In a classroom, I transformed into a nag. I circled around the room pestering kids to stay on task, stay awake, and maybe–hopefully–learn something. Sometimes it was fun. I chased one kid around the room, putting him back to work in each new spot he alighted. Trying everything to distract, he asked me how I spelled my name.
“Like the spices because I am going to be salty if you don’t get your work done.” Quick wit is a rare blessing for me and this one still brings a smile to my face when I think of how the room erupted, kids rolling on the floor laughing and exclaiming. I like to think that kid got a little more work done than usual, at least that day.
At times, I complained to them about what they were transforming me into–something utterly against my live and let live attitude toward others. But the fact is that I cared about each and every one of them. I wanted to see them succeed, be kinder, and curious about the world around them. So, yes, I didn’t let them slack off for the sub. More often than not, I found myself quoting my own personal nag to them. “Choices,” the word I heard all growing up, I now gave in the same drawn raised-brow inflection to the teens.
I bit my tongue a few times holding back the classic, “if you don’t use your head, you might as well walk around on all fours.”
My dad has always had high expectations for my sister and me. He doesn’t have patience for a job left half-finished and more often than not he thought that we should be actively working on something. Some childhood friends recently joked that they’d ask if he was home before coming over because they didn’t want to get roped into yard work. Of course, there have been times we clashed–just like the kids who hated me because I always hounded them. The thing is, even when we clashed it was because he was supporting me. When I have struggled with my writing and haven’t given it as much time as I want to, his pushing can bring me to tears but at the end of the day, he is only nagging me because he believes in my writing and my dreams sometimes even more than I do. Maybe someday the kids who hate me now will realize that I only nagged them because I want them to be their best, to find their passions, to be kind to themselves and others. I nagged because I cared about them.
The summer after I graduated from grad school, my dad asked me what I was going to do and suggested trying to write some articles on Wyoming history to sell to a local paper. Following his advice, I went to the library hunting for a story. In a slender volume, filled with personal stories from Wyoming history I found a story by a “Mrs. A.C. Keyes” about designing the Wyoming State Flag. Her charming story felt intimately familiar as she recounted how her father, Wilbur (Billy) Park Keays, saw the notice in the paper for the contest hosted by D.A.R. seeking flag designs and immediately insisted she enter. Instead, she spent a delightful summer with a friend visiting from out of town who “made an excellent excuse to do everything but draw.” In one of the sweetest descriptions of nagging ever written, she says, “As the closing date for the contest approached and my father’s persuasion increased I knew it was time to heed him.” [Box 1, Folder 34]
It took me three years to make anything out of my research on the flag. You better believe that “my father’s persuasion increased” in the times he thought I abandoned the project. But much like Verna, “Silently I had been pondering over various possibilities…” One day he surprised me with a reproduction of Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard’s “History and Romance of Wyoming” map. That summer I applied for my Wyoming business license and became sole proprietor of my own WY History business. For my first presentation in September 2019, he and my mom had it framed for me. Now he asks me how the book is coming along and when I will have it written. I feel sympathetic to young Verna Keays being pushed to greatness by the persuasion of her father. I also feel sympathetic to my dad– it isn’t always fun or easy to be a nag, to care so much about someone that when you see them struggle you are willing to step in and say the uncomfortable. Nags are important people, they inspire us to pursue our dreams if nothing else but to get them off our backs and maybe, yes, to make them proud. Here’s to all the nags in the world– may we have them and may we be them.