Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sixth-grade spelldown hubris


Kate McDowell ran a tiny neighborhood grocery store a couple of blocks from our house in Delphi.

And she had an advertising bar on the screen door like this. (This isn’t Kate’s screen door. Kate died several years ago and her little store was converted into a little church.) That sign led to one of the most humiliating moments of my grade school career.

I was always good at spelling and by the time I reached the sixth grade, I was the consistent winner in classroom spelldowns (or spelling bees, depending on your age and locale). I was good and I knew it and that made me cocky enough that other kids resented it. Nobody likes a champion who lacks humility.

So I smiled inwardly when Mr. Bell, our sixth grade teacher, asked me to spell “wholesome” in the final round.

“This is such a fat pitch. Watch me hit it out of the park,” I thought, visualizing the sign on Kate’s screen door.

“H-O-L-S-U-M,” I replied.

Imagine my horror and embarrassment when I was forced to sit down and the last classmate standing – time has mercifully blocked his or her face and name from my memory – confidently nailed it.

I never looked at Kate’s screen door the same again and I think that was the beginning of a lifetime of mistrust of advertising.

And I will never, ever, buy a loaf of Holsum bread.

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