By Mike Boyd
Early morning; get on the bus. Late in the afternoon; get off the bus. The summers of 1955 and 1956, I rode Greyhound buses, Monday through Friday, from my home town (Lowell, Indiana) to West Lafayette, Indiana. These were the summers after completing 7th garde and 8th grade.
The summer of 1956, Paul Schuyler gave me rides to West Lafayette on Monday mornings. A coach and Industrial Arts teacher at Lowell High School, Paul was taking graduate courses at Purdue University in West Lafayette. He drove to Purdue on Monday, stayed there during the week, and returned home for the weekend. During my freshman year at LHS (1955-1956), Paul was the head basketball coach and I was a team manager. We became good friends, particularly after learning that we shared the same birthday. Paul’s one-way rides once a week were much appreciated. Our friendship endures; he is a wonderful person and friend.
Why I commuted 160 miles every day on a bus…
A little history
As a youngster, I had a severe speech impediment. I stuttered. I still do. My stuttering started during the first year after we Boyds moved to Lowell from Gary in July 1948. That September, I started 2nd grade at Lowell Grade School1. The stuttering did not go away; it was ever-present in school and out of school.
The Lowell school system did not offer speech therapy. When I was in 4th or 5th grade, Mom and Dad took me to Crown Point, Indiana, for half-hour sessions with a speech therapist. The therapy sessions were once a week, in the afternoon after school let out. It was a major logistical hurdle for Mom and Dad. We had one car, and Dad used (needed) it six days a week on the mail route. A rural mail carrier, he was required to provide his own vehicle. He rushed home from work, gathered up Mom, brother Jerry, and me, and then hustled off to Crown Point. I did not go to Crown Point for many therapy sessions. The sessions were not that helpful, as I remember, and the travel was difficult due to the time pressure.
I was trying to improve my speech, but the stuttering was not decreasing. Mom read up on stuttering—whatever she could find. I was doing well in school academically, but my articulation definitely was a problem.
Mom learned that Purdue University had a speech clinic and that it had sessions available to elementary and middle school students during the summer. This was in the days of letters mailed in stamped envelopes and long-distance telephone calls made on rotary phones. My parents registered me for speech therapy at Purdue. Getting me to and from West Lafayette was solved: the Greyhound bus. This was why I rode Greyhound buses 80 miles one way, twice a day.
The daily journey
In the morning, the southbound Greyhound stopped at the Mobil gasoline station on Commercial Avenue in Lowell next to the Monon Railroad tracks. The driver continued west on Indiana 2 and turned south on US 41. There was no traffic light at that intersection then. There was no traffic light in Lowell, either.
In the late afternoon, the bus did not go through Lowell. The driver let me off near the north intersection of US 41 and Indiana 2 at Stu Williams’ Standard Oil Station.
There was a Greyhound Post House in Kentland for food (a cafeteria) and restrooms. Greyhound had “post houses” throughout the United States for their passengers. We stopped for about 30 minutes. South of Kentland, the driver got off US 41 and continued southeast on US 52. I don’t know all the communities we stopped in along the way, but it was not an express route, that’s for sure.
One town stands out in my memory: Oxford, Indiana. After stopping in downtown Oxford on our way south, the bus rolled slowly along quiet, tree-lined residential streets and passed a small farm just inside the town limits. Home of Dan Patch was proudly painted on the side of a barn. Dan Patch was a harness racing horse at the turn of the twentieth century and was pretty famous, including outside Oxford.2 (In harness racing, the rider is not in a saddle on the horse but rides in a sulky—a lightweight, two-wheel buggy behind the horse.) There often were horses grazing in the fenced area next to the barn. I frequently wondered if any of them was descended from Dan Patch.
The buses were very comfortable. It was summer, the weather was warm, and I enjoyed the air-conditioning. Greyhound normally used a single-level bus for the trip south. Heading north in the afternoon, I often rode in a Greyhound Scenicruiser. The double-decker bus had 10 seats on the same level as the driver, and 33 seats on the second level. (I know all of this because the web told me so.) I liked the view from upstairs, but I often sat below so I could watch the driver steer, shift gears, and so on.
