The neighbors were busy: mowing, pruning, raking, clipping. All kinds of mechanical noisemakers shattered the quiet of a warm afternoon.
My thoughts, as much as I tried to suppress them, shifted lazily but inevitably to yardwork. It really doesn't matter what promises you made to yourself on a winter night, those resolutions to get the jump on the dandelions or plantain. Both are off and growing before the first robin appears.
The ivy gets out of the starting gate at the first thaw, growing everywhere but where you want it, covering the side patio and walkways, trees and the sides of the house.
You try to tell yourself that you love dandelions, both for salads when they are young or to look at when the pretty yellow flower blooms. Why disturb the dandelions that children like to pick, or the fluffy pale white things they turn into that even adults like to break off at the stem and make a wish on before blowing the seeds away?
You can tell yourself there is an element of danger in mowing the lawn. Toes and fingers have been nipped off. And although Robert Frost really never went into detail in his poem on the death of the hired man, except that it was winter, it could have been after a long summer of mowing lawns.
But there are few places around the house where you can relax this time of year without thinking of yard work.
The back porch overlooks several azalea bushes that have been strangled by a treacherous honeysuckle vine which needs to be pulled out.
Sitting by the living room window reminds you of the shaggy lawn.
The back patio cannot be a resting place while you stare at the weeds poking up through the bricks, and if you look up you feel guilty about the dead branches that have to be pruned from a couple of very old dogwoods.
Stretching out on your back, you gaze overhead into the spread of an old maple tree and you realize that dozing off would be unwise, that a quick windstorm could snap off that giant dead branch and put you into a deeper sleep than you want.
The maple needs to be removed -- if you can afford it and are able to stand the day-long noise of chain saws.
The screens are long overdue, waiting to be scrubbed and put in place.
"How Green Is My Corner," I think, could be a possible book title on avoiding lawn care.
Maybe old houses need a full-time, live-in gardener and handyman, but that thought dissolves into dollar signs.
Finally one day, I got out the lawn mower and got it working. But the radio said the temperature was in the 90s, so I went to my desk in the cool basement and changed a typewriter ribbon instead.
Conceding that winter has left us, I did get the heavy winter clothes out of the downstairs closet, moving them to the attic and moth balls.
This decision came after a few puzzling days of watching my wife walk through a room, stop suddenly and clap her hands together.
It turned out that we had an invasion of tiny moths and her eyes were better than mine.
The cat enjoyed the sport for a few days, leaping to swat the low fliers. My contribution to this slaughter was to wait for them to float near my chair, then to reach out to squeeze them with my fist.
I found a book and went back to the porch to relax. The title was "The O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1943." My wife had picked it up in a used bookstore for 25 cents.
It was quieter and safer than mowing. I read the short stories of Eudora Welty, Kay Boyle, Pearl Buck, Nancy Hale and Carson McCullers, wondering if women writers had cornered the market in '43. My male ego was slightly revived by Saroyan and Thurber. I realized that the slightly green bananas on the table alongside me had ripened somewhat while I read during the long hot midday.
While relaxing over a cocktail with my wife and waiting for a pork roast that I had prepared, I thought of hiring a yard worker. Then I thought about the cost of two new tires I had just purchased, the price of the new water heater just installed and the man from the fuel company telling us that we needed a new furnace and that he would also be happy to insulate the house, for a whole lot of money.
I almost got the lawn cut on Mother's Day. Our daughter came home from New York for a quick weekend and said to my wife, "I'm going to mow the lawn for Mother's Day."
But it rained most of that day, making the offer impossible.
While driving her to the station, I asked, scheming all the while, "Will you be coming home for Father's Day?"
She thought a minute and said, "I can't. I'll be on vacation in Maine."
Finally, I gave in the other day. The grass was a foot high. Next year I'm not going to wait so long.