There are reasons why I don’t like cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, raking leaves or doing any kind of yard work for that matter, and they’ve got little to do with laziness. Although, I much prefer sitting on the couch next to a warm gal, watching reruns of La Femme Nikita, eating ramen noodles, with saltines and drinking iced tea to just about any other activity. No, the truth is, cutting the grass gives me nightmares and takes my mind back to a time when completing that one chore meant I would be allowed to eat dinner, or go hang out with my buddies, or come inside the house and relax with the rest of the family, maybe sit in front of the tube and watch a great old movie. Not finishing, meant something entirely different and boy, did she love to yell at me. Jane would tear into me if that yard wasn’t just the way she wanted it. She was something else, Jane. My step mom. Dad loved her though and her word was bond. Do what she says or else.
It all started back in the spring of 1981, when we (me, Dad, Jane, my three sisters Laura, Dawne and Audra, our three cats and three dogs) moved from the tiny little house on Southlawn street, which we had completely outgrown, to our new address on Cottonwood Cove, in what was then known as Parkway Village. Dad, ever the true scavenger, found a repo in the paper for about thirty-five grand, which in those days was a helluva bargain, and he paid cash for it with no questions asked. A canary yellow, four bedroom, California-style home, with a huge backyard, which included eighteen full-grown Pine trees that I would soon become extremely familiar with and that would bring my thirteen year old body, no end of heartache, frustration and anguish. It’s a miracle that I am living to tell this story today, as there was a time when I literally thought that I was going to die in that yard, right alongside those nasty, needle-shedding, good-for-nothing, sap-filled Pines, either by my own hand or more likely, Jane’s. I remember the day we arrived to our new home and Dad took me into the backyard to show me how beautiful it was. It sure was the biggest yard I’d ever seen, nearly half an acre all fenced-in and them trees lining the entire thing.
“Son…” Dad said.
“This is your domain.”
“Yes, sir” I replied.
“Have a good look around. There are Pine needles everywhere, the whole yard is thick with ’em. If you come over here, you’ll notice that in this corner of the fence, there’s quite a large pile of these needles that will need to picked up and put into garbage bags and put out on the curb at the front of the house. You understand?”
“Yes, sir” I replied.
“Now, seeing as how no ones been back here for quite some time to clean up this mess, these things have accumulated and it’s probably gonna take you a while to get to the bottom of this pile, so take your time. But just get it done cause Jane wants it looking good back here, as soon as possible or you and me are never gonna hear the end of it. You understand?”
“Good man. Now, let’s go look at the rest of the house.”
And that was it.
He never offered to help. It was my job and I knew it had to be done. But what I didn’t know was that he wasn’t going to be the one to put the screws to me if the job wasn’t finished in a timely fashion. No. He left the entire thing up to his lovely second wife, my nemesis and personal tormentor, Jane, or as I was so fond of calling her, Jane the Pain. I even wrote a tune about her with the same name, which became the source of a pretty heated discussion and much laughter but that’s another story. Just as soon as one of those damned old trees decided to drop a few thousand needles, Jane would yell my name, “Geeeeeeooooorrrrrrgiiiieee!” And as quick as I could move, my sorry ass was out the door with a rake and a bag, picking them up before they could stick to the ground. If I wanted to eat supper, it had to get done, no matter what. I remember she kept me out there one time, long after the Sun went down and I couldn’t see a damn thing. I’d already mowed the lawn real low and had been raking up needles all day long, but more were falling faster than I could work and she was fired up cause now you could clearly see them on the ground.
“You’re gonna be out here all night if that’s what it takes!” she said.
But I’d had enough and decided I wasn’t gonna be bullied by an insane person any longer and put my rake down and climbed up into the closest Pine and just sat there, out of reach. She was fuming mad, but Dad and my sisters, sitting by the window inside were laughing their butts off at the scene that had suddenly unfolded. Jane was a little woman, maybe 4′ 10″, give or take and I was at least a foot taller and climbed way up in that tree, so that she couldn’t get to me at all. I didn’t move and she stood out there for a little while yelling at me to come down. All this went on for maybe an hour or so, till she got so frustrated that she completely wore herself out and had to retreat into the house, locking herself in her bedroom. I felt victorious, like Muhammad Ali using the rope-a-dope technique on Joe Frazier. I came down soon after, Dad let me in and I was allowed to eat my supper. I still had to get back out there the following day, but she never chased me around again. Although he and Jane stayed married for only a couple more years after that, as a family we spent close to nine years in that house and I don’t ever remember a time when there weren’t any needles on the ground. I was forever raking those things up. Jesus, I fucking hate Pine trees.