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The Monument

April 16, 2014

First posted April 2012


Flowers are starting to bloom here in the Northwest and folks are ignoring the drizzle to prepare their yards for warmer weather. At this time of year I always think of Mr. Melcher, a celebrity in the Bay Area neighborhood where I grew up in the early Sixties.


Mr. Melcher was famous for having the best-looking yard in the neighborhood. His nickname was Mr. Mulcher because of the great care he took to insure that his yard was well-fed, well-organized, and a glimmering palette of color. Aside from feeding his lawn and adding mulch, he fertilized and aerated every year and mowed his grass twice a week. The reward for all his hard work was an award-winning landscape like those on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Aside from a lawn that looked like green carpet, his flower beds were bursts of color and, unlike other yards in the neighborhood, dandelions and other pesky weeds weren’t to be found.


Mr. Melcher’s house was only two blocks from where we lived. I’d pass his property on my walk to and from school, and I’d wave at him as he tended his yard. Usually he was too busy to wave back. It could get mighty hot in the Santa Clara Valley, but heat didn’t deter Mr. Melcher from his trimming, weeding and watering. I don’t remember seeing a Mrs. Melcher so perhaps all of this gardening was the result of untapped sexual energy, not that this was something I thought about when I was a kid. Back then, old Mr. Melcher was probably twenty years younger than I am now.


One summer when I was nine our family made the pilgrimage to Disneyland. We also journeyed to the San Diego Zoo and crossed into Tijuana for my first excursion out of the country. I bought onyx bookends of sleepy peasants catching some shuteye in the shade of onyx cacti—now politically incorrect. We were gone a week. The day after our return, Dad and I were barbequing t-bones in the backyard when George, our neighbor, poked his head over the fence and welcomed us home. He also said, “Say, have you had a chance to check out what Old Melcher did to his yard while you were gone?”


That stoked our curiosity. As soon as the T-bones were off the grill, Dad and I trooped over to Mr. Melcher’s house. The sun was setting but what we saw in the fading light made our jaws drop. The award-winning landscape was no more. The carpet-like green lawn—gone. The plants—gone. Mr. Melcher had ripped everything out and concreted over his entire front yard. In the middle of this sea of cement rose a concrete block. Enshrined on it was Mr. Melcher’s lawnmower, spray painted gold and glinting in the sunset like a pair of bronzed baby booties.


“What do you think?” I asked my dad.


He rubbed his jaw while staring at the push-mower monument, choosing his words carefully. “I think Mr. Melcher had a stroke, like the one Grandpa had last year.”


I considered Dad’s words. Personally, I hated mowing lawns, and at our house that chore usually fell on me. I was also responsible for watering, pulling weeds and raking leaves from our big sycamore tree. Sure, a grassy yard was fun to play on, but maintaining it was a lot of work. Stroke or not, I was impressed by Mr. Melcher’s solution. I studied the maintenance-free landscape before me and pondered whether or not Mr. Melcher’s stroke had, in fact, also been a stroke of genius.


I just want rocks.
By: Mis Anthropy on April 16, 2014
There is an advantage of not requiring as much maintenance but not only is a concrete lawn ugly it would really make things warmer in the summertime you'd have to think.
By: PT Dilloway on April 16, 2014
Mr. Melcher had a definite sense of humour!
By: the broad on April 16, 2014
was this true or embellished? :) yikes!
By: TexWisGirl on April 16, 2014
TexWisGirl: Although I'm not above embellishing, this one is totally true. CC
By: Chubby Chatterbox on April 16, 2014
I like the xeriscapes that are around here. We have a dry/desert clime so many yards forego grass and go with natural desert sages and plants that survive with only natural rainfall. I tend to like them and they are low maintenance.
By: Michael Offutt on April 16, 2014
I generally disliked yard work because it took up my week end free time. I always thought that when I retired I might use my new found time to enjoy perfecting my yard as kind of a relaxing hobby. As it turns out my current townhome association does most of the yard work. Reading about Mr. Melcher I am now happy to have the association tend to the yard.
By: Cranky on April 16, 2014
Some of my neighbors have "Melchered" their yards--I don't like it. I LOVE his gold lawnmower, though!!
By: fishducky on April 16, 2014
back in the mid-60's I ripped out our teeny front lawn and built raised beds in place of the stupid lawn. I then planted flowers and vegetables. The snooty SW Portland Heights neighbors were aghast- but years later they all are probably doing it! I would never do what Mr Melcher did- too hot in the summer- but I do like the idea of making a metal sculpture out of a lawn mower!
By: Kathe W. on April 16, 2014
Makes me wonder if someone said something to him that made him decide to do that.
By: mimi on April 16, 2014
Hilarious. Favorite Young Man's neighbor has a concrete elephant in a fountain in the middle of his front yard. Last year, a few of my neighbors went the rocks and plants route -- no more grass to mow. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on April 16, 2014
Did not see that coming but can almost relate as the years pile up. Just came in from mowing. Love his solution.
By: Akansas Patti on April 16, 2014
Ha my (now ex) neighbour did that to their front lawn but it was to provide more parking spaces for their kids who were now of driving age. It was a townhouse with a small, postage stamp sized lawn. In the middle of theirs was an apple tree so they paved around it, leaving enough open ground around the tree for it to get rain. I was sure it would kill off the tree but it's been about 5 years and it still produces.. albeit fewer apples than it used to.
By: Hilary on April 16, 2014
I guess he finally scored big. Then felt his prized lawn was no longer at the top of his affections.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 16, 2014
I'm just thinking of all the sex old Mr. Melcher started having... ;-)
By: Pixel Peeper on April 16, 2014
Nice play on words with the word stroke!
By: red on April 16, 2014
There are so many potential morals to this story, and so much meaning to be gleaned. Yet I'm liking Pixel's comment best. Well done, Stephen. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on April 17, 2014
Mr Melcher sounds like my dad, a keen gardener who spends hours tending to his piece of England. It would, however, disturb me if, at age 83, he concreted it over as a result of discovering sex!
By: Bryan Jones on April 17, 2014
I love to see a beautiful garden, not my forte though!
By: John on April 17, 2014
I can relate to the breaking point. I've been mowing since age 18 and I'm really starting to wear out. Mr Melcher's solution was a bit over the top...but I've thought about colored gravel myself!
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on April 17, 2014
As interesting as this is, I rather think it is fiction. I also rather think that your onyx bookends were really alabaster. Then again, maybe I'm just getting old and jaded.
By: Snowbrush on April 17, 2014
Definitely a stroke of GENIUS! Like you it was my job to take care of our lawn, and I hated it. Years later I had my own home and I had to mow that yard. And I hated it. I hated it so much I sold my house and moved in to an apartment with a nice lawn, flower beds, trees, etc that are kept by someone else. And now I love mowing. I could sit and watch others do it for hours. :)
By: Scott Park on April 17, 2014
Oh, dear. I hope birds didn't perch on that monument and poop. Then the concrete would have to be hosed off.
By: Val on April 17, 2014
I suppose there could be a day that a person just reaches their limit but most of us that adore lush lawns and are willing to spend hours on them wouldn't have that extreme solution. I go with he had a stroke.
By: Cheryl P. on April 19, 2014
A fascinating story! I wonder why he did it? I think for now I'll stick with the beautiful yellow dandelions and daisies I'm cultivating on the lawn in my garden as I sit there with my laptop and coffee. I've been telling myself it's a natural setting for a writer and where I can more easily find words for poems :)
By: Sharon Bradshaw on April 20, 2014

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