Mark Ballard

How a mishap on a riding lawn mower taught me a lesson about life

“I’ve never driven a riding lawn mower,” Mother said with a tiny touch of glee in her voice.

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked our friends who lived out in the country.

Compared with the modest house we grew up in, our friends lived in a mansion with a swimming pool and lake surrounded by acres and acres of land.

My sister and I were preteens at the time and cheered Mother on as she carefully settled into the lawn mower seat. After a few operating instructions from the owner, Mother appeared confident, gave it some gas and took off across the yard.

“Wheeeeee!” Mother yelled as if she were participating in a challenge from “The Amazing Race” television show.

We all noticed she was heading directly for a newly planted small magnolia tree. We watched thinking she was going to veer off the path of the tree. She appeared to try to stop but couldn’t.

Then it happened.

Over the magnolia tree she went, shredding it into a pile of mulch. She finally stopped the lawn mower, but it was too late. None of us uttered a word.

“I’ll replace it,” she told the owner.

“Do not worry about it,” our friend replied.

Even though we certainly didn’t have any extra money needed to replace a magnolia tree, Mother insisted and used it as an example to teach my sister and me about being responsible for things we break or harm. She took us to the garden center and back to our friends’ house, so we could witness the entire process.

The magnolia tree lesson has stuck with me until this day, and over the years I certainly have had to replace several things.

Earlier in the summer, I was commissioned to create a bridal bouquet for a friend’s daughter. It was a unique bouquet complete with vintage broaches and family heirlooms. Since the wedding was in another state, I used silk roses, but you literally had to touch them before you knew it. I wanted to get a good photo of it before the bride’s mother dropped by to pick it up. I looked around our house to see if I could find something on which to display it. I found a mercury glass cake stand we rarely use, and it worked perfectly.

After I snapped the photo, I decided to leave the bouquet on it for the mother of the bride to see. She loved it. I begged her to take the cake stand with her, so at the reception, when the bride wasn’t holding the bouquet, it could be displayed on it. She didn’t want to take it for fear something would happen to it.

“Don’t be silly.” I told her. “It’s just a thing.”

Reluctantly, she finally agreed.

The wedding came and went, and I forgot all about the cake stand. The other day I received a text from her asking me to drop by to see her. When I walked in, she seemed upset and asked me to sit down. All kinds of horrible things went through my mind — none of which had anything to do with the cake stand.

She took a deep breath and blurted out, “Your beautiful cake stand got broken, and I’m just sick about it.”

I was relieved and said, “Please don’t give it another thought.”

She proceeded to go into a long, convoluted story of her attempt to find a duplicate of the cake stand. It involved her best friend, many hours of searching the internet and lots of phone calls across the nation before they finally found a similar one.

“What?” I asked. “It wasn’t worth all that.”

As I grow older, it becomes clear to me how many of Mother’s lessons have guided my life. Apparently, my friend’s mother taught her the same thing about accepting responsibility. Almost daily, I sadly witness people around me who accept no responsibility for anything. If Mother was still living, I’m sure she would be happy to give them an example.

I just hope a riding lawn mower wouldn’t be involved this time.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.