New House, New Lawn

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(Host) Moving into a new house and assuming new responsibilities felt pretty overwhelming to commentator Caleb Daniloff, until something unexpected happened.

(Daniloff) I recently made the leap from apartment dweller to homeowner. My wife and I bought a 1950s Cape built by a local man with a taste for fluorescent lighting, ceramic tile, and showers with multiple shower heads. As they say, the place has character.

Leaving behind the care-free world of rent meant no more worrying about noise complaints, nail holes, or fights on the other side of the wall. It also meant setting out into a new unknown.

We loved the house. But it had served as a rental in recent years, as well as a daycare. There was plenty of wear and tear. We had to pry open child-proof drawers, scour grime from cabinets, and plug wiring holes behind the stove. There were wasps to shoo, mice to catch, and was that bat guano in the mud room?

All the while, the lawn was growing like a college freshman. We’d been too busy moving in, scheduling repairmen, setting up utilities. We didn’t even have a mower. We’d called a local handyman who mowed, but never heard back. Rain and sunshine were no longer items that decided the lake or the movies. They were co-conspirators who set an unyielding agenda. We were overwhelmed, and everywhere we looked another project. If we couldn’t control that grass, now inching toward the one-foot mark, I feared all would be lost.

I spent a lunch hour in Sears. But before I could call my wife with the news of our new mower, she phoned, on the verge of tears, to say that the washing machine still wasn’t working, that we’d have to hit the Laundromat, and what plumber should we use. But the forecast called for a bout of rain. And unless we wanted to buy a bailer, the lawn demanded my immediate attention.

I choked through Burlington’s rush-hour traffic, watching the sun start its descent with a sinking stomach. I’d skip dinner, and mow wih a flashlight if I had to. Almost 90 minutes later, I pulled into our driveway. And my eyes popped at what I saw. The entire front and back lawn had been mowed, every wild inch of it. I stooped down and ran my hand through the absence. Gusts of relief blew through me. But who had done it?

We asked, we speculated. Was it our new neighbors, who had been especially friendly? Or was it a friend whom we’d given an old air compressor? The mystery mower was the topic of conversation for weeks. Someone’s not fessin’ up, a colleague smiled. It became our Vermont moment, a sneaky kindness that saved our sanity, and we reveled in it. It became a central point in our creation myth. I came to relish the not-knowing.

Then we got the bill from the handyman who’d never called back. At first, I was let down. Our Vermont moment was not to be. But that feeling soon passed. The spirit had already been tapped, and the blood flowed both ways. That everyone so readily believed in the pure heart of the mystery mower seemed to bear that out. It was a gentle reminder that at the core of any mythology are truths more potent than the starkest facts. As I wrote out a check to the handyman, somehow I knew we were going to be all right.

This is Caleb Daniloff from Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter and freelance journalist.

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