Senior Scene: Looking Back: Don't give up and you can overcome all sorts of obstacles

Stuttering: “It’s just a phase. But the 3 million Americans who struggle daily with this little understood disorder know that this is not so,” wrote Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation of America, in an Ann Landers column.

I started to write this column back in 2005 and shelved it. I still have some sorrowful repressed feelings about the subject, as you will read. But it’s worth the heartfelt desire to help other people have a better life by overcoming such a handicap, or for that matter any handicap.

Stuttering is truly an enigma, and one that has to be addressed. I know — for I was blighted. As my Quick Shelf dictionary says, “Stuttering impairs growth, withers hopes and ambitions, or impedes progress and prosperity.”

Believe me, this handicap can be a nightmare for the one that is afflicted. Bystanders, friends and family also can be affected with embarrassment and be ill of ease just being around the infected individual. Sad — it’s so very sad to experience such emotional feelings.

So here I am in my early 80s to relate about my childhood. There seemed to be no help back then for this problem, or perhaps we were not privy to any help. At least, if there was, we were not informed. Today there is a wealth of excellent medical advice.

And so I waded through my early life, struggling, until I was about the age of 25. The plus is there, because the “blight” dissipated slowly as I obtained self-confidence. Today many of our friends are unbelieving when I mention my past handicap.

How did I cope? How did I conquer? How did I live though this and become a person that I would like? There are various causes and effects, and these were some of mine.

I remember most clearly my siblings and their embarrassment, especially with my older sister. It wasn’t enough for me to cope with various heart-rending situations, but without the full support from my loved ones, my inexplicable handicap would get worse. Regardless of feelings, “practice makes perfect,” and the more I persevered, the closer I got to overcoming my problem.

Another plus was to excel in various endeavors. In my case, it was all types of artwork, as well as swimming and other sports, so as not to be “overshadowed” by an over-achieving sibling who parents thought I should copy, especially with higher grades. This gave me my own recognition and a sense of self worth. Self-confidence.

Another great help was two years of speech courses in college. Speakers Bureau (public speaking), drama club, and all the understanding professors, coaches and schoolmates were very helpful — especially when another girl in my class was worse off than I was.

Guess all that put my mind-set in the proper perspective. If she had the guts to overcome this, I could too.

Never to be forgotten was a poem we memorized way back in sixth grade. It went like this:

“Someone said it couldn’t be done

“But he with a chuckle replied

“Said maybe it couldn’t but he would be one

“Who wouldn’t say so ‘til he tried.

“So he buckled right down … with a trace of a grin

“Somebody said it couldn’t be done …

“And he did it.”

Unfortunately, I did have relapses: It was about 1949 back in my high school days. I can’t remember which class it was in — either English or history — but anyway, the teacher had assigned each student a specific lengthy topic to be given orally — an oral report. In front of the whole class! Horrors!

The morning of my due assignment, a brilliant idea came to mind that would be a solution for my dilemma. I would have laryngitis. Throughout the entire day, in each class, I gave a convincing performance. It worked. I was excused from my oral assignment.

Now, today, I wonder why I wasn’t rescheduled. Perhaps the teacher saw what would have been very embarrassing for me and showed mercy, or just perhaps, my “theatrical performance” was believable. (Did I miss my calling?)

The truth of the matter is: Never give up. I always thought there would be a “better tomorrow” and there was.

In 1959, our religious organization invited the women to participate in what is called The Theocratic Ministry School. I readily joined in. At first giving short talks on a platform-stage was not easy, but as said, “practice makes perfect.” There was practical counsel and instruction for all. After the many years of guidance from this program, public speaking became easier and easier. Even extemporaneous talks were achieved.

Not too many summers ago, my husband and I were invited to act out a short demonstration on a convention program attended by more than 5,000. Imagine that! I was able to do such a thing after a lifetime of “not giving up.” Prayers were answered and perseverance paid off.

Conquering a disability can be done.

Elaine W. Kniskern is a 82-year-old resident of Schenevus, a grandmother of five and great-grandmother of one. She can reached at ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at www.

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