As promised in a prior post, here is the story of how I almost won the regional spelling bee. It is, I promise, a story filled with not only glory and honor, but also shock and horror. Read on for thrills aplenty!
When I was in 5th grade in 1970-something in Florida, I was an awesome speller. I was so good that my small private school decided to have a spelling bee for the first time ever, and to enter the regional spelling bee. As predicted, I won the school spelling bee and represented my school in the regional spelling bee. What an honor! What a thrill!
For some reason, however, my Mom and Dad were unavailable to take me to the spelling bee, so my Mom arranged for me to spend the night at a friend’s house, and her mom would take me to the spelling bee in the morning. That's when the trouble began.
First, you must know that Florida is literally crawling with giant cockroaches, which the natives euphemistically call "Palmetto Bugs," as if that nice-sounding name makes these monstrously awful insects any less disgusting. And they are truly awful. They are two inches long, they run fast (often toward you), they can crawl on any surface including ceilings and glass, and they are even capable of flying -- usually straight toward your head. They are also not like most species of roaches: they do not "scatter" when you turn on the light. They just sit there, staring at you. If you step on them, it makes a "crunch" sound. And if you don’t mush them enough, they will still crawl away afterwards. For years after we moved from Florida, I had a horrible phobia of roaches and would literally get chills and goosebumps just seeing one.
My friend's house, like most others, was known to have a few of these horrible critters from time to time. But, oh, what happened that day....
I awoke in the morning and opened my eyes to see a giant brownish black bug -- it looked to me like one of those awful "Palmetto Bugs" -- on the bed next to me. "Eeeeewww!" I screamed, then "Aaaaaagh!" as I felt something hit my eye and a terrible burning sensation began. Then the crying and uncontrollable sobbing started. My friend’s mom came running, but the horrible bug was long gone by the time she got there. My eye was swelling up, and was quite red. I couldn’t see very well. She asked what happened, and after about ten minutes I calmed down enough to talk and told her a giant roach had sprayed something in my eye and it hurt and burned.
But my friend’s mom said it was impossible for a Palmetto Bug to spray anything into a person’s eye. And she refused to believe that one of those awful bugs had been on the bed, or even in her house, since they had just had the place sprayed last week. She thought I had merely scratched my eye with my own fingernail while sleeping, despite the fact that my eye swelled up and was bright red, which I don’t think has ever happened in the history of the world from a mere fingernail scratch while sleeping. Regardless, nothing could convince her that I was right.
Later – much later, after the internet was invented (but not by Al Gore) – I looked it up on the internet. It turns out there is a species of roach in Florida called a "skunk roach" which does indeed spray a foul smelling substance out of its butt when it feels threatened. That must have been what got me. They look remarkably similar to a Palmetto Bug, probably especially to a 10 year old who has just been awakened by said bug spraying gunk into her eye and who, for that reason, cannot see particularly well.
It would not be the first time that day that I was told I was wrong, when in fact I was right.
In any event, I rinsed my eye, got dressed, and went to the spelling bee. My eye hurt a lot and remained swollen most of the day. But that didn’t stop me from being an awesome speller. In fact, I correctly spelled every word I was given that day.
And still, nearly inexplicably, I lost the match.
My friend's mom thought I lost because I was still upset by my "nightmare" about the roach and didn't concentrate properly. But I didn’t lose the spelling bee because of the despicable bug; I lost because I lived in Florida at the time, where most everyone has a southern accent. It is the only reason I can think of. I’ll explain next time, in Part II. Right now I have to take my kids to art class.