I was born with a cleft palette, a hole in the roof of my mouth. I don’t remember the eating problems, or the surgery to correct them.
I had numerous bouts of tonsillitis, and doctors explained that the surgery prevented them from removing the tonsils.
My speech was affected, too. I was pulled out of class in first grade for speech therapy, and developed a halting ability to use “R” sounds, but my peers were consistent through the years: “You talk funny.”
“It’s because I have braces,” I said.
“Gary has braces and he doesn’t talk funny,” someone replied.
It was hard to argue.
Instead, I spent hours in the bathroom, talking to myself in the mirror, enunciating each word. I did well alone, but lost those gains around others, and started mumbling and stammering.
At age 12, I met a kid my age with cerebral palsy. It took an act of will for him to speak and a nearly equal act of will for me to understand him. I spent just one summer’s day with Toby at Uncle Ben’s boathouse, but he put things in perspective. Mine was a small problem.
In college, I let speech pathology students work on me, and rededicated myself to enunciation. The dorm offered little privacy, so I talked to myself in the car.
I remained self-conscious, but had to interact with people to make a living. I repeated myself when someone couldn’t understand. I tried not to get too excited, which aroused the stammer.
Things slowly changed. Though I’ve never lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, people in the South often say, “You’re not from around here, are you?” I assume that’s from all my private enunciating.
I got a shock more than 10 years ago when Paul Stone Dunklee, then a morning DJ with Wizard 106, asked me to do movie reviews on the radio.
Imagine, me on the radio.
I’m ashamed to say I turned him down at first, but discovered some courage a few weeks later. You’ll still find me on the air with Kelli Karlson and “Roadkill” Bill. It’s a five-minute dream come true each Tuesday morning.
Now, there’s another dream that I’d spent years considering and rejecting: I’m an actor. Sure, I’m paid in candy, crackers and artichoke dip, but it counts.
As I write this, I’m floating on a natural high from Thursday’s opening of Tupelo Community Theatre’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” My part’s relatively small, but my voice carries across the Lyric Theatre.
That old stammer tried to assert itself in Act I, but I got through it and a couple of actors gave me thumbs up.
I could scarcely believe it. I was on stage, speaking my lines for everyone to hear. It’s funny how good that felt.
M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or email@example.com.