I don't know how long ago we got our present lawn mower . . . at least 15 years, and probably closer to 18. We bought it through Cal Petersen when he still had Alpine Valley Lumber, not long after we bought our first house. That would have been about 1974 or so.

I figured this out while mowing the lawn this afternoon, probably the last mowing of the year. Danny or Andrew usually do the mowing, but they were playing with Paul Gillespie, throwing a Nerf football around on the lawn. The sun was so warm for a mid-October afternoon that I couldn't pass up the chance to savor it - and do the boys a favor right in front of their eyes so they could either feel guilty (which they probably wouldn't), or else really appreciate me (which they might).I have been considering a new lawn mower for the past couple of years, waiting for the motor on this one to give its last, but it keeps chugging right along. Like many of us, seems like the parts give out gradually, one at a time.

In all those 15 years, I think it's been in the shop once for overhaul. The blades have only been sharpened two or three times in all those years (I know it's been at least five seasons since the last time). I can picture what mowing looks like at insect level, not so much a cutting process as a billion tiny baseball bats beating each blade to a pulp about 2 inches up.

The plastic guard is rusty and barely hanging by a few flaky edges, and the pull rope thingy, you know, the little spring compartment that the pull rope coils back into? . . . well, it is on its last leg. It has come loose from the motor two or three times. I tried to find a screw that would fit where the old one came out, but it is a misfit. Now with the threads stripped, when it comes loose there is no way to tighten it. I keep waiting for it to pop off completely.

Every time I pull the rope, there's a grinding noise where the gears in the coil thingy mismatch the gear on the motor. It catches best if I put my foot against the coil thingy and press it against the motorwhen I pull the rope. That way, the gears seem to catch a bit better.

I haven't bought a new mower because I know how much they've gone up in price over the past 15 years. Mine was a fairly high-class number in its day. It cost about $150. It'll probably cost two or three times that to replace it. About the only thing you can get for $150 these days is a pair of glorified hand clippers.

Midway through mowing, as I contemplated options, I was distracted for a second by an odd popping sound. Looking down, I saw the front wheel on the left side had cracked loose and was sagging like a marathon runner with a sprained ankle.

After a few passes, the limp was causing the blade to cut lower on one side than the other, giving the lawn an effect much like a New Wave haircut.

As I started mowing the side hill, the engine started losing power and freezing up. Within seconds, it stopped dead in its tracks and began to smoke.

I think we may have a problem here.

When was the last time I checked the oil?

As I tried to remember, like a miracle, my mind began wandering into a whole new space.

Which mower is it that claims to always start on the first pull?

All summer the boys have been begging me to get a new mower. The old one is hard to start, and I don't know how many times Andrew has come in complaining it is too hard to push. The look of anguish on his face, at times, has truly been pathetic.

When Veloy told them I was thinking about getting a new mower, they both hit the roof.

"We slave all summer, and then he comes out for 15 minutes and makes a brilliant discovery!"

I don't know why they're so upset. They should just be thankful it didn't freeze up while they were using it.