Poor Girl Wins: How do you spell S-T-O-R-Y?

During our three hour writing your life story workshops, we take a deep dive into the past for particular events, and someone’s story always brings me home to a memory or two from my own life.  You’ll enjoy this memory, written by L.S., about an event from her young life. As soon as I heard it, I thought of my Granda Vic, Mom and my dad.


Poor Girl Wins by L.S.

When I was 12, I won the county spelling bee. Plenty of kids win a county spelling bee, but the surprise here is that I was attending a very poor, isolated, one-room school on the dusty plains of Colorado, and my competitors were kids from rich, elite schools in suburban Denver. 

I think I won because I was a voracious reader.  At 12, I even read the magazines Saturday Evening Post and Life and Look, which angered my mom because she thought I should be reading children’s material. When I would hear her walking toward the living room, I would quickly slide the magazines under the sofa and work at looking innocent. 

The win in the county propelled me to the state spelling bee at the famous Brown Palace Hotel in downtown Denver. I was one of 64 contestants (one for each county), and we were winnowed out with a written test. We took the test while we sat at rows of long, narrow tables. 

I stared at the girls’ nice clothes, especially the beautiful cashmere sweater sets. I was too shy and intimidated to speak to anyone. What would I say? So I missed out on potential friendships. 

The next day, the finalists moved to the oral contest, but that evening was free time, so Mom and I walked around downtown, where I gawked at the bright lights and the bustle of traffic and people. 

Mom pointed out the iconic Daniels & Fisher Tower, which was built as part of the Daniels & Fisher department store in 1910. At the time it was built, it rose 325 feet, making it the tallest building between the Mississippi River and the state of California. All four sides of the 20-floor tower contain a clock. 

The inspiration for the edifice was the St. Mark’s Bell Tower in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. In 1969, the tower gained a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Beneath the tower, we entered the store, where I was overwhelmed by riches. As we wandered among glass cases, my eyes fell on a necklace made of big clear beads that shimmered with a hint of many colors. The beads looked like soap bubbles. Mom splurged and bought it for me. I kept a few of the beads as a souvenir. On the rare occasions that I open the box in my closet and lovingly roll the beads in my hand, I travel back to that magical adventure. 

I didn’t make it to the finals, but my lesson from the county win is:  Don’t quickly make assumptions about someone’s ability based on their socioeconomic background or the status of their school.


Maybe you’re like me and would never get very far in a spelling bee competition, but even if you would, here’s a question for you: How do you spell STORY as it relates to L.S.’s memory? 

Consider this: 

S – Spelling Bees — It’s fascinating that the spelling bee details  of L.S.’s story get pushed to the side. Her “win†involves something unexpected and more valuable than she could have imagined at that age.

T – Telling — Telling about the shopping trip in the big city with her mom, being fascinate with the city, and her mom’s gift animate her story.

O – Other People’s stories—evoke memories of our own past experiences. Some good, and some we’d rather not think about. Seemingly out of nowhere, the memory emerges.

R – Reflections that came to mind for me were of a Saturday shopping trip with my Grandma; a day when Mom and I took a walk in Harmony for some reason, but I felt deep love for her that day; and wishing I could share this story with my dad because he always cheered for the “little guy.â€Â 

Y —Your life connects with others in an unplanned, organic way when you tell your stories. So keep telling them. 

Would you like to connect with your stories and others in my next group coaching? This four week tele-class starts in August. Even if you don’t live near me, or are traveling, you can still participate. You’ll love the feeling of motivation, accountability, validation and professional advice you can trust. Call or write to me today and we discuss if this group coaching is right for you: Jan Whalen- 623.466.5067 or [email protected] 

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