The Leaf Blower
By Kathryn Kerr Fitzsimmons
“Birth, life, and death - each took place on the hidden side of a leaf.”
- Toni Morrison
Carol is an elegant 79 year old woman who has had both hips, both knees and one ankle replaced. She suffers from bursitis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. While doing her best to age with dignity, there are few things that bring her greater joy than blowing leaves, despite her lack of balance, strength or agility. For nearly thirty years, she has lived in the Low Country of South Carolina, where everything eventually falls to the ground (including Carol, on occasion) due to the oppressive heat and humidity. Even in the milder months of November through April, bushes, plants and trees bloom, shed, and drop a collection of debris, including large clumps of Spanish Moss, tiny, hard, black acorns, or just the general garden variety of dead leaves. This occurs day after day, week after week, month after month. When tropical storms or hurricanes are imminent, Carol is less likely to stock up on water than ensure the two batteries for the leaf blower are fully charged. One might say the Low Country is a leaf blower’s paradise. This task is certainly the driving force that keeps Carol rising each morning, with aching bones and swollen joints, to tackle the front walkway of her courtyard, the driveway, and the back patio.
None of these spaces encompass more than 100 square feet of pavement, stone or brick. And yet Carol will spend two to four hours each day clearing the ground of detritus, only to be met by more or less the same quantity the following day; or perhaps later that afternoon, depending on the wind and the season. She has been known to blow leaves in her pajamas at dawn– her breasts unencumbered by a bra, nipples visible through a threadbare t-shirt when her robe falls open. Her hair is uncombed and eventually soaked with sweat that she mops off her neck with a clean rag from the pile she keeps next to the leaf blower in the garage.
The neighbors, the delivery drivers, the security guards from the gatehouse (Carol’s community is posh), and every dog walker in the neighborhood have come to expect the sight and sound of Carol and her leaf blower, morning, noon or night. The obsessive pattern and predictability of her eccentricity is endearing because her goal, as perceived by others, is simply to beautify her property and the tabby walks where others often stroll. The ground can never be too clear of leaves, berries or sometimes fallen yard waste from the flatbed of the gardener’s truck that rumbles past daily.
The satisfaction of bringing order and heightened vigilance to neighborhood upkeep is Carol’s way of contributing to society, since many of her friends have died, or moved to Florida. She has replaced weekly Bridge games and five course dinner parties with driving out the pesky ground cover that litters her property. In another lifetime, she held court, seated at the head of the table during country club luncheons, planning fundraisers and holiday galas with eager followers. Women aspired to model their social gatherings after her classic style, and natural ability to make every guest feel as if they were there to be honored.
There are interior tasks, of course, which Carol tends to diligently. Each pull out shelf of her pantry is organized systematically, beginning with canned goods, and descending in order from jarred non-perishables, to boxed crackers, to baking supplies encased in tupperware, to prevent staleness. Her crystal is immaculately displayed in built-in glass cabinets in the dining room, her silver is always polished, and napkins pressed and folded impeccably in their rightful place. Her spice drawer is custom fitted with slots where jars are placed alphabetically and always full, due to the fact that she has lost interest in cooking for one, over time.
For Carol, leaf blowing is a source of exercise and socialization. She prides herself on knowing the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood, even if their owners are too many to recall on cue. She is friendly with various landscaping crews and painters, construction workers who wave daily as she revs the motor of the blower and attacks the fallen leaves with focus and meticulous precision.
The Low Country is her home, but Carol is fortunate to have a second property in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where layer upon layer of dead leaves await her arrival each spring, as she and her daughter open up the cabin for the summer season. The leaf blowing continues at breakneck speed, as summer transitions into fall and the days become shorter. The summer crowd dwindles in late August. The landscape is covered once again by Labor Day. Radiant maple, birch and elm leaves scatter across the lawn and beckon Carol from her bed each morning, waiting to be bagged or blown into the woods, as life goes dormant through the long winter.
Carol dreams in vivid color. She often dreams of the past and all the activity of a life well lived, surrounded by friends and family. She has lived all over the world, in wet, dry, cold and warm climates. She has lived in high rise apartment buildings, sprawling ranches surrounded by orange groves and lemon trees, and multi-story town houses equipped with elevators. She has built from the ground up, rehabilitated old properties and torn down ones that couldn’t be saved. She has never tired of the view outside her windows or the leaves that fall from trees that have been present for decades before her arrival.
She frequently dreams of her fifty year old daughter as a little girl, raking piles of leaves in the front and back yard of their home in a quiet midwestern town. If leaf blowers existed, they could not afford one back then. But the joy of remembering her child floundering about in the golden autumn light brings a smile to her face, as she faces new leaves each morning. The majestic trees that form a canopy over her yard and drop remnants of their being at her feet remind her that something always needs tending to, always needs caring for, and will be there tomorrow, providing her with purpose and responsibility.
She calmly drifts off to sleep, knowing that a new day will greet her with areas that need clearing. The landscape may change. The pace at which she moves will continue to slow. But the process of improving her surroundings will remain a constant comfort.
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Clapping Carol is sucking through all those man leaves, there's nipples, there's golden age love layers and she even stops the blow to wave. Why is Carrol alone?
Thank you so much for the comment, Tommy. It made me laugh b/c a friend who I asked to read through my draft actually said she'd like to know what kind of person Carol lives with. Perhaps in another a story... I appreciate you reading my story.
Tommy-- just a head's up-- read "On the Road Again" to learn about Carol's plus one. :-)