I was 10 years old.
It was the most scared I’ve ever been. Ever. More scary than going to the outhouse after dark.
I’m talking scary.
It was my first public speech. I was a new Boy Scout, and somehow got volunteered to give a speech to the Maitland Chamber of Commerce, the sponsoring organization for my Troop 58. I’m sure I was the newest kid, and all of the older kids were smart enough to say, “NO.” So I got to go to the meeting, have a steak dinner at a Mound City restaurant (13 miles from home! And it was probably a truck stop. Just saying.) and give a speech about Boy Scouts.
Since I’d been a Boy Scout for 5 minutes, it ought to have gone well, don’t you think? The topic I was given (why???) was to talk about our local Boy Scout summer camp, Camp Geiger.
Which I had never been to.
And I was speaking to a bunch of men I didn’t know that expected expert commentary. After all, they sponsored our Troop, so it just wouldn’t do for me to be the village idiot while in front of them.
So, I did my research. I put together note cards … indicative of some rather expert coaching from Mom & Sis, I’m sure. I was 10. What did I know?
I wore my uniform, including my official BSA shorts. I would have also had on my official BSA shirt, kerchief & socks. And I carried my official BSA handkerchief in my hip pocket. Styling, I was.
I stood up to give my speech, and that’s when it happened.
My left kneecap started vibrating up and down. Up and down.
I couldn’t make it stop.
Up and down. Up and down.
Throughout my speech, my kneecap had a mind of its own. Up and down. Up and down. I’m sure I read my note cards, but my terror was pervasive. I mean, if your kneecap is so scared that it develops a mind of its own, what’s next? I completed the speech, the old men that had put up with me for my few minutes of terror politely clapped, and I was done.
Since that day, I’ve given many speeches in many different environments. Big audiences. Little audiences. Audiences that knew me well, and some that didn’t know me at all. I’ve even made several speeches in my Scouting uniform.
But not once – not once – has my kneecap vibrated since that day.
May I never be that scared again.