…I suppose I wasn’t the first child to envision winning her very own hive upon being told she was gonna involuntarily participate (“like it or not”. And I quote; if only to support my contention of early Child Abuse by the public school system) in a School Spelling Bee.

But likely I was the first one to happily envision an UNLIMITED SUPPLY of the resulting Honey which surely would be the ultimate prize of any Bee: a PhD (Personal Hive Device). And to devise a way to carry home the goodies sans stings. (Cause YEA! I’m a Winner!)

(Some history: ours was the first and ONLY (far as I know) elementary school in San Francisco to host an actual, live COW in the schoolyard on ‘Farmer’s Day’. Thanks to our creative Vice Principal Mrs. McNamara [who was ALWAYS thinking outta the box]).

Given this momentous history, it was NOT a big stretch of the imagination to suppose, then, that a Spelling Bee would of course feature the grandest prize of all: ACTUAL LIVE BEES. Which, unlike my other ‘pets’, Mom could likely NOT take away from me because (a) they were Honey producers and therefore made about the only product EVERYONE in our household actually ate with any degree of real enthusiasm and (b) were WINNINGS FOR BEING GOOD. Since this too was a rare occurrence (at least as far as my behavior went), Mom was completely unlikely to confiscate my prize(s) even if they did sport stingers and buzzed noisily all night and (c) Cause Yea! I’m a WINNER! (A positive attitude COUNTS in these matters.)

Ergo: I was DETERMINED to win the Bee(s).

I practiced morning, noon and night. We got Vocabulary Lists (which I kinda viewed as cheating but hey: adults held the key to the definition of ‘cheating’ and if THEY said it was ok – it was ok). After-dinner routines of Dad turning on the TV to relax whilst Mother and kids cleaned up turned into mini-plays ‘required by Teacher’. Because of course, I wasn’t just gonna stand there and dryly SPELL the words: I was gonna provide dramatic re-enactments for added emphasis. Cause YEA! I’m a WINNER!       


Winners ADD LIFE to their Spelling Bees            


Losers, who just STAND THERE in a panic.

So ‘murder’ was not only spelled correctly; it was re-enacted with several teddy bears and a (too-curious) stuffed kitty gumshoe P.I.

‘Insanity’ was a big word that I had, curiously, NO troubles depicting;  complete with lolling tongue, crossed eyes, and my Mom’s (best) big white crocheted wool sweater (which SO worked perfectly as a straightjacket that my sister obligingly wound it around me multiple times using big firm knots that took Mom hours to undo. Ever try to undo a crochet knot without undoing the crochet??). (Pretty much ALL I personally knew about ‘insanity’ came from TV, Mom’s closet, and her screamed repetition of the word as she unknotted me. Presumably to reinforce its spelling. Not, of course, as an accusation.)

I really did a GREAT job with ‘greed’. Mom’s cookie jar was tapped for that demo and I DID also scientifically prove that you CAN fit 10 chocolate chippers into a 9-year-old’s mouth. Ya just can’t swallow ‘em fast enough before

‘Confiscation’ (A word my MOTHER made me spell, along with ‘DEFIANT’. Its synonym phrase to my mind: ‘YEA! I’m a WINNER!’)

It’s funny, in fact, how Teacher’s too-basic vocabulary list was enthusiastically supplemented by my entire Household and by Life Experience.

Even Dad got into the spirit of things, adding ‘Spank’, ‘Forbidden’, and ‘Silence’ to Diane’s Dramatically Enacted Spelling Bee List. Semantics count!

So I was unusually well-prepared on The Day, which (as with most small celebrations) had expanded far beyond its intended boundaries to include Parental Attendance, Refreshments, and even several School Officials from the District Office.

Only one important matter remained unresolved in my mind: WHERE was I gonna put my winning bees to transport them home safely?

I kinda suspected Mom and Dad wouldn’t just let the swam fly around in our car on the short drive home, even if the bees would (sort of) stick by their hive. Presuming the car windows were rolled up.

It was obviously up to me to supply adequate transport. And nothing seemed to fit the bill more than Mom’s totally languishing Giant Coffee Maker.

The problem was: Mom was fairly unlikely (from sad past experience) to loan me her prized Giant Coffeemaker if she was to learn it in fact was gonna become a Giant Bee Transport Unit, however temporary or quick the ride home.