The bus ride between Lowell and West Lafayette was long, probably more than two hours one way including the rest stop in Kentland. It was always the same scenery—essentially the same scenery seen throughout Northern Indiana in the 1950s: farm workers, well-kept farms, flat fields, pastures, and livestock. I usually had a book or magazine to read for the ride and for my periods of waiting on the Purdue campus.
All of the bus drivers were men. (It was the 1950s, remember.) The drivers were always professional and courteous to me and the other passengers. I was traveling alone, and I am confident that they kept watch over me. I remember the name of one driver who frequently took me north: Mr. McDuff.
The bus station in West Lafayette was a few blocks from the Purdue campus. I got off the bus and walked over to the campus, usually to the Union Building.
On the Purdue campus
Most days, Mom packed a lunch for me, and I ate in the Union Building’s cafeteria. Sometimes, I bought lunch. This was during the days of a hamburger costing 25 cents (or less) and 10 cents for a soft drink.
A young teenager, I was mesmerized being on a university campus. Purdue’s curriculum is strong in science and engineering, and I saw numerous students carrying slide rules, often in holsters attached to the students’ belts. I knew very little about slide rules; basically, they are mechanical analog computers and used for advanced (by my standards) mathematical calculations. My knowledge was limited, but I knew I should be impressed. I was. There was nothing more intimidating than a college senior walking across campus and packing a 45-caliber slide rule. The fastest accurate solution for an equation wins … or “rules.” Sine, cosine, you name it.
During both summers, my daily schedule on campus had at least two hours of free time before my therapy session started. The Union Building was a favorite hangout; it was air-conditioned and had an enormous pool hall. The only pool hall I had seen before was FRICK’S POOL HALL on Commercial Avenue in Lowell, not a high-end establishment mind you. Owned by Willard Frick, the pool hall was dark and smoky with the rumble of adults speaking in hushed tones interspersed with occasional loud expletives. FRICK’S POOL HALL had, perhaps, 10 tables. (Remember, it was dark and smoky.) The pool hall at Purdue had at least a couple dozen tables, all in immaculate condition. The rest of the Union Building premises were well-lit and clean, too. I very much enjoyed watching the students and other adults play games such as pocket billiards and three-cushion billiards.
I enjoyed the pool hall action, but I was never so entranced as to forget why I was at Purdue: speech therapy. I was never late for my sessions. After the sessions, I had a good bit of time before returning to the bus station for my ride home.
Summer of 1955
Richard Ham and I met for speech therapy in University Hall (I think), situated along what is now called Memorial Mall. A classroom building, University Hall was largely unoccupied during summer school. A graduate student in speech therapy, Mr. Ham was soft-spoken. He wore glasses and was tall. (I thought that most adults were tall then.) We met in a large classroom on the second or third floor. The room was filled with movable wooden student desks, each with a writing surface arm on the side. The room had high ceilings and tall windows that were open most of the time (no air-conditioning).
There was another stutterer, a girl about my age, in the first session. At the second or third session, Mr. Ham said that she had been placed with another speech therapist.
I met with Mr. Ham daily for three weeks. Each session was 30-45 minutes. We pulled a couple of chairs together facing each other and talked about stuttering, how it felt. He shared some basic research with me, findings such as stutterers almost always have no problem when they talk with animals. Our conversations helped me comprehend that my stuttering was not my fault and that I was okay even though I stuttered. The time spent with him was formative. Adjectives that come to mind include reassuring, comforting, and enlightening. After those sessions with Mr. Ham, I felt much better—more confident and less embarrassed (humiliated) by my speech challenges.
At the dinner table each night, I imagine that I shared my new knowledge (and, indirectly, my feelings) with my family. I can imagine that was rewarding for my parents at many levels.
