Riding Mower Ushers In Age Of Convenience

Published 10:03 am Thursday, June 23, 2016

Add the riding lawn mower to the long list of modern inventions I mule-headedly refused to adopt.

Were I born a hundred years earlier, I might have rejected Thomas Edison’s light bulb. I’ve always been a Luddite, stubbornly resisting every modern invention. Had I been around during the ancient debate, I certainly would have fallen on the flat-earth side.

I was dubious of the Internet, thought the fax machine was a waste of money and believed the electric typewriter would slow me down.

At my first reporter job in 1975, I was issued a manual Royal typewriter and a glue pot to fix errors. I could make the Royal hum. The newspaper business has changed since then. In 1985 when the newspaper was upgrading equipment, I opted not to buy the newfangled Apple computer, sticking with the industry standard’s tried-and-true Compugraphic word processor. Guess which brand is now obsolete?

When school classes have toured the newspaper, I usually bring out an old manual Underwood and introduce it as a precursor to the computer. The kids are always amazed.

I thought air conditioning was a luxury for tender folks and power steering on a car was … for the weak.

I’ve been wrong a lot, as my children remind me. Sometimes, it seems I’ve been wrong about everything.

Oddly, my father eagerly embraced all kinds of labor-saving inventions on the farm. I might still be using the mule to plow.

My 21-inch push mower was the last line in the sand against the tidal wave of mechanization and convenience. It was my form of exercise. Often, I refused to engage the self-propelled feature to make it a little more difficult. The push mower, I reasoned, was saving me a lot of money. Besides, I had sons at home to mow, but they were rarely available when needed.

All the neighbors have whopper riding mowers. My brother and sisters have monster mowers. But I held out, proudly marching around my lawn, cutting 21 inches at a time. Age caught up with me last year, and the old mower broke.

I went soft and bought a 46-inch, zero-turn mower with a comfortable seat. Mowing time has been reduced to 30 minutes if I go slowly.  Sometimes I mow the lawn twice just to enjoy the experience.

Why didn’t I get one of these 10 years earlier?

• • • • •

The sad news from Illinois is that a certain patent leather beetle caught recently in Davie County … is no more.

“Papa, my bug died,” young Sam, 5, told me Saturday with great sorrow.

The beetle had lived three weeks in captivity, outlasting my expectations.

A bug collection may be starting.

• • • • •

I watched “The Shootist” again last week, John Wayne’s final movie before he died of cancer in 1979. With co-stars Lauren Bacall and James Stewart, Wayne plays an aging gunfighter who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer — a role uncomfortably close to his real life.

Did I love it? Yes. Was it the greatest movie ever made? Perhaps not. But it was powerfully touching because I knew it was John Wayne’s last, and he surrounded himself with the best actors of that era.

Wayne’s best quote: “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a-hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.”

— Dwight Sparks