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CHAPTER VI

PLAY AND GAMES

At an early age I learned that I could run as fast, and sometimes faster than the most able of my playfellows. Winning a footrace meant something very definite and very gratifying; it meant that in one instance, and in a manner unmistakable, I had asserted myself in a superior fashion. It meant also that my playmates respected that fact, and were likely to remember it later whenever my stumbling tongue tended to make me appear inferior. In no small sense I came to believe that more important than the ability to speak without stuttering was the ability to win a footrace.

(I want to throw out this idea here, for what it is worth: that before I ever began to stutter, experience perhaps had taught me to think of myself as being capable of notable achievements, relatively speaking, and that it was this feeling, upon which stuttering imposed itself as a damper, which acted to make my rebellion against stuttering as vindictive as it was. I have often wondered whether my reaction to an awkward tongue had not been different

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Note: Horizontal lines indicate page breaks in the original, at which point bold indicates headers and footers. - NJ



PLAY AND GAMES

and more sluggish, had I not been aroused in imagination and desire during those very early years. You have noticed that, as a stutterer, it has not been mere self-assertion that I have craved, it has been downright superiority; my acts, as well as my thoughts, have been genuinely and naively boastful. It appears to me that the desire for superiority could not have been manifest had the fundamental feeling of superiority not been underlying it. It all comes down to this, then: that the feeling of superiority, the sense of it, either arose out of experience before stuttering ever appeared, or it arose as a proud resentment toward the tendency of stuttering to make me seem inferior. Either I early acquired a sense of superiority, or I later had it thrust upon me. It might make considerable difference as regards the study of stuttering; I leave it to the speech pathologists. It is my province merely to tell what stuttering means to me; when I have admitted that I craved superiority and resented the apparent inferiority by which an awkward tongue tended to characterize me, I have said quite as much as frankness and certainty will allow. But I may be permitted, I think, to suggest as much as possible.)

At any rate, it was delightful to win footraces; it was especially delightful, since I felt an extraordinary need for winning something. Later, I derived

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the same satisfaction from hitting home runs, scoring baskets and touchdowns and winning at tennis. And I did hit home runs, and do the other things, to the extent that I acquired a few medals and in my senior year in high school was elected captain of the baseball, basketball and football teams, and was high point man in the county basketball tournament. Whenever my athletic record was in sight, what did I care that I stuttered! To the villagers, I was not a stutterer; I was an athletic star. It made all the difference in the world. It kept me cheerful a large part of the time. Memory will always assert that one of the most important and enjoyable days of my life was the one on which our team played in a tournament basketball game in which I threw eleven baskets and we defeated our opponents 26 to 2. And that evening we played the team that won the championship; a few minutes before the end, our team got ahead because I threw a basket. The great crowd went wild; I can hear their crazy yelling yet! The players became tense with determination, and I doubt that I shall ever indulge in anything else quite as thrilling as that. I have almost forgotten that we finally lost that game. What does it matter? Did I care to remember in the heat of the game that I was a stutterer? Even now, when I remember it, I all but forget that I am

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PLAY AND GAMES

a stutterer. And there was the memorable baseball game, played for the county championship. I led off the eighth inning with a base hit, stole second, and scored to start a rally that won the game for our team -- and the pandemonium of that huge crowd will never be lost upon me.

It was exceedingly important to me that I could do those things. Had I not been able to, I doubt not that the record of my life would read far differently and less enjoyably. Athletics have been, indeed, one of the most substantial compensations for my stuttering.

Besides. the competitive athletics, I had another play activity which had its solid rewards for me. Solitary play began for me very early, because I was, by six years, the youngest child in the family. By the time I was ten years old, I had devised a number of absorbing games which I could play by myself.

One of these games I played by batting small rocks with a stick. By these means I played baseball, pitting Pittsburgh against Chicago, Boston against Cleveland -- or Roxbury against McPherson, perhaps. Because I read the sport page of the daily paper religiously, I was able to reconstruct the teams for these games of my own. Tossing up a stone, I would swing at it, and if I missed it counted as a

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strike; if I missed twice the batter was out. If I tossed the stone a bit to one side or the other, it was a ball; and two such wide tosses counted as a base on balls. If I knocked a stone over a certain landmark, it counted a two-base hit; if over another landmark, it counted a three-base hit, or a home run, and so on, until all the details of a baseball game had been provided for. And there I would play, often for two or three hours at a time, thrilling with one team and then with the other. Always I played myself, in imagination, on one team or the other -- and it was remarkable how often I hit home runs or held the opponents scoreless by amazing pitching ability!

