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When the man told me he had joined the Air Force at the start of the Korean War in 1950, I thanked him for his service to our country.

Life in the military had taken him all over the map. He reeled off some of the places where he had been stationed. His career had traversed from Colorado to Mississippi to California, Canada, Nevada, Guam, Oklahoma, New York, Hawaii, England, Thailand and Alaska.

When he told me he had been in Portugal, I had to smile. Portugal? I know how to spell that.


I have to brag a little here. I have known how to spell Portugal since the fifth grade. I don’t have to look it up. It’s planted in my brain, stamped on my skull.

I learned the hard way.

Of course, I grew up at a time where we didn’t have spell check or autocorrect. We had to look up words in the dictionary. I came home one night with a social studies project.

We had all been assigned to write a report on different countries. I don’t know how I got Portugal, but I was soon sailing on a sea of information to the westernmost country in Europe.

I learned the capital was Lisbon. I learned about its parliament, its provinces and the colors of its flag.

Apparently, I learned everything about Portugal except how to spell it.

At 10 p.m. the night before my report was due, my mother and I made a horrifying discovery.

I had spelled it P-O-R-T-U-G-U-A-L all the way through, from the title page to the bibliography.

At least I was consistent.grismapportugaul

This was also the days before “white-out.’’ I’m sure there was such thing as “erasable bond” paper, but we didn’t carry it in our inventory.

I don’t know how or where we learned a dab of Clorox on the end of a toothpick will take out the ink. I went through wiping out every extraneous “U’’ from the Atlantic coast to the Spanish border.

I made a “A” on the report. My teacher never knew the error of my ways.

I think about it every time I see or hear the word Portugal. Or get a whiff of Clorox.

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