Pulling the Plug on Mother

I knew the day would come. When you’re 90 years old, unexpected things can happen. I had to pull the plug on Mother this week. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

Let’s back the bus up

Her yard has a woods on the east side and rows of trees on the north and west sides. The neighbors and the fire station across the street all have trees. She thinks she has some kind of leaf magnet in her yard that attracts every leaf in the block.

It disturbs her.

Me, I’d say it was God’s plan to recycle the nutrients, and I’d leave ’em there.

She, however, wants them gone.

Taking the Murray for its last ride

Fortunately, the back yard butts into a no mans land that used to be a steep hill and cow pasture, so if she can chase the leaves that far, they go down where they’ll eventually fill up a gully in another hundred or two hundred years.

I left the other day and she was blowing leaves on the east yard. That’s pretty easy. She only has to blow the leaves about 75 feet to get them out of the yard on that side.

When I came back, she had started on the upper level of the back yard. I noticed that she was looking a bit tuckered out, so I offered to take over (knowing, of course, that my offer would be indignantly rebuffed). I left to run some other errands.

This time, I found that she had the 100-foot extension cord, plus the 25-footer, and was attacking the lower level of the back yard. Deciding that it was time for drastic action, I reached where the long cord plugged into the short cord and gave a yank. Within seconds, there was silence in the back yard. I had pulled the plug on Mother.

Putting up a brave front

I think even she knew it was time. She didn’t protest when I started coiling up the power cords and hauling them off.

But, that’s not the end of what happened this week. She was giving the yard what she thought would be one last cutting of the season (plus sending leaves off to leaf heaven) when she complained that “it’s not blowing.” I figured she had probably thrown the belt that spins the blades, cutting the grass and mulching the leaves.

When I went to thread it on, one of the pulleys kept popping off its shaft. When I took off the shroud that covered it, I discovered that the shaft wasn’t the same shape all the way up; it came to a point. At some point, the thing that held the pulley to the shaft had come off, the pulley had started grinding away at the shaft until it looked like a bad tooth. I wish I had taken a picture of it.

“Goodbye, Faithful Servant”

It was time to call Brother-in-Law John Perry. He’s seen and done it all when it comes to fixing things. He’d just never seen anything like THIS before. We loaded up a mess of parts and headed out to see Jake the Lawnmower Guy. He, too, had a Maude Moment – “Hey, Maude, Come here. Bet you ain’t never seen anything like this before.”

He pulled out his calculator. Well, this is Missouri. He pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil and started writing down part numbers and getting more excited all the time. He could just see himself out on the Lake of the Ozarks in his new bass boat.

Finally, tearing up his parts list, he said, with the images of the bass boat fading away, “I have a couple of used mowers you might want to take a look at.”

Taking it easy on first lap

I went back to Mother and said, “I have the solution to your lawnmower problem and it’s only gonna cost a quarter.”

“A quarter,” she said. “What can you do to it for a quarter?”

“Well, if I can borrow a gun from John, I can buy a bullet for about a quarter and I think shooting it is about the only course of action that makes sense.”

Vrooooom! Vroooom!

After complaining that the new mower operated differently than the old one – “I won’t know what to do with my left foot. The old mower had the clutch on the left…” – she bought a used Troy-Bilt 21-horsepower, 46-inch mower. Her old one only cut 36 inches and had 11 horses hitched to it. (I can hear her complaining about the cost of feed already, not to mention having to build a bigger barn.)

The new mower has modern safety features. If you put it in reverse, the mower blades stop. If you lift up off the seat, the mower blades stop. If you come completely OFF the seat, the mower blades stop and the motor dies. Keeps you from being run over if you’re ejected.

She needs rocks in her pockets

The only catch is that mother weighs about 72 pounds. I noticed that the blades kept kicking out. I watched her awhile and figured out that she’s so light that every time she hits a bump, the seat flies up just enough to engage the safety interlock and kill the blades. We’re either going to have to fatten her up or make her keep a concrete block in her lap.

Not bad, thought, for someone who had to overcome adversity.

