This story is by Georgiana Marshen and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Henry, we need to settle on this,” Janet said. “My sister needs help since Gary died. Besides, Jack won’t be under your thumb.”
“Janet, I’m iron-handed with Jack because he gives up right away. There are no quitters in this house.”
Jack sat in the rear seat of the Chevy, his skin tingling down to his finger-tips when they exited the highway. Jack was sick of being called, ‘Black sheep of a son’ and couldn’t wait to get away from Henry.
Mary’s house has the only white picket fence with Black-Eyed Susan, in full bloom, running its full length. Upon hearing her sister’s voice, Mary rushed from the house to greet them.
Janet hugged her sister Mary, “Thanks for letting Jack stay with you this summer. I reminded him he can’t just lay around, he must help you.”
“Are you sure you can’t stay for dinner?”
“We can’t. Henry has to be at work early so it’s best we leave now in case we hit traffic,” Janet replied.
Jack returned his mother’s hug before closing the car door. He waited on the driveway until the Chevy was out of sight. Mary put her arm around Jack’s shoulders leading him into the house, his suitcase in tow.
The following morning, the sun’s brilliance poured through the bedroom window, embracing Jack’s face, rousing him. While sitting with his long legs dangling over the side of the bed, the sweet aroma of Mary’s famous blueberry pancakes wafted into his room. He washed and dressed as fast as he could, then raced to the kitchen.
“Good morning. Hope you slept okay. I was thinking we could work in the garden today,” Mary said, as she passed him the plate of pancakes. Jack gazed out the kitchen window and sighed, “Your garden is enormous.”
Jack wiped the last blueberry pancake from his lips then helped Mary clean the dishes before heading out to the backyard. Jack trailed behind Mary as she led him to the shed. He was handed gardening gloves, a weeding tool, and a bucket. Mary gathered her tools then walked to the garden beds, Jack in lock step.
“You can start here, in the tomato bed. I’ll show you which are weeds and which aren’t. Sound good?”
“I think so,” Jack replied.
Jack scrutinized the tomato bed, mustering enough courage to start weeding. Thirty minutes later Mary praised him for a job well done. They continued for the next hour, when Mary declared, “We’re finished for today,” music to Jack’s ears. They headed back to the shed where Jack discovered the reel mower way in the back. He ran his finger along the pitted handle, coming away with a finger tip covered in orange rust.
“Have you ever mowed a lawn, Jack?”
Jack stammered, “I tried but my father said I was doing it wrong and made me stop,” Jack said, hanging his head low to avoid making eye contact and stepped out of the shed. Mary pulled the reel mower out and pushed it in front of him.
“Take it out for a spin,” Mary said, adding, “Nothing to it, just walk in a straight line, turn, and come back. Keep going until you cut the entire lawn.”
Jack froze, staring at the mower. His fingers wrapped the pitted handle and, with every ounce of muscle, pushed the mower back and forth across the lawn.
Mary stuck her head out the kitchen window shouting, “Lunch is ready” just as he finished. “I enjoy mowing,” Jack said, while running his palms along the handle. He sprinted to the house and washed up before joining Mary at the kitchen table. The quiet was deafening while they ate. Mary broke the silence, startling Jack.
“I watched you mow the lawn.”
Jack braced himself for the negative remarks.
“I’m impressed. Great job! Why your father said you were mowing wrong is beyond me.”
In a low voice Jack replied, “My father says I will never amount to anything. Do you think that’s true, Aunt Mary?”
Mary’s face turned beet red, her voice rising to the point of shouting, causing Jack to cower.
“Henry is a miserable excuse of a father. Just because his father had unreasonable expectations and never supported him, didn’t mean he had to follow suit with you. It stripped you of confidence. Jack, look at me. You are an intelligent young man and can achieve great things. I will help you realize that.”
“Aunt Mary, I’ve read every book in the library about maintaining lawns. I want to make it my career after I graduate high school. When I mentioned this to my father, the reaction shocked me. I’ll never forget what he said, ‘Talk about having high aspirations. Wow, mowing lawns, what a way to make a name for yourself’.”
Mary walked toward Jack and placed both hands on his shoulders, “Well you know what, you will prove him wrong.”
Mary suggested he attend a school specializing in turf management. There was such a school near to the house, and she proposed he live with her while attending. Jack sent in the application that week.
The following year, Jack graduated high school and received his acceptance into the Turf Management program all in the same week. Henry was enraged that Jack did not follow in his footsteps and attend a business school. Jack shrugged off his father’s fury. The turf program was to begin the Monday following graduation and Jack was not waiting at home. Janet helped him pack two suitcases with everything he needed, leaving nothing but memories. The two emerged from his bedroom to the sound of Henry’s bellows.
“Go ahead, move in with Mary. I want my, ‘black sheep of a son’ out of my sight.”
Jack waved to his mother from the taxi taking him to the train station. Janet slammed the door, furious with Henry’s aggression toward his son.
Mary met Jack at the train station. She watched him struggle with two unwieldy suitcases. They made eye contact and Jack rushed to her, burying his head into her shoulder sobbing. Mary held him tight, stroking his head. She looked into his bloodshot eyes, “Let’s go home.”
Over the next three years, Mary bore witness to Jack’s transformation. He became focused and driven. Graduation day arrived and Jack made sure Mary sat in the front row. She dabbed her eyes as Jack proudly accepted his diploma, naming him ‘Top Graduate In the Field of Turf Management’.
Job hunting took up the better part of two weeks, after which he accepted a position as greenskeeper at the prestigious, Bunker Haven, golf course just outside of town. Mary cooked a celebratory dinner that night and toasted to his future. Her eyes welled up realizing her proposal to live there while in school is ending. Jack took hold of both her hands, “I’m not going anywhere. This is my home.”
The following Monday, Mary took a break from weeding the tomato garden. “Oh my, I have never seen such a blue sky.” Jack wanted to surprise Mary by coming home for lunch. He walked into the kitchen asking, “What’s for lunch”, when he spied her through the window, lying still on the grass.
Mary’s unexpected death devastated Jack. He moped around the empty house for days. A few weeks passed when an envelope from Mary’s lawyer arrived. Inside was a letter stating that upon Mary’s death, the house became Jack’s. He dropped on to the sofa and read the letter again. It dumbfounded him.
A few days later, Jack returned to work and found the crew crowded around the TV.
“Breaking news! Bunker Haven will host the upcoming Tournament of Heroes.”
The crew erupted, shaking the walls of the break room. If successful, Bunker Haven will become one of the elite courses around the world, something Jack intended to achieve.
The first day of the match arrived and the golf course was teeming with the roar of mowers. Greenskeepers work steadily to keep the course in pristine condition. The final putt is sunk and the champion is declared, ending a grueling week. The crew crowded around the podium, the TV cameras pointing at Jack, as he accepted the Outstanding Greenskeeper Award.
“Thank you for this prestigious honor. Everyone, let’s raise a glass to Bunker Haven, now ranked a top ten course,” Jack said.
The final toast put an end to the exhausting day. Jack dragged himself, with leaden feet, to his car then stopped short, stunned by a familiar face.
“Your Aunt Mary kept me current on everything you’ve done. I watched you accept that prestigious award. You made a name for yourself.”
“I guess my high aspiration to mow lawns paid off,” Jack said.
“Wanna get a beer?” Henry said, trying to ease the tension.
Jack was thrown off guard, unsure how to respond. Is he extending an olive branch?
“Oh hell. Hop in Dad, I’ll drive.”