“You’re too young to have nerves.”
I can’t tell you how many times Granny said this to me. Her logic was that a child didn’t have nerves so she didn’t understand why I was saying something was irritating me. Or annoying me, or making me angry.
But lots of stuff did, and some people did, too.
“They are getting on my nerves,” I’d exclaim, sometimes dramatically, other times exasperated. Every time, with a sigh. Granny would grunt and roll her eyes. And to think, Mama wonders where I get that eye-rolling from that has annoyed her my entire lifetime.
“Old gal, you don’t know the first thing about nerves. Trust me. You ain’t old enough yet.”
“How old do you have to be?” I asked.
I was genuinely curious. What I was feeling seemed pretty dang real, so I needed to know if I was in for something far worse when I was older. Granny didn’t anticipate this question so she had to think on it for a minute.
“Older,” she said. “And working. You can’t claim something’s got on your nerves if you ain’t had a boss and coworkers.”
I was a kid. What did she think parents and teachers were if not people bossing me around minus the salary? Other kids were my coworkers, and trust me, they got on my nerves plenty.
“I don’t think that’s right,” I said, a bold statement simply because it was not in alignment with Granny.
“What did you say?” That was her way of giving me the opportunity to change what I said.
“I know these things are getting on my nerves now.”
See, Granny came from a generation where kids were supposed to be seen, not heard. Children didn’t have opinions or thoughts about things, and if they had emotions, they better know how to control them.
I wonder how someone as fiery as she was managed to grow up because I can’t imagine her not having an opinion she didn’t share, not even as a child.
But nerves were something different.
Nerves were reserved for grown ups who could get annoyed, exasperated, and stressed out about all the weight of the world on their shoulders. People who had mortgages, life insurance, and were worried about putting food on the table — that’s who had nerves according to Granny.
Of course, I was a mini-adult as a child, shadowing my grandmother and bossing other kids around. It’s a wonder I had any friends at all.
I somehow worried about everything, too. Even as a child.
Getting good grades was super stressful and involved making things like a diorama — which served absolutely no purpose for my future career. Algebra and geometry also caused me undue stress and I haven’t used them since my last class. Even though I hated those things, I still had to endure it.
There were social pressures galore too, although not as much for a little wallflower nerd such as myself. Yet, my nerves were worked to a frazzle.
When I developed an ulcer at 16, I looked at her and said, “See there, old woman, I told you stuff had been getting on my nerves and this proves it!”
She frowned. “How in the heck can you have an ulcer? You’re only a kid!”
“Because she is worried about things, Helen,” the doctor said. “She is a worry-ier. She gets it honestly. She is your granddaughter.”
“She’s a kid.”
“She can’t have an ulcer.”
Granny always thought she knew more than a trained medical professional.
The doctor pointed at the X-ray. “See that? She does.”
I stuck my chin out defiantly. Part of me was glad that I not only proved the old gal wrong, but I had a doctor and X-ray evidence to back me up. There I was, without a driver’s license but with a prescription for Tagamet.
Mama didn’t know how I got an ulcer, but she always believed me if I said something was getting on my nerves. Rather than tell me I didn’t have nerves, her approach was to tell me to not let it bother me.
“How in the heck am I supposed to do that?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but just don’t worry about it.”
Easier said than done, and there is a bit of irony there since when it comes to worrying, my Crazy Redhead does that all the time when it comes to me.
Mama didn’t worry about things; if she couldn’t do anything about it, she just kind of shrugged it off and returned to her book or crossword puzzle.
She also was one who minded her own business, which I think helped her tremendously, too.
She didn’t get caught up in anyone’s drama for them to work her nerves. If anyone tried to draw her into their web of drama, she’d politely say she didn’t want to be involved and excuse herself to go smoke a Virginia Slim 120.
Granny was usually smack dab in the middle of someone’s business, rolling around in it like a pig in mud.
I try to mind my own business but sometimes, my curiosity gets the best of me and I have to find out. My grandmother’s granddaughter, remember?
The other day I found myself wondering if I had an ulcer — again.
I am sure I do. I have the symptoms, and I’m stressed, exhausted, and needing a two week staycation with all the devices unplugged.
My nerves have been worked so hard, I’m sure they are a frayed, frazzled mess of wires.
This time, I’m plenty old enough.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.