Men make “summer money” in different ways in their youth. Me? I mowed grass. Make that a lot of grass. My family lived in East Texas at the time, and folks in the South like to keep their yards manicured, and while some folks enjoy yard work, others are happy to pay eager, responsible youth to do the work for them. So I did. I ended up buying my first two vehicles with lawn-mowing money, among other more frivolous junk. Some of my clients were content for me to show up, do the work, and then leave. Others, however, considered themselves paying for something more.

 

A handful of my clients expected me to sit down for a few minutes when the work was completed and “visit.” These visits usually took place on a porch, although one older lady always invited me inside to sit beside the AC. I was always offered water or iced tea, and some kind of snack. I remember white bread triangles filled with pimento cheese, sliced apples, fresh peaches, and that older lady always set a bowl of circus peanuts in front of me (if you’re unfamiliar, do a Google search).

 

After being revived basically by some variation of sugar, my clients and I would talk. They’d ask me about my family, what I was doing over the summer months, did I have a girlfriend, that kind of stuff. As a teenager, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this because I saw it essentially as small talk, and I had other more important things to do and places to be. But my father (who it turned out was much wiser than I thought at the time) had instructed me that those visits were part of the deal. So I sat and endured.

 

I’m years removed from such manual labor. Oh, I still cut my own grass, but that’s the extent of my time behind the blade. But as I look back on those boyhood summers and the lessons I learned, one of them was that there’s often much more going on than is visible to the eye. I now realize those folks not only needed someone to mow their grass, they needed someone to talk to. I was not only keeping their yards in shape, I was in some small way keeping their lives in shape. And they were happy to pay for both.