I don’t know when I started to stutter, but I remember coming home from a drive-in cinema one Saturday night and telling our maid about the film I had just seen. I was raised in Apartheid South Africa and when I was young, we always had an African maid to do the housework and cook. My mother worked and this was the norm for most, if not all middle-class households.
The film I had seen that evening was if my memory serves me, The Wizard of Oz. This classic starring Judy Garland does have some scary elements for a six-year old boy, my age at that time.
In the early fifties, when the weather was warm in Johannesburg, our family enjoyed an evening out at the drive-in. My father would park the car, roll up the window and test the speaker. Once we knew the speaker was functioning he positioned the car at the best angle and we all went off to the cafeteria, to buy a snack, usually comprising chips (French fries) and a milkshake or soft-drink (soda). Under the screen in the front of the arena was a playground for the younger children and I usually went with my sister, who was four years older, to swing or slide or play on whatever other apparatuses they had.
Why I started to stutter, no one has ever been able to explain, and I saw no end of experts, from the speech therapy clinic at the local university to psychologists and psychiatrists. I have no doubt that my speech affected my self-confidence and my ability to achieve. I had friends, but never more than one or two. I can name them, Bruce, Linton, Edmund and Bernard. That makes only four good friends from childhood until I married at age twenty-five.
My father was a strict disciplinarian but I only remember one time when he deemed corporal punishment necessary. One of our neighbours had a roof which was easily accessible. I and a whole lot of the kids in the neighbourhood thought it a good idea to climb on the roof and put burning paper down the chimney – I was about ten years old at the time. My sister, being a typical sibling told my parents and my father gave me a few slaps on the bottom with his slipper. I think the humiliation was worse than the punishment, but I never climbed on that roof or any other, until I was married and the proud owner of my own home – I needed to plug some holes to stop the rain from damaging our ceiling.
I’m digressing now, but please forgive me as I allow myself some of the freedoms in my blog that I do not allow myself in my creative writing – my short stories and novels.
So I lived my life with a stutter. Of course the other children made fun of me – children are insensitive and cruel. When I was older, I was terribly shy of girls, especially the pretty ones. Added to my speech problems, I suffered from quite bad acne as well, so my problems were compounded.
However, I’m proud to say that I never gave in and continued to try and live a normal life. I left home at 17, to go to university in a city 40 miles away from home. I made friends, dated girls and got on with it.
Eventually I matured, met a wonderful girl, married her and now nearly 45 years later we are still together, with three adult children and one, so far beautiful granddaughter. At 69, I still stutter – but I never let it stop me doing anything. A few years ago I became a real estate agent, a job naturally requiring the gift of the gab – and I was quite sought after in my town – being more sincere and honest than most of my competitors.
In the last six months I have also fulfilled another of my dreams – writing, publishing and selling, with some acclamation, a book – Just for Fun – an eclectic anthology of short stories. www.henrytobias.com @henrytobias2646