19 Replies to “Pulling the Plug on Mother”

  1. Ken, Your mother is amazing. I have certainy enjoyed the little time I have spent around her. Probably a good thing Lila and I dont live near by, the three of us might find lots of trouble to get into to. Please tell your mother hello for me and that I dont need to see in the newspaper that she has gotten picked up for hot rodding on that new mower.

  2. Great story! I understand perfectly. I recently returned from my regular check in Arizona on my 88 year old Mother. I had to buy a power chair for my Mother, not that she needs it (in her mind) but just in case. To my Mother who some years ago volunteerly gave up her driving license, It only took one trip around the store for Mom to bond with her new motorized power chair.
    Later back at her independent living place, she was giving me “what for” because I was insisting on getting her some liability insurance. Her 100 year old boyfriend heard the agrument and said he would like to have some insurance for his chair too! Then it was ok, thus ending the agrument. I got insurance for both of them!

    1. That’s a great point about the liability insurance on the scooter. I had never considered that, but it makes a great deal of sense.

      Mother, of course, would depend on lie ability insurance.

  3. Great story and nice hook at the start…and I am amazed that she runs the new lawn mower. My Dad the same age stopped mowing his yard last year, but he was using a walk behind power mower. I FINALLY got him to stop by hiring a couple of very nice college girls for down the street to mow the lawn for him. Now dad just gets his lawn chair out and still watches them mow…I guess he checking their work.

  4. Now, he tell me….I had a air compressor that did the same thing. I welded the pulley on the shaft. Result? Five years later, and it is still running. Tell Mom to have fun with that new tractor!

    1. I sure hope she doesn’t see your post. She’ll want to know why I didn’t think of that.

      It was time to put the old Murray down. It was leaking oil so fast that you didn’t need to change it. It had a self-changing oil system. This is the second mower she’s run to the ground.

  5. Editor’s note:

    I was almost afraid to check comments this morning. I frequently grapple with the question of taste and tone. And, with a slight paraphrase of the Kris Kristofferson lyrics”…when you’re headed for the border, Lord, I’m bound to cross the line.”

    The phrase “pulling the plug on Mother” was a great hook to get you to read the story, but I was afraid that it might be too flippant to someone who has had to deal with an awful and awesome end of life decision.

    Our family, knock wood, has been blessed to have not to have to deal with those kinds of issues. We lost Dad in 1977, but he went quickly, doing something he loved to do in a place where he loved to do it. We should all be that lucky.

    My brothers and I have whistled past the graveyard making jokes about “putting Mother in the home” and, now, my kids make the same comments about Wife Lila and me. (I’m not so sure THEY’RE joking, though.)

    It’s our way of “salting the elephant.” Thanks for taking it in the spirit in which it was intended.

    [“Salting the elephant” is my shorthand for an old joke: A guy is sitting on a park bench minding his own business when a stranger in a suit sits down next to him. They nod, but otherwise ignore each other. The stranger opens his coat, extracts a salt shaker and shakes it over his shoulder.

    Guy One thinks this is unusual, but shrugs and ignores it. A few minutes later, Guy Two repeats the action. This goes on several times until Guy One just has to ask.

    “It’s none of my business, but what’s with the salt shaker?”

    “It keeps the elephants away,” was the answer.

    “There aren’t any elephants around here.”

    “See, it’s working.”

    So, we’ll just keep on salting the elephant. It’s working so far.

  6. Scared me to death to hear that headline, when JD read it to me! I couldn’t believe you’d done that to your sweet little old mother! It’s okay–once I recovered from the shock, I laughed at your sneaky method for getting our attention!

  7. I love the fact that your mom is sportin’ her plastic rain hat in these photos. I’ve kept my mom’s in my car’s glove box for the ‘just in case’ time I may need it. It’s a girl thing.

  8. This is an old blog that I just found but loved reading it!!!! Great writing, great story, and sounds like a great Mother…hope the she’s still mowing around? When I want to grow up, I want to be just like her,raincap and all!

  9. That mower was not hard or expensive to fix, under $75 most likely to DIY with parts off Amazon or eBay if not the local parts place, and only needing tools like screwdriers, pliers, sockets. It’d take less time than hauling it somewhere or having someone else come there.

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