He had a stutter. Whenever he opened his mouth, it took effort to get words out. Just one sentence would exhaust him.
As a boy, his sisters spoke for him. They’d been doing it since he was old enough to make noise. They were his guardians. They used fists when necessary.
On more than one occasion, they’d beat the stuffing out of local boys who called him names.
His oldest sister bought a mail-order book about curing speech impediments. For hours, she’d help him recite sentences, enunciating consonants, repeating exercises.
He tried. In fact, he concentrated so hard it made his brain ache. It didn’t work.
When he was nineteen, he attended a speech therapy class in Birmingham. It cost a small fortune. He’d saved his pennies and dimes for three years to pay tuition.
The school term lasted a few weeks, but did him no good. He returned home with a stutter even worse than before.
One of his sisters recalls: “It used to hurt us
to watch him talk. He’d try so hard, but his mouth wouldn’t work with him.”
A July night, he was washing dishes in the service station in town—the kind that served hamburgers and Cokes. He was standing over a sink when he met her.
She introduced herself as the new waitress.
He couldn’t even get his name past his lips.
So, he shook her hand instead. She rolled her sleeves and washed dishes alongside him. She talked extra so he wouldn’t have to. Her accent was country, her eyes were blue.
He was smitten.
She was pretty, funny, talkative. She could jaw for eight minutes on end without even coming up for air.
Over the next days, he tried to talk to her, but his words kept coming out like bricks. But she didn’t seem put off by…