I remain deeply indebted to Mr. Ham for his knowledge, his therapy skills, his gentle demeanor, and for the gift of self-esteem he helped develop in me. In 1969, I learned that Dr. Ham was the director of the School of Hearing and Speech Sciences at Ohio University (Athens). I wrote him a letter.
In April of that year, I received a very nice reply from him. He thanked me for my letter, and he summarized what had been going on in his professional life since he had worked with me. His letter included this paragraph:
I am glad your story ultimately had a satisfactory ending. In our clinic we so often see children and adults who had “some therapy” along the way that didn’t help, helped briefly, or upset things worse. You seem to have done well by yourself for yourself, and I think most of any credit should stay with you.
The start of high school
The summer of 1955 was a milestone in my progressing through the educational system. I became a high school freshman!
In May, I graduated from 8th grade. Back in those days, we didn’t do graduations like they are often done now. That last Friday, we went to our classroom; the teacher glared at us as a group one last time. We received our report cards. As a group, we students glared back at the teacher one last time, and then fled the building. The day after Labor Day, my next academic adventure began: high school. There would be more challenging academics. Students from other grade schools in southern Lake County would be joining us. This meant that there would be a major clique shift; old groups would dissolve and new ones would form. All new and stressful territory.
Hazing of freshmen was common in high schools back then; it certainly wasn’t rare in the hallowed halls of beloved Lowell High School. Seniors eagerly used wood paddles on freshmen. So, yeah, I was nervous about high school for many reasons.
Early in the first semester of freshman English, Mr. Martin announced in class that each of us would have to give a speech in front of the class. Oh, swell. (My exact words, I’m sure.) Stage fright to the nth degree for this stuttering freshman!
I took on the assignment as a challenge. Having just worked with Mr. Ham, I’m proud to say that I chose stuttering as my topic. The confidence and knowledge I gained that summer in West Lafayette (and reinforced at home) were instrumental in my choosing this topic and giving the speech. I felt fairly comfortable, and my talk was well-received by my classmates. That meant a lot, because a good portion of them were new to me and vice versa.
Let’s continue on to 1956 and my second summer of speech therapy at Purdue.
Summer of 1956
This summer therapy session lasted six weeks. I believe that I signed up for three weeks initially, as I had done in 1955. Toward the end of that time period, we decided that it would be good for me to attend three more weeks. Enough logistics. Let’s get to the substance.
The therapy in 1956 was not as positive an experience. Soon, I really, really wished I was working with Mr. Ham again.
The person in charge of these therapy sessions was on the faculty; a Ph.D. I do not remember his name; I’ll call him “Dr. Blanque” (pronounced “blank”). We met in a small classroom or studio. I expect that this laboratory facility was in the same building as the Speech and Hearing Clinic. Was I alone—one-on-one—with the therapist? Oh, no. Another stutterer around my age was also there for therapy. Our chairs were positioned facing a mirror. To complete the cast of characters, we had two graduate students in the room to observe.
Not long into the therapy sessions, Dr. Blanque started a technique with both of us stutterers. The technique was difficult for me. I do not remember how difficult it was for my fellow client, but I was having trouble with it. Most nights after my long commute, I had homework. Mom coached me and led me through the exercise words and phrases. The technique was not working for me.
On this part, my recollection is fuzzy. I imagine that my parents and I discussed my lack of progress, and I asked Dr. Blanque about it. The explanation that I received—or inferred—was that the lack of progress was my fault. A young and tentative teenager, I did not question authority (Dr. Blanque); I assumed he was correct. Consequently, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing better.
I have learned that one therapy approach does not work for everyone with the same affliction. For example: Therapy A helps Client 1; Client 1 makes significant improvement. Client 2? Therapy A might not help Client 2 much. Thinking back to my six weeks with Dr. Blanque, I accept that he tried this therapy.
However, I should have been switched to something else or a different approach when it was clear that the therapy was not helping me and actually causing some relapse. For that, I fault him.
