A cautionary tale to get the right kind of attention.

One misspelled word charged my life. My fifth-grade brain was warehousing words in preparation for the fifth-grade spelling bee. The lower reaches were easy. The harder words were shelved on tippy toes and ladders. Beware of falling vowels and hidden consonants!

In fourth grade, I earned a fourth place, or was it fifth? The spelling bee was a big deal according to the Chouteau County Superintendent of Public Schools, Mrs. Margaretha Thomas, the pied-piper of proper spelling. In 1971, she was a 90’s woman (1890’s we thought). With schoolmarm swirls in her hair and a long skirt swirling about her ankles, she rolled into our classroom to give a rousing pep-talk every year. She evangelized from her wheelchair, visiting each grade school in our large, rural county. Her signature was a lesson in penmanship, a majestic stroke on a Certificate of Award. Correct spelling didn’t guarantee future success, but its pursuit, worthy. We were inspired.

To prepare for the bee, my mother delivered columns of words. I spelled, then stacked them in my wordhouse. During one break, she shared The Misspelled Word. Yes, it’s her word not mine.

She misspelled The Word on one of her grade school quizzes. She wrote it down just like Buttrey’s grocery department spelled it. Signs on walls, windows, and counters proudly proclaimed in painted swirls that Buttrey’s meats, produce, and baked goods were all “Delishous.” Mr. Buttrey wouldn’t misspell such an important word. Her dad worked there (49 years).

Delishous stuck with Mom and to me. I was ready to spell d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s for the competition.

Fast forward. Delishous tastes good. Words can be flavored. Bam! They can be baked, sautéed, fried or boiled. Sometimes they’re raw. Be careful about that. Proper spelling and grammar is the recipe. But before you create from scratch, you had to learn proper English in Spelling’s Kitchen–junior high and high school English.

Our teachers stressed proper English. English stressed us. Mr. Nicolson, our junior high teacher, yearbook and school newspaper advisor, came from Ozstralia. He peppered us with grammar and seasoned our study with stories about the “giant sheila with the ice cream in New York harbor” and Santa’s sleigh being pulled by “six white boomers.” In sophomore English, Mr. Barsotti’s Italian-American persona filled the classroom (and speech and debate practice) with a big voice, colorful nicknames, and his plea for understanding:”Copeesh!?”

The third of this triumvirate was the tome-keeper, the librarian and senior English teacher, Mr. Green. He suffered hearing loss (Korea), but his hearing aids were on constant surveillance, detecting any comments and conversations. His neckties were Niagara, falling from his chin in a neat, no-knot style that matched his no-nonsense discipline. An “A” was earned and rare.

Why this commentary? In a recent article, an accomplished playwright and film director lamented his teen years and his unremarkable teachers. He challenged readers. “Who remembers their English teachers?” I do! How about you? Now my teachers are other ad writers, Wizard Partners, and authors.

When you write, use care. A fifth grader cramming for a spelling bee may be paying attention. Oh, and no, I didn’t have to spell delicious. Nor did I win a blue ribbon in fifth grade. But, I’m always on the lookout for Delishous.

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