I don’t recall that my father ever let us push a power mower before we were 14 years old. But I know he encouraged us to mow our lawn.
“MANUAL DEL OPERADOR,” the instructions I am holding say. “Podadora de Empujea.”
No, wait, I’m reading the Spanish language side of the booklet. No wonder it was so difficult to understand how to get my mower from box to grass.
“OPERATOR’S MANUAL,” I can see, after turning the instructions over to English. “Push Mower.”
They identify it on the front of the manual in case you’ve forgotten what you bought. Or perhaps you can’t recognize the illustration of a four-wheeled machine with a motor on the top, blade on the bottom, and a long handle with a bag between it.
“WARNING!” continues the cover, with the word accompanied by the triangle that has an exclamation point inside it. It’s the international symbol for “somebody in another country is calling you an idiot.”
Or, at the very least, I must look like a potential numbskull.
They mean it
“DANGER! This machine is capable of amputating fingers, hands, toes and feet and throwing objects,” said an entry under “Important Safe Operation Practices.”
“Failure to observe the following safety instructions could result in serious injury or death.”
I read some of those safety instructions. I’m not sure if I learned anything I couldn’t have guessed.
“Do not put your hands or feet near rotating parts or under the cutting deck. Contact with blade can amputate fingers, hands, toes and feet.”
But, I guess there are some people out there who consider lawn mowers to be toys, despite instructions indicating otherwise.
“This machine is a precision piece of power equipment, not a plaything,” the operations manual said. “Never allow children under 14 years of age to operate this machine.”
A rite of passage
I don’t recall that my father ever let us push a power mower before we were 14 years old. But I know he encouraged us to mow our lawn after we reached an age when we could be tricked into thinking we would become an adult if we pushed a rotary mower, painted our house and washed the family car.
Once he got the oldest of his offspring cutting the grass, he could afford to use the allure of adulthood to reel in the rest of his children.
“You’re not old enough,” he told me as I watched my older brother perform a task that I somehow believed would make me feel like a man. When I got old enough to take my turn pushing, he went to work on my younger brother, expressly forbidding him to mow until I got adult enough to realize that mowing a lawn isn’t as much fun for a kid as I’d thought.
My sister didn’t stand a chance. All four of us were telling her how much she’d enjoy mowing the lawn. We would, too, my brothers and I insisted, if we didn’t have to play baseball.
That’s why the words printed on the Spanish side of my mower instructions — “Por favor asegurese de seguir cuidadosamente y hacerselas seguir a cualquier otra persona que opere la maquina.” — sound so important.
It either means “Please be sure that you, and any other persons who will operate the machine, carefully follow the recommended safety practices at all times,” or “You’re such a nitwit. Why didn’t you have kids? ... ”
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