Lon L. Emerick, Ph.D., Northern Michigan University, Marquette
One score and seven years ago, in a desperate attempt to cure their son’s chronic speech problem, my parents spent their meagre savings to send me to a commercial school for stammering. Alas, to their dismay and my deepening feeling of hopelessness, it was just another futile attempt. While I rode woefully toward home on the train, a kindly old gray-haired conductor stopped at my seat and asked my destination. I opened my mouth for the well-rehearsed “Detroit” but all that emerged was a series of muted gurgles; I pulled my abdominal muscles in hard to break the terrifying constriction in my throat—silence. Finally, the old man peered at me through his bifocals, shook his head and, with just the trace of a smile, said, “Well, young man, either express yourself or go by freight.”
The conductor had shuffled on down the aisle of the rocking passenger car before the shock waves swept over me. Looking out the window at the speeding landscape through a tearful mist of anger and frustration, I felt the surreptitious glances of passengers seated nearby; a flush of crimson embarrassment crept slowly up my neck and my head throbbed with despair. Long afterwards I remembered the conductor’s penetrating comment. For years I locked that and other stuttering wounds and nursed my wrath to keep it warm, dreaming that someday I would right all those unrightable wrongs. But in the end his pithy pun changed my life. The old man, incredibly, had been right.
Why indeed go by freight? Why carry excess baggage, endure endless delays, languish forgotten and rejected in sooty siding yards, be bombarded with countless jolts and unplanned stops? Why let your journey through life be dictated by the timetable of stuttering?
Perhaps you too are searching for some way out of a morass of jumbled box cars and the maze of tracks that seem to lead only to empty, deadened spurs. Although it is difficult to give advice without seeing you and identifying your particular situation, I do know there are several things that have helped me and many other stutterers. May I extend this challenge to you: I invite you to do something difficult but with a sweet reward—to change the way you talk.
The pathway to better speech is fraught with blind alleys, dark frightening tunnels and arduous climbs. Beware of any treatment that plumes itself in novelty and promises no pain; deep inside you know this cannot work. May I show you the trail?
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Posted Nov. 8, 2021