I looooooved the movie “Akeelah and the Bee” for many reasons … from the storyline to the casting to the amazing performances; yet my love for the film is traced to the fact that I participated in spelling bees in elementary school. In ’72, we had moved from DC to mom’s rural hometown outside of Covington, TN. We were bussed to school over narrow roads and rickety bridges to Gilt Edge Elementary near a cotton gin.
From second to sixth grade, I blossomed in this school environment, and it was here I discovered by love of “spelling” words. Now I must say, that my love affair with words came early in life, as my Mom supplied me and my siblings with plenty of books to occupy our time and minds, since we often did not own TVs. Reading became my personal escape; then came spelling bees.
Thinking back, those high scores on vocabulary homework, quizzes, and tests; as well as the drills I enjoyed doing at home set me on the path to our school’s spelling bees. I studied hard and performed flawlessly. I took on all my challengers with my quiet focus.
When the dust settled, the transplant from “Up North”, a little quiet black girl had risen to prominence on this small school campus because of her brain power. I silently relished in this praise, and probably flashed by signature smile, the one where I barely curl my lips with all the light of my soul flashing through my eyes. Yea, that one.
For the final showdown, I studied the vocubulary words relentlessly over and over again. I can recall being excited, yet subdued as I dressed for school that day. Butterflies and steely determination were my companions as I entered class. Everything was a blur until my teacher called my name and I followed her down a long hallway to the upperclassmen side of the school building. I don’t remember who all attended, but I do remember the judges.
Round by round we went; until finally it was just me and a little white boy who was known in those parts as being super smart. Yet I was not unnerved because I knew my words. I knew ALL of them. We battled. I rose. He wavered. I rose. He stuttered. I rose. The longer we went the words were become harder and harder. He was becoming unglued; but I was unfazed because it was mine to win.
Everyone in the room were now quietly rooting for the black girl from Up North, even the judges appeared to be impressed. I was prepared. I had studied. I was ready for the hardest words they could throw at me. Then the teacher stated my final word. I frowned, then thought, “Really, that word is my final word? This spelling bee is mine to win”.
I opened my mouth and confidently blurted out, “B-A-N-A-N-A…, smiles spread across the room including the judges; but then my mouth kept moving and two more letters sprewed out loudly with finality … “-N-A”. There were audible gasps, even the little white boy beside me, who had probably resigned to defeat, looked at me in disbelief. In that moment as the last “A” fell from my lips I knew I had lost … to BANANA. I was crushed. I KNEW how to spell ‘banana’; yet there I stood caving inside; as the little white boy beamed as he spelled his super easy word and was crowned SPELLING BEE CHAMPION OF GILT EDGE ELEMENTARY.
Now of course, I have lived a pretty decent life since losing that Spelling Bee, but I will always remember that word. Always! Honestly, sometimes I fear spelling it aloud just in case those extra letters come back to taunt me. You laugh, but seriously. LOL. I shared this childhood story from my life because this memory surfaced in my consciousness this morning; as it has done many times throughout my life. I believe it came today, as I close out my year of 50, as a gentle reminder for me to pace myself.
At 50 years old, I know I am a super smart, talented, spiritually attuned, sexy chick, and yes, I had to add that sexy adjective, thank you. LOL. Yet real talk, I’ve had 50 years to study. I know what I know. I’ve done the homework, the inner work, and this part of life is also mine to win. I just can’t rush it. I have to breathe deeply, relish in my moments, relax, and TAKE … MY … TIME. I also have to watch that my confidence doesn’t slip into arrogance; and that the easy things don’t overly excite me and “I do the most”. Whew, that was hard to type because that was very transparent; but I trust if you’ve read this far, you feel me. So as I enter fully into my 5th decade, here’s to no more adding another “N-A” to banana.