Granny always considered common sense a rare, priceless thing.
“You got book learning,” she told me one day. “I ain’t so sure about the common sense yet.”
“Isn’t book learning good?” I asked.
“It depends on what you are doing in life,” she said. “Look at this one,” she gestured towards my Mama as she stood at the stove.
“This one is real smart when it comes to the books. Likes to act all fancy-pants smart-alecky about things. And look at her. She can’t boil a hot dog to save her life.”
Sure enough, Mama had boiled the water out of the pot and was trying to unstick the burned carcass of whatever parts the animal could live without from the bottom.
“She ain’t got no common sense,” Granny muttered.
I thought she was being horribly unfair towards my Mama.
Granted, the younger redhead was and still is slightly naïve about some things, but I didn’t think it was necessarily a matter of not having common sense.
It was more like she was easily distracted and, maybe she didn’t pay attention like she should sometimes.
I told Granny I thought she was being awfully mean towards Mama, to which I was promptly met with a grunt.
“Well, we’ll see. If you was in an emergency situation, who would you want? Me, or Miss Marketing Degree over there?”
Considering Granny made Clint Eastwood look weak, that was a pretty easy answer. But still – it felt unfair. Mama had many traits that were just as useful, just as important.
“She’s real smart,” Granny commented one day about someone.
I could tell by her pause, she was wanting me to take the bait and ask her to elaborate. I never liked to give in to her when she did that, so I didn’t ask.
“Don’t you wanna know how she’s smart?” she asked.
“Not really,” I answered.
Granny snorted. “Probably because it don’t involve stuff you think is smart.”
She had made her stance real clear.
Granny put a high prize on common sense, lavishly praising those who had it.
Book smarts, she figured, wasn’t really something that had a purpose at times.
Yet, this is the same woman that had a full-grown, adult size hissy fit when I made my first B — in Geometry.
“How in the sam hill did you make a B in Geometry?” she yelled.
“I just did,” I said. Actually, I was proud of that B. I earned that B.
“Jean, what do you think of this?” she asked.
“I think if she did the best she could, I am fine with it.”
“Well of course you are,” Granny said sarcastically. “If you had a lick of sense you’d know she needs to get a good education, so she can get a job. You don’t get good educations making B’s.”
“I think I failed Geometry and I have a good job,” Mama said quietly.
I was confused.
Granny thought you had to get a good education to get a good job? What about all of that common-sense stuff she preached and praised all the time?
“Your grandmother wanted to go to college,” Mama said gently when I asked.
“But back then, girls didn’t. They quit school early to work the farm and take care of their younger siblings. That’s what happened to Granny. She wanted to be a nurse and couldn’t. So instead of learning about medicine and how to take care of people, she did the best she could with what she had. And that was understanding how the world works a bit better than most.”
“She seems to think we aren’t too bright in the common sense department,” I said.
“It’s her way of trying to toughen us up,” Mama said. “I think you have plenty of common sense; Granny thinks you do, too, she just doesn’t brag on you to you. She brags to everyone else though.”
She didn’t think Mama had common sense and that still bothered me.
“It’s OK,” Mama assured me. “I am smart in other ways, and it may not be something Granny appreciates but that’s fine.”
Mama could do just about anything with a computer when I was younger; she worked on one all day, after all. But, she also had a car engine explode because she didn’t know you were supposed to change the oil every now and then.
One afternoon, Cole sighed and stated he wanted to be smarter. This came after reading about Tesla.
“Cole, you are extremely smart.”
“You keep saying that,” he said. “I think you are blinded by the mom-goggles you wear. I just want to be really, really smart – Tesla smart — and am worried I am not as smart as I want to be.”
“Well, the good thing is, you can learn more and expand your knowledge base,” I told him. “There’s always measures you can take to increase your knowledge which translates to feeling smarter. But I think you have something that is far greater than just book smarts.”
“What’s that?” he said, not exactly convinced.
“You have common sense,” I said. “Trust me. It’s not something everyone else has. But you have both.”
He frowned, not liking my answer.
I didn’t think he would.
Common sense seems basic and ordinary, when truth be told, it’s darn near a super power.
But maybe it befalls a lucky few. Even if it sometimes skips a generation.