The email came on January 9th. I clicked on the subject line: “[stakesingles] Upcoming Events”. That brought me to the message, and the first announcement stared me right in the face, and it would not look away – it forced my rapt attention. A singles spelling bee was going down on January 20th. My first impulse was to sign up. Heck, why not? After a split second, doubt crept into my psyche and turned me tentative. I set the idea on the backburner. I knew I’d at least attend, and perhaps regret not having participated. I let it sit for almost two weeks. With each passing day, my decision to compete faded, though not completely.
So it sat. On Monday the 15th, I went to a Golden Globes party with a church friend. The spelling bee came up in conversation. My friend outright asked me, “So, are you doing the spelling bee?” I said, “Are you doing it?” She said, “Totally.” Then, I sighed and said, “Sure, I’ll do it, but I haven’t been studying.” Then three of us scheduled a time to get together and STUDY.
Wednesday night, before scripture study class (not the high school class I teach early mornings), I met with my friends and we went over the list of Words Appearing Frequently from the National Spelling Bee website. We isolated a few pages from the Cs to the Fs. I had already begun to feel nervous, but I was determined to keep a relaxed attitude about it. My friend announced later during class that she would be having a spelling bee study party on Saturday before the bee. I wanted to make it, but I already arranged for groceries to be delivered during the time she wanted to hold the party.
Anyway, during breaks and spare moments during work, I studied words. I didn’t get very many breaks, and I wasn’t feeling as prepared as I liked. I brought the words wherever I went, but I didn’t get much of a chance to use them. Thursday night I went to the temple, and instead of studying when I got home, I watched The Office and Grey’s Anatomy, again, being more lackadaisical about it, because it was just a spelling bee. Only a spelling bee. I tried getting to bed by 11. Friday night, I went to a seminary scripture chase, so I paid more attention to the students and other teachers than the spelling words. Right after that, I went to a bowling birthday party. My study buddy was there as well. I took the stack of words from my backpack and set them on the table by our lanes. I couldn’t focus on studying. My game face was on for a different reason. Plus, the music was way too loud, and I really needed to concentrate on making friends and being social.
I looked at a few words when I got home. Tired, I slipped in and out of consciousness with the television on. Conan and Carson and infomercials.
That brings us to today. Or Saturday, the 20th. I woke up at 9AM, after having made myself sleep in. I considered going running, but the heat wasn’t working in our building, and I didn’t feel like exposing myself to worse cold. I did chores around the apartment all day, mostly to keep warm. I made my bed, organized the kitchen, waited for my groceries. Between tasks I studied words. Time was passing rather quickly, and I knew I wanted to leave by 6:45 to arrive by 7:30 to study a little more before the event started. I studied in the kitchen a while, with the oven door open after turning it on, because it was freezing. After a long, hot shower, I studied a bit more, only getting to the Ms.
I thought about not showing up. But, I got dressed, bundled up, took the A train, which ran local, to 86th Street. Then, I took the crosstown bus to 3rd Avenue. Luckily, public transportation was timely, and I didn’t have to stand against the wind too long. I entered the church building on 87th Street. Rode the elevator to the 5th Floor. I was the first contestant to arrive. After de-layering, I went back to the signup table, where I was then notified that I would be the very first to spell. Not too happy about arriving early. So much for strategy.
My study buddy called as she was about to leave, and she was the next contestant to arrive. She sat by me, and we broke out our words and quizzed each other. The event started a little late, so we had some extra time to cram. I got down to the Rs. Didn’t get a single chance to look at S through Z. This is going to be important later on. The emcee announced things were about to begin and asked the contestants to sit up front. Someone said the opening prayer.
About 50 chairs facing the audience, in 3 rows, split down the middle, shaped like a V, with the microphone stand at the vertex. 33 contestants showed up. The pronouncer explained the rules to us and the audience. It was time. I sat in the 2nd row.
I walked up to the microphone and cheers echoed. Blushing ensued. I was wearing jeans and a grey turtleneck. Over the turtleneck I had a t-shirt: I (heart) NERDS. The pronouncer stated we’d be starting off with relatively difficult words.
