Sometime in the late 70′s I moved to Mobile, Alabama, from Norfolk, Virginia. I had accepted a job with a local television station, effectively doubling my salary. Amazed that housing costs were far below what I was used to, I decided to rent a ten-acre farm in a town called Theodore, a few miles away from the Mississippi State line. I had always wanted to live on a large tract of property. It was the 60′s dream come true.
Five acres of my new property were established lawn, the other five a picturesque pecan orchard, which – according to my landlord — produced up to $3,600 a year in “easily marketable” pecan revenue.
I had my eyes opened as to what exactly five acres of lawn REALLY meant the first time I pulled out my twenty-one inch lawn mower. It took me nearly fourteen hours (over two days) to cut the grass. This I accomplished in ninety-five degree heat, ninety-percent humidity, amid a following swarm of sparrow-sized mosquitoes. My first weekend in my new home? Shot to Hell. By the time I had finished mowing the lawn, the first mower swatches had re-grown nearly an inch. And it was time to go back to work.
So I purchased a large riding lawn mower.
About a month later, I noticed the pecan orchard was becoming overgrown with thick weeds and errant bushes, much too thick for my lawn tractor. I asked the landlord how to alleviate the problem. “Just ask farmer John, up on Sandpiper lane, to BUSH HOG it for you,” he suggested. “Tell him I sent you…”
Farmer John gladly “bush hogged” the orchard for two hundred and fifty dollars. It cost that much because he had to “dodge around all those trees!” After he was through dodging, he said, “See ‘ya same time next month. I’ll bring my spraying attachment — the pecan bugs will be out by then.”
“Pecan bugs?” I asked?
“Yeah”, he nodded. “You gotta spray twice a season or you won’t get nothin’ from those trees. I’ll do it the FIRST time for five hundred dollars,” he offered. “That includes the chemicals. Looks like your lawn needs mowing, too!”
By the end of the pecan season I had paid Farmer John nearly $2,000 for maintaining the orchard. Come picking time he offered to bring his “shaking” attachment, which would literally SHAKE the ripe nuts from each pecan tree. “You gotta do it,” he insisted, “or you won’t get nothin’ from those trees…”
“How much?” I asked, softly.
“I’ll do it the FIRST time for one thousand dollars. But that don’t include bagging!“
Two months later I moved into the city; my “gentleman farmer” days were over. I found a small garage apartment on Government Boulevard three blocks from the television station where I worked. It had a concrete yard that didn’t need mowing. I brought with me two fifty-pound sacks of pecans and a large riding lawn mower. Just in case.