Now that the National Spelling Bee is in the news again and children younger than my hip replacement are spelling words like Laodicean that we all use in every day conversation (How about a Laodicean? It’s 5:00 somewhere.), I can’t help but think what would have happened if I had won the Great Spelling Bee of ’67.
The bar would be set a lot lower for the kids of today, that’s what.
And I might have been better prepared for the Embarrassing College Incident of ’81, which, as humiliating events go outranks even the Lost Bikini Top Episode of the Summer of '74, mostly because there were no witnesses to that one except family members and they don't count.
In the third grade I was quite confident since, as spellers go, I’ve always been quite adept, whereas I’ve never been as successful at more intricate endeavors, such as walking across the living room without tripping over dust. People always ask me how to spell random bits of language, and more often than not I know the answer without having to locate the bifocals I use for Googling. But even now that I’ve been out of third grade long enough for Webster to publish more editions than I have nervous tics, I’ll stop to check the spelling on the more difficult words, such as grade.
Which is what I spelled g-r-e-a-d in the Great Spelling Bee of '67, which lead to the Stunned Silence of Room 109, and my Wish I Was Dead experience of the same place and time.
Turns out that spelling itself wasn’t the source of my trouble. I can spell anything that’s necessary, which is not the case with Laodicean or with thylacine, which is some kind of doggie dinosaur that doesn’t require shots or a license or cleanup baggies since there haven’t been any for a quadrazillion years, and which put my hometown girl, Keiko, out of the running in the National Spelling Bee this year.
My trouble, as described by academies full of teachers as I wound my way through the public education maze, is that I’m a visual learner. If I could see the word, I could spell it. Now, that doesn’t seem quite fair to the other contestants, but as a listening-impaired speller, that’s a nice way to eliminate guesswork.
But the teachers always explained that I didn’t get to see the words, they only told me that as a study aid, which seemed unfair, if not downright mean of them for harping on it in the first place.
So it’s probably my third grade (which I just spelled quite properly without even a glance at the answer written in permanent ink on my palm) teacher’s fault about the college thing.
I did quite well in higher education, what with selecting English as my major because I had an active, if misdirected crush on William Faulkner, instead of a something that would prove to be profitable in the job market, and ended my collegiate career with honors and an award for the Most Outstanding English Major in the Universe.
(Actually I added the universe part after I read that it was quite common to fudge your qualifications on resumes and job applications. Since my degree was quite extraneous, I wouldn’t need either one so it made me feel one of the gang to fudge some along with the crowd.)
Even though my prize was a book instead of a shiny plaque I could hang on the wall next to my sister’s “I’m a Terrific Kid” certificate, I penned a note to the faculty of the college English Department, expressing my appreciation over the whole Outstanding thing.
And if I had it to do today, I would spell appreciation correctly. Which I didn't back then, as my advisor, the Distinguished Chair of the English Department pointed out the next time he saw me on campus. To his credit, he did not ask for the book back.
So to all those kids in the National Spelling Bee who got voted off the dictionary by words I can’t even pronounce, keep in mind that you did a great job. And long after the shine is gone from the champinship trophy and the winner spends the prize money on Webkins and Hannah Montana merchandise, you’ll still be telling folks about the Maecenas that got away.