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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Monument


Flowers are starting to bloom here in the Northwest and folks are ignoring the drizzle to prepare their yards for warmer weather. At this time of year I always think of Mr. Melcher, a celebrity in the Bay Area neighborhood where I grew up in the early Sixties.


Mr. Melcher was retired, and famous for having the best-looking yard in the neighborhood. His nickname was Mr. Mulcher because of the great care he took to insure that his yard was well-fed, well-organized, and a glimmering palette of color. Aside from feeding his lawn and adding mulch, he fertilized and aerated every year and mowed his grass twice a week. The reward for all his hard work was an award-winning landscape that looked like the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Aside from a lawn that looked like green carpet, his flower beds were bursts of color and, unlike other yards in the neighborhood, dandelions and other pesky weeds weren’t to be found.


Mr. Melcher’s house was only two blocks from where we lived. I’d pass his property on my walk to and from school, and I’d wave at him as he tended his yard. Usually he was too busy to wave back. It could get mighty hot in the Santa Clara Valley, but heat didn’t deter Mr. Melcher from his trimming, weeding and watering. I don’t remember seeing a Mrs. Melcher so perhaps all of this gardening was the result of untapped sexual energy, not that this was something I thought about back when I was a kid. Back then, old Mr. Melcher was probably twenty years younger than I am now.


One summer when I was nine our family made the pilgrimage to Disneyland. We also journeyed to the San Diego Zoo and crossed into Tijuana for my first excursion out of the country. I bought onyx bookends of sleepy peasants catching some shuteye in the shade of onyx cacti—now politically incorrect. We were gone a week. The day after our return, Dad and I were barbequing t-bones in the backyard when George, our neighbor, poked his head over the fence and welcomed us home. He also said, “Say, have you had a chance to check out what Old Melcher did to his yard while you were gone?”


That stoked our curiosity. As soon as the T-bones were off the grill, Dad and I trooped over to Mr. Melcher’s house. The sun was setting but what we saw in the fading light made our jaws drop. The award-winning landscape was no more. The carpet-like green lawn—gone. The plants—gone. Mr. Melcher had ripped everything out and concreted over his entire front yard. In the middle of this sea of cement rose a concrete block. Enshrined on it was Mr. Melcher’s lawnmower, spray painted gold and glinting in the sunset like a pair of bronzed baby booties.


“What do you think?” I asked my dad.


He rubbed his jaw while staring at the push-mower monument, choosing his words carefully. “I think Mr. Melcher had a stroke, like the one Grandpa had last year.”


I considered Dad’s words. Personally, I hated mowing lawns, and at our house that chore usually fell on me. I was also responsible for watering, pulling weeds and raking leaves from our big sycamore tree. Sure, a grassy yard was fun to play on, but maintaining it was a lot of work. Stroke or not, I was impressed by Mr. Melcher’s solution. I studied the maintenance-free landscape before me and pondered whether or not Mr. Melcher’s stroke had, in fact, also been a stroke of genius.

26 comments:

  1. Wow! I did NOT see that coming. I don't know whether to applaud him or cry. What a story! I loved the telling of it as well. Reminded me a little of McManus.

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  2. I really like this story Stephen! It reminds me of my dad when he gave up city living to move out in the wooded country. His last act was to break his lawnmower on a tree root just before moving to a place where he would never cut grass again. I think he sold it at a yard sale but if he had thought to bronze it - he may well have stuck it out in his wooded heaven.

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  3. My lawn is concrete too but then I live in an apartment and the closest I have to a plant is my Chia XMas tree.

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  4. Oooooh...I can so relate. I mowed my own yard for 30+ years and hated every second of it. The prospect of giving up lawn chores is the one single factor that caused me to sell my home and move into an apartment. It's been 3 years now and I have not second-guessed my decision even once.

    S

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    1. I surprised you just didn't concrete the lawn....LOL

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  5. Wow- what a turn! You tell a great story and this one certainly entertained~

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  6. Good story. People do get obsessive about lawns.

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  7. I was getting worried where that story was headed. I nearly expected Mrs. Melcher to be buried under the concrete. (this is probably in part due to two stories I read today about wives burying their husbands in flower gardens) As a person that loves yard work and enjoys having a pretty lawn, I can say that the day that I quit liking it is the day I am moving to Maintenance provided condo...I won't be pouring concrete over my lawn.

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  8. Funny story! Lots of good visuals here. And one very good gardening tip - cement!

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  9. Oh. My. Goodness. Since Hubby's recent back problems, Adorable Son has been the lawn boy. I'm not letting him read this!

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  10. I've never had the best looking yard in any neighborhood in which I've lived. I don't even own a lawn mower. I wave a weed whipper around about once a week. What happened to Mr. Melcher? Did people come to worship at his shrine and be healed of fussing with their yards?

    Love,
    Janie

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  11. Lawns are such a pain in the neck that i don't blame him! Wish we could do that here.

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  12. Perhaps Mr MElchers wife was tired of his gardening activities as he was ignoring her and when he was out one day she decided to concrete over the yard and use the lawnmower as a statue.


    Just joking :)

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  13. Much as I would love to have one of those gardens, I've realised my limitations in that regard quite early in my home-owner life.
    Plant bulbs and trees.
    Ground cover for the rest.
    Because mowing a lawn is not for the faint hearted!!

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  14. Luckily, we have a "lawn mowing service." That's what we call our teenage son. I agree, though, we put way too much importance on a manicured lawn. They are not really good for the environment and are far from "natural."

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  15. what a story! My neighbor owns a landscaping business, and has his yard hardscapped!!
    Thank you for your thoughts today. I am thankful you are my blogging friend. i appreciate your friendship.
    happy Friday!!

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  16. I think he finally found a lady friend.

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  17. all that happened in a week ??? quick to assume that Mr. Melcher would never recover.
    i live in a pigeon-hole and even when i was growing up in my family home, i was never good with plants. recently, i tried growing some herbs in my bathroom, but no luck.
    :(

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  18. There's a certain 'Alfred Hitchcock" twist about this story -- I can just hear that television theme in the background!

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  19. How odd. What a fascinating scene to ponder.

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  20. Fun story. You have so darn many great memories. I could picture you and your dad at the barbecue.

    I thought you were going to say Mr Melcher passed away while you were on vacation. We just never know why someone make a giant turnaround like that.

    The house across from me here lookes like the owner might be related to Mr Melcher.

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  21. Well, I LIKE puttering around the yard like old Mr. Melcher. But, one of these days ...

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  22. The lawn care took over his life. I think he probably wanted control and some freedom back and thought of a dramatic way to do it that made a bold statement. He must have been an interesting man!

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  23. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting, it was nice to see you. I can just see the lawnmower! My parents always believed in rock gardens, no mowing!
    Best,
    Jenn of www.JustAddWaterSilly.com

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  24. That is a good story. I can almost see the gold mower.... and am thankful it's not in my next door neighbor's yard ;-)

    Happy weekend, jj

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