Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Spelling Beehive State

In 1986, Hurricane, Utah was a smaller, quieter version of the community it is today. On the outer fringes of Zion National Park, it was also giving birth to what is now Chums International. My family rented a two-bedroom house on Main Street. By this time, my mother was with child again.

Main Street was, of course, one of the main attractions in this dry, dusty community. Along with Main Street, attractions also included a grocery store, a drug store, the state liquor store, a hardware store, a drive-in theater, a burger joint, an elementary school, a middle and high school. Most of the allure of the city was indeed its proximity to Zion National Park, and its nearness to canyon desert trails and wild.

First through third grades were spent here, and if I were to sum up my memory of this time of life, it would be in a word: "Wild." This would not be not the "wild" associated with rebellious teenagers, but the wild borne from lack of discipline early on in life. As the eldest, I was always testing boundaries; I learned quickly that with my parents, boundaries were almost never reinforced. If breaking boundaries of acceptance went unnoticed, then I would please my parents by being a stalwart good kid. I therefore continued to excel in school.

One of my first impressionable memories of life in Hurricane was the first grade Spelling Bee. There were two outstanding spellers in the class, students who would remain standing at the end of the in-class bees: a blonde girl with too-big hair, and me. In the run-offs, I always out-spelled her. But when the actual day came for the official showdown, I was nervous. In fact, I had never been so nervous about anything in my entire seven years of life. My nervousness could almost certainly be attributable to the fact that this time, there was a trophy.

The day of the Bee arrived, and down, and down to the end of the line, it was: I stood as one of only a few students remaining.

"Freeze," said the moderator.

Or perhaps she said: "Frees."

To this day, I think this is one of the most unfair spelling words in the universe.

Because "Freeze" and "Frees" are indeed two words that sound exactly the same but that mean completely different things; of course, I do not remember first grade spelling bees being so advanced as to give the speller of a word an option to request a definition, or to request a "please use it in a sentence," like they do when Spelling Bees get more advanced in middle and high school.

So freeze I did. Thinking back to that day, standing there with all those curious eyeballs on me; they were all so silent, waiting, and my body was frozen while my brain was running at 100 MPH and blond girl over there was still standing with her triumphant smile and her perfectly coiffed blonde hair that had been specially "done" and hair-sprayed, while mine was probably an unbrushed, wild mat. And so as the seconds ticked, my brain decided to nuclear-fission my two seven-year-old understandings of the spellings of the word that sounds like both "frees" and "freeze"

"F R E E S . . . Z E ?"

"I'm sorry," she said.

Crestfallen, I made my way back to my seat to sit down. Distinctly do I remember not even being able to make it through the rest of the spelling bee.

Blond girl won the trophy, and I'm pretty sure I cried for days.



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