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Forget the Straight Lines

I recently traveled to Michigan to visit my dad. It was a trip that turned out to be very insightful. For many years he and my step-mom (who I just call mom) had traveled to Texas to visit me, but this time it was my turn to enter into their world for a few days.

At 82, my dad is still strong and vibrant. His extensive acreage provides plenty of manual labor opportunities to keep him active, and having a younger wife doesn’t hurt either!

As many of you can probably attest to, unplugging can be hard to do. The first day it felt a bit odd not logging in to check emails or taking calls from the office. It didn’t take long, however, to adapt to the green grass, blue skies, tall trees, and fresh air. Even the turtles in the pond were oddly entertaining. Feeding the fish and watching frogs jump off the bank and into the water, one by one (plop, plop) can be therapeutically relaxing.

It had been years since I had gone back into the woods on their property, but there I was, me at 50 years old and Dad at 82. I held on for dear life as he revved up the four-wheeler and zoomed down the hill and through the puddles, the small branches wisping past us, brushing alongside our arms and legs.

At one point I laid my head on his back just like I had as a child. I said a silent prayer of gratitude. I was happy to be there and happy that he was still around and healthy enough to share that moment.

During my stay, Dad had two challenges for me: one was to master the sitting lawnmower and mow the acreage in the front of his property, and the second was to drive the John Deer with the attached brush hog up to my grandfather’s old land to do some much-needed work up on the hill.

My first question, of course, was “are they automatic?” The answer was, luckily, “yes”, but that didn't mean there wasn’t a challenge that lay ahead.

The experts say that learning something new is good for the brain. Well, my brain certainly got a workout when I climbed on the riding lawnmower. Instead of a steering wheel, it had two leavers, one on either side that controlled both the speed and direction all at the same time. It took coordination and plenty of practice.

At first, I swerved from side to side, unsure that I would ever get the hang of it. My lines were crooked, unlike the perfect rows I had dreamed of creating. There were also the occasional sprouts of tall grass where I had missed the turn. But at the end of the day, I had mastered the riding mower, the lines were straighter, and I was even able to pick up speed.

The next day, I was ready for the big leagues, or rather the John Deer. I climbed up and immediately started hearing the song “John Dear Green” in my head, something I would later sing aloud as I plugged along.

Most farm equipment comes with several safety features. This large tractor shut off automatically when the weight on the chair shifted, a sign that the driver was getting off. While I’m sure this safety feature is necessary and has probably saved many lives over the years, it also became a problem for me – Farmer Judy – at 4’11”.

In order for me to reach the pedal, I had to sit on the edge of the chair, which shut off the motor. Luckily, my dad is the king of duct tape and used it quite effectively to tape a wooden block on the pedal, making it easier for me to reach without leaving the seat.

When it was all said and done, I had mowed and brush hogged until my heart was content, my clothes were sweated up, and my dad was proud. At the end of the day, I looked out at the lines in the front yard, where I learned to drive the mower. “Sorry they’re not straight,” I said in a deflated tone.

My dad with all the wisdom in the world said, “The goal was to mow the land, not mow straight lines on the land. It’s mowed. Good job.”

That got me thinking about life. Living life is kind of like mowing. Trying new things can be messy, tough, and we may sway from side to side as we’re learning to get it right. But in the end, just like my dad said, the goal isn’t to do it all perfectly, it’s just to do it!


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