The Legend of Lawnmower Ted
by Phil Strawn
The Legend of Lawnmower Ted: Some folks in the fishing village of Port Aransas, Texas, say Ted first showed up in the early 70s. I remember him being there as early as the summer of 1968, pushing his lawnmower around the
village, mowing air, and stirring up a dust devil or two. The mower had no blade or very little of one and, most of the time, no gasoline.
Ted was believed to be the town character and a popular addition to the village folklore. Ted was also a masterful storyteller; truth or lies made no difference; he could put you in the heart of the yarn he was spinning. His unkept vagrancy and mellow low voice gave authenticity to his tale. That talent alone kept Ted in meals and booze contributed by the well-meaning local villagers. Everyone loves a well-told story and is willing to part with something of value as payment.
Ted slept underneath Shorty’s Bar
It was rumored that Ted slept underneath Shorty’s Bar, which was raised 5 feet above the ground for hurricane flood protection. Lord knows how he fought off the hordes of mosquitoes and the numerous Rattlesnakes if he genuinely did reside there.
Ted knew that Shorty, the crusty owner of the bar, was always good for a few drinks of something and a package of Pork Rinds for sweeping the porch and trash duty. Lunch might be a misordered cheeseburger from The Chicken Coop or a back-door chicken fry at Mrs. Pete’s Cafe. Betty’s Liquor Store kept him in beverages as payment for unloading inventory or breaking down boxes. The locals watched out for Ted. Every little town has its flamboyant character, and Ted decided he would fill the bill for Port Aransas, briefly stealing the unofficial title from Mr. Jack Cobb, the true-to-life flamboyant owner of The Sea Horse Inn. The two of them unknowingly traded the title from year to year.
Local businessmen and island historians Spanny Gibbs, the owner of Gibbs Cottages, and Carlos Moore of Bilmore’s Hardware claimed they knew for a fact that Ted had worked as a nuclear scientist building “The Bomb” at Los Alamos Labs in 1945, or maybe it was a Professor of Mathematics at Harvard or both. After a mental breakdown, Ted finds himself an amnesiac wandering the streets of Port Aransas, pushing a rusted Craftsman lawnmower. Both are good stories, but no one knew where Ted came from, and he wasn’t telling them. Back then, Port Aransas was a good place to come if you wanted to drop off the edge of civilization and hide in plain sight. The town was full of guys like him. Shrimp boats always needed a deckhand who asked no questions and paid in cash.
A Tale by Ted
After watching Ted’s antics for a few years, I finally met the man on the covered porch at Shorty’s Bar one afternoon. Dexter Prince, myself, and my father were sitting around an outside table having an after-fishing trip Lone Star beer when Ted wanders up, lawnmower in tow. Dexter, never the shy one, tells Ted he’d buy him a six-pack and food for a good story. Well, a six-pack and a sandwich is almost worth his life’s story, so Ted joins us at the table, pops a longneck, clears his throat, and says, “Did I ever tell you about the time I was working on a dive boat sailing out of Vera Cruz Mexico, looking for sunken Spanish gallons full of stolen treasure?”; Dexter passes Ted another beer and says, “Please go on, Ted; I don’t believe we have heard that one.”; The truth is, we had never heard any of his stories in person.
The yarn, which lasted for an hour, ended with Ted procuring twenty boxes of Castro’s favorite cigars from a Cuban shrimp boat that tried to hold up the treasure hunt at gunpoint. Ted made enough money selling the contraband smokes back in Texas. He took another few months off from building the bomb and stayed in Harlingen, only returning to Los Alamos when Oppenheimer flew down and dragged him back to New Mexico. We all knew it was a crock, but damn, the man could make you believe anything. Dexter and my father were impressed and chipped in and bought Ted’s supper.
The last time I saw Ted was in the mid-80s. He was ancient and barely moving along Cotter Ave, still pulling that old mower. I should have stopped, bought him a burger, and requested a yarn, but I missed my chance. A year later, no one knew what happened to Ted; he faded into the sunset, leaving Jack Cobb, the surviving local character.
~Check out Phil Strawn’s Memories at 4:00 am, a story of his father fishing the beaches of Port Aransas in 1957.
~To read more by Phil Strawn check out: NOTES FROM THE CACTUS PATCH : “Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from The Great State Of Texas”
~Ron Burrell wrote a song about The Legend of Lawnmower Ted.