27: Spelling Bee Blues

27: Spelling Bee Blues

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Spelling Bee Blues

My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.

~A.A. Milne

As a kid, the words “spelling bee” churned a considerable amount of acid in my stomach. In fact, my history of spelling bee fiascoes grew so notorious, Daniel Webster turned in his grave every time I stood up and headed for the contestant line.

Most of the time, striking me out of the competition didn’t take long at all. I rarely made it past the second round. Yet with all that free time it never occurred to me even once to bone up for the next match. Watching others spell words with ease, confidence, and above all else, correctness, consumed me. Worse than that, the teacher had a dome-shaped bell on her desk that she slapped with the palm of her hand to ring out the triumph of every classmate who spelled a word perfectly. The clang of that thing pierced my heart straight through. Oh, how I ached for the skill necessary to set that bell dinging for me.

One classic spelling bee disaster occurred in the sixth grade and involved a word most fourth graders can breeze through—cheese. I simply refused to believe that any one-syllable word contained three e’s and practically right next to each other. How absurd! So there I stood, visualizing the challenge word, knees knocking, and fingers nervously twirling through the curls in my pigtails.

“Cheese” I said, stepping forward. “C-h-e-a...”

I figured the ripple of snickers spreading through the class meant things weren’t going so well. Still, I forged ahead like an Olympic figure skater skidding across the ice, flat on my face headed straight for the judges.

“s-e, cheese.”

“I’m sorry. That’s not correct Annmarie. Please sit down.”

The thin veil of sympathy on Miss Divine’s face did little to disguise her disgust. Let’s face it; I wasn’t attempting to spell “pneumonia,” or “ratatouille.” A sixth grader plummeting to defeat on a first round word like “cheese” can fling a teacher into the disgust zone. Miss Divine proved no exception to that rule.

I dragged myself back to my desk, still smarting from the sting of Miss Divine’s invitation to take a seat, and plunked down just in time to hear that smarty pants, Mark Meehan, throw those three e’s into the cheese word in all the exact right places. He barely finished and don’t you know that old bell was dinging again.

After the agonizing cheese incident, my phonetic confidence plunged to an all time low. The mere mention of a spelling bee triggered gastrointestinal disturbances in my belly strong enough to measure on the Richter scale.

As in most middle school mountains imagined from tiny molehills, I survived the spelling bee blues. Sad to say though, my spelling skills have not improved much.

A few years ago, I discovered my older sister Marie suffered a very similar spelling bee trauma in the very same classroom, with the very same teacher—just two years before it happened to me. Which, as far as I was concerned, explains a lot about the disgusted look on Miss Divine’s face.

“Business” is the word that stumped my sister. Or as she spelled it: “b-i-z-n-e-s-s.” It’s such a comfort knowing that I’m not the only sibling in my family with tainted spelling chromosomes.

Every once in a while, I fantasize about writing to Miss Divine and telling her that my sister and I own a fabulously successful “C-H-E-A-S-E B-I-Z-N-E-S-S.” I can see it now. As she reads the letter, she faints dead away, and her head lands right on the old dome-shaped bell, setting off one resounding clang for the phonetically challenged at last.

~Annmarie B. Tait

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