Tuesday 25 September 2018

Sharpening the Blade

 by James Bates


Last weekend Joyce bought a vintage manual push lawnmower at a garage sale. I used to use one like it as a kid, mowing my parent's small yard in Minneapolis, so today I was fixing it up, on a bit of a nostalgia trip. I was back by the garage taking the wheel off when a movement out near the street caught my eye. I looked up just as my ten year old son Kyle called out, "Hey, Dad. Check this out!"
            I watched as he raced up our gravel driveway on his trek dirt bike, pedaling at break neck speed for all he was worth. I didn't have time to react and get worried before he threw the bike into a long two wheel slide and skidded to a stop less than three feet from me, spewing sand and grit all over the place. He hopped off and grinned, "How about that? Me and Steve have been practicing all morning."
            Two years ago, before I came down with my illness, I'd have admonished him for riding so recklessly. I'd have reminded him that that's how accidents were caused. 'You'd better watch yourself, young man, you could get hurt,' I'd have said, probably even yelled. 'Or even killed.'
            But I didn't say any of those things. At this stage of the game, it was just good to see him having fun. "Nice slide," I said, meaning it, "Looks like you and your buddy spent your time wisely."
            That was another thing. Earlier in the summer, Kyle and Steve had ridden their bikes down to spend the afternoon at the lake our town is named after, Long Lake, located only a half a mile from us. Late in the afternoon, they were swimming from the beach out to the floating raft located about a hundred and fifty feet from shore when a speed boat driven by a drunken twenty year old swung too close to the swimming area, narrowly missing both boys. Fortunately, they hadn't been injured, but it scared them half to death and, consequently, put them off swimming for the foreseeable future. I didn't blame them.
            They're also staying close to home, which I don't mind at all. His three older sisters are all living away on their own and we don't see much of them. My wife and I are both forty-eight years old. She works in town at Swanson's Foods as a cashier. I work for Benson's Electronics in the design department. They're located in Minneapolis, but since my illness I've been able to work at home as much as I need to which has made my life a little easier. Joyce and I'd be empty nesters by now if it hadn't been for a special New Year's Eve celebration trip to Finland eleven years ago to see the Aurora Borealis. It was a memorable occasion for couple of reasons.
            Kyle knelt by my side and took in the scene: me on the ground in front of the garage fooling around with what to most people would look like a useless piece of junk. He asked, looking slightly perplexed, "What are you doing Dad? I thought we already had a lawn mower. You know, the one I use."
                        "We still do, that nice three horsepower Toro. But your mom got this at a yard sale and I thought I'd fix it up." I glance up quickly at my son. He hasn't hit his growth spurt yet and is as skinny as a whip. He has a mop of brown hair that he wears like the Beatles did when they first started out. He's quick to smile, has wide, deep brown, eyes and a long eye lashes. Joyce says that one day he'll be a lady killer. Maybe. Right now, I'm happy with him just the way he is, a fun loving kid who'll be going into sixth grade next fall.
            "Want to help?" I ask.
            He turns serious and says, "Sure."
            "All right. Great. I've already taken the wheel off. Next step is to get the mower off the ground a few inches. You can lift it for me. We'll set the axel on this piece of wood."
            Kyle follows my instructions to the letter. He's a great kid, he really is, and likes to learn new things. He's hardly any trouble at. I'm lucky. His three sisters? Well, let's just say they're pretty free-spirited and leave it at that.
            The four blades are attached to the axel. With it off the ground, the blades can spin freely. "What's next?" he asks.
            I point. "Next we sharpen this bad boy." I open up a jar of sharpening compound and say, making a sly gesture, "This is the fun part." I dab some of the black gunk on my finger and rub it along the edge of one of the curved blades. It has the consistency of peanut butter. I hand Kyle the jar, "Here, you do it, too."
            "O boy," he grins enthusiastically and grabs a glob.
            For the next few minutes we dutifully smear the granular sharpening compound along the blades. When we're done I insert a metal crank onto the end of the axel say, "Okay, use this. Turn the wheel counter clockwise. The blades sharpen themselves again the bottom runner.
            He carefully takes hold of the handle and begins to turn it, "Like this?" We both grimace as the blades make a grating noise, metal on metal.
            "Yep. Keep it up. You're doing great."He grins and cranks the handle faster, "This is fun."
            In a minute the grinding of the metal becomes less and less until the blade assembly begin to spin freely, indicating that it's completely sharpened. I smile back at him. It's great; both sharpening the blades and being with my son. I wouldn't trade times like these for anything.
