It is Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 13, 1975.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is on the cover of Time magazine, with a headline asking, “Meditation: The Answer To All Your Problems?”
The latest Billboard Top 40 national singles chart features Neil Sedaka at Number One, a novelty record at Number Four, and Morris Albert’s “Feelings” at Number Eleven and rising fast.
In New York City, a shaggy band of unknown post-hippie comedians is fresh from its network TV debut two days earlier. NBC, with maximum accuracy but minimal imagination, has named their fledgling late-night skit-comedy show after its air slot: “Saturday Night.”
And in Stamford, Connecticut, my grandfather — unaffected in the slightest bit by the preceding pop-cultural developments — is on his knees in the yard, tackling a seasonal chore that yields to no trend or fashion.
My grandfather was a devotee of routine and process. It’s easy for me to imagine him, in well-worn work clothes, as he methodically burned off the gas, poured out the spent oil, unscrewed the spark plug, and wheeled the mower into his stand-alone garage for the winter.
(OK, I forgot one step of the process. He would also have wiped off all the grass and dirt, so his mower came out of the garage the following April shining like new. Take care of your gear, and it will take care of you.)
The winterizing ritual signifies the end of summer and the arrival of autumn.
When you winterize your mower, you acknowledge that the annual period of growth, restoration and harvest is gone. It’s time to resort to whatever defenses we rely on during the months when the sun turns its back on us.
This particular ritual is also one of the few manual tasks I do at the same time and in the same way my grandfather did, having learned the steps in turn from my dad.
Being less of a stickler for neatness, I normally do not wipe my mower down before putting it away. My grandpa would shake his head reproachfully at that, I think.
I think some of the mechanical rites of past generations have gone by the wayside. I can remember my dad changing the oil and filling in rusty spots on his cars well into the 1980s. I presume he learned those skills from my grandfather.
I’ve never changed my own oil or sanded out a rust spot. The latter are harder to come by than they used to be — though, come to think of it, I’ve got one on my car now.
But the mower winterizing routine — the one time in my adult life I’m called on to work with spark plugs — is one task that hasn’t significantly changed since my grandfather did it in 1975. It’s no epic ceremony, but viewed from that perspective, it is kinda cool in its own way.
(Mechanical rituals can loom large in family mythology. I’m thinking of the deteriorating Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” who evokes a rose-tinted vision of the past by recalling how his sons used to simonize the family car. I wonder whether my grandfather used to simonize his cars.)
This handed-down responsibility won’t last forever. I’ve flirted for years with the idea of buying a reel mower when my current mower dies, just to say there’s one fewer internal combustion engine on the planet. I’m sure those things require their own maintenance before they get packed away for the year, but it won’t be the same.
Oct. 13 seems a little early in the year to put away a mower. I’m pretty sure I keep mine out into November most years.
Maybe I’ll try mid-October this year, like my grandfather did, and see if anything’s really the worse for it.