I was a timid grammar school student-the proper term back then. I didn’t raise my hand in class. I hated standing up front, the object of everyone’s attention. My shyness persisted to upper elementary. In the eighth grade, teachers recognized my expanded vocabulary and A+ spelling abilities and encouraged me-pushed is a more definitive word-to participate in the school spelling bee.
My knees knocked together louder than my soft words, incomprehensible beyond the edge of the four-foot tall stage. My confidence climbed as other students dropped one by one, felled by misspelled words. At last, a single boy stood next to me. Students leaned forward on their chairs and teachers stared from the side aisles of the auditorium as the final word was given. The complex word rolled through my mind like an Agate marble or a steelie ready for the strike. I hesitated, then pronounced each letter in a hushed tone. “Incorrect,” the moderator said.
Chagrined, I turned toward my classmate. A smile replaced his worried frown. With a voice so crisp it sounded like the crunch of fall leaves on the sidewalk outside, he repeated my spelling, transposing two of the letters. He later admitted had he been first, he would have had no idea how to spell the word.
For years, I consulted a dictionary for backup when a word looked strange on the printed page. Now, when the moderator, Ms. Spellchecker, questions my spelling of “steelie” with a red underline, I go online to prove that I’m the hands-down winner in this spelling contest.