Brain vs. Mouth


There are some things in this world of which I really don’t understand. Why, whatever the age, children don’t listen to the more mature, wiser, parents. Why lessons always have to be learned the hard way. Can’t sometimes they be learned the easy way? And why everything that taste really good is full of calories and isn’t good for you.

These are truly important questions that have bewildered me for years. But what tops my list of befuddlement? In the epic battle between brains vs. mouth, why does mouth always win? I have listed but a few of my classic gaffs to illustrate the point.

Old Mrs. Crabtree was my third-grade teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary school. Every Monday, right after lunch, she’d list 20 new vocabulary words on the board that had to be memorized, defined, and used correctly in a sentence by Friday. It was two weeks before school was out for the summer, but she still wrote the list anyway. Halfway through she had to tell Bully Brad to stop talking, “Young man, we’re not in this class to waste time.”

That’s when my brain stopped working and my mouth started. In my defense, it was right after lunch, the classroom was warm and it was the end of the school year. The innocent little comment made under my breath changed my life, “Then why are we doing English?”

As she drugged me to the office by an ear, I heard laughter echoing down the hallway. It was at that moment I realized: Kids like a clown. Unfortunately Old Mrs. Crabtree didn’t, and wasn’t amused. She sentenced me to four days staying after school cleaning erasers. In this battle of brains vs. mouth, mouth had won.

By the tenth grade I’d gotten a little older and, one would think, a little wiser. This time the brainless mouth emerged again in Mr. Myers’s algebra class. He had just written a long algebraic equation on the board, turned and asked, “If a train left Chicago going 30 miles an hour and halfway was passed by a train coming from New York going 50, then what is X?”

At least that’s what I heard as once again my brain disengaged and my big fat mouth engaged. At Briarwood High, home of the Mighty Buccaneers, shouting out answers was frowned upon. We first had to raise our hand, be called upon, and then respond. My hand shot up, I was acknowledged and proudly professed, “If they took an airplane it would be faster. Besides, if X was so darn important, someone would’ve found it by now.”

Of course the clown in me thought this response to be simply hilarious. Mr. Myers and Principal Baker both thought otherwise. Sweeping hallways after school for the next week, I had plenty of time to reflect on my response. Somehow even in high school it seems in the battle of brains vs. mouth, brains lost once again.

Lastly, the non-thinking mouth still gives me problems even today. When The Wife asks me what I think of her selection of outfit for the day, I give it without thinking. When surrounded by a crowd whose members all think polar opposite politically than I, my mouth will be in overdrive — without taking a single moment to think before speaking.

But then again, how can a mouth actually think? Thinking is the brains department. And finally if a new rule is implemented at work, I’ll immediately stop thinking and comment, even if I’m not asked.

It’s been a long time since I walked the hallowed halls of Briarwood, longer still since Old Mrs. Crabtree’s third-grade class. But because of that brainless comment just two weeks before school let out for the summer, I was set down a path that changed me forever.

During the last 11 years of writing a column, I’ve learned that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. But the pen is no match for the power of the unthinking mouth. The mouth, at any age, will win the epic battle against brains every time.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is]