When I was in the third grade, we moved from Lawton, which I could spell, to Guthrie, which I could not.

My new teacher taught us interesting facts about Guthrie.

She told us about the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. On the morning of April 22 that year, Guthrie had a resident population of zero. It was nothing but a tiny train station in the middle of nowhere. But before midnight, Guthrie had a population of 10,000. Streets had been laid out, town lots had been staked off, and plans for a municipal government had been established.

In less than two weeks, schools had been built and were open, the children being taught by volunteers until a regular school district could be formed and teachers hired.

In 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state, and Guthrie was its capitol.

The teacher told us that local businessmen tried to control the governor, whose name was Charles N. Haskell. In 1910, Haskell arranged for the state seal and vital documents to be loaded into a buggy in the middle of the night and driven to Oklahoma City. The next day, Guthrie awoke to discover it was no longer the state capitol.


I told you all that so I could tell you this:

As part of her lesson, the teacher asked someone – me – to come up and write Guthrie on the chalkboard. In large, shaky letters, I unwittingly reversed the I and the R and wrote Guthire, which was rewarded by a burst of laughter from the class. I still feel the shame of that moment all these years later.

The pain of that misspelling was reinforced by spelling bees, which I hated. Everyone would stand up and one at a time be given a word to spell. If you spelled your word correctly, you remained standing. If you didn’t spell it correctly, you had to sit down. I was always the first to sit down.

Later in life, I wrote a song called Spelling Bee. It went:

“I could not spell beautiful, though gallantly I tried. B-U, B-O-U, B-U oh, I nearly died. Everyone was laughing; my humiliation complete. And I thought to myself as I grimly took my seat: Maybe spelling beautiful is not something I can do, but I know it when I see it. And I glanced at Peggy Sue.”

Today, of course, I have a computer that auto-corrects my spelling. I also use a free program called Balabolka that reads my text aloud to me. The ear can hear things that the eye doesn’t notice, so listening to my writing saves me from having typed sent instead of went or them instead of then. It also saves me from auto-correct’s occasional rude substitutions.

Balabolka is a Windows program. If you are a Mac user, there are, I’m sure, similar programs. Search for tts, which stands for text to speech. Most will cost money, but some, like Balabolka, are totally free. Take that, Guthire.

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