birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Second Place

I don't think it was that hard to become the sixth grade spelling champion at my elementary school. A few exhilarating challenges, but for the most part, smooth sailing. I read a lot as a kid, so spelling was something that was easy for me.

As the champion of my school, I got to join the district-wide spelling bee. Each elementary school was sending their best speller to compete. For the occasion, my mom bought me denim culottes and a matching vest, with pockets embroidered with red-orange thread and faux leather arrows. I wore it with a plaid blouse, knee socks and loafers.

The competition was held in the same room as the district's school board meetings. We stood together in a line on-stage. Our parents were the audience.

The words started out simple, gradually becoming more complicated. After each round, one of us would be eliminated. Until it was down to two of us: Me and a blond kid who resembled Oliver from "Brady Bunch."

The word was "imagine." Totally easy! But, the letters began to swim in my mind's eye and before I could stop myself, I heard my voice spelling it out loud: "I-M-A-N-G-I-N-E." As soon it hung in the air, I knew it was wrong.

Sure enough, the kid who resembled Oliver spelled it correctly and it was all over. I stood next to the kids, as he was crowned champion. I got second place. Almost. Because I'd choked.

It would not be the last time. But it was the first.

(The following year, the kid who resembled Oliver and I became classmates in middle school. Turns out his name is David. We became close friends.)

Dad's Father