The insane, seriously religious dedication to mowing lawns became staggering to behold at an early age for me. My father, born in 1920, had little enthusiasm for lawns. Back then, most of the ground near your farmhouse was occupied with gardens to grow food. The farm wives did an immense amount of canning back in the day, and I remember the scores of vegetable- and fruit-filled jars lined up on the basement shelves in my grandparents’ house. Lawn mowers powered by gasoline engines first came on the market just a few years before Dad was born!  

Little use for lawns

So, he had little use for lawns and their mowing devices, and would let the lawn around our house grow up to a foot or so before he finally resolved to attack the overgrown turf and whittle it down to a respectable, middle-class height. One of his earlier solutions to this dilemma was to hitch my brother and me with wires to his old push lawn mower, and force us to yank the clattering device through the tall grass. After our protests, he abandoned this primitive practice and borrowed a gas-powered mower, the kind with a long, sharp blade that spins at a high-speed parallel to the ground at a height designated by the operator. To our relief, this mower functioned well, at least until one evening when the noisy device picked up horseshoe and blasted it right out through the housing of the mower. We were of course assigned severe blame for the placement of that offending horseshoe, although we had no direct intent to sabotage the device.

My brother the mower

Sometime after this episode, my brother was old enough to assume the mowing operation with a newer push mower, and for some inexplicable reason, thoroughly enjoyed the task, even after he almost sheered of the end of a finger while cleaning the device. This accident necessitated a trip to the doctor to sew the fingertip back on, but my brother was back obsessively mowing as soon as the wound was healed. He remained an obsessive mower, covering several acres around his farmhouse until his death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as this rare, paralyzing affliction is officially known.

Death of a hunter

It is haunting to speculate that that his ALS may even have resulted from his other intense affection: A love of hunting and guns. My brother became an avid hunter and skeet shooter, and long before his death in 2019 he had acquired a device for reloading shotgun shells. When a shotgun shell is discharged the empty cartridge remains in good enough condition to be reloaded 2 or 3 or more times, depending on the quality of the shell. The basic process involves using a small machine to hold and refill the empty shell with gunpowder, wadding, shotgun pellets, etc. Pellets can range from only 0.05 inch to buckshot from 0.24 to 0.36 inches in diameter.

When he began reloading with this device, lead pellets were still fully legal in Wisconsin, though it was one of the first states to begin banning lead in bullets and shells. Not only did he reload his own shells, but also did so for other shooters. Since lead is considered a possible cause of ALS, it is entirely possible that this exposure triggered his fatal illness

Lawns, guns, fatal wounds

His love of lawn mowing and guns were the two major ways of the many in which we differed so radically. I have never owned a lawn mower, and wherever I’ve lived for the past 60 years, have moved to annihilate the lawn in favor of a garden. As for guns, I have nothing but fear of the damned thing and have never owned one as an adult. Why? Well, one fine summer day as a teenager I was carrying a rifle on my shoulder while my brother and I strolled side by side through a field where we went to blast gophers and other troublesome rodents. In have no idea why, but the gun went off, nearly hitting him in the head, which scared the bejesus out of me. Not long after this, two local teenage brothers, our high school classmates and next-door neighbors to our retired grandparents, were out hunting. The shotgun went off, blasting out one brother’s kidneys, and he died a few years later. Sometime after this, yet another fellow who I’d known since childhood was torn up by a stray gunshot while out hunting, and died as a result. The source of the shot was never found.