Years later, I still feel his influence

A recent statement about leaf blowers made me think of my favorite (and hardest) summer job in college.

To begin with, I had a fantastic position as a clerk in the WT Grants record department in Hempstead, where I played records and met young women. However, there was an opportunity to work outdoors with lots of sun, plenty of fresh air and chances to meet people – as a landscape gardener in Oceanside.

My boss was literally bigger than life – Buddy Ackerman, a former basketball star on the Brooklyn campus at Long Island University in the early 1950s who also played for the Knicks. He was an impressive man who ran a landscaping business for more than 40 years and hired two or three young men each summer to work in the backyards (and front gardens) of the rich and famous – yes, so to speak – in Oceanside.

Our crew drove lawn mowers and picked weeds on lawns all over the village, but the best work happened on Thursday, on Benjamin Road. It was the best day, close to the weekend, but not too close, so the grass managed to recover. Ackerman had almost every house on that street, and our job was to make every property look perfect – without today’s ubiquitous riding mowers. It was 1964! (Mowers were quieter then, but still big polluters.) I walked back and forth across the large, green courtyards in the hot sun, following the mower as I relentlessly pushed it through relatively tall, well-groomed grass. But that was not all. The beds all had to be cleared of weeds and stray grass, encouraged by kind reminders from Ackerman – “Hey, Scootch, you missed some over here. Get started!” Gruff, with an eagle’s eye for detail, examined Ackerman each kingdom and made sure it was as he wanted.

String trimmers? What was it? We cut off the edge of the bed with a long-handled pair of scissors and cut with the hand clipper that Ackerman “suggested” that we each have in a back pocket. He turned on the curb and trimmed the long straight lines on the sidewalk and driveways. And then came the cleanup. Leaf blowers? 57 years ago, we used quiet, environmentally friendly brooms. . . and buckets to pick up waste. “Do you see it over there?” we would be advised. “Get it and put it in your pocket!” At home every night, I emptied the day’s bounty into the trash.

As each summer started, I got ready for the lawns, and soon I was driving the truck and trailer in front of the crew, and now it was me looking for stray weeds. Ackerman did other trimming tasks, fertilizing and weeding, but he always managed to stop by and give “useful” hints on how we could improve.

In many ways, Ackerman helped me grow. Through the hard work, I learned collaboration, attention to detail, and giving back, as he did. He founded the Catholic Youth Organization’s basketball program in St. Louis. Anthony’s Church in Oceanside and worked for the church.

Landscaping has changed over the decades. It’s more affordable with all the labor-saving devices, but bring brooms and hand trimmers back, and let’s hear the sound of silence again.

Reader Wally Simola lives in Blue Point.

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