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Marvin Klotz: Childhood memories

This article first appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of CSA Voices.

Marvin Klotz Marvin Klotz (photo credit: Ali Salem) The King’s Speech has won many awards and revived interest in the phenomenon of “stuttering” (“stammering is the British and supposedly, gentler terminology). Hard as it is to believe, I was not always the slim, agile, silver tongued, long haired role model you have always known and admired.  At one time, I couldn’t even say hello on the telephone let alone call strangers – yes I was/am a “stutterer”.

Naturally, some of my closer (less likely to be smote) colleagues and friends have sought my opinion of the movie.  Since I have not seen any movie – except on TV–  for about 6 years, I have not seen the film (except for the endless blurbs around the “Oscars”).  However, I knew of the King from his ascension in the late 30’s to his death in the early 50’s.  I also lived the speech part of his life, personally.

Unlike George VI, I grew up in the “working poor” Bathurst/Dundas area of Toronto in the early 40’s.  Life was simpler, tougher and less protective in those wonderful days.  If you were “slow” in learning you were sent to “dumb Jarvis” public school.  If you stuttered you went to “speech class”, which was held at “Clinton St. School”, about 8 blocks from my neighborhood “Grace St. School”.  That doesn’t sound like much but for a scared 6 year old kid, it was another, dangerous world.

We were poor.  How poor, you ask?  Well, they had to tear down my house just to put up a slum; my clothes had so many holes, that when I ran, I hummed; my sister was 22 before we could afford to give her a “sweet sixteen”.

This was a tough neighborhood.  Any cats that still had tails were tourists.  “Are you calling me a liar” meant get out or duck!  Going 8 blocks to a strange school was a traumatic, frightening adventure.  I would mingle tentatively in the “boys school yard” until a teacher rang the hand bell. Then we lined up silently in pairs to march up the “boys” staircase.  To complicate the situation, the “speech class room”  was in a different room every week (the bastards).  I had to ask for direction from the already angry teacher, monitoring our sullen trek.  By the time I could get out “excuse me sir, where is the speech class”, I was a long way past him/her –  ignored and left to my own devices to find the dreaded ‘hell room’.

Once entrapped with the small group of unhappy, miserable kids, the ‘class’ began. We were led by an equally tentative young teacher who probably had received an hour and a half’s “training”.  What followed, off and on, for about 6 years was a repetition of anti-deluvian “speech exercises” that probably predated leeches and had the same results.  Mercifully, I have forgotten most of it but I did learn to say “Tom Thumb thrust three thousand thistles into the thick of his thumb on Thursday” and worst of all “The Duke paid dues to the Jew while the dew was wet on Tuesday”.  Quite catchy but hard to work into conversation.  I still couldn’t say my name but what the hell, if I ever met Tom Thumb or the Duke, I had it made. The rest of my “speech training” life was equally weird, entertaining, and sometimes enlightening (especially the PFSP programme).

Along the way, I learned to control the problem most of the time, live a fairly productive life, obtain several letters after my name and enjoy some success as a Pediatric Dental specialist, teacher, writer/editor and productive human being.     
By the way, I am available for discussion groups (especially women’s groups!), for the price of a good (low fat) meal and a little TLC.

Marvin Klotz specializes in pediatric dentistry in Toronto. He was a workshop presenter at the CSA Conference in Vancouver in August.

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