I never speak to my father. Stern, gruff, and ancient at the age of sixty-three, he terrifies me. He growls that we are no good, gives us orders, and swaggers around half-lit on homemade wine, telling of the rough work he does at the sawmill each day. I want him to like me, but I am just a skinny little girl. I can’t chop wood or milk the goats, like my big sisters. Our pigs and the dark scare me to death. I only do one thing really well, and that is spell.
In my second grade class at Weippe Elementary School no one spells better than me. That’s why I‘m going to Orofino for the district-wide spelling bee. Because I placed first in all the contests held at our local school, my teacher told me I had earned the privilege and responsibility of representing Weippe in the district competition. I’m nervous, but I tell myself I can outspell everyone in the big town of Orofino. Neither of my parents has ever attended any of my spelling bees, but Daddy agrees to drive me to this event. He decides that Mama will come with us. Such special attention makes me feel giddy.
Mama braids my hair up tight in long French braids, telling me she’s so proud of me. I put on my best dress, a red calico with short puffy sleeves and two layers of gathered ruffles for the skirt. Mama dresses up too, in her Sunday clothes and shoes. Instead of his usual work shirt and jeans, Daddy puts on his navy blue pinstripe suit that only gets worn when there’s a potluck at church and he goes with us to get something to eat. He warms up the old green truck and I climb in to sit between my parents for the winding descent on the Greer hill from Weippe to Orofino. Continue reading →