Getting the dirt on my spouse
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: April 30, 2021
“If only money grew on trees,” I grumbled, stooping to crawl under our hedges. I knew weeding and mulching the 150-foot row of privets that grows along the border of our property would take all day and render me unable to move without shooting back pains. But someone had to do it.
My husband of 27 years, Francis, was cutting the grass with a brand new, fire-engine-red lawnmower he’d just purchased the day before. I hadn’t thought it necessary, but he said the old mower just couldn’t cut it. I’d heard enough of his sod stories, and besides, as long as he was doing yard work, he could buy himself a bright red tuxedo to match, for all I cared.
Yard work had always been a turf war between Francis and me. It all started when we bought our first house in 1998. I soon learned that he had no intention of doing anything except mowing grass and raking leaves. He felt that all other necessary yard details, such as trimming shrubs, weeding beds, edging sidewalks, aerating, thatching, reseeding, controlling grubs, fertilizing, mulching beds and cleaning gutters were my responsibility. And with him on deployment or work-related travel much of the time, management of the house and yard was left up to me anyway.
Thanks to PCS moves and base housing, Francis was saved from yard responsibilities for the next three tours of duty. Those 11 years only served to reinforce his belief that yard work was mulch ado about nothing.
In 2017, Francis retired from the Navy, and we bought another house. It was built in 1891, needed work, and was surrounded by an overgrown hedgerow and a badly neglected yard filled with vines, weeds, rotted dog houses, buried engine parts, broken yard ornaments, swamp maples and stumps. To Francis, every clod has a silver lining, so he envisioned sunny weekend afternoons leisurely mowing the lawn or raking a few leaves. After two, definitely no more than three, hours of satisfying hard work, he’d sit on our porch with a cold beverage admiring his grassroots effort.
Of course, Francis didn’t pay any mind to weed pulling, rock lugging, limb cutting, dirt hauling, hedge trimming, drop-spreading, thatching, aerating, fertilizing and mulching. I could have nagged Francis, but I preferred lawn and order to marital hedgemony. We could’ve paid someone else, but we’d need a hedge fund. There’s no such thing as free mulch, so I did the deed myself, dirt cheap.
I crawled under the 150-foot hedgerow commando-style, pulling and scraping, foot by foot, throwing handfuls of weeds, ivy, vines and windblown bits of trash out of the beds. With branches wapping me in the face, I hedged my beds that I could spread the mulch without losing an eye.
Reaching the halfway point, I emerged only to hit the bathroom (I nearly soiled my plants). Summoning the courage to press on, I crossed myself, said a few lines from the Apostles Weed, and crawled back under the bushes — but where was Francis? I’d hoped he might help me after he finished mowing. He was nowhere to be found.
Three hours later, I reached the last hedge, when my husband appeared. I stood up, groaning like I’d fought the lawn and the lawn won.
“Whoa!” Francis said, “You’re looking a bit rough around the hedges.”
“Well, at least I don’t have a re-seeding hare line,” I growled, with a big chip on my shoulder. “Were you napping?” I asked, noticing sheet marks on his cheek. Just then, our neighbor appeared in the street.
“Hey Mel, did you see my new lawn mower?” Francis said.
“Did the old one break?” Mel asked.
“Naw. But the new one — she’s a beaut. Cutting hedge technology. Done mowing in no time flat!”
I had dirt on my husband, but couldn’t bring myself to tell Mel that Francis was napping while his wife worked her grass off. All in all, he was a good husband.
“You do nice work, hon,” Francis said, bringing cold beverages out to the porch.
“Mulch appreciated,” I said, dropping my weary body into an Adirondack chair. I was bushed.