I was a pretty sickly kid, diagnosed with rheumatic fever at six, and the mumps encephalitis at seven. In essence, I spent two years in bed. The rheumatic fever wasn’t that bad. I was tired, had to be carried to the bathroom, got all my meals on a tray, and had a home teacher who came three days a week. I also was able to read Nancy Drew books, the Hardy Boys, Little Women, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (okay, I’m kidding) and anything else I could lay my hands on. At the time, I had two younger sisters who had to share a room, but I got my own room. I also got the most attention. Hah! I was given sulfa drugs and these were fairly new at the time. I guess they were effective!
Just as they were thinking I was over the worst of the rheumatic fever, I got mumps encephalitis. Now this one was a bitch because I had to stay in a darkened room. No sunshine. No reading. Hours of boredom and being lonely. I was jealous of the kids playing out in the great outdoors. Doctors came to see me about once a week. The home school teacher also came by, but we mainly talked because of my inability to read. This was one boring period of time.
By the time I was eight, I was ready to go back to school. Mom had enrolled me at St. Michaels, a Catholic school run by fresh off the boat Irish nuns. These were the old days, keep in mind, when nuns did use rulers to smack hands of misbehaving children. The wore the real nun habits, with the stiff white piece that covered all of their hair and even their ears! They wore black habits and some of them were actually quite pretty. (You’d have to be really pretty to pull off an outfit like that!)
I had to go to an interview with the Mother Superior so that she could decide where to place me in the school. Because of being ill, my education had been less than formal. But I could read and write, in fact, pretty well for my age. The Mother Superior handed me a newspaper and told me to read an article to her. I did as she requested, but to my horror, I was stuttering badly. My mother looked at me rather shocked. This was new! Maybe it was from nerves? Or maybe the aftermath of the encephalitis stuff which does something bad brain-wise! Oh who the hell knows?
The nun decided that I belonged in third grade. Fine with me. I actually found that I could more than keep up with the other kids in the class. The only thing that wasn’t working out so well was my speech impediment. I would be called on in class to read something or answer a question and the words simply wouldn’t come out without a horrible stutter. After listening to kids giggle when I tried to talk, or worse, mimic me, I adopted a new persona. When called on, I would stand, and look as blank as I could. Damn right! Let them think I’m stupid, not impaired!
Stuttering was an obstacle for me. It made me a little shy and a bit introverted. But it also made me more inclined to write. And write I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Essays were the easiest thing in the world for me. Of course when I was asked to read my essay aloud, I gave the blank stupid stare and said “No”. Funny, I never got in too much trouble for that.
By the time I was fourteen, I had developed and had a great figure! Boys were much more interested in my bust than in my speech patterns. Strange how that happens! Okay, even today, I stutter. Not as bad as I did back then, but enough that it can be noticeable. Does it bother me? In a word, “No.”