I was always a pretty good speller. I would see the word once, in my school book or a library book, and somehow it was burned in my memory.
The next time I needed to dredge it up, there it would be in all its correct letter-for-letter glory, on the little screen in my brain. What can I tell you. Just lucky I guess. Okay, don’t throw anything at me! I know, it’s an insufferable trait! Well anyway, one day…
I was in Grade Eight at good ol’ West Hill High School. So this must’ve been, say, 1958 or ’59. Yes, I’m that old.
Anyway, I see a sign in the hall on a bulletin board, and what did it say?
All grades welcome!
Come try your luck!
Wednesday, 3:30 p.m., Room 112
Okay, so I made up that last line – who can remember days and times, right?
Of course I had to take up this challenge. I was such a good speller, why, I even had a good chance of winning the whole thing! So I made sure to go to Room 112 at the appointed day and time.
I open the door and peek in. The classroom’s full – of noisy, older kids! I don’t see a single student in there who looks around my age, not even, say, anyone from Grade Nine.
Oh geez. This is not good. The words will probably all be way too hard for me! I shouldn’t’ve c-
“Oh, sure, yes, I’ll… I’ll take a seat…” Good grief. I look around, and I don’t even see anyone I know! And they’re all staring at me and – they look like they’re smirking. I think I’m gonna get up and maybe throw up and l-”
Oh no, it’s starting. I can’t leave now. If only I could stop shaking. Okay, she’s saying they’re gonna just go up and down the rows, taking turns. We – oh no! We have to go right up to the front of the room and face everyone? And spell with everyone staring at us?! Ohhhhh…
Phew! Okay, I got that first one. Yay!! Professor, not such a hard word. Hoo boy. Maybe it’ll all be like this. Yes! I’ll have a shot after all! I feel better now. Almost my turn again. Gee it goes fast. Okay here I go.
Huh? Excuse me?? Tomain??
“Uh, can you please repeat the word?”
No? Ugh. What the heck does that even mean?!
“Tomain. T. O. M. A. I. N. Tomain.”
No… I didn’t think so. What does it even mean, though?!!! I’m such a good speller, but I never even heard of that word! I’ll look it up for sure when I get home. No fair, giving us a word we don’t even know!
But I haven’t forgotten ptomaine poisoning ever since.