Lots of big, broad trees filled the suburban neighborhood where my first wife and I made our home. They shaded our sprawling red-brick ranch house, confident and serene. I wanted that confidence, that serenity for my family. It’s probably why I bought the house.
And then the leaves started to fall that first autumn. Prodigiously. The first Saturday she and I and my stepson spent all day raking and bagging. And the next Saturday. And the one after that. And then one weekend it rained. Relief! A weekend off! Except that the next weekend it took both days to rake and bag it all up.
It was awful. It dragged on for weeks before the last leaf finally fell. The next autumn was worse because my wife was pregnant — the job fell mostly to me and my stepson.
I did not want another punishing autumn. “If we had a lawn tractor,” I said sweetly to my wife, “one with a bagging attachment, I could line it with lawn-and-leaf bags and just suck the leaves into them. I’d drive the bags down to the curb, tie them off, and leave them for the city to collect. I could do this job by myself in half the time it takes all of us to rake.”
That pushed her right over: she bought me a tractor and a bagging attachment for my next birthday. It cost $1100, a lot of money for my young family. It was worth it for her to never wield a rake again.
Oh my gosh, but I loved cutting the grass with it! I felt so suburbanly manly on it. And it really did make leaf season bearable, and free my wife and sons to do other things. They were happy, I was happy, everybody was happy.
My new baby boy was fascinated with it, so I put him on my lap and drove him around the back yard at low speed. To my happy boy it was the coolest thing ever! He wanted a ride every time I got the tractor out. His younger brother, when he came, was wary of it and didn’t like the noise it made. But if his brother was going to ride around on it with me he wasn’t going to miss out.
And then of course our marriage crashed and burned, and I moved out. The tractor stayed behind while the divorce wound through the system, eighteen painful months. After the trial and the decree, my ex-wife somehow didn’t realize that she had agreed to give the tractor to me. When I asked for it (and my tools, and a few other things she also didn’t seem to know were awarded me) she refused. And then she reread our agreement and realized she had no choice. And then she called at dusk one drizzly day to say my stuff was out on the front lawn and I needed to come get it.
I managed to rent a U-Haul just before the place closed, and I managed to find a friend willing to help on short notice. The tractor and most of my tools were there. But the U-Haul’s ramp was narrow and slippery and so we had to lift the tractor up into the truck, and back out again at the house I was renting. Five hundred pounds, I hazard to guess. I’d put my back out for sure if I had to try that now.
But I was so happy to have it back. I was renting a house on an enormous lot, and the tractor cut my mowing time down to about three hours! Even that was a burden. I was relieved to finally buy a house of my own on a much smaller lot, about a third of an acre.
And here I’ve been for ten years. The tractor just keeps going, 20 seasons now. Every second year I changed the oil, air filter, fuel filter, spark plug, and blades. It has needed a few repairs: the starter, the steering gear (which broke the first month I owned it), the front tires, and the drive belt. Not bad. Oh, and the welds that attached the hood failed a few years ago. I bought two cheap locking pliers and clamped the weld points with them. It worked great!
The tractor has continued to be a blessing in the autumn. Or at least it was until my 21 ash trees died a couple years ago. I could probably rake up all the leaves from my yard on just a few autumn Saturday afternoons now. But because the tractor just kept running, I kept using it.
But now I’m preparing to move into my wife’s home. Her yard is small, far too small for a tractor. So about a month ago I sold my tractor. A fellow who keeps the grounds at the nearby cemetery bought it. He paid my asking price in twenties, drove it onto a trailer, and hauled it away.
I thought I’d be sad about it. I wasn’t; I’m not.
This surprises me.
I lost so much to which I was attached when I divorced, first and foremost the ability to live with my sons every day as they grew up. But I lost a great many possessions, too — things that I had to sell, things that were not awarded me, things that were awarded me but never reached me, things that my ex damaged or destroyed.
Of the many possessions I really enjoyed, the tractor was one of the few that found its way to me intact. I always loved using it. Even though it’s loud, I was at peace driving it. In that seat I could really think. And when I put it away, I had accomplished something and my yard looked good.
But it has done its job for me. I don’t need it anymore. I’m happy that someone else will get good use from it.
Another thing to which I’ve become deeply attached is my house. I wasn’t remotely in love with it when I bought it. The floor plan is weird. One bedroom is tiny. The main bathroom was in terrible condition. But it was structurally sound, it had enough bedrooms for me and my sons, the location was right, and most importantly I could afford the mortgage after the divorce left me broke. (It was just before the housing bubble burst. I bought the house with no money down.)
And as I rebuilt my life and built good relationships with my growing sons, I came to love this house.
Or at least I thought I loved the house. This year as I did heavy, long-procrastinated repairs and (with help) painted the interior stem to stern, I came to see it: this house represents what I built while I lived in it, namely, a happy, healthy life and good relationships with my sons. Neither was assured when we arrived. This house was the quiet, safe, stable place for us to do the work. I love what we built!
And now my sons are grown and gone, and I’m remarried. This house has done its job. I don’t need it anymore. I’m happy that someone else will get good use from it.
This blog was less than a year old when I moved here. I wrote a post about the place then, called A Place to Start Again. I hope you’ll read it; it’s here. I wrote, “I’m making a new start in my little house, and who knows how I’ll grow while here.” I grew, all right, beyond what I could have imagined or hoped. I made something good out of a horrible mess. I’m mighty satisfied.
P.S.: I wrote this the day before the listing appeared. The morning the listing appeared, I got two very strong offers and accepted one.