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Monday, August 01, 2005

Yellow Cub Cadet

In my memory, boyhood summers are inseparable from my dad's yellow Cub Cadet.

There's a Wonder Years kind a snapshot of me perched behind the wheel, a contented smirk on my face, ready at 4 to be like dad and take on the "jungle" of our half-acre in Flemington, New Jersey. Do you know how cool it is for a four year old boy to ride up with his dad on a big yellow monster? The best part was when I got to steer, the loud roar of the whirring mower unit turning underneath my feet, chewing the ground like a hungry beast.

Just two summers later, my lip quivered as I hugged my stuffed tiger. The movers loaded up my life into a moving truck, trekking north into the Great Unknown of suburban Rochester, New York. I felt much better when our yellow Cub rolled down the truck ramp and staked out its turf in the middle of our new garage. But now we had less land, and a big Cub Cadet was overkill for our smaller yard, so dad bought a push mower instead. Not to fear; with the advent of our Craftsman was born "The Business."

"The Business" always had a kind of Godfather ring to it, but it was nothing nefarious. When my two older brothers got the hang of mowing our yard, they started looking around the neighborhood. There weren't too many houses built yet on our track in the summer of '69, but my siblings were undaunted. Soon, they'd landed the first customer for The Business, an old Jewish couple living next door. One of Six and Two of Six did a good job, and with it, they enjoyed good word of mouth. Others called, and at $ 5.00 per lawn, The Business was up and running.

One day, Two of Six spoke up. "Dad," he said between mouthsful at the dinner table, "we got another offer to do a lawn today, but I told the lady I'd think about it. It's pretty far away, and I don't think we can push our mower that far." Always the handyman, you could see the wheels turning in my father's head. First he bought the lumber, then the wheels and axle. A week later, there it was. We were the proud owners of a tractor trailor! No, not an 18 wheeler, but a useful, low-riding trailer that hitched to the back of the Cub. On the front we put our Craftsman, and on the back was room for the gas can and a rider. By now, One of Six had a job at the grocery store, so I got to join The Business at the whopping wage of $ 1.50/lawn. The next morning, Two of Six, as Boss of the Business, slipped behind the wheel of the Cub, and I climbed on the back of the trailer. The Cub roared to life. Happy to be useful again, it rolled down the driveway, and headed at 3/4 throttle to our first remote job, more than a mile away. As we motored past the other kids in the neighborhood, the looks on their faces were...priceless. Our stock rose by a hundred-fold that day. Not just anybody had the coolest amusement park ride, and got to earn money to-boot.

Two of Six later went to work at the grocery store, and now I was Boss of the Business. My brother, Four of Six, was my lowly slave...er, helper. What a feeling of power! This was even better than the day I joined the force of super cops...I mean, school safety patrols. And so another summer came and went, months of grass stains on my shorts, a killer tan from sunrays at a time when no one knew what skin cancer was, and chilled lemonade offered by our customers that we gratefully gulped down. Two hours later, we climbed back on our Cub Cadet, faithfully waiting in the driveway like a horse tethered to a hitching post in some old Western town. Tired, sweaty, and a few bucks richer, we headed home.

Life goes on. Two years later, I was off at college. My parents moved, and the Cub went with them to their new home. One repair too many and one newspaper ad later, the Cadet was gone, a retirement well deserved. It's probably confined to some scrap-heap now, like Mike Mulligan's steam shovel. But for me, our yellow Cub Cadet will never die.

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