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One of my best subjects was spelling (the other one was 16th century apologetics). Even in the third grade, I could spell the hard ones like inquisition, eviscerate, anathema, and excommunication. There were two exceptions, however: When the word was in Japanese, and whenever we had a spelling bee.
Every Friday afternoon Sister had a spelling bee—except during Lent, when we spent about sixteen hours in church for the Stations. The class would line up against the blackboard, which made it impossible to hide when you were standing there execution-style.
“Charles, spell ‘heretic’.”
Hallelujah! My best word! I could spell it backward: citereh. I could spell it standing on my head. I could spell it while walking on stilts, falling out of a tree, or swinging on the dining room chandelier.
“Heretic. h, a, i, r, y, t, i, c, k. Heretic.”
[Gleeful singsong from Sister] “IN-cor-RECT! TAKE your SEAT!”
Extending my string of first-round spelling bee losses to thirty-seven, I wondered if I was out of my mind. Hairy tick, for heaven’s sake. How enormously dumb. I was so disgusted I sent me to the cloakroom to save Sister the trouble.
Maybe it was bad juju: Twenty-nine kids against one, all praying like crazy to the patron saint of spelling bees:
“Calling St. Bovine the Udderless, come in St. Bovine, can you hear us? Please make Charles spell his word wrong, something enormously dumb. Thank you, over and out.”
Non-sense. The reason I made a mistake is because I made a mistake. I was a darn good speller (on paper), I knew I was a darn good speller (on paper), and when I grew up, the only place I would ever use my good spelling would be on paper.
Unless I had to spell the words in Japanese.