Archive for August, 2022

Not Quite Bright

My mother, Mary Opal, knew me all too well.  She often reminded me to behave and act right or people would think I was not-quite-bright.  I must have been a murmuration of tics and Tourette’s gesticulations.  Else why would she have kept reminding me non-stop to quit what I was doing that had no verifiable purpose and just sit still?  Maybe I had ADHD, but nobody got accused of such things in the 40’s.  I remember how boring everything always seemed.  I would do something unusual, and suddenly things weren’t bland anymore.  Needing to understand what was happening all around me led to the string of what, where, when, and why questions that propelled Mommy to distraction.

Now every present day calls me to account for what I don’t know.  And now that I am ageing, what I don’t know is keeping company with what I have forgotten.  Pretty soon I will truly be not-quite-bright.  Mommy would be proud of herself, were she still around to acknowledge her quite-rightness.

I love to watch the Rachel Maddow Show and wish I could remember everything she tells me, but why should I castigate myself for not remembering her every word?  Even back in school, I had to take notes to make A’s.  Why should current learning be any different?  Being a visual/photographic learner, I have begun taking notes between nine and ten o’clock on Monday evenings.  Rachel knows what’s important.  I can trust her to rustle up those factual dogies and pen them up for revisitatation.  Get along, little dogie’s. Get along. Whoopee ti yi yo.  Liz, Wyoming will be your new home. Woopee ti yi yay.

Last night, for instance, I learned what Dred Scott was about.  I have heard that name mentioned ever since grade school, but have never been sufficiently curious to look it up and find out that he was a slave who sued his dead master’s family for his own freedom since he had been relocated from a slave state to a free one.  He lost that case years later due to a Supreme Court Chief Justice who was verifiably not-quite-bright.  The Honorable Roger Taney ruled that Scott had no standing since he was a black man, and was not a citizen, nor could he ever be, since as an American of African descent he was not a citizen of these United States.  That was in 1857, long after the Missouri Compromise of 1820 set up the slave state/free state screwball inhumanity.  I was even motivated to Google the Missouri Compromise as follows: 

The Missouri Compromise was United States federal legislation that stopped northern attempts to forever prohibit slavery’s expansion by admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state in exchange for legislation which prohibited slavery in the remaining Louisiana Purchase lands north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 3, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820. (Wikipedia)

I had managed to let such vital information slide by, sadly unlearned since grade school, when no doubt, it was taught to students who were willing to lend an ear.  I always thought history was boring, and can remember snoozing, head planted on desk, while ocular migraine attacks paraded mysterious geometric shapes through my inner fields of vision.  No wonder everything else seemed boring. 

Word games were fun, since they involved what I believed to be friendlies.  It was great fun to teach them to my own children from a young age.  Scrabble became our favorite family pastime.  Dale, my eldest, and I agreed that I would never lie to him and pretend to lose just to make him feel good.  More than enough truth was part of my world view even then.  If and when he finally bested me, it would be a real win, not a ruse.  He spent much of his youth, and indeed ever since, filling out crossword puzzles.  His favorite ones were from the New York Times Sunday edition.  Crossword puzzle dictionaries filled one whole shelf of his bookcase.  He got to be freaky good at crosswords, but I could still beat him at Scrabble. 

Then a few years ago, sitting down with him for another round of our favorite contest, I was ready, yet again, to kick butt, but suddenly it crept into my mind that age just might make a difference.  Dale won.  Without the self-assurance of sure-to-win, I could think only what if I lose?  But we kept playing.  After several layouts, that I dispatched more wretchedly with each attempt, I had to admit that I had created a monster—a Scrabble player who could tear me to shreds.  We put the board away, and I didn’t suggest any word games for months that turned into years.  Other family members commiserated, assuring me that they too had sworn off playing with a guy who could never, ever, be bested.

It wasn’t until last year when I visited Dale, who was disconsolate over losing work-time since his mail delivery vehicle had blown its transmission.  He was waiting for West Virginia—someday we’ll-get-around-to-it style—reconstruction.  He was stuck at home earning no bucks and muttering about mechanics who had only square to-it’s.  I decided to risk playing Scrabble just this once.  After all, he needed a picker-upper.  Of course he won.  Resisting the inevitable anxiety attack, I tried again.  It was interesting and even fun playing once again.  Accepting that winning would be unlikely if not impossible, I could relax and just have fun.  Each game showed a little improvement, and by the time I left for home, I had almost managed to tie him.  I wonder if I could have done that had he not been in a blue funk over his transport dilemma.

Most fascinating of all was what I learned about how a human cerebrates in competition.  Mind-set is everything.  Sitting down thinking I was sure to win made winning predictable.  The opposite was true if I feared losing, which made losing near certain.  Recalling a lifetime of being sure that as a girl I would surely be inept at arithmetic, how could I ever have been any different than number challenged?  No wonder I hated arithmetic but adored Algebra.  I loved letters but feared numbers.

At TRW soaking up my happy time as CAD jockey, all was well unless another jock stood behind me, curious to see how I did what I did.  “Please don’t watch,” I begged.  “I can’t think if you watch.”  The voyeur smirked, then moved on, satisfied at having broken my spell, and went back to pilot his own workstation.  Back in grade school when I finally decided learning might be interesting, it was because certain subjects made me happy.  Science facts were tied to the father who might love me if I related to his subject.  Music was the sure fire way to satisfy a Mother who had named me after her favorite song-bird, Jeanette McDonald.  We remember things that are fixed in memory by intensity of feeling, whether good or bad.  Thrashing about in remembrance looking for items worthy of memoir, it is always the frightful ones that jump up and offer themselves to inscription.  A smart girl would have figured out a way around such stupidity.  Being not quite bright, I just kept on keeping on and didn’t have the good sense to give up or rebel.  Having never rebelled, at 84 I must be a delayed pubescent, just getting around to figuring things out and becoming who, in the wacky order of things, I surely am.

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