Just like the seasons within each season, I realize that I have lived my life in a series of stages. Life comes at you, kind of like the series of waves that wash ashore, one after another. Life never comes at you all at once.
My wife and I got married in 1980 with very little in bank and even less in our pockets. We didn’t have a honeymoon, because I had no vacation time saved up, having just started a job right after college. Those were the days when you had to work for a year to earn vacation. But even if I did have vacation time, we didn’t have money for a honeymoon; instead, we used it on luxuries like rent, gas and food.
Over the first ten years of marriage, we did eventually find a way to save enough money to buy five acres of land west of Green Bay. In 1991 we built our home. We had a dream home plan, but building the house itself was a process where each subsequent meeting we agreed with the builder to erase something off of the plan that overall cost dictated we could do without.
Even though we had five acres, we limited the lawn to about two acres – some for greenspace and some for the children to play in. Continuing to watch pennies is how I ended up with a push mower that first year we moved in. It would take me 3-4 hours of precious free time to mow. So, the second summer my wife agreed to upgrade, and we spent our tax return on a riding mower. To avoid store and brand names, let’s just say that I settled on one that was priced at one third the cost of what was considered a top-of-the-line model. Our mower was red in color from the working parts that were painted to the hood and mower deck.
Now, I admit outright that I am not a mechanic by any stretch of the imagination. Growing up I was not an “engine guy” like many of my male counterparts. But I amazed even myself with how I learned to repair that red mower. It started out easy with a broken tie rod but worked up in difficulty from there. It seemed each summer there were at least one or two parts that needed replacing. For whatever reason, the replacement parts were all painted black. So, after about five years, our red mower had more black parts than red.
The grand finale was when the entire frontend axle broke. It split down the middle and my mower also did the splits with each front tire splayed outward awkwardly. When I went to the parts store they actually had a new front axle in stock, because as the counter person explained, “we get five or six guys coming in for these, every summer.” My wife came out to watch me reassemble our mower and suggested matter-of-factly, “It’s time for an upgrade.” She was right of course; I had probably spent enough in replacement parts over those five years to more than pay for a top-end mower.
This week, my doctor suggested that it was time for a new left knee. The original parts are worn out he explained as he showed me x-rays of how much visible wear there was just from the x-ray that he took this past December. If that was all I probably wouldn’t have looked so dazed. Mentally though, I was tallying the list to date. That same knee had been repaired years ago from an ACL tear from a skiing accident; my right hip wore out five years ago and was replaced by this same doctor. And he told me then that at some point the left one would have to be replaced also. Until the knee started hurting last year, getting it replaced wasn’t on the radar. So that will be three replacement parts with at least another one at some future point. And that doesn't even count the removed appendix, because there are no replacement parts for that! So, I am feeling a bit like that old, red mower: I will soon have more black parts than red. I just hope that my wife doesn’t decide that it is time for another upgrade!
This week I saw a robin fall on its head – something I had never seen before. I have a brick-edged flower bed in the backyard and the other morning when I opened the window I noticed a robin poised on one of the bricks. It’s about a four-inch drop from the top of the brick to the grass. The robin decided to hop off of the brick but somehow he mis-stepped and instead he fell right on top of his head. I laughed. Since robins can’t laugh and don’t have a facial expression, I don’t know what he was thinking.
Undaunted, the bird hopped right back onto the brick and then after a few seconds he hopped off successfully, eventually taking flight into the linden tree. It was a good reminder to pay attention, and to not take yourself so seriously.