Working at an elementary school often affords surprise re-visits to yesteryear.  Today I happened to stumble upon one such particular gem.  The school spelling bee.  I walked out of the classroom door to find the cafeteria/lunchroom filled with kids on chairs both on the lower floor and also on the stage, all swinging their little legs.  I heard the principal in a very official voice say "Boy, spell boy." and I saw the wee first grader reach his grubby hand up to the microphone and successfully spell b-o-y.  

I wondered since when the principal had donned the spelling bee official cap, I had always imagined that the experts were flown in and put up in a nice hotel with a continental breakfast before they officiated in the ceremonious annual spelling bee.  But no, here at farrer elementary school the crowd seemed uninterested in clout and as it was merely the first round for the thirty seated contestants, the principal started simply asking them each to spell their names, a luxury I was never afforded in my competing days.  I couldn't help it, I stood at the back to watch a bit of the second round.  One girl got up and spelled blue, b-l-o-o, then paused for some time, and nodded her head before she was told that she was incorrect.  The principal said things like, "Help, spell help, as in 'The woman who was on fire yelled Help," or "Like, spell like, as in 'I more than like peppermint ice cream." 

I left and about an hour later found an excuse to leave the office and go check the mail so that I might see the final, intense round or two going on in the cafeteria, but I was surprised to find that there were still over fifteen kids left sitting on the stage.  The watching crowd comprised of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders, proud parents and bored toddlers with parents, seemed to be waning in interest. There were several small conversations, lots of looking around, scuffling of feet, kids on the stage waving to parents and giving them not-so-secret thumbs ups.  

For a moment I was taken back to my day of glory.  I was in the fourth grade, I had flown through the classroom spelling bee. Confident, I studied my list doggedly during the commercials between Full House up until the day of the whole fourth grade spelling bee, which took place in the library with the androgynous librarian at the head of ceremony.  Luck was with me as the smartest kid in the school, Nick Bryner, spelled cemetery with an 'a', leaving me and ten others to move on to the final school round.  I silently did a fist pump and knew my work had paid off.  

The day came for the big bee, I was nervous, I was excited, I had my eye on the prize.  With nine-other fourth graders I was called out of class over the intercom and beckoned to the giant gymnasium steps that led to the stage.  I felt so young next to the fifth and sixth graders, but also sure that I was on my way to nationals.  My giant, nesty hair, my keds and oversized neon shirt may have had them fooled into thinking I was no competition, so I kept quiet, relying on sheer astonishment.  I saw my mom and two little sisters out in the crowd.  I waved to her and watched my sisters run across the back of the gym floor, already antsy.  Students started to file in, sitting cross-legged in rows.  My classmates looked up with pride, but mostly with jealousy and awe.  

I took my place on the metal chair in the second to back row on the stage, a number 23 taped to the back.  I made it through several rounds with ease, leaning toward the microphone and pronouncing each letter with clarity and confidence.  It was my turn again, there were about 12 anxious kids left.  I stood there and the officiator said, 

"Intelligent, spell intelligent, as in, 'I am the most intelligent girl to walk the planet.'"    

"I-N-T-E-L-I-G-E-N-T, Intelligent." 

"I'm sorry, that is incorrect, you forgot an 'L'," the officiator said, "You may take your seat with your class on the floor." 

And thus ended my spelling bee career.  To this day I am an immaculate speller on paper, but ask me to spell a word out loud and a dense cloud enters my brain, I can hardly do it, and often hope that no one will ask me.  The other day someone asked where I went on my mission, I said Uruguay, then they asked me if I could spell that out loud.  "Sure, R-U-R-G-U-I-A", I said.  (I'm being serious).  He stared at me a little confused and I fumbled through a few more rounds.

Kids are so smart these days, I'm sure glad I got to witness it this morning.  


Club Narwhal said...

i wish we could have been friends in yesteryear. my super sweet B.I.G. Dog T-shirts and neon Gecko tank tops would have complemented you very well. props for this sentence: "I silently did a fist pump and knew my work had paid off."

Rachel said...

I loved this post. What are you doing at Farrer??? I worked there last year. Is Rita still in the officE? I loved her.

darcie said...

now now...we know this isn't true (the out loud part) since you and carl shamed us all with gnilleps the other night.

Nick said...

I loved reading this. Funny story: today, when I googled my name, this blog post shows up on the first page.

I'm afraid I must correct one detail, however -- that spelling bee was when we were in the fifth grade; I won the school spelling bee in fourth grade over Paul Brooks, with my clinching word being "bikini."

Anyway, you are a great writer and it was fun to re-live those good old Rock Canyon moments.

-Nick Bryner

Rachel. said...

I love spelling bees! one year my older brother really did make it to the nationals. but got out so quickly. he had to go to the bathroom so badly from nervousness, he couldn't spell anymore and couldn't care.

p.s. spelling anything out loud is so hard for me also. even words I know.