From WMU Journal of Speech.Language and Hearing, Fall, 1987, Volumne 24, Number 1, p. 1-2. Reprinted below with permission of John Van Riper.


by Charles Van Riper

Among the many pleasures of my old age are the letters and visits I get from the students and clients I served long ago. Always, the first question they ask is, "How are you doing, Dr. Van?" A better question would be "What are you doing?" but let me answer their concern. At the age of 82 I'm living a fine rewarding life and enjoying each new day despite having a hole in that life that occurred when my wife died three years ago after a love affair that lasted fifty years. That hole shows no sign of shrinking but I live around it and live well. Oh, I don't hear very well or see very well or walk very well and I have heart troubles and diabetes but those are vicissitudes of the flesh, not of the spirit. Feeling a bit old last year for the first time, I went up for a two hour hot air balloon ride and came down in a surprised farmer's back yard some twenty years younger. Last month I went deer hunting at my cabin in the Upper Peninsula and last summer up there I caught some monster bass on my fly rod. I live very well, thank you.

During the summers, when I'm not fishing, my gardens and park take up most of my time. Some of you will remember my park which I built out of a barren field behind the old barn. The seedling trees I planted are now forty feet tall, almost a wilderness in the middle of the city, and a host of flowers line the lane down which you strode. Now that we've had hard frosts I'm bust planting promises - the bulbs of spring.

Yes, I'm still writing. My fifth Northwoods Reader which I again published under the pen name of Cully Gage came out last summer and I get a lot of fan mail from those who enjoyed my tales of the zany characters who lived in the forest village near Lake Superior where I was born. Evidently, these books have hit a small gong because I've received more letters about them than from all of the thirty texts I wrote in my academic years. Right now, however, I'm working on the eighth edition of my old book Speech Correction. Lord, it is almost fifty years old, almost as old as our profession, but I'm still student enough to find much new material to include in this revision. Keeps the old brain cells firing. I'm also writing poetry again after a lapse of many years. Not very good poetry but it's fun to fit words to feelings and see what emerges. Here's one sample written recently one morning when my years hung heavily upon me:

Upon Arising

Old bones! Old bones!
Creaky old bones!
Skin sack; pain sack
Full of aches and groans.
Like Sister Alice Rose Marie,
Black in habit and hosiery,
Tolling the beads of her rosary,
I scan my torso from skull to knee
Spotting the spots of my misery.
Old bones! Old bones!
Damned old bones!
All of my joints make their own small moans;
My fingers and feet are as cold as stones,
Yet I sing a small song to greet the day,
Knowing some beauty may come my way
To compensate for the pain I pay.
Old bones! Old bones!
Bloody old bones!

Most of my days do not begin so roughly. Usually after a good breakfast I walk in my back fields to limber up those old bones, always finding something new or interesting though I've walked them many times. This morning I found a poor little toad, half frozen, in the middle of the path, and remembering how my beloved grand father Gage once kissed a toad to show me that there was nothing ugly in nature and not to be afraid of getting warts, I kissed this one too. Alas it did not turn into a fairy princess- to do my dishes- so I put the little critter on a rock to warm its soul.

Most of the rest of the morning, except for a few lapses to smoke my pipe out in my Secret Garden watching the fountain bounce in the old hog-scalding kettle, I spent in my study reading and thinking about apraxia. I do not need that information now but apraxia is a fascinating disorder, almost as mysterious as stuttering. Over a hundred years ago, Kussmaul in Germany insisted that stuttering was an oral apraxia. There are some similitudes. I remembered Muriel Morley, the fine British speech therapist, telling me that the essence of the disorder was a lack of the command function of inner speech, that in children with developmental apraxia the therapist had to train the child to verbalize the movements of the tongue and mouth that had to be made. After considerable reading and mulling, I typed out a brief summary of my thoughts. I love to learn almost as much as I love to smoke my pipe.

In the afternoon, after my mandatory nap which I still begrudge, I played with horse manure in my compost heap, so I can have better roses next year-if that is possible- and perhaps even at last to grow The Perfect Potato. Then it was time to go down the long lane to the mailbox. Good! A bunch of letters as well as catalogs. One of the letters was from Bill Best, a stutterer with whom I'd worked at the University of Iowa in the nineteen thirties and had never heard from. He's doing fine and has had a wonderful life. And one from a lady in the U. P., asking if my story of the Haunted Whorehouse was true. And one from an old student reminding me that once on a miserable day in winter I produced a yellow mum and wrote on the board in phonetics: "One yellow flower/Yes, only one/ Can cure on a dark day/the loss of a sun" and that then I had led the class down the halls and steps doing my Dance of the Wild Cucumber to make angels in the snow. Gad! How did I keep from getting fired? So I wrote letters and as dusk approached I built a fine fire in the hearth of the brick farmhouse that cradles me in its 130 year-old arms, had a scotch, and dreamed a bit as the stereo in my study played Beethoven. Another very good day.

I rarely go back to the university, mainly because I fear I will begin to miss again the wonderful relationships I had with my students. I loved those ornery buggers, loved to set them afire with new insights, loved the comradeship of rescuing poor devils lost in the swamp of despair. They and our clients taught me more than I ever learned from books. I have been blessed.

Oh well, that was long ago and far away. How am I doing? The old body is showing the ravages of age but my mind and spirit flourish. Better to die slowly from the bottom up than from the top down!

My years hang like moss from an ancient tree
Blown by the winds from a far off sea
But it hardly matters
Because among the tatters
A multitude of birds make melody.

And how are you doing, my friends?

added with permission January 6, 1998