On a November day in 1957 I found myself standing in front of Miss Grosier’s first grade class in Hillcrest Elementary School in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, trying to think of a really good word. She had us play this game in which each kid had to offer up a word to the class, and for every classmate who couldn’t spell your word, you got a point–provided, of course, that you could spell the word. Whoever got the most points received the coveted gold star.
“Bouillabaisse,” said I, finally.
“You don’t even know what that is,” Miss Grosier scolded.
“It’s fish soup.”
“You can’t spell that!”
“Come here. Write it.” She demanded.
I wrote it. She looked it up and admitted that I was, indeed, correct.
Easiest gold star I ever won. And I would like to thank, albeit somewhat belatedly, whoever wrote the Donald Duck comic book in which I found the word bouillabaisse. Also, I’d like to thank my mother who read me that comic book and so many others when I was four and five. She read slowly, pointing at the words. She explained what “new” words meant (she, too, had to look up bouillabaisse). She patiently answered my questions about the stories.And so I learned to read from those sessions long before I started school. While most of my classmates were struggling with See Spot Run, I was reading Superman. I knew what indestructible meant, could spell it, and would have cold-bloodedly used it to win another gold star if I hadn’t been banned from competition after bouillabaisse. Oh, the agony–denied the glorious victories I might have won with teletype, vacuum and prestidigitation–darn that old Miss Grosier, anyway.