I’ve told my students if they ever see me in a bank behind the teller’s window—RUN! Math has never been my strong suit, but I can spell well.

In fourth grade, I always win the spelling bees on Friday. In fact, my winning is so predictable that my friend Wayne tells me he’s going to find a word in the dictionary that I can’t spell. “Somebody else deserves to win sometimes,” he whines.

1975 Ruthie-Schoolphoto 3a_small           Marian_Fourth grade_1-5x2_150

Ruthie the Cheater                                   Cheater-in-Training, 4th Grade

And so he searches for just the right word, finds it, and whispers it into Miss Longenecker’s right ear. I see him form the word with his lips, but I can’t decipher what he is saying. That evening, Grandma invites the five of us—Mom, Daddy, Janice, Jean and me—down over the hill to Grandma’s house for chicken pot pie.

As always, before Dad parks our blue Studebaker, three-legged Skippy rushes out on the porch to greet us. Soon I’m standing on a chair beside the stove watching Grandma cut out little pieces of dough for me to place one by one carefully in the boiling liquid to cook. I love to find a little space of bubbling broth in the kettle and seal it over with a dough-y square. Chicken pot pie with fresh cabbage slaw . . . wunderbar.  


Aunt Ruthie comes in the back door from school with a yellow pencil over her ear. After she puts down her papers and books, she quizzes me, “How do you spell reconciliation?” Without hesitating, I enunciate: r-e-c-k-o-n-s-i-l-l-y-a-t-i-o-n!

“That’s close, but not quite right,” she encourages, as she pulls down the dictionary from the left bottom door of the red cherry cupboard over by the kitchen table.


“Here, take a look at this.” And I see how the dictionary says to spell it. Now I put the right letters in my memory bank for tomorrow’s spelling bee. When Teacher asks the class, “Does anyone have a word to stump Marian?” this might be the word, I surmise.

It’s Friday, and once again I’m the surviving speller. Wayne jumps to the mound to strike me out, but I deliver fourteen correct letters in rapid succession: reconciliation!” Wayne is dumbstruck for a few seconds and then mutters, “Holy Cow, Holy Cow,” as he reconciles himself to the fact that it’s useless to try to stump Marian.

Once again, Aunt Ruthie is a cheater, but so am I. We’re in cahoots!

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