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Author Shelley Fraser Mickle
Air Date 5/30/2000

Spelling Transcript

This is the month for the national spelling bee, a time when I hold in awe each kid who can spell. In fact, in my fourth grade spelling bee I had to sit down because I couldn’t spell awe, a w e. Just the mention of the word “spelling bee” can make my palms sweat. And I guess I can blame that on any number of things.

The excuse I like best is that I started the first grade in a tiny country school where the only spelling rule I received was the one that says “I comes before e except after c”. So anyone in my grade school who was a cracker-jack speller also had a photographic memory. And the best photographic memory I have ever met was owned by Jerry Dupree.

Jerry was ten the year we were in Mrs. Fergerson’s fifth grade class when the spring weather set off a rash of spelling bees that ended in a burst of creativity in Mrs. Fergerson’s mind. For she decided we should have a spell off instead of a spelling bee, which meant that one kid had to stand up in front of the room and choose someone in the class to come up to stand beside him. Then, Mrs. Fergerson would give out a word to spell until one of them missed and had to sit down.

She started off with Tommy Nelson who was the worst speller in the class who then chose me. But I am not slow witted at much of anything else but spelling, so when I made Tommy Nelson sit down on the word “receive”, because I knew that i before e rule, I then called on every other weak speller in the room. I also got lucky. In fact, I made Dorothy Taylor sit down on the word “lucky”. I spelled tomato and potato and teapot and sweat, each of them perfectly and correctly, but don’t ask me how. In fact, I kept going until Mrs. Fergerson was in awe and I’d nearly spelled off everyone in the room.

Finally when I called on Julie Morgenthal to come up and spell off with me, and everyone knew that in first grade it had taken Julie three months to learn how to spell her last name, Mrs. Fergerson stood up and said “oh no. This time I’m going to choose for you. Jerry Dupree, it’s your turn.”

Jerry sauntered up and stood beside me. Everybody knew this was going to be worse than a shootout at the Okay Corral. And then after I missed, Jerry Dupree held everyone one of us spellbound as he quickly and perfectly spelled “zucchini”.

Posted in Education, Stories