“Grandiloquent.” He read the origin and definition, then repeated the word. He used this pattern the entire time.
More cheers as I sat back down. Since I was first, I could rest easy until the next round. I listened to other people spell their words. My friend, #2, was almost eliminated, because she spelled her word too quickly, and the judges did not hear a critical E. The audience and the other contestants challenged the judges, and she was allowed to continue.
One big eliminator was single consonants versus double consonants. Sassafras, for instance. One guy did the Putnam County Spelling Bee thing and wrote the word out on the floor with his foot. Some people who didn’t know their words had fun with it. One girl misspelled her word and announced on the microphone, “I just want you to know that Spellcheck has ruined this for everybody.” One girl knew she had messed up, and she continued whatever word she had, “…ess, niner, eeh, arrh.”
Two judges flanked the pronouncer. They nodded if the spelling was correct, they shook their heads if you bit it. Then the judge on the pronouncer’s right spelled the word correctly. Which he could do, because the list was right there in front of him. I clapped for everyone. I nodded at difficult spellings. You have to respect the words, you know?
Each time I walked up to the microphone: cheers and my being embarrassed that not everyone was applauded the same way.
Second round: “Halide.” Origin, definition, repeat word. I got that one right, too.
Third round: “Sesquipedalian.” The person before me had just misspelled sesquicentennial. The definition didn’t really help, and I knew that asking to have the word used in a sentence wouldn’t have helped. In my mind, sesqui- words confuse me, because I want to end the prefix with an e, as in sesque-. So, I hesitated. The rule was 10 seconds to begin spelling, 20 seconds to finish spelling. I started. S. E. S. Q. Pause. Pause. U. I looked toward the far upper right corner of the room. A friend told me to do that to visualize the word. I paused. Then, IPEDALIAN, all in one breath.
I looked at the judges and shook my head, thinking I had gotten it wrong. They nodded, and I went back to my safe seat. About 6 people were left in this round, and the pronouncer stated that if everyone misspelled his word in the round, no one would be eliminated. Well, since I headed off the round with a correct spelling, the rest of the round reduced the competition to … two. My study buddy had gotten out on siliciferous.
Round four: a word I do not remember. ETA The word was aqueous. No problem with that one. I put that one away.
Round five: “Zucchetto.” Definition: Skullcap Catholic ecclesiasticals wear; colors vary depending on rank. Repeat word. Didn’t I say I didn’t get to study S through Z? My brain went into high gear. I started the word. Z.U. I thought about the Latin-to-Italian words I had studied. Patterns, May. Think patterns. Next letter, C. Then I seriously paused. Not even crickets dared breach the silence. The word is pronounced /zu’ket o/ (umlaut over the U, long O). I knew CCI carried a “chee” sound, as in bocaccio. What about zucchini and Pinocchio? So, it seems that it’s CCH. Then, I considered the Ts, one or two? Gepetto. I finished the word: CHETTO. I looked at the judges. They nodded. I nearly collapsed in a chair in the first row, a roomful of cheers buffering me.
The remaining speller got her word wrong. They didn’t exactly follow national rules, so without having to spell another word, they declared me the winner. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner is May Anderton.” More cheers. I smiled and laughed. I couldn’t believe it. The emcee interviewed me. He asked me how it felt to win. I started, “I want to bear my testimony …” but then I cut to saying it felt good. I said that I was making up for 6th grade. He asked how I knew all those words, then I chuckled and with some confession, “A friend and I studied the list from the website.” A lot of people laughed at that. They awarded me a gift card from Coldstone Creamery.
So, I got hugs from my close friends and a lot of “congratulations” from others. Got to meet a bunch of new people. Took a few pictures. (Those should be posted shortly as soon as friends email them to me.) I called a good friend from high school, and she said she was proud of me.
Now, I can sleep. I’ve redeemed my spelling foibles from the Clay County Spelling Bee, 1987. And to think I wasn’t taking this too seriously. I was nervous, but I wasn’t as nervous as I would have been had I put everything into studying.
What an excellent day. To think I wasn’t even going to do it…
Answers that question.