Phil Spencer, 84, bought his beloved property on South Chickamauga Creek 20 years ago with a grocery sack full of money.
Back then, it was 30 acres of brush covered by sapling trees as thick as grass. The property straddles the Tennessee-Georgia state line, and the purchase price was $40,000. The hasty deal was signed, sealed and delivered through a title company in a single day after Spencer's chance meeting with the property's owner at a local plant nursery, he recalls.
Spencer had always dreamed of having a spot of land where he could fish, shoot and piddle around to his heart's content.
Now, after 20 years of clearing trees and house-building and pond-digging, the property is a verdant showplace that has hosted a wedding, baptismal services and even political gatherings.
Spencer, a retired electrical contractor, says he and his wife, Amanda, would never entertain offers for the Ringgold, Georgia, property today.
"I wouldn't sell it for any price," he says. "What can an old person do with money?"
For that matter, one might reasonably ask what two octogenarians can do with acres upon acres of property that demands constant maintenance.
Two words: cut grass.
The Spencers own about $116,000 worth of high-tech Kubota lawn tractors that they use almost daily to keep their land immaculate. These are sophisticated machines, including one tractor with an enclosed cabin and air conditioning, that can stop on a dime and pirouette like Bolshoi Ballet dancers.
They even have a helper who uses a weed trimmer around the walnut trees that provide dabs of shade around the property.
But mowing is their thing. Their work. Their pastime. Their meditation. Their love.
"See if you can wrap your mind around this," Phil Spencer said, leaning forward and warming up to tell his story. "Two old people on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in their living room, looking over their glasses and not saying a word.
"All of a sudden they start pulling their hair and screaming and racing to the door to get to their favorite lawn mower. That's the way we operate."
For her part, Amanda Spencer said mowing the grass is therapeutic.
"To get out on a mower is my quiet time," she said. "Nobody can get to me [there]. I can sing, I can pray. I can talk about people, and nobody but me and the Lord know about it."
The Spencers are meticulous about caring for their beloved tractors. Phil has a drainage pit where he can change the oil on his machines, and the couple religiously pressure wash their mowers after every session.
The have also become territorial about their mowing.
"If I get my lawn mower on her side, where she normally mows, I start getting these looks," Phil said.
"You just need to stay off my territory because I don't want you streaking it up," Amanda said.
The Spencers met at a drive-in restaurant in the late 1950s and share the easy banter of two people who have been inseparable companions for six decades.
They've been through a lot. Children. Grandchildren. Great-grands.
A few years ago, Phil was in Memorial Hospital for three months battling an infection that almost took his life. It was a monthslong fever dream that caused him to hallucinate about snakes and being set on fire.
Amanda was told to prepare herself for the likelihood that he would never recover, but eventually the fever broke and Phil was able to come home. Now, he uses a motorized wheel-chair and a golf cart to get around the property, and says recovering from his near-death experience has given him a new lease on life.
Breathing the fresh Tennessee Valley air on the back of a tractor on the banks of a meandering creek seems like heaven compared to his illness.
The Spencers share a contentment during this restless pandemic year that most of us can only hope for.
"We've been married 61 years," Amanda mused.
"She's still my sweetheart," Phil said, looking at his bride across their big, wrap-around porch. "And she's still pretty."
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com.