The following excerpt is from the Introduction to Born Yesterday:
he lawnmower roared to life, the noise cutting through the morning air of the lazy suburban neighborhood in Orting, Washington. I stepped back and glanced about uneasily, expecting heads to appear in the windows or at the front doors of the houses across the street. But the doors remained shut, and the curtains over the windows did not move.
Sister Tarbell moved away from me, pushing the lawnmower in a straight line to one end of the lawn and back, and then turned the handle over to me. “Keep cutting parallel like this until you finish,” she said. She turned and walked away, disappearing into the house.
Carefully, I guided the mower forward across the lawn near the street.
“I can do this!” I told myself firmly, trying to push down the panic that clutched at my throat as I realized I was being left alone to perform this task.
It wasn’t that I was a stranger to work. I was sixteen years old and had spent years trying to compete with my brothers at everything, including hard work. If Sister Tarbell had taken me out into the woods and asked me to cut down a tree, split logs, or gather firewood, I would have been in my element. I could carry eight, one-gallon jugs of water at a time in my hands, hoe long rows of corn under the hot sun for hours, and wash mountains of dirty, heavy denim clothes using just a scrub board and a barrel of water.
But cutting a small, suburban front lawn with a power lawnmower represented a strange and uncomfortable world to me! True, the power mower was much easier to push than the rusty, manual one I infrequently used on the grass outside our house back up there on the Hill. Usually I used a swing blade when the grass got too tall, but sometimes, when Dad thought I needed to be doing something more important than whatever I was engaged in, he would make me use the manual mower.
Yes, the power lawnmower was easier. But ease wasn’t the issue.
It was having to casually move about in this strangely public environment as if it were private. Here, the smooth, paved streets allowed cars to come into view and approach me unawares. Furthermore, the awful, attention-generating noise of the lawnmower alerted everyone of my presence, and I had no control over that. Even now, hidden eyes might be watching me from behind those blank windows that seemed to stare at me from across the street.
I stole a glance at them again, searching for any movement or sign of life, but there was none. I reached the edge of the lawn, turned around, and looked up as I began pushing the lawnmower in the opposite direction. What I saw made me freeze.
A car was approaching from down the street.
In a flash, instinct took over. Bolting for cover, I ran and hid behind the house. The lawnmower sputtered and died. The car slowly drove by and disappeared from view.
Cautiously, I emerged from my hiding place and peered in both directions to make sure the street was clear.
Taking a deep breath, I walked hesitantly over to the silent lawnmower. I depressed the handle and pulled the cord the way Sister Tarbell had shown me, and the motor roared to life. I hated it! Surely this time someone would look to see what was making all the noise. But the curtains didn’t move; no heads popped out from behind the closed doors.
I pushed my dark blue bonnet back a little on my head and hoisted my long, homemade skirt up just a bit, hoping the slight breeze would cool me down. Once again I began pushing the mower across the swath of uncut grass. I hadn’t covered more than a few yards when I glanced over my shoulder and saw another car meandering my way. Without a second thought, I once again fled and hid behind the house.
I had just restarted the mower and taken only a few steps when I saw yet another car coming. My instinct told me to hide, but a brand new thought dawned on me and stopped my feet from taking flight: this is never going to end—cars are going to keep passing by!
I realized that if I ran every time a car came along, I would never finish mowing the lawn. I steeled myself against the almost overwhelming impulse, gripped the handle tightly, and continued pushing the mower.
The car slowly drove by.
My only defense was not to look, but in my mind, I saw eyes staring at me. Of course they would stare—a girl mowing the lawn in a long, homemade dress and full-brimmed bonnet as if it were as normal as the summer sunshine. I was, indeed, an odd sight.
It took me another twenty minutes to finish mowing the lawn, and at least a dozen vehicles passed by. But I didn’t run and hide again. During those twenty minutes, I made my first real adjustment from a separate and isolated life toward a more typical, normal one. It would take years before I felt reasonably normal more often than not; decades before I fully adjusted. But on that day, I began my long journey of learning to live in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.