LARRY PENKAVA COLUMN: Content in the sweat of the brow

Published 3:20 pm Thursday, June 20, 2024

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I was an experienced veteran when I accepted my first paying job.
And in my mind, I was a professional, meaning I was working for money. I was probably 10 or 12 years old when our neighbor, Mr. Purvis, offered me the position.

Larry Penkava

I had served an intensive internship under my father, learning the trade at the benefit of his expertise. Daddy was a perfectionist who would leave no stone unturned. I soon found out that Mr. Purvis was of the same philosophy.
That first Saturday morning on the job, the weather was warm and the sky cloudless. Mr. Purvis laid out the rules that I would abide by for the next few summers.
“I’ll supply the mower and the gas,” he said. “You can mow my yard one week and the other yard the next week.” (The other yard belonged to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Pugh, just up the road.)
“The pay is $1.75 per week,” Mr. Purvis continued. “Any questions?”
“No sir.”
“You’ll find the mower and gas can in the garage. When you’re finished, knock on the door and I’ll pay you.”
Mr. Purvis stayed outside to watch my performance that first Saturday. When I was mowing against the sidewalk, he came and showed me how to run the wheels on one side of the mower on the concrete while the other wheels stayed on the grass. It was a new trick that Daddy must have forgotten to coach me on.
My training had started when I was about 7. Our expansive front yard had three levels of terraces. The top level was just in front of the house but the other two ran to the backyard.
Daddy first had me mowing the top terrace. It wasn’t as large as the other two but included several bushes and trees to negotiate. Daddy always wanted the grass mowed all the way to the trunks and showed me how to circle the plants.
When my older brothers, David and Ronnie, were old enough to get public work, I inherited the entire yard to mow. With a push mower, that could require half a Saturday of cutting grass.
The backyard ran up to the little house that was built for Grandma, to the right of the barn. A patch of grass ran under the clothesline and around behind our house. There were several cedar trees and shrubs to mow around that bordered our circle drive.
If that weren’t enough, I also mowed around the barn, including the baseball infield that we played on behind the chicken coop. I think Daddy was pleased with my efforts since he continued to let me sleep in my own bed and eat with the family.
It was with that experience as a landscape professional that I took on Mr. Purvis’s two yards. My summer Saturdays became a routine of walking down to his garage, filling his mower with gas and cutting his or Mrs. Pugh’s grass. After my family’s humongous lawn, his two were almost like postage stamps.
I would finish up one or the other yard, push his mower back in the garage and receive my pay. Then I would take the dollar and three quarters and put them in my little metal TV-shaped bank. When I had enough cash, Mama would take me to Randolph Savings & Loan to deposit it in my passbook savings account.
I guess I could say Mr. Purvis helped put me through college.
Years later, when I was married, had three daughters and worked a regular job, I took on yards to mow for extra money. You can never have too much cash with girls to dress up like beauty queens.
Anyway, I would lift my mower into the trunk of my car, tie down the trunk lid and drive to work. My most consistent customer was a woman whose house was on a busy highway. I would cut her grass up to the roadway and all the way in the back to her garden.
She was generous in her pay and usually gave me extra, what she called “a tip.” I accepted her munificence with gratitude, loaded my mower and headed back home.
There was a certain satisfaction in the results of the sweat of my brow.

Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189,