I had discovered, also, that the ancient game of tiddledywinks could be made to serve a modern purpose. With the bone buttons and the little glass cup, I devised a way to play baseball, basketball, and even football. (I had not yet become familiar with golf!) In this, as in the rock-batting games, I played myself on one team or the other, and it very frequently turned out that the team I was on came out the winner.

My mother usually had a goodly supply of used can rubbers -- the kind that are used in canning fruit and vegetables. I soon discovered a delightful way to make use of them. There were various projections

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from the walls in the kitchen and living room, such as nails on which calendars were suspended, little door knobs on the doors of the china cabinet; and there was one nail especially, driven at about a sixty-degree angle into the wall just above the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room, a nail which will ever be dear to my memory. I played basketball by throwing the can rubbers at these projections; if I was successful in ringing the nail or the door knob, it was counted a basket for the team which I happened to be representing at the time. I became rather skillful, especially at throwing at the nail above the door; I could ring it with a satisfying consistency from the middle of the room -- and to an almost annoying degree, any one who used that door did so at the peril of having his hair roughed by falling can rubbers. In these games, too, I usually managed to make myself a star on one team or the other, and the pleasure of doing that was considerable.

These solitary games were important in a number of ways. They filled in periods which otherwise might have been lonely. They trained my mind in a particular kind of alertness and attention to details, and they involved a mental vigorousness. To a significant degree they took my attention away from the fact that I was a speech defective, by supplying

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me with other matter more exciting and pleasing to think about.

Moreover, they reflected a wish for superiority in that I, or my team, was usually victorious. Consider that in playing these games, I withdrew into the little world that lies within myself; within this world there is public opinion as surely as there is in that bigger world outside, the point being that in my world I am my own public and the way I think of myself makes all the difference. If, therefore, I am there permitted to think to a less degree about myself as a person who canít talk without choking and gasping and making myself ridiculous, and to think more about myself as a hero in the games, the result is plainly invigorating. The effect of winning in those games in solitude was essentially the same as the effect of winning the games in which I played with my team in school.

Another phase is of significance. These games revealed a tendency to solitary activity, and a competency in it so far as immediate self-satisfaction was concerned. If the stutterer's reaction to society is to be examined, this little fact is not to be overlooked. I have noted among other people a widespread disinclination to be alone for any length of time. With myself, quite the reverse has been true for the greater part of my life. I enjoyed being

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alone. I loved to get away from society, to retreat, to avoid social contacts in which my stuttering would serve to embarrass me. Being with other people involves the constant anticipation of the agony of stuttering; being alone involves a greater peace of mind, a pleasant tranquillity. The very bodily tension is decreased to the extent that a satisfying relaxation is possible. And because I have been rather forced, on innumerable occasions, to prefer solitude, I have devised means to utilize it with pleasure. Those solitary games served me in this way. Reading and writing have served the same end -- but in solitary play the general significance is more strikingly apparent.

In my athletic activities, as in writing, I ran counter more or less to my father's practical attitude. Play, in any sense, was to him not a thing to be granted much importance and not a thing to be indulged in devotedly. Work always came first (for it must not be forgotten that my father enjoyed his work and the farm -- as much as Hoffman ever enjoyed his piano). He did not think it desirable that I stay after school hours to practice for the games, and that I take off whole afternoons or days to play the games. He was proud of my achievements, but the raw fact remained that he objected to my athletic inclinations, insisting that I should

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spend my energies and time in more useful ways. He could never see the sense in my batting rocks for hours at a time, and it was utterly mysterious to him why I should do such a thing after a day of hard work in the fields! Again, then, I came into contact with that economic element in American thinking in a way that caused me to dislike it. It tended to restrain me as I went about the task of getting along in the world as best I could. I genuinely resented it, and I saw new reasons for criticizing it. Again, I am making these personal remarks for the possible benefit of parents who have children afflicted with stuttering. It is far from my designs to appear as an ungrateful child -- but scientific candor must be respected.

Finally, I want to refresh the point that it was my attitude toward my athletic ability, rather than the ability itself, that was of importance relative to my stuttering. The significant thing is that athletic skill was a compensation for my speech defect, and one of the most effective available to me. I shall always remember the utter joy I know in the games, and that in itself will be a compensation, not only for my stuttering, but for old age as well.

What happened to my athletic career after my nineteenth year belongs to a later chapter.

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