I have been a excellent speller since early childhood, when I exhibited an intuitive sense of word structure. I still remember shocking my teachers during my very brief time in kindergarten (I was advanced to first grade at the age of five after a few weeks in kindergarten) by spelling the word SCISSORS correctly. Apparently my ability to spell this word was rare for my age, and from that point on, I earned the label of great speller. In the fourth grade, at the age of eight, I decided to learn the longest word in the Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, and I remember it to this day. It is a 45 letter word which is synonymous with a coal miner’s lung disease. Here is the word I memorized:
I was honestly fascinated with words and loved spelling them and investigating sentence structure as well. This continued throughout grade school, and by sixth grade, I was the kid to beat in the spelling contests my homeroom teacher Mrs. Mackenzie would conduct. The fact that I was unbeatable sparked a great deal of competitive energy in my classmates who wanted nothing more than to make me topple from my spelling perch. At the end of the school year, Mrs. Mackenzie hosted the grand finale spelling bee, which, instead of featuring candy as the grand prize, boasted a gold toned medal hanging from a red ribbon. The instant I saw the medal, a fire was lit inside me and I was determined to take the big title. On the big day, one student after another was defeated by words that proved too challenging for them to spell properly, and I stood there unfazed while they dropped out of the competition. Finally, it wound down to two of us: Martha Phelps and I stood across from each other, glaring daggers at each other. I could feel her anger seething from her, and could tell that she was out to destroy me. She was given a word, puffed out her chest, and began to spell it. F, A, C, E, I, OUS!
I almost jumped out of my skin, I was so excited. Mrs. Mackenzie turned to me. The word was mine to spell. F, A, C, E, T, I, O, U, S. Yes, I emphasized that T, rubbing it in like a smoker would rub out a cigarette on the sidewalk. It was like slow motion after that, when Mrs. Mackenzie turned to the table behind her, grabbed the medal, and handed it to me. A roar erupted as the students who had been standing around watching cheered for me.
Martha was not nearly as pleased as the others were for my victory, and made her displeasure known by punching me in the gut after we had walked from the auditorium back to the classrooms. What a sore loser and a snotty little bitch.
My classmates mentioned my talent when they scribbled in my yearbook at the end of the year. Two girls who were exceptionally poor spellers wrote “spelling medle” and “spelling metal”, which gave me a chuckle. It was a very memorable year for me and I took great pride in achieving an academic pinnacle so early in life. I think it would be fair say my hunger for competing began with spelling bees.
Skip ahead to high school, during which time I served as a living spell-check for my best friend Diane. Diane would call, and after I would say “Hello?”, I would hear a word being uttered, after which I was expected to spell it. Then I would hear, “Thanks” and the conversation would usually come to a quick end. Sometimes Diane would tell me that she had looked up the word, but her spelling was so off the mark that she couldn’t locate the word she was trying to spell. This free best friend service was something I was always happy to do, and because I made myself so readily available with my knack for spelling, this amusing little ritual continued throughout college and beyond.
To this day I am still asked by a number of good friends how to spell certain words, and I always oblige without any hesitation. It’s almost automatic for me, when a person asks me how to spell a word, to launch immediately into the spelling, as if I was in Mrs. Mackenzie’s class, standing at my desk, spelling until I was the only student standing. It’s how my brain is programmed and is better than an electronic spelling app!