I wanted to be the best at something. There was a lot of competition in my neighborhood. Running, jumping, Monopoly. There were marathon games of basketball, four square, capture the flag, all played with the intent of determining a champion. Until the next time we got together and raced bikes or built Legos. I didn't win very often. There was always someone stronger, faster, better. That's how things rolled on our street.
It was a little different at school. I had a lot of the same kids beating me at this game or that, but I took some solace in seeing that there were bigger faster stronger kids outrunning and outplaying the champions of my cul de sac. And there were some kids who were slower than I was. That was a treat.
And there were some scholastic endeavors in which I could really make some strides. Metaphorically. In Second Grade, all the spelling words for the year were in a box on a table in the back of the room. We were encouraged to work our way through the box, twenty at a time, to learn them all. I was inspired. During free time, which for me was somewhat frequent since I finished my classwork early. Regularly. And that's when I could be found, with a partner (usually Dale Grant), quizzing one another underneath that table until it was time to return to our desks and begin whatever fresh task awaited us. And I always had an idea that I would be back to that spelling box as soon as I could. I was going to learn all those words.
I was going to be the best speller.
I could measure my success by all the stars at the top of my weekly spelling tests. I knew that we were still months away from the end of that box, I was learning more than a list a week, so I figured I would be more than ready when those big words started showing up. I was in training. I was learning third grade words, fourth grade words, fifth grade words.
Weeks passed, and I waited for what I assumed would be my opportunity to shine. Then months. I knew there were basketball tournaments. There was a track and field day. When was the Spelling Bee?
It never came. I read a boatload of books. I wrote my own stories. I kept getting stars at the top of my spelling tests. A lot of kids, as well as my teacher, recognized what a dictionary I had become. But there was no trophy. No medal. No major award. I knew it. Or I was pretty sure, but I couldn't be positive. No one actually told me I was the best.
These days, I rely on spell-check. But I always have the tiniest bit of shame.