When I was a little girl, I could spell like nobody’s business. From first grade on up to sixth, every week, we had spelling words. Mom practiced spelling with me while she brushed my hair in the morning before school;. lots of times we had spelling bees at school.
Mrs. Taylor, my sixth grade teacher, had a spelling bee every single Friday. Now that was something I was good at. I won a lot of spelling bees. In May, Mrs. Taylor announced the Big Bee; if I won, I got to go to the Mary Crapo, in the next town over where Mom did the grocery shopping, and compete in their Spelling Bee. I about wore Mom out, making her ask me every word in the book, I was determined to win, and sure enough I did.
When the day came for the big Bee, I put on a new blue dress, Mom made me just for the occasion, with a bow in the back. Mom was a perfect bow-tier; she could make a bow lay perfectly horizontal, across my waist in the back; I knew ’cause for one thing, I saw all my sisters’ bows, and for another thing, other mothers were always asking Mom, ‘how’d you get that bow to be so perfect?’ Mom let me wear her Immaculate Mary mother for good luck, too.
When I got over to Mary Crapo, some nice girls were assigned to keep me company, ’cause it would be awhile before the Big Bee. If I remember right, the girls’ were Lori, Patty, and Carla, all blond headed, like my sister Vickie; Lori’s was a little bit brown, but not dark as a black walnut, like Bonita’s. There were tons of kids at that school; I wondered how anyone kept track of their friends with so many kids out there on the playground; maybe if I went to that school, I wouldn’t even see Connie every day. Probably a new kid, didn’t even get noticed, and nobody could even tell if someone failed a grade, ’cause there was such a crowd of kids.
I went to some classes, and had lunch with Patty, Lori, and Carla and played on the playground at Noon Hour, only they called it Lunch Hour. For the first time in my life, I felt kinda shy, so I mainly listened to them talk to each other, ’cause they were all good friends, like I had back at my school. Not a single one of the girls on the playground had on a dress with a bow in the back, they had on bright-colored, store-bought dresses with no waistline, the kind Deanna was always asking Mom to make for her, and they all had on socks pulled up to their knees, not little lacy, fold-down socks like mine. I got to thinking maybe I looked like a baby to them. Patty said she loved the blue of my dress and all the pretty waves in the fabric that she could only see when she looked really close, and Lori asked me how I got my hair to curl like that, and then I knew I was gonna be alright, ’cause now I had some new friends.
The Big Bee was on a huge stage, with what seemed like a whole gymnasium full of kids watching. I stood up there with all those new faces, city faces to me, and clutched the Immaculate Mary medal in one hand. I kept spelling and spelling, I started to think I could win against all these new kids in this better school, which Mom and Dad worked so hard to get my school annexed to, ’cause more and more kids went out, and I knew how to spell all the words, even the ones that weren’t for me. I went out sixth from the best.
When I got back to my regular school, Mrs. Taylor asked me how I did, and what word I missed on. “Mahogany,” I said.
“Well, you will never forget how to spell that word,” she said to me. And I never did.
Sometimes, just when I think we’re the best at something, the game gets bigger, and I get a chance to see how I can improve. The main thing is to keep learning, keep trying new things, and keep my eyes open for new friends. They are almost always out there, just waiting to take my hand and help me feel comfortable.