A contract crew was in our neighborhood recently trimming trees away from power lines. I walked across the road to ask the crew chief if he would dump a couple loads from his woodchipper so I could line my garden paths. He said he would be glad to. Green woodchips don’t make good mulch, but they are great for paths.
We walked across the road and I showed him where to dump the chips on my property. We talked a minute. He was engaging. As I turned to go to the house, he surprised me with a question: “Do you mind if I ask you something personal?” “Go ahead, shoot,” I said.
He proceeded to tell me about a young man on his crew who was a person who stuttered. He said the guy was a good worker, but he didn’t communicate well with the other workers because of his stutter. Then the crew boss said: “I notice you stutter a little but it don’t seem to bother you none. I was wondering if you could talk with my guy and just tell him we don’t care about his stutter and that he should talk more to us. Good workers are hard to come by, and I don’t want to lose him.”
I told the crew chief he had paid me a high compliment and that he was correct, that my stutter didn’t bother me anymore, but I knew exactly what the young man was going through.
We walked back across the road and he introduced me to his worker with a not so subtle: “Come on over here. This here homeowner who lives cross the road wants to talk to you.” The crew chief left us.
“What’s your name?” I asked the young man, who looked to be in his late teens or early 20s.
He dropped his head, clinched his lips like a fist and began a verbal block with which I was all too familiar. I gave him an appropriate amount of time and then spoke: “Look, my name is Vince and what you need to know is that I once couldn’t say my name either. I even wrote a book that told a story about me passing out on somebody’s front porch trying to say my name.”
He finally raised his head and looked at me.
“I’m not a speech therapist, but I know exactly what you are going through, and all I want to say is that there’s nothing wrong with you. You stutter. So what. You can’t let it define you.”
He nodded his head. I pointed to one of his co-workers who was watching our conversation from his truck about a hundred feet away.
“Go over and tell that guy, with a big smile on your face, that you are the best damn tree trimmer on the crew and you stutter. And then ask him: ‘What’s the big deal?’
I was rewarded with a faint smile.
“When your truck comes over to dump the wood chips, I’m going to give you something that tells you about my book. Read it. You’ll find out how much we are on the same journey.” I stuck out my hand and at the last minute remembered to do a fist bump.
“Good luck,” I said.
“Th-th-th- . . . ‘preciate it,” he said.
“Don’t worry about sounding like everybody else,” I said. “That’s just chasing fluency. Concentrate on finding your voice, being who you are, saying what you want to.”
I walked back across the road, thankful that the proper words and tone had come to me. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
The crew chief dumped a large load of woodchips on my property several hours later. He was in the truck alone. I had written my phone number on one of my PAPERBOY bookmarks.
“Can you give this to our friend?” I said.
“Yeah. His name’s Lance,” the crew chief said. “He’s at lunch now but I think he’ll be back. He had a little spring in his step after you talked to him.”
Good luck to Lance and blessings to those wise crew chiefs out there. I could tell by his English that the boss man may have been short on formal education, but he’s a genius as far as I’m concerned – almost like Mr. Spiro.