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My Brother’s Speech

King’s English


NOT ONLY KINGS: Watching the engrossing film The King’s Speech, I couldn’t help recalling how I grew up with a stutterer. My twin brother, Bruce, still stammers on occasion. Although my parents enlisted all sorts of speech teachers through the schools, nothing really worked. He clearly didn’t have the advantage of King George VI’s unconventional Aussie teacher, Lionel Logue.

Yet Bruce courageously and good-naturedly overcame what many would see as a major handicap in life. After so many years of work with speech therapists, he quite naturally went into the field as a career. As the cliché goes, he made lemonade out of the lemon Mother Nature handed him.

In those days, Bruce’s teachers and others apparently had no idea what caused stuttering and how to treat it. Like the king, they had him change hands, seemingly in the belief that somehow this would help his brain switch around. It didn’t work. They separated us into different elementary school classes, hoping to avoid stressful competition. Another bad idea.

I wasn’t competing with Bruce; I wanted the best for him. Unlike King George’s controversial brother Edward, I didn’t tease Bruce. He was my pal. I should point out that we are fraternal twins, not identical, although my mother dressed us alike as youngsters. As I was to learn, there was no reason to think that we would be “the same,” any more than brothers born in different years.

Bruce was “the good twin.” Faithful and obedient as a Scout, he was churchgoing and didn’t run with a dubious crowd, as I did. Yet we were inseparable growing up, on the same football and baseball teams and Scout troop. He even played hockey on the nearby frozen pond. Brrr. I stayed home and read books. Besides, I was a rotten skater.

I can’t recall when his stuttering started, but I was aware that at some point, Bruce gave me my nickname. Bruce, as a boy, couldn’t say his Rs. (The king also had trouble with his Rs.) So “Barclay,” my birth-certificate name, came out sounding like “Barney.” It stuck, which was fine with me. When you grow up on the South Side of Chicago, a highfalutin name is not to your advantage.

Bruce went on to join a fraternity and to graduate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, as I did. He’s now living happily in Indianapolis with his wife, Karen, a retired teacher. They have kids and grandchildren. He’s still “the good twin.”

About five percent of all children go through a period of stuttering, but three-quarters of them “recover by late childhood,” according to the Stuttering Foundation. “The best prevention tool is early intervention.”

So why did Bruce stutter and not me, who arrived in the world just a few minutes earlier and grew up in the same home with the same parents? I have no idea. One of the factors thought to contribute to stuttering is genetics. About 60 percent of people who stutter have a family member who does. But not in our case, that I’m aware of.

Children and adults who stutter are no more likely to have psychological or emotional problems than those who don’t.

Other factors, according to the Stuttering Foundation, include family dynamics, such as high expectations and a fast-paced lifestyle. (Our parents were very conventional and didn’t run with the fast crowd in the Loop.)

Myths about stuttering: that nervousness causes it, that it helps to tell someone to “take a deep breath before talking,” that you can catch it like a cold, and that stutterers are not smart. Children and adults who stutter are no more likely to have psychological or emotional problems than those who don’t.

Today, “there are a variety of successful approaches for treating both children and adults,” according to the foundation. “Over three million Americans stutter, or approximately one percent of the population,” four times as many males as females.

As shown in The King’s Speech, King George VI was a shy, introverted man. After a disastrous 1925 public address, the future king hooked up with therapist Logue. But some speech problems still lingered in 1939, when he made the dramatic radio address that climaxes the film, as England plunges into World War II.

Geoffrey Rush, superb as Logue in the film, will receive the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Montecito Award January 31.

IS THIS THE END? The Santa Barbara Public Library’s literacy program, which I wrote about last week, faces having its entire $45,000 in state aid eliminated by Gov. Jerry Brown. No doubt this will go far in fixing California’s $25.4-billion budget deficit.

So what’s to become of the 200 county residents, some with dyslexia, now trying to improve their reading skills with one-to-one unpaid volunteer tutors? There are loads of inspiring stories … learners who were able to write job résumés, get promotions, vote and be on juries, and enrich their lives with the joy of reading. Nearly 20 percent of county residents lack basic literacy skills.

You can donate through the Friends of the Public Library, PO Box 1019, Santa Barbara, CA 93102 or friends-sblibrary.org. Or volunteer as a tutor by calling 564-5619. The next training session starts January 29 at the central library.

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