Grace K. Hershey was my first employer. I introduced myself to the woman who grew up in the Great Depression in the Spring of 1980. I offered to mow the lawn that surrounded Grace’s weather-worn pink trailer–
“I was wonderin’ if ya need someone to mow yer yard,” I shyly asked, brushing Mick Jagger styled bangs from over soft green eyes the moment the old woman with powder-white hair cracked open a door that seemed to stick a little. Grace peered at me through a screen door, adjusting a pair of thick glasses closer to mischievous eyes. A puff from a Parliament oozed from grace’s trailer. She took a drag and spoke–
“My son-in-law’s been doin’ it for the past ten years.” Her breath was visible as it poured through the mesh. “The grass is tall already. aint it? Looks like a jungle, don’t it? I’m so ashamed. This is a funny yard. Got flowers and bulbs planted everywhere– ya gotta be careful with a mower. And of course, it’s not going to be easy. There are a lot of trees to mow around. I don’t have a lawn mower anyway…”
“We got a mower and I can push it over here,” I said.
“Whose boy are you anyway? You must be a Smith kid.”
“My step-dad is Bob Smith,” I said.
“Oh? Smitty? Bob Smith…Oh yes, you are just three or so houses out the road. I do hate havin’ to ask Harold to mow the lawn all the time. He works all week. You must know who my daughter Margie is. She works at the bank downtown.”
I shook my head yes, for I had indeed knew who Margie Rupert was. For a moment, I thought I’d never get to mow Grace’s yard. Margie Rupert once accused me of chopping up her garden hose with an ax. Surely, Grace would have heard about the ordeal, being her mother in a small town.
Margie only saw the back of the head of a kid on a bike who came onto her property and drove behind the woodpile to hide his bike, only to take an ax from the woodpile in Paul Bunyan fashion, and commenced to chopping up her good garden hose for no apparent reason. I somehow was pulled out of the town line-up of brunette boys who could have done it. Margie called my parents to report–
“I don’t want to place blame on nobody, I’m just askin’,” Margie said to my Mom on the phone, “but I do want to find out whose kid it was that did this. Could have been any of the kids in town. Must be a million of them. This town isn’t like it was years ago when I was a little girl growing up here,” Margie explained to my Mom who had just moved to Three Springs with the kids from her first marriage.
“When did it happen?” My mother asked.
“Last Sunday. ‘Round eleven. I was just getting home from church.”
“Couldn’t have been Charlie. He does have brown hair but we were at his grandmother’s in Petersburg last Saturday.”
“Like I said. Didn’t want to blame nobody without being sure. Thank ya! I was just askin’.”
I didn’t learn of the charges until after my name was cleared. My parents got a chuckle out of it– just imagine me, chopping up the garden hose of Margie Rupert– stuck- up Margie from the bank.
“Oh, I know Margie Rupert,” I said to Grace, hoping she would accept my offer to mow her yard. “She’s a real nice lady. Curly hair, right?”
“That’s her. Had that hair since she was a baby. How much are ya charging?”
“Whatever ya feel like paying me. Ain’t a very big yard.”
“How about nine dollars? Can I give ya a check.”
“That’d be good. Yep, just make it out to my dad.”
I took off my shirt mowing that day. I was wetter than a nightcrawler. Grace was standing on her porch with a soda and a nine dollar check made out to Bob Smith. I drank the soda without burping.
“That is enough ain’t it? Don’t wanna seem cheap.”
“It’s plenty. Grace.”
“I don’t know no more. Margie takes care of all my money. She’s gonna shit when she sees I’m writing more checks, though. I don’t get out of this trailer much, young man, but it sure is nice having someone like you living next door, one that I can afford. I got enough money to get by. That’s all that matters. Things sure are better than the Great Depression was. A kid your age would know nothing about that time, I suppose. We had to make our dresses from flour sacks. Look at them nice clothes you mow in! Yup that’s how it was. Was really bad back in the Depression, but I would do anything to go back there now, when I was pretty in wearing dresses made from burlap sacks.”