            Next, I show Kyle how to clean the rest of the mower with light motor oil and WD-40. Finally, we put the wheel back on, use a crescent wrench to tighten it and the job is complete.
            "Good job," I tell him.
            "Now what?"
            "Well, now, if you want, you can take it for a spin."
            Kyle looks at me questioningly, "What do you mean?"
            "You know. Cut the grass."
            "You mean it?"
            "Sure. Try it out. It's different than the power Toro. Safer." I test his biceps and tell him, "Also, it's good for your muscles. Your know, good exercise."
            "You think I can do it?"
            "I do. You already cut the grass with the power mower. Using this one requires skill and precision." I smile at him, half joking, half not. The only thing you need to be is strong enough to push it. I'm pretty sure he is. There's only one way to find out.
            Kyle pretends to crack his knuckles in preparation for getting ready. I dutifully laugh and he grins at me before saying, "Okay. Off I go."
            I watch as he pushes the mower over to the edge of the lawn. He's been cutting the grass for me for two years with the power Toro. It's different with a manual one like this. It takes a minute or two, but soon he gets into his rhythm and he's off to the races. I watch, slightly envious that I can't join him, but that's the way it goes. He's doing a good job and having fun too. It's nice to see. Like I said, he's a good kid.
            While he's cutting the grass, I reach over and pull my wheel chair close. It takes me a minute to get in and situated. When I do, I pick up my tools and wheel them into the garage and put everything away.
            While I'm at it Joyce comes out and greets me with, "I see you've got a helper." She points out to the yard where Kyle has finished with the back.
            He sees us and waves, "Hi, Mom." Joyce waves back. "Dad, should I do the front?"
            I call back, "Yeah, that'd be good."
            He pushes the mower foreword and starts cutting the side strip of grass on the way to the front yard. The blades quietly go "swish, swish, swish" through the grass. It's a peaceful sound. We have a small bungalow home with a small lawn to go with it, and it doesn't take long before he's finished with the side and has moved to the front of the house.
            We both watch for few moments. Then Joyce turns to me and says, "Beverly from the clinic called. She says we should bring him in sometime before school starts. They want to do some more tests: check his blood, his muscle strength and how fatigued he gets. That kind of thing. "
            "He's doing great, today," I tell her, slightly defensive, "Look how good he's cutting the grass." I don't want to spoil the moment with the reality of our life, but my feeble attempt doesn't work. Joyce is on to me in a flash and gives me a stern look. She knows we need to stay on top of things with Kyle's health. I know what she means, even though sometimes it's hard, like today when he seems so normal. "Okay," I respond with a more than a little resignation, "You're right."
            The doctor's are monitoring Kyle for the beginning stages of MS, like I've got. We haven't told him that he might one day get my disease. The doctors say that it could be years before it manifests itself, if ever. We just have to be ready for the day when he, like his dad, might be confined to a wheel chair (and hopefully nothing worse.)
            I look at the lawn and marvel at the fresh scent of mown grass. Those old lawn mowers really did do superb work. "Sweetheart, you want to come up to the front yard with me? It's a pretty day out, and I'd like to watch Kyle for a while."
            My wife smiles and me and rubs my shoulder. I take her hand and kiss it.
            "I'd like nothing better," she says. She bends and kisses me softly on the lips.
            We walk along the edge of the driveway. The gravel is pretty packed so it's not too hard for me and my wheelchair. We make our way to the front yard where we stop in the shade of a big maple tree. We watch as Kyle walks back and forth, back and forth, cutting the grass as if he didn't have a care in the world. It's a pleasant moment for the two of us. Everyone has an opinion about whether or not we should tell him that he might get multiple sclerosis. Joyce and I aren't stupid. We understand that we'll have to talk to him about it someday. Eventually we will. But not today. Maybe not even tomorrow. For now my wife and I want to hold to the present and keep things the way they are for as long as we can. Why not?  He's having a wonderful summer. You're only young once. He's ten years old. The future will be here soon enough.

About the auhtor

Jim is retired and lives in a small town west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to CafeLit, his stories can be found on The Writers'Cafe Magazine and A Million Ways. He also posts them on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com

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