My Book of Lists

When I was young, I kept a list, in my book of lists, of words I found interesting. Interesting encompasses a fair range of possibilities from difficult to spell or don’t sound like what they mean. Words that spring to mind were those that were hard to learn to read, words that didn’t follow the rules of phonetics, words such as colonel and lieutenant. I wondered at the time, if it was only military words that broke the rules and didn’t behave phonetically and maybe that is the very essence of war; it ignores the rules of humanity.
In these unprecedented days, unprecedented for most of us though our elders experienced times that paralleled in terms of isolation and doing without what we consider now as ordinary comforts, the comfort that comes from being able to pull our family in close and hold them with no intention of letting go. We aren’t the first to endure separation and my guess is we won’t be the last. But I find myself thinking of those words and experiences from childhood that didn’t follow the rules and those that made it into my book of lists. I wish I still had that book. I can remember many of the entries but it would be fun to see my handwriting change and the changing list as my encounters with the real world increased in frequency as I was growing up.
I remember Spelling lessons in Mrs. Campbell’s Grade Three class. She was very tall and wore bright lipstick that sometimes looked more orange than red; definitely a blend of the two colours, sunset orange the bottom of the lipstick tube read. She swung a yard stick like a pendulum when she strolled the classroom and I feared that yardstick would come down on someone’s knuckles, hopefully not mine, though I’m not sure it ever did. I was very short, and I couldn’t help wondering, when I watched her go about her day, what the view might be like from her height. As it turns out, I will never know. Mrs. Campbell combined writing lessons with spelling. If we were learning how to write a specific letter in upper and lower case, we were encouraged to call out words that boasted at least two of said letters. She was tricky though and we didn’t progress through the alphabet in logical form from A to Z. To throw us off, Mrs. Campbell mixed it up so to be prepared I had, in my book of lists, words with an abundance of specific letters so that I was ready when writing/spelling lesson erupted during a regular school day. Mississippi was too easy to fall back on for obvious reasons. Onomatopoeia was always a good word to use on “O” day. It was difficult to find a word with more than four Ts but intermittently worked nicely. And so, went my list.
Cursive writing isn’t used in a formal part of the school curriculum now, nor is spelling, for that matter. I remember Aimee’s Grade Six teacher telling me not to worry about whether Aimee could spell or not because by the time she was an adult no one would be using cursive writing and everyone would be using tablets that corrected spelling for us. That was almost thirty years ago and I’m pretty sure we are all still using a pen from time to time and being able to spell does come in handy, in fact I would go so far as to say it is essential. Sorry, Mr. Buckingham and your literary prophecies that did not come to fruition.
The lesson is life doesn’t come with a set of rules and certainly not with a manual. We’re often flying by the seat of our pants. I like to think my book of lists helped me become a better version of myself and maybe when all is said and done with this madness we find ourselves in, that will be true of the world.
wendistewart@live.ca