Congratulations to the winner of the National Spelling Bee!
I'm fond of the spelling bee kids. I really am, because I was one.
I've always been a good speller. Even in grade school I used to kick at in the classroom spelling bees. Once, when I was in third or maybe fourth grade, won the classroom bee and progressed to the school bee. The principal, Sister Donelda, called the words. At one point, my word was "boulevard." I spelled it correctly. Sister paused, then said, "Very good!" I was the only kid who rated that praise; I think it was because I was so young and it was a tricky word.
Even though I didn't go much further in that bee, I was inordinately proud of that.
Fast forward to the fifth grade classroom bee. I was in line, waiting waiting waiting for my word. The teacher called it out -- "endeavor." It wasn't my turn; in fact, three kids were ahead of me. One by one, each kid misspelled the word -- "indevor," "endever," endevver." I was grinning from ear to ear, because dammit! I knew how to spell that word! Finally, my turn to spell the word. I got it right!
Unfortunately, I think I got the next word wrong, but that was okay with me. I showed 'em on "endeavor."
Fast forward to sixth grade. I don't quite remember how, but I qualified for the Archdiocese bee! I practiced and practiced and practiced, memorizing long lists of arcane words, recruiting my Gramma and my Mom and my Pop to call out the words for me to spell, word after word after word. I knew all of the trick words, the ones with silent letters and odd combinations of "psy" and "tch" and "ian" versus "ien" and on and on and on.
When the day came, I sat up on the stage at Our Lady of Lourdes school with all of the other winners, completely confident in my spelling prowess. My first word? "Penitentiary."
I knew that one backwards and forwards. It was one of the trick words -- that "tiary" would fool you every time.
I spoke into the microphone.
I was so embarrassed. I'd blown it!! I was concentrating so hard on the "tiary" that I misspelled the first part. Oh, the shame!
My Pop was sympathetic, though. He said I should have just spelled it J-A-I-L.
The next year, I again qualified for the Archdiocese bee, but there was a conflict. On the same day as the spelling bee, I was to receive the Marian Medal, an award for Catholic Girl Scouts. I wanted to get that medal pinned on my green badge sash much more than I wanted to get humiliated at the spelling bee, so I told Sister Cecilius. She was badly disappointed, but couldn't say too much about it because it was, after all, a Catholic award.
So she entered me in the DC Spelling Bee.
Oh. My. God. This was a big deal -- kids from all over the DC metropolitan area would be spelling! I practiced harder than ever, memorizing whole books of spelling words, driving my parents and siblings nuts with the spelling, always the spelling!
The bee, as I recall, was held at Constitution Hall. I remember it being just huge to me. I wore a big paper number on my chest and sat on stage, so nervous.
I made it through the first round. Kid after kid got the dreaded ding. I made it through the second round. More kids got dinged. Third round -- still going, no dinging.
I don't remember how many rounds I lasted, but about halfway through I finally met my Waterloo with the word "deprecate." I spelled "depricate."
I got escorted backstage, where my parents met me. I wasn't really disappointed; just relieved that I had made it as far as I did. Halfway -- a respectable showing. One of the grownups in charge asked my name, marked down my progress, and handed me my consolation prize: a Parker pen and a five dollar bill.
Better than a trip to the P-E-N-I-T-E-N-T-I-A-R-Y!