But she was FINE with loaning it to me for the Spelling Bee (Which it totally was for. Just not the part she had in mind. Was it MY fault I told her I ‘needed it for the Bees’ and she PRESUMED my plural wasn’t intended??? Semantics count!)

She drove me to school and I proudly stashed Monster Maker in my storage cubby, loftily informing my classmates that what looked like a Giant Coffeemaker in actuality soon would transform into a Giant Temporary Bee Hive. As usual, my classmates were impressed and promised a conspiracy of silence around the matter.

To make a long story short, I won that Bee. I amazed my teachers by not only spelling their entire Vocabulary List correctly, but facing down my competitor with unerringly accurate spellings (accompanied by re-enactments) of “obstinate”, “rambunctious”, “insolent”, “defiant”, and other selected descriptors which had unfairly floated around my household all my life. (Semantics count!)

The Awards Ceremony was to take place immediately thereafter so I excused myself for a moment and proudly returned toting the Giant Coffeemaker up to the podium (…and was it My Fault that Mrs. McNamara had expected my request for temporary absence to somehow involve a bathroom??).

The dialogue was brief but pointed:

Mrs. McNamara (peering over her glasses): Diane, don’t you need to bring that to the Refreshment Room?

Me: Nope. I REALLY need it right up here.

Mrs. McNamara (confused. But likely she’d seen children with stranger “lovies” in tow): Okay honey, just put it down right here.

Me: Sure. Let me get the lid off first.

Mrs. McNamara: Why?

Me: So you can just pour ‘em in easily. I know when you get them out they’ll go crazy, so I put a cup of honey in the bottom to calm ‘em.

Mrs. McNamara:  ???

Me (patiently explaining. Teachers were so dumb!): Because you just can’t let the prize fly all around loose: it’ll escape. And nothing is more calming and attractive than something that feels just like home.

(At some point mid-conversation, adults always quit talking to me. This point was apparently reached as Mrs. McNamara realized that, after all, the podium was MIKED and our conversation was buzzing around the room and creating somewhat of a stir amongst the attendees.)

Mrs. Mc: Ahem. All right, we have a winner in our Spelling Bee, and that is Diane.

I bowed graciously to the clapping, ready to accept my prize and empty the hive into the Giant Coffee Urn before it had a chance to realize its home was moving in with me.

I was then handed a piece of paper which I squinted at. Yes, bee illustrations created an appealing border all right. And there was my name, hand-written hastily (and even correctly spelled, albeit in crayon, in the last 5 minutes by my chief competitor Suzy Smartpants. Who had admittedly the best handwriting in the school) confirming me as the Winner of the School Spelling Bee.

But, WTF??? Where were the goods???

But soft: Mrs. McNamara was still speaking proudly.

Mrs. M: And the winner of our school-wide bee gets to go up against the winners in the other schools next month!

Great. THAT little opportunity had NOT been posited to me before. And the glaring absence of any actual Bee Prize made things very clear: it was all a plot. A vicious plot designed to challenge me to ever-higher standards whilst withholding the ultimate prize; much in the manner of the proverbial donkey-and-carrot trick (which I happened to know about.) There was only one appropriate response to such obvious manipulation.

I graciously accepted the mike and clearly articulated my position:

Me: Ahem. Thank you so much. It was a real pleasure getting the morning off from schoolwork participating, and I thank you for the opportunity to continue spelling my way up the ranks. But really: I have all I can handle in the schoolwork department and I’m really kinda too busy to enter any more Bees. Plus, what would I do with More Bees? So you can just go ahead and pour me my winning bees and I’ll let Suzy Smartpants (the 2nd runner-up) take my place for Round 2.

I gotz no bees.

I got (a) a cheesy piece of paper decorated with bees. (b) A lecture from Mom on Withholding Information about the real purpose her urn was intended for (c) A conference with Mrs. McNamara discussing the actual definition of ‘insolence’ (i.e. Me, apparently) and (d) The task of cleaning the cup of honey out of the bottom of a Giant Coffee Urn which had a surprisingly small portal for cleanup (not having been actually manufactured for the addition and apparent solidification of said Honey from the night before.)

I DID get pets out of it, though. Albeit not the coveted Bee Hive.

In DEFIANCE I left the urn outside in the backyard overnite (hoping a storm would blow up and clean it for me) and the next day something even better occurred: I had my Substitute Bees.

A colony of ants gave me my first Real Ant Farm.

YEA! I’m a WINNER!  

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