Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Six Degrees from Sonny Fox

<== Sonny Fox, host of Wonderama on WNEW out of NYC.

Once upon a time there lived in the Borough of Queens in the City of New York a frizzy/curly-haired kid named Barbara who had a wonderful talent: she was a very good speller. Words like encyclopaedia (and encyclopedia), antidisestablishmentarianism, all sorts of crazy words. She could spell all of them.

But that wasn't what set her apart from the crowd of other frizzy/curly-haired kids who were great spellers: our heroine could spell them backwards. Now no one quite knew where that ability came from. She learned to read and write at a precociously early age (reading at three; writing at four) and seemed normal in all respects until the backwards stuff kicked in and life got interesting.

# # #

Okay, okay. I'll drop the third person nonsense. We all know who our frizzball is, right? And you're probably wondering how spelling backwards ties in with Sonny Fox and Wonderama and knitting so here goes.

Spelling backwards came as easily to me as spelling the normal way. My parents used to create both word and number games for me to play on Saturday morning while they slept in and I guess I took them one step beyond where they were supposed to go and started flipping them. (I see patterns in numbers everywhere I look. Show me a phone number and I'll be linking those digits to other numbers in the blink of an eye.)

I was an only child and only children are endlessly fascinating to their families so my backwards abilities garnered a lot of attention and laughter. My spelling abilities had already landed me in any number of city-wide spelling bees (they hadn't become quite the pressure-cookers they are today) and I'd done pretty well every time.

But what I wanted more than anything was to take part in the Wonderama Spelling Bee.

I wanted to meet Sonny Fox, the sleekly dark and handsome host. I wanted to dazzle everyone with my spelling abilities. And I wanted to win dinner at the Luau 400, a little touch of Hawaii in midtown Manhattan.

Now it wasn't easy to get on Wonderama. Every kid in the early 1960s wanted tickets. And, trust me, a lot of those kids could spell just as well as I did. But could they spell backwards? No! So in the summer of 1961, my mother took me and my friend Dorothy Cullen into Manhattan where we were part of the audience and entrants in the spelling bee.

I'm not going to keep you in suspense. I won! Yes, it was a dream come true. Not only was I on live television, but I won dinner for my parents and me at Luau 400 by winning a spelling bee by spelling backwards. I still smile ear-to-ear thinking about it! So what does all of this have to do with knitting? Up until a few months ago I would have said, "Nothing at all," but it's actually the key to my problems with charts and sewing cuffs on sleeves and the dreaded pattern instructions Reverse Shaping.

A friend and I took dancing lessons once. I absolutely couldn't follow the instructor. I kept reversing everything. I sewed cuffs on a shirt in some crazy upside down way that even I couldn't explain. My husband had to show me how to do it correctly. I can't watch someone demonstrate how to use a spindle and then recreate her actions without great trial, error, and sweat-inducing concentration. And then my mind and muscles forget what I learned within five minutes and I have to struggle all over again.

And then I realized: the same little glitch in my brain that makes it easy for me to see words frontways and backways and sideways makes it very difficult for me to interpret patterns, architectural drawings, or how in the name of all that's holy they managed to stick a new road near the bridge and still keep the same landmarks. What's up with that anyway?

Spatially dyslexic is what I'm calling myself until I come up with a better term and it goes a long way toward explaining so much of the way I relate to the physical world.

Knitting charts? Don't get me started. They were the bane of my existence. They made this grown woman weep with frustration for most of the years of my knitting life. Or at least they did until last year when something in my brain clicked and I grabbed onto them like Velcro and wouldn't let go. (Okay, so maybe I have to keep a ruler underneath the working row but still . . . ) I don't know why or how it happened but it's opened up my knitting to a whole new dimension of possibilities and I'm delighted.

And yes I can still spell backwards! Life is good.

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Blogger Renna said...

That is an amazing story! I can't imagine what the celebrity status must've been like for you among your peers after that. :-)

I can't spell backwards, though I do speak fluent ig-pay atin-lay (Pig Latin). I consider myself of average intelligence, and have always prided myself on my ability to pick things up pretty quickly when learning something new.....that is, until I have to learn something by reading instructions rather than being shown. I simply cannot do it.

I wanted to learn to knit for years before I finally did. I looked at knitting book after knitting book (I didn't have access to classes). FINALLY, along came the internet and those wonderful instructional videos, and voila', I'm a knitter! ;-)

I have to be looking down over someone's shoulder, recreating what they're doing to do it. I can't face them (or them in a video) and mirror it. It simply won't work for me.

So, I said all that to say, though I'm not the genius backward speller that you are, I do have an inkling of how you feel when reading instructions and charts (which I steer clear of)!

1:19 AM  
Blogger WendyKnits said...

I don't know about spelling backwards, but I can write backwards -- that is, mirror-image. Strangely, that is not a highly sought-after job skill.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

I tend to prefer covering the rows above what I'm working on. I can see how it's supposed to flow with everything else I've already done that way. And I also tend to prefer a magnet board or sticky notes. :)

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Fran Baker said...

When I was learning to sew, I made a darling skirt out of some jersey material that was the last of a bolt. Meaning there was no more to be had. I whipped up the skirt and proudly put it on ... only to discover that I'd put the hem in the waist and the waist in the hem.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

I loved watching Wonderama with my brothers- we called the host Funny Sox! Thanks for sharing

9:54 AM  
Blogger Chrisknits said...

I echo what Cathy said. Keep your marker above your current row. It will keep you from getting off track across the row if you can see your current stitches as they should interact with the previous rows.

I see patterns in architecture and nature that others just ignore. Sequences just enthrall me.

12:19 AM  

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