What's that spell?

Anurag Kashyap knew how to spell “appoggiatura” and lucky for him. Correctly spelling the musical term, describing an embellishing note usually written in smaller size, meant winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday.

It was no doubt a tense contest, at least until 14-year-old Katherine Seymour of Huntingtown, Md., was uncertain of the word “incunabula” and asked: “And how do you spell that?” Good one. She’ll probably be president someday. Incunabula, by the way, refers to books printed prior to 1501. The date is an arbitrary one and has nothing to do with development of printing processes, according to some quick reading I did just to find out what the word really meant.

The spelling bee is a big deal these days. I even saw it once on ESPN. Okay, if you can call poker a sport, I suppose you could make the stretch to spelling bees. I have to wonder though just how much fun these high-octane contests are for kids. Kids already have enough pressure and this is like the Super Bowl for young brainiacs.

I remember having spelling contests in Mrs. Willie Mae Humphrey’s second grade class at Newton (Texas)Elementary. I usually would win or would be a finalist. I thought it was great fun. Probably I thought so because I was good at it. At least I was then. But I no longer kin spellll. I don’t know why that’s so. It would seem you would increase your spelling ability after having to spell for almost 50 years, not to mention that I have spent almost the past two decades writing for a living. But it seems like my sense of spell has waxed and waned. Along with my memory. Along with my memory. Along …

What I do remember about Mrs. Humphrey’s class was that rainy afternoon on Nov. 22, 1963, when Mr. Jones, the principal, announced over the intercom that President Kennedy had been killed and that they were letting school out early. I didn’t live very far from school like other kids and I began to walk home in the rain. But my dad showed up just after I had crossed the street from the school. I guess he figured they would let the kids out early for such an event. Or maybe he heard Mr. Jones ring the bell.

We had this huge old bell, kind of like the Liberty Bell except not cracked, that was located in a grassy strip between the two elementary school wings. Mr. Jones would come out at 3 o’clock each day and bang the heck out of that bell three times with a hammer. I remember that you could hear it from where I lived, when I wasn’t in school. That’s kind of quaint when you think about it.

I guess you could say it was like an incunabulum, just not as rare.

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