“My mother was a young girl of 19 when I was born so I was raised by my grandparents in a farming town in North Carolina. I was a fat child, pigeon-toed, and as a result fell down all of the time. 1 also had a speech impediment. When I spoke it sounded like 1 had rocks in my mouth and everybody laughed because they couldn’t understand what I said. I spent most of my childhood hiding behind my grandmother’s apron.
“At school, it only got worse. I realized I didn’t talk like other kids and they teased me until I didn’t want to speak a word. Fortunately, I had two teachers who found me, and then helped me find my voice.
“The first was Miss Phar. She was just out of college and a very creative young woman, although I didn’t see her that way at first. She asked us to write a story and then read it in front of the class. I felt like that assignment was a slap in the face. I had been laughed at and picked at constantly, and I didn’t think I could take any more embarrassment, especially the children mocking me as I read my story in front of the entire class. After hearing my pleas, she said that if I wrote a great story-with all the i’s dotted and all t’s crossed-she would read the story for me. So I did.
“It worked so well, I started writing lots of stories and poems. I figured if I could impress the teachers by being creative and do a little extra, they, wouldn’t notice my speech impediment. Soon my fellow students started coming to me to ask what they could write about. That lifted my self-esteem because they stopped laughing when they, had to ask me a question.
“But my life really changed when I was 14. My baby brother handed me a glass bottle one day and accidentally smacked me in the face. My mouth swelled up and my teeth got loose in the gums. Three or four weeks later, they turned black and my mom took me to the dentist. He examined my mouth and discovered something was not rightI had two sets of impacted teeth in my mouth. He told me that’s why I had trouble talking. He also told me it could be fixed.
“He pulled all the teeth from my upper jaw and fitted me for false teeth, but the roof of my mouth was disfigured and scarred and I still had trouble speaking when I started high school that fall. In my English class, the teacher called on me to read and when she heard me struggling, she asked if I would come to see her after school. Her name was Abna Aggrey Lancaster. I told her about my false teeth and that I didn’t want anyone else to find out. She suggested I come to her class every afternoon to do a little work.
“It turned out to be a lot of work-every afternoon for four years. She made me memorize and recite poems and Shakespeare soliloquies. She made me work on every word. I learned not only how to speak, but how to stand, how to breathe and how to speak from the diaphragm. Every day I walked to her classroom I’d secretly hope she wouldn’t be there. She always was.
“My senior year, 1 stood on a stage and recited a monologue called `A Mother’s Love’ for an oratorical contest. When I finished, the entire high school stood up and applauded. It made me grin inside because here
I was winning first prize for the same thing people had been laughing at for most of my life.
“Ironically, it was my most serious impediment-the inability to speak-that helped me develop my greatest gift. But 1 will never forget how much work was involved to reach this point, and how long it took.
“I believe that all of us have the potential to rise above our weaknesses, and even to use those weaknesses as foundations for our success. If we are willing to diligently practice and develop the skills, we can be successful in whatever field we choose.”
Jackie Torrence is a professional story teller who travels throughout the world to share her stories with enthusiastic listeners in storytelling festivals, colleges and universities, radio and television.
Excerpted from Unstoppable, p, 170-172 (Sourcebooks, $14.95) Copyright 1998 by Cynthia Kersey www.unstoppable.net
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Cynthia Kersey is a nationally-known speaker, columnist and author of the bestseller, “Unstoppable” and upcoming sequel “Unstoppable Women”. Cynthia captivates audiences by delivering presentations on how to be unstoppable in their business and life pursuits. To learn more about receiving a FREE daily Unstoppable Insight, joining the FREE “Unstoppable Community” or bringing Cynthia to your next meeting, visit www.unstoppable.net .