The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Spelling Match

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1986

Issue: May, 1986

The new teacher came on horseback daily from her home which was situated near the Danville/Wytheville Turnpike, about half way between Meadows of Dan and Pike City [Virginia]. She was pretty and bouncy and all the children loved her; especially one small lad who was entering school for the first time. His older brother and sisters had already taught him to read and his ability quickly captured the attention of the teacher. Almost daily she would have the boy stand and read to the primer class about Baby Ray and his adventures with his cats and calves and ducks and dogs.

One day when they were alone, the teacher told the boy, "I want to teach you how to spell a really big word and next Friday I'll put you in the line up for our weekly spelling match. You'll be the smallest boy in the match and when the older children hear you spell such a big word it will make them study harder and spell better." Then she handed him a slip of paper and said, "The word is geography and all you have to do is memorize the little fantasy statement and remember to use the first letter of each word." On the slip was lettered, "George Elder's oldest girl rode a pig home yesterday." "Now do you think you can do it?" she asked. The boy said he thought he could.

When noon recess rolled around on Friday, the teacher asked the boy to remain a few minutes after the other kids had grabbed their lunch buckets and rushed to the sunny play ground. "Now I want you to spell geography for me," she said. Without a moment's hesitation the boy spelled "G-E-O-G-R-A-H-H-Y". "No, No!" said the 'teacher, "Don't you remember? Rode a pig home yesterday." The boy replied, "Well Miss Agee, I got to thinking that if that girl was Mr. Elder's oldest girl, she was too big to ride a pig and she must have rode a hog." Miss Agee chuckled, then laughed, as she hugged the boy and pressed a stick of peppermint candy into his wee hand. "I guess we'll wait until next year to put you in the spelling match." She exclaimed.

And that's the way it was at the weathered old school house in Mayberry on a sunny Friday in November, 1922.