For most of us, holidays are a time of travel and reunion. This post, first published in December of 2015, salutes the sounds of my own homecoming. Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful holiday season and a happy 2018!
Writers eavesdrop. Call it a habit, a reflex, a skill or just a constant gathering of data. In journalism school, I heard any materials visible on a desk during an interview are “fair game” and, at the suggestion of my instructor, learned how to read upside-down paperwork with speedy nonchalance.
As a ghostwriter, my tendency to absorb accents and witticisms serves me well whether writing for entrepreneurs or C-suite executives, but my voice, shaped in multiple cities and by a family with both Southern roots and a few Northern branches, can be unpredictable. During my corporate life in Bloomington, Ill., a State Farm director pounded on a conference table to bring some levity to a serious meeting, mock-glaring at me while he shouted: “Pick an accent! Every time you say something a different person comes out.” My speech patterns may vary, but my easy laugh is always original.
I’m fascinated by all accents, regional and international, but here in Georgia, honeyed cadence and syrupy syllables blend into a treasured soundtrack of comfortable Southern conversations, reminding me I’m back home where I belong. If you’re not from around here, y’all may not realize how many distinct accents fall under our sweet Southern umbrella.
This writer and many of my family members can exhibit what I consider the classic accent, stretching our words. My grandmother killed a snake inside her rural Alabama home; other family members arrived the next day to identify the sudsy, decapitated reptile as a dangerous copperhead. When we asked why she’d soaped him, she said she needed to make sure he was dead, pronounced as “day-yud.”
Most childhood memories are laced with sounds of the South. I asked my sister recently, “Hey, did we go to a snake show at the GROCERY STORE?” Oh, yes. We were little kids when our grandmother pointed to a “Snake Show” sign at the Piggly Wiggly or Winn-Dixie or wherever she had taken us to pick up a few things during our visit. Did we want to see it? Sure we did. Let me tell you what that country snake show was like. It was a man with some boxes letting a huge black king snake or rat snake bite his arm repeatedly, blood dripping, sometimes hanging from his forearm by that large unhinged jaw snakes have, while he said things like, “This cheer’s ok. I got ‘em mad nah. He’s aggyvayted, but he ain’t poys-nuss.”
My sister remembers rattlesnakes in the boxes. I don’t know, but I do remember there were multiple boxes, wooden and probably handmade. Not especially secure. Ah, the 1970s – when kids could play with toys like “lawn darts” and be expected to survive unscathed. Bike helmet? What’s that?
Our other grandmother had her own version of the classic accent, plus some unique signature-words. One example that can slip into my own diction if I’m not paying attention is the substitution of “occifer” for “officer.” He is a police “ah-see-fer.”
You’ll know the aristocratic and/or often moneyed flavor of Southern speech, as I call it, by the frequent shifting of suffixes into -uh or -ah. Here’s a question someone asked me years ago in Alabama: “Honah, did yew take thuh nooooslettah to thuh printah yet?”
Home has a unique meaning for each of us. Some never leave it, but if you have – and if you’re missing a place, people, foods or sounds that fuel your soul – I hope you’re looking forward to the indescribable pleasure of coming home, for a visit or a lifetime.