The Yard Man

An Article, written by Barbara Taylor

A note from the author:

As I was watching out my kitchen window as Mr. Frank Vann so meticulously cared for my yard, I realized that this was going on all over Sampson county.  How many yard men have mowed, weeded, trimmed, and sprayed in all our yards over the period of a summer.  This essay was inspired by his caring spirit demonstrated every time he made the magic work from before his arrival to after.  It is dedicated to everyone who has performed these tasks.  When Frank died, I realized why I had been inspired to write the article.  I printed and gave a copy to his wife to be distributed within the family.  Now that I have moved away from the little country house, the document takes on an even more special meaning, reminding me of my 26 years of happiness on Mount Moriah Church Road.

We stand and talk. He is chewing his wad of tobacco and I am in my robe and woolen socks, donned last night to ward off the sudden cold spell that once again pushed away the approach of a delinquent spring. We silently watch the green waves moving across the field as the wind allots the wheat blades proportionately, creating an oceanic simulation not duplicatable anywhere else in the world. He interrupts the silence to spit, and then continues.

“It looks like an ocean” he reflects. I laugh and respond, “Yes, an ocean in my back yard in the middle of Sampson County. How absurd is that?” And how special, considering my little cottage is situated between fields of corn, soybeans, or wheat, depending on the seasonal rotation cycle. It is my own special place in the world . . . the place where I have ‘settled’. To find one’s own settlin’ spot in a universe as large as ours is not easy. But to recognize that you have arrived is sometimes even more difficult.  

He and I silently watch the movement of the wheat for a moment before he changes the subject. “I don’t know where she got it, but my wife writes poems. She wrote one about me, can you imagine? When our 17 year old grandson died, she wrote a poem about him. Every time someone dies, she writes poetry. She still has one that she ain’t given to the family yet. I guess she’s waitin’ for the right time.”

Finding one’s place in the world and waiting for the right time, is called settlin’ and timin’ in the county where I live. Frank has been settled here much longer than I. He is a native, having grown up in these eastern flatlands. He never left. I am an import who tried out several spots in the world before choosing, for 20 years, to stay put.

After retiring from industry, he returned to his favorite pastime, driving his truck with the riding lawn mower on the hitched trailer, and hiring out as a yard man for the neighborhood. He’s good at what he does, demonstrating his passion for working outdoors through little unexpected favors . . . spraying the unwanted growth, weed eating the survival of the fittest, fertilizing and pruning the blueberry bushes, cleaning the car port and gazebo cement floors, and transplanting a volunteered Bradford Pear sapling from his yard to mine. 

During our conversation, we both turn to look at a bush with white flowers that has bloomed for the first time this spring. “What is the name of that bush?” he asks. We have no idea unless it’s Grandpa’s Beard. He breaks off a sprig to compare to a similar bush in his back yard. I promise to research on the computer. We don’t understand why the bush has never bloomed before, since it has been there for several years. “Perhaps,” I reflected, “its time has finally come.”

The mystery bush had volunteered during the harsh winter that killed the Rose of Sharon planted just outside my kitchen window. Discarding the dead bush had been traumatic. It had been one of two bushes my sister had confiscated from our mother’s yard after she died. I had enjoyed watching it become a lodging for numerous hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and Japanese beetles. Every summer the diversified occupants had co-existed and devoured the blooms on the bush named after the biblical Jesus. Its time had come and gone, but the sadness from its loss had now been erased by the appearance of the blooming mystery bush that became the substitute magnet for the displaced occupants.

As the yard man plugs in the blower, I turn and walk into the house. The quiet morning is disturbed by the jarring noise of the machine as it sucks up the excess grass and vacuums the green carpet that has flourished under his constant care. This finishing touch is just one more thing that sets him apart.

Frank’s philosophy is simple; regular mowings to outmaneuver nature. His farming experience has taught him to stay ahead of conditions that might delay or complicate his job. The forecast of rain, the spraying of chemicals on the crop fields, the wetness of the soil, Sunday expectations, holidays, students coming for voice lessons in my music studio, or visits from family. While I was in D. C. playing with grandchildren, he had to cut the grass three times because of the unseasonably occurrence of rain. When I returned home, the yard was in its usual apple-pie order. Keeping tabs on my little place is a passion, and he cares. I understand.

My passion is the little music studio, that stands independently behind my house, and contains my Kawai baby grand piano. This small, unassuming building, that had once been a country florist shop, was the main reason I ‘settled’ here.  A music studio in the middle of corn fields, was too appealing to ignore. The musical vibrations generated by the young voices that I teach and the rich, vibrant tones from the piano, find an escape through the cracks of the cinder block walls and around the windows, and rise above the little stone wishing well in front of the studio, echoing throughout the spatial fields.

The second determining factor was the old mimosa tree, that had shaded and guarded the building for many years. Of course I did not know that the tree was also the home of a black snake until he slipped through the door of the studio with a student one day, and curled up in the back of the second piano, a studio model the same age as my oldest son. When I prodded him with my conducting baton that had never been used for its intended purpose, he crawled across the room and left through an invisible hole in the wall. Any possibilities for the continuation of the lesson disappeared with him.

The blower stops, and the yard man stands under the car port slowly winding the cord around his elbow as he neatly connects the ends. He starts to leave, but notices a low limb from the Miracle Mimosa tree in the front yard, and hurries to the trailer parked in the shed, to get the pruner. 

The Miracle Mimosa tree has provided a shady substitute for the two original pine trees that were downed by the hurricanes, Floyd and Dennis in 1999, narrowly missing my roof. Afterwards, the sun had unmercifully circled my house throughout the day. One evening, I discovered a volunteer shoot from the elderly mimosa in front of the music studio and planted it in the front yard. The eight inch sprig had only three leaves but a strong root. Through the winter months it bent with the winds and braved a couple of light snows. When spring arrived, there were little green nodules forming on either side of the shoot, and I knew it had settled in. During the summer it grew two feet.

The timing had been right for my miracle tree that now completely covers the front yard, providing shade in the summer and sunlight in the winter . . . a stalwart blessing, in spite of the mess it produces throughout its many stages.

The yard man clips the hanging limb that has been bumping his cap for several weeks, and places it on his trailer to dispose of in the woods behind his house. As he surveys the results, he looks up and notices the recently formed dark clouds. His face becomes a contented smile of pride and satisfaction that seems to say, “My ‘timin’ was just right.”

All is well in my little place in the world. 

Thanks, Barbara, for sharing such a beautiful story.

3 thoughts on “The Yard Man”

  1. Barbara, thank you so much for sharing this simple but profound story. Although these simple gifts are around us all the time, you’ve shown that we need to look around more and stop to appreciate them.

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