A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker





Mike, my son-in-law-to-be, is a lawn care professional. He has built a thriving business out of making lawns . . . well, thrive.

I, on the other hand, am a complete amateur in the yard. I never met a lawn I couldn't defoliate. I am King Crabgrass, Lord of the Dandelions, photosynthesis in reverse. Give me a healthy lawn in the spring, and by summer I'll have it begging for winter to come and put it out of its misery.

It isn't for lack of effort on my part. I mow the lawn regularly. I water it carefully. Every once in a while I sprinkle it with weed and feed. But for some reason, I seem to end up doing more harm than good despite my best botanical intentions.

Take the edge trimming, for example (or, as my 19-year-old son, Joe, says, "Take the edge trimming PLEASE"). In my view, there is nothing like a well-trimmed lawn. And that's exactly what we have: nothing like a well-trimmed lawn. Oh, I get out there with the weed-whacker, and I trim the edges with all my heart and soul. Maybe that's the problem: I'm just too passionate about it. I trim with such fervor that I usually end up giving my lawn the agricultural equivalent of a bowl cut. I trim the lawn's edges so fiercely, they join the Great Wall of China as the only man-made objects clearly visible from outer space.

Mike loves to tease me about my edge-trimming. He claims he brings his new employees by for a close-up look at what can happen when a weed-whacker gets in the wrong hands. During the last round of good-natured ribbing, I reminded him that talk is cheap.

"If you think you can make this lawn look any better," I said, "show me."

So the other day, he did. He pulled up to our house with a truck-full of equipment, and before you could say "Take a little off the side" he was zipping back and forth across our lawn on a brand new, state-of-the-art mowing machine with the word "Hussy" written on the back (I had heard him speak affectionately of his cute little "Hussy," but I thought he was referring to my daughter). Within 20 minutes the entire lawn was mowed and edged.

OK, so maybe he completed the task about five times faster than I can do it. He should be faster; he's a pro, and hey -- he has a Hussy. It's the quality of the work that matters, and the quality of Mike's work is definitely not equal to mine. Not even close. The quality of his work is so far superior to mine, you can't even measure it on the quality meter. My lawn is now smooth and even, and the edges are beautifully manicured, as if a thick green carpet had been laid beside my sidewalk.

Mike's extraordinary work presented him with the perfect opportunity to gloat. After all, he won. He was clearly better in every respect. He had defeated his future father-in-law on his own turf, so to speak, and had therefore earned right to talk smack. I had thrown down the gauntlet in front of him; now he had the opportunity to pick it up and pummel me with it.

But he didn't. He just packed up his Hussy, graciously accepted my thanks and went home, leaving me feeling awfully good -- about my lawn, and about my daughter's future.

Mike taught me something that day, and it didn't have anything to do with high-tech lawn mowers, weed-whackers or the Great Wall of China. It had to do with dignity, grace and class. This is life, not the World Wrestling Federation. So you can win without intimidation. You can be right without belittling. You can be the best without being in someone's face.

And you can be a professional without putting down the amateurs.

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and