It has been a while since I posted a granddaddy story. We’ve been busy buying a house in Wake Forest, NC, preparing for a move next summer, networking to get started on my next career and spending birthdays and Christmas with the targets for these stories. When I started these, I intended to write about whatever came to my mind. Today, I was remembering life as a stutterer. They say that it is an affliction that you really cannot be cured from, but I believe it can be overcome and I believe that for the most part, I have overcome it. I spend time doing public speaking and teaching at the university level and have no problem communicating with these groups. I do find that I tend to have more trouble in more relaxed and informal forums.
As near as I can tell, my stuttering began at about age 5 or 6. Not sure why, but most of the therapists I went to over many years seemed to think that I was identfying with my father who was a chronic and very bad stutterer most of the time. The first time I noticed that I was different though was in 3d grade when a traveling speech therapist came to our school,one of my friends in the same class and I were brought to this guy (I remember him saying his name was Mr. Blue). He asked us some questions and had us run through some exercises, but I don’t recall doing anything more about it after that. Over the course of the rest of my school career, my parents tried a couple of other therapists that did not work very well. We went to one lady in Monroe, LA. She decided that I should try to speak rhymthmically (like singing a song). That was just embarrassing. We also went to a therapist in Jackson, MS. I might add that these were not short trips. They required at least a couple hours round trip for the sessions. The guy in Jackson was a psychologist. He worked with me on relaxation techniques. I did at least learn how to perform a sort of self, semi-hypnosis that would put me into a short trance that was very restful. I have enjoyed doing that for more than 50 years now.
I have to say that I suffered none of the problems in schooll that you so often hear about. No one laughed at me (at least to my face), no one criticized me about it. Teachers treated me just like everyone else. I had to stand in front of the class and recite the Marc Antony sililoquoy from Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser as well as the scene from MacBeth (“Is this a dagger I see before me…”). I also had to recite the 23 auxiliary verbs and the 48 prepositions. I remember all of that so vividly that I can still recite all of those. I chalk that up to the fact that the only way I could have gotten through them without a total breakdown was to have memorized them so well that I didn’t have to think about them. Another thing I picked up from that experience was to always volunteer to be first. Get it over with. The dread was worse than the activity. There was one very critical moment where my stuttering almost was my ruin. I played high school football. We had what the coaches called 4 starting ends (this was before all the wide receivers so we were all tight ends). He used us as his messengers. We would run in plays to pass to the QB who would then call the play. I ran in to the huddle once and suffered a speech block. Fortunately, the quarterback and I were able to communicate well enough that he figured out what I was trying to say. Again, no one ever mentioned that to me after that point. I was indeed blessed to have such good classmates and schoolmates. My stuttering did hinder my dating in high school. I was always too embarrassed to ask a girl out face-to-face along with the fact that none of the girls were ever alone, but always with a group. I couldn’t call because I had a hard time saying my first name. I really struggled with hard consonant sounds and the K in Kenny always stumped me and does to this day if I allow it. So the first date I had in HS was when Jeanette Johns asked me to go to a dance with her. I only had the one date with her in my Junior year in HS, but later in college we went steady for a while. I did manage to work up enough courage to ask Betty Horton out to a football banquet in my senior year. She had been homecoming queen the fall before so I was pretty stunned when she said yes. That accounts for my HS dating experiences.
When I got t college, a lot of things happened to change me. For one thing there were a lot of people I did not know there and they had no idea about my stuttering for the most part. I did still stutter, but had pretty much decided that I would always be like my dad. I cannot recall just when (sometime during my third year in college) I qualified for a vocational rehab scholarship. It paid for tuition, fees, and books and for speech therapy. I was more interested in the tuition and fees than in the therapy, but part of the deal was that I had to keep up with the sessions. My therapist was Lamar Mullican and he turned my life around. His basic point was to get over myself that there were not that many people who thought that much about me. This was a bit of a revelaton. With Mr. Mullican’s encouragement, I began seeking speaking opportunities. I took a speech class in college and did quite well in it. I was very selective with my vocabulary to avoid those pesky hard consonants as much as possible. I also made sure that I was the first to speak in all instances. Later I got into ROTC and was forced to give commands to large formations of cadets and to teach training classes. ROTC summer camp was where I really excelled and that included having to speak frequently.
Of course, in my 21 years in the Army, I had to give briefings, classes and speeches throughout. I learned that I actually had a knack for public speaking and began to enjoy doing it. I have carried that on with my speaking by giving speeches to organizations, teaching project management courses at the university level and conducting a seminar on career strategies. I intend to continue speaking and teaching when I go into semi-retirement in a few more months. I actually am enthused with the prospect of speaking to groups of people. I still stutter and must be ready to cover it up when a block starts and I am always very nervous before I get up to speak, but once I get rolling, it is a real rush.
I guess if there is a point to all of this it would be to face up to your challenges and persist.