As a child, I was always a great speller! I suppose it was due to the fact that my older brothers and sisters helped appease my great desire for learning at an early age. In fact, when I first started elementary school I could already read and write to a great degree mostly from Bible related material.
Grimsleyville Elementary was a two room school in Buchanan County, Virginia. First through third grades were in the “Little Room” and fourth through seventh grades were in the “Big Room”. Two sisters, Lucy and Murtis Wade were the teachers. Lucy was the Little Room teacher, Murtis, the Big Room teacher.
The Shortt family had very few books at home conducive to elementary learning. We had the Bible, usually the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery-Wards catalogs, and possibly a few school books left over from when one of the older children outgrew the grades the books represented. My parents were so busy raising their ten children that they hardly had time to be ‘educationally minded’!
Lucy Wade was my savior when it came to having reading material. She would ‘loan’ me any book that I had a desire to read along with an admonition to be very careful with the books. You can bet I was extra careful! Mrs. Lucy was also the first to realize that I was very adept at spelling. She was always proud of the fact that I could usually out-spell most of the other children in the Little Room. She must have passed this information along to her sister when I graduated to the Big Room, as she too, honed my spelling skills. When I went into seventh grade, Mrs. Murtis Wade left Grimsleyville School for another elementary school in the County. She was replaced by Mr. Edwards, not as astute a disciplinarian as had been Mrs. Wade, but, nevertheless, soon saw my aptitude for spelling. He would pit me against any older student in the room. I left Grimsleyville School as the champion speller of all time.
Entering Eighth grade, beginning of High School in Buchanan County, I continued to be a good speller and would spend a lot of time in the school library reading the dictionary and memorizing long words. Not much happened in the eighth and ninth grades, but in tenth grade something happened that raised my ego to a great degree! During school-wide spelling bees, I was able to out-spell everyone from eighth to twelfth grade. That was going some because there was a genius at our school in the person of Jimmy McGlothlin, a senior and distant cousin, who aced every class he took. He was student body president and always head of every club he joined, as well as, being the alleged ‘best speller’ at Garden High School! Boy was I proud when it was announced that I would represent the school in a Tri-state championship to be held in Abingdon, Virginia, home of the famous Martha Washington Inn! My immediate concern was having decent clothes to wear to the event. I didn’t know how I would swing this.
It was an anxious Saturday morning as I had to meet Mrs. Simpson, the sponsoring teacher, down by Hwy. 460, half a mile away from our house on Shack Ridge. I wore the best I had, which was not too good compared to the other children attending the meet, but I just made do. At least my clothes were clean and well ironed. The other children probably looked at me and thought, “Who is this hillbilly?” I just had to keep in mind that I was the champion speller of Garden High School!
Things went pretty well on the ride as I knew all the other children who were mostly younger than me. We arrived a little early in Abingdon and the bee was supposed to start at around nine o’clock. All went well with the spelling bee as I came out second place, yielding first place to a girl from Tennessee, because of one measly letter misplaced! Then, the great shockeroo! Mrs. Simpson announced that we would be going to the great Martha Washington Inn for lunch! I was dumfounded as I remembered that Mom had not given me a cent for any expenses! The bottom fell out of my world! What was I supposed to do? What could I do? I called Mrs. Simpson aside and revealed my dilemma! I was not a shy guy in those days!
As Mrs. Lucy Wade had become my savior in elementary school. Mrs. Simpson became my savior in High School! The words she spoke to me brought me back to an even keel! “Frankie, don’t worry about a thing, I have got everything covered!” I had never hugged Mrs. Simpson, whom we students considered to be a stern woman, but this was one time I almost allowed social norms to pass me by! I sure enjoyed the lunch of egg salad sandwiches, green salad, all you could drink punch, and a dessert afterward that put the topping on the cake! Representing Garden High School was not so bad after all!