So, as a kid, there were very few subjects that I was good at in school. Bottom line is that in elementary school I basically sucked as a student. Come to think of it, I didn’t stop “sucking” as a student until I got to College. It’s pretty amazing I even got into a good College, but that may be the subject of another entry down the road.
I believe my first problem was that I was not very good at paying attention. I was what was called a “talker”, constantly conversing, or at least trying to, with whoever was sitting next to me. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and I spent a good deal of time “staying after school” for running my mouth when I should have been listening. My parents frequently had to come to the school and talk to my teachers about my inability to shut up. What makes this all the more intriguing is that one would think that for one to be constantly talking, one would have to have a willing listener or two. Not true. If you have been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that I had very few, if any, friends in my early years. My best friend was my little brother, and thankfully for him, he was a few grades behind me so he didn’t have to be cursed being in the same classroom as me.
So, the people that I was “talking to” really didn’t give a damn what I had to say. They didn’t want to be talking to me, yet there I was, talking about anything and everything to them. TV shows, the teacher, cartoons…. Anything and everything would be in my target area as far as subject matter to talk about. Many times, the other kid would just stare at me and wait in anticipation for the teacher to call me out, which inevitably happened.
If my parents found out, which they ALWAYS did, about me getting in trouble at school the punishment was always the same. It was effective because I dreaded this cruel and unusual method of discipline; A week with no television! Again, for those regular readers, you know that television was a BIG part of my brothers and my life. We loved our regular TV shows and having to endure a week without them was simply horrible. I probably should do a blog on this subject alone, but suffice it for now to say, I dreaded this punishment. One would THINK that a punishment such as this would be very effective. It was, in the sense that by the end of the week without Television I had vowed to everyone, including The Virgin Mary, that I would never talk in class again. That lasted until Monday. Then the possessed motor mouth would get right back into gear.
All this to say that I was not exactly your “model student’. Add to this an attention span of about 45 seconds and you have a kid who is going to struggle in school. The only time I was actually attentive was during story time. I loved when the teacher read us stories. I guess it was the closest I was going to come to television while at school.
That brings us to my topic for today; Spelling Demons. I was, and to a degree still am, atrocious when it comes to spelling. Unfortunately for me, and during the era I am speaking of, spelling was a big deal. Spelling tests at school were a very common thing. Spelling, along with its twin demonic sister, Arithmetic, haunted me consistently. (yeah, we used to call it arithmetic).
If our spelling test consisted of 20 words, I could be counted on to get three right. It drove my Mom nuts, as she was the one who would spend hours with me trying to get me to comprehend the basics. It was like talking to a wall for the poor woman. Well, to make matters worse, one year my teacher thought it would be good to enter me into a Spelling Bee. What? Me? In a Spelling Bee? Her thinking was actually pretty sound. The Spelling Bee was simply amongst others in our school, rather than competitive in the sense of being against students from other schools throughout the city. It was actually designed to be both fun and educational. My teacher thought that it would be a catalyst to help me get better. The catalyst almost sent my poor Mom over the deep end and also threatened to take my little brothers’ life due to uncontrollable laughing fits. These fits of laughter did nothing to help my beleaguered mom, who was trying to help me while controlling his antics.
In an attempt to make this particular spelling bee motivational and encouraging, the school actually gave us and our parents a list of 150 words that may appear on the quiz. They gave us a week to prepare before the actual event. Again, it was no big deal, with just the school involved, but they did invite the parents to attend as support for their kids.
That week of preparation was worse than any boot camp for my poor mom. She would give me time to review the list of words before she would take the list away and quiz me. I may actually get the first two right before descending into spelling hell.
Mom had more patience than Dad, and she many times exhibited the patience of Job himself, but this particular week her patience was tested to the limit.
Mom: “Ok, Donny, here we go: the word is “Attention”
Mom: “No! Remember: AT TEN. sound it out in your mind: AT TEN. Try again”
Mom; “No!! You got the ATT right, but you forgot that it’s not S.I.O.N its T.I.O.N… try again.”
Me: “A.T.E. N. T.I.O.N”.
Mom: “JESUS, MARY, and JOSEPH ARE YOU PAYING ANY ATTENTION?????”My little Brother Rob: Snickering behind Mom.
Mom to Rob: “STOP laughing at your brother!!”
Me; (thinking to myself) “I hope we finish this before my shows come on….”.
And so it went, time after time after time. There was one particular word I simply could never get: Handkerchief. I have no idea why this word was my deadly foe, but it was. I spelled it every way except for the correct way; Hankershef, Handcerchef, hankrchef;
Put it together anyway except for the correct way and that is how I would spell it. Mom came close to homicidal. Robert almost choked himself to death trying to control his laughter and dad would walk through the room shaking his head: “Geez, he’s terrible….”
Mom tried what was a pretty logical approach:
Mom: “Ok, just think of it this way… HAND…… Ker…. Chief… as in chief of police…. IT’S NOT THAT HARD!!!!
Me: With a dense look on face, glancing at the clock to see if Rawhide was coming on yet…. “OK.. H.A.N.D.K.E.R.C.H.E.F !!!”
Mom: “No!!!! FOR God’s sake I said chief…NOT CHEF!!!!
Rob: Pillow over head so he would not be heard……
Dad: “Hey babe, what are you yelling for? He’s not going to get it…. Forget about it. Rawhide is coming on…”
You get the picture.
Fast forward the day of Spelling Bee. Mom, Dad and Rob all there.
I’m fourth in line for my word…. The first three kids nail theirs’: no issue.
Moderator to me: “Your word is “Handkerchief”.
I look at Mom with confidence:
Mom: “I can’t Believe it! DID YOU HEAR THAT! (addressing Dad)
Dad: Shaking head. “Unbelievable… I knew it! Let’s go….”
Robert: Buries face in Mom’s coat.
Me; thinking to myself. “I’m going to miss “Leave it to Beaver”.