The rest of the summer was good. However, I really felt like I had suffered a setback in my stuttering from the speech therapy sessions with Dr. Blanque.
Epilogue: Looking back and looking forward
I have told my Greyhound bus story numerous times. (Some of you gentle readers might have heard it numerous times!) Occasionally, someone will comment on my courage to make this trip daily at that age. I didn’t think I was particularly brave. I still don’t. I trusted my parents, and I knew they would not put me in harm’s way. In retrospect, it meant a lot that Mom and Dad trusted me to do this.
As a parent, I have thought frequently about my parents and their courage and resolve. They made a major effort to get me to Crown Point for therapy. They followed up on the speech therapy at Purdue. They put me on a Greyhound bus every weekday morning and waited every afternoon in the warm summer sun for the northbound Greyhound to let me off. They covered all expenses. They helped me practice my speech lessons. They comforted and reassured me when things were difficult. Their love and support were unconditional.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to go to Purdue for speech therapy. I learned a lot about stuttering, and I definitely learned a lot about myself. A lot of it was fun and an adventure: Being by myself on a bus. Hanging out in the Union’s pool hall! Seeing slide rules half the length of my arm! But, I digress. Lessons learned in and out of the therapy sessions were invaluable. My Greyhound to Purdue saga was key in getting me started on the progress that I have made to date. My conversations with Mr. Ham helped me understand and (most importantly) accept the affliction as well as accept myself. The solo bus trips also gave me confidence. I traveled alone and took care of myself.
Through the years, I have continued to work to improve my fluency. Stuttering never goes away completely. A stutterer is like an alcoholic; once a stutterer, always a stutterer. I am pleased with the improvement in my speech. I did not do it consciously, but I pushed myself to be more fluent. The beginning of this pushing process probably was that speech in Freshman English.
After several semesters of floundering in major-of-the-week mode at Wabash College and then Indiana University, I decided on Radio and Television as my academic major at IU. The curriculum emphasized writing, producing, directing, journalism, and mass communication. I also had classes and gained experience in announcing and presenting the news. Outside the classroom, I presented a five-minute summary of national and international news every Friday morning on local television (WTTV in Indianapolis) for a semester. I acted in a children’s television show—doing the voice for, and operating, a hand puppet.
While at IU, I hosted a jazz show on WQAD, the in-house AM radio station at Wright Quadrangle, Saturday nights from 10:00 to Midnight. I enjoyed playing jazz and talking–introducing the music, giving sports scores, telling occasional jokes, and so on. It was great practice for me to talk on the air.
Since college, I have done a little public speaking, performed in skits (at work and at church), acted in a play (an adaptation of “12 Angry Men”), and preached several sermons, mostly at our church in Cary, North Carolina. In the late 1980s, I had additional therapy—including three weeks (that timeframe again) at the Hollins Communication Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia. I also completed the Dale Carnegie Effective Speaking and Human Relations course.
Recently, I watched a DVD of The King’s Speech with Betty. We had seen the film in a theater when it was released in 2010. Working on this Greyhound story made me want to see the film again. The courage and resolve of King George VI portrayed in the movie–and how he and Mr. Logue (his therapist) worked together–are inspirational. I am impressed and touched by how well Oscar-winning Colin Firth portrays stuttering’s emotional and physical struggles. I look at stuttering and therapy with a knowing eye.
I look at myself with a more knowing eye, too. Those therapy sessions at Purdue set a foundation that helped immeasurably. Essential to the fluency I have gained has been the unwavering support of family and friends. I know that I have not been alone. Last, but not least, I know that it’s important to talk about it. Thank you for listening.
1. Some school systems in 1950s Indiana had two levels of schools: grade (1st through 8th grade) and high (9th through 12th). There was no middle or junior high.
2. More background on Dan Patch from the Indiana Historical Society: http://www.indianahistory.org/our-collections/reference/notable-hoosiers/dan-patch#.WVJoJ8aZO8ov
Posted Jan. 8, 2018