manageable size and it seems we did just that; we approached it as something to manage. Proximity of neighbors played a role. Everyone could see who was not living up to “proper” yard maintenance standards. Inevitably, our natural affinity with the land tugged at our heartstrings and we began to see in the lone flower-pot and few tomato vines the abundance and beauty of nature.
This is my theory anyway. The rest is history and here we are today. We collect grass clippings and leaves in cleverly designed re-usable totes and lug them over to the garden or compost bin. And we do not feel as though we are accomplishing chores; instead, we are fulfilling dreams.