Herb could never spell, but his sister, Nancy, who was three years younger, seemed to be able to spell without an effort. Herb tried going to Nancy when he needed to spell a word correctly, but Nancy was quick to point out that one had to be intelligent in order to spell.
When Herb had a spelling test in school, even though he would study ahead of time, he seldom made as high as a 70. When he tried getting the first letter or two correct and then scrawling the rest of the word, his teachers would not accept that as correct spelling. Herb was a failure.
When Nancy was in the 4th or 5th grade, she was in a spelling bee. It was held at the Pan American College auditorium. At this point Herb does not remember whether it was limited to the Edinburg School District (at the time the largest school district [in square miles] in the world), or whether it was a regional spelling bee. He does not remember how Nancy placed, but it was very close to the top.
Jan also participated. She was the younger sister of one of Herb’s classmates and was a year younger than Nancy. She was eliminated just before Nancy was eliminated.
Herb learned that there were people who could easily learn things which Herb could never learn.
Herb’s father came home from the spelling bee and said little about Nancy’s high placement, but for over a week he quoted with some of his own words substituted a poem about a barefoot girl. Herb does not remember most of the words, but the refrain went:
She spelled them up,
She spelled them down,
That barefoot girl,
With shoes on.
Another verse mentioned the blond girl with shoes on, so Herb figured that the poem was not about Nancy. While Herb knew that Jan never wore shoes if she did not have to, how did his father know?
A decade later, while Herb was on his grand tour in SE Asia, Jan was being treated for cancer. They exchanged weekly letters of encouragement. She never once pointed out how poor his spelling was. Suddenly, Herb was not so ashamed of his inability to spell.