Recently, I was volunteering at one of my favorite historical sites, Beckman Mill museum in Rock County, Wisconsin. A TV producer walked in with his camera and assistant, and started filming. Not unusual. Lots of people film this beautiful and historically significant site.
As a docent at the museum, I’m comfortable talking about the place and answering questions about what happened here a hundred years ago. But here’s the rub: the guy says he wants to film me speaking about the mill park, how the site has been restored, who did it, and why people should come there. No question-and-answer session to guide me, just talk off the cuff and he’ll make it sound professional.
Today I watched the final piece they aired, and heard myself say “uh” and “um” in between every sentence. This is why my preferred mode of communication is the written word! I almost never say “um” in writing.
My dad would have stopped me at each lapse, interrupting and parroting my verbal hesitation with: “um, you say?”, “um, what?”, and “what’s that, um?”. This was his way of providing negative reinforcement, a technique that might rival Skinner’s bell in its effectiveness. If you ever said “um” in his presence after one of those sessions, you’d break into a sweat and feel the urge to throw up. Mostly this just stopped us from finishing whatever story we were trying to convey, which was probably preferable to his nine little darlings yammering away and vying for his attention all at once. Anything for peace and quiet.
However, Dad’s been gone awhile now and I see I’ve reverted to childhood habits. I recall Sister Mary Catherine had some good advice during speech class: she would say, “Slow down, young lady, and think about what you are trying to say! Never hesitate. Proper diction is important if you want people to listen and respect your opinions.”
So, I blew it on local TV. My performance gives credence to the expression: Practice makes perfect. If only I had time to practice! If only I didn’t hesitate! If Sister Cathy was right, then you won’t respect my opinion or listen to the story of Beckman Mill and our Midwestern history.
But I hope you’ll listen anyway, and take the time to visit this or any historical site. Let’s not forget who we are, where we came from, and how those that came before us shaped our lives. Even if I, um, struggle to, uh, express how strongly I feel about it.