When I was a little girl, being nice was most important of all; right next to knowing how to think for myself, and solve my own problems. Solving problems was way more fun than being nice any old day. Most the time a kid can be nice and solve problems and think for herself all at the same time, but not always.
Solving puzzles and working out answers to problems was my very favorite thing to do.
Dad gave me lots of math problems to solve, like how to figure out how many feet of wire we needed to keep the cows from getting out, which was a never-ending problem beyond any kind of calculations or spool of wire. I was a whiz at math, as long as I had a pencil in my hand. I never did learn to do math in my head like Dad did. I tried my darnedest, but I needed the pencil and a piece of paper. Sometimes I just needed to hold the pencil in my fingers and put the lead close to the paper. That’s when I saw the solution in my mind’s eye; before I even started writing one single number down. Me and my friend Gary are about the only people I know that have that kind of connection with a pencil. The first time I saw Gary wiggle the pencil back and forth over a sheet of paper, ’til his thought got scratched out of his head, I knew we were gonna be friends.
Anyways, cows are smart enough to break right through a fence that stops working. They use their chin hairs to test the fence. Fixing fences was another kind of problem solving. That was even better than math problems because it’s like mystery solving. I had to walk along the fence, find out where the breaks were, and what went wrong so the electricity stopped going through strong enough to keep the cows in. Next, the fixing part. Stopping a ground with a new insulator, or tightening up a snag, or maybe even just chopping down so weeds that got too big.
Mom liked to give me puzzles to work on too. My favorite was cubes with lots of little pieces that came apart and were super-hard to get back together. Sometimes I could just look at the pieces and see how they went together. Mom thought I was the greatest at puzzles. She still says I’m an amazing problem solver. Her just saying that makes me feel like I can solve just about anything.
Grandpa Z, Mom’s dad, and all her uncles and aunts loved to debate. That’s another way of solving problems with no real solution. Debating makes people think about things from all sorts of angles. Sort of like putting those cube puzzles together, only with words. Debating is sort of like arguing with good manners. Or another way of looking at it is being nice and fighting at the same time.
Mom told me I should be on the debate team when I got in high school. She said I was the best debater she knew. Other times she said I was pig-headed and wanted to argue about everything until I was blue in the face.
Sometimes people think debating is being mean. That’s happens when people want to win, instead of figure things out. Learning to listen to other people and argue back is a good way to get a mind of your own. Anyways that’s what Grandpa said.
I was a waitress at a pancake house when I was a bigger girl, in high school. A customer wanted to order two eggs and two pancakes, for a total of $2.50. I told him he could save some money if he ordered the “Hungry Man,” he’d get his two eggs, three pancakes and sausage for only $2.00. That’s another important thing I learned from Dad, pinching pennies.
“But I only want two pancakes and two eggs,” the man said.
For sure, he must have misunderstood me, so I explained again that he’d get more than everything he wanted and save money to boot. After a few more go-rounds, he finally figured out I was helping him save money. That’s when he told me I better marry a man who would let me boss him around, ’cause I would never give up an argument. Sure I would, if it made an ounce of sense to spend more money for less food. I was just being nice to the guy.
Sometimes being nice and having a mind of your own does have its fair share of troubles. Especially if you have a whole family full of people like that. Everyone wants to debate away and present all sides of the arguments, but nobody wants to hurt anyone’s feelings. Everyone just keeps on a-debating, hoping that everyone else will change their minds. At the same time, everyone wants to be nice and respectful, and hear the other person out. A whole weekend can waste away with niceness.The pancake house customer’s advise didn’t go to waste.
I married about the nicest man in the world. He loves to look at things from all angles, so he likes a debate as much as I do. Plus, in his book, pinching a penny is almost as much fun as solving a puzzle. He can do math in his head quicker than Dad could think up a problem. That said, he thinks I’m almost as smart as Mom does. He does likes to be in charge as much as I do, which can cause repeated go-rounds. We both have minds of our own, and like to be in charge, so we decided we’d both be in charge. I guess that pancake house customer was part right. Wasn’t that nice of him to give me a piece of his mind?