The only thing they have in common is a lawn mower.
Written and illustrated by Vivian Hansen de los Ríos
My dad would get angry with us when he ran over a cannon ball with the lawn mower. I'd get angry with him when he mowed down the patch of wildflowers around the side of the house.
Admittedly the cannon ball thing could certainly cause some damage. We had milk crates full of them ranging in size from a chicken egg to a bowling ball. We'd stand behind a designated line, usually a stick, and see who could hurl one of the baseball sized ones the farthest. They stained our hands with rust, leaving a metallic smell behind. Relics of the Civil War, my dad had dug them up himself, among other things: slews of coins, belt buckles, guns, bullets, canteens, keys, and even a cannon. Yes, a full size cannon. Alright he didn't actually dig that one up, but after he helped a historic group restore its carriage, it stood parked under the awning next to the family car.
Occasionally it was taken to be used for educational reenactments, but mostly I remember it as a phenomenal jungle-gym, those huge wooden spokes serving as a ladder. I liked to crawl on top and lay my cheek against the smooth, black, perpetually cool metal. Friends would ask why on earth we had a cannon on our porch and I'd reply, puzzled, "What, you haven't got one?" As soon as the other kids came to terms with the weirdness, they'd join us in a round of redneck shot put.
Sometimes we'd miscount the cannon balls, or we'd lose sight of one, or (most likely) we'd run off to some other equally bizarre activity and leave one behind to be found, with a startling crack, by the blades of the lawn mower. We knew the sound and would run off to hide.
My dad never stayed mad. He'd just fuss at us, and once we'd promise to pick them all back up after playing, we'd go on our merry way.
I, however, could hold a grudge all damn day if I set my mind to it. I told him to leave the flowers on the side of the house alone. Perhaps in his mind he did - the spider lillies or daffodils or brown-eyed susans would be untouched, but the patch of dandelions and clover and other weed-flowers would be cut down. I'd scowl at him and refuse to talk the rest of the day, and he'd be clueless.
That weed patch was magical. It was sheltered from view of the road and house by large bushes of fuschia azaleas and sweet-smelling gardenias, so I felt alone. I could perch in the center of the multicolored flowers and become a fairy, sprouting wings like the black-and-electric-blue butterflies that frequented the spot. I made daisy chains and wore them as a crown. I made wishes and blew away the dandelion seeds. I addressed my royal fairy court with grand speeches. When the golden hour of dusk reached me, all the scrappy weeds glowed radiantly, finally hinting at their magical properties to even the dullest mortal eye.
One day my dad taught me how to use the lawn mower. I didn't want to. Who could enjoy sitting on monstrously loud, swinging metal blades of death? You had to keep both feet on the bar that activated the blades, and my toes barely reached. If something happened, hitting a cannon ball for example, I was told to lift my toes and stop the blades. The thought of hitting one terrified me.
However, as I got into the swing of it, I realized the great benefit of my newfound power: I could leave my fairy flowers alone. I carefully mowed the huge back lawn, enduring the cloud of grass schrapnel that made my legs itch. As I approached the flower patch, I felt my dad's eyes on me. I knew I'd have to pretend to mow there. Forcing myself to not glance his way, I slowly lifted my toes off the bar to stop the blades.
Whirrr-clunk. To my dismay, the mower made a completely different sound with the blades stopped. My dad ran over in a flash, reached across and killed the engine, shouting, "What happened?"
I realize now that he was worried when he shouted. At the time, I thought that he was angry because he'd uncovered my plot.
I cried as I told him about the flowers. He told me to go inside.
I obeyed and went to shower off and cry some more. I heard the lawn mowing continue.
That evening, when the magic sunset hour spilled its golden light across the lawn, I went out to dramatically mourn the death of my flower friends. When I turned around the bushes into that small glade, I stood, shocked. My flowers were still there, all lit up in the sun.
And they stayed there, even throughout subsequent mowings.
I never said anything to him about it, but I did get much better at counting cannon balls.