September 16, 2008

Each time a child learns to read, I think small bells should sound accompanied by twinkly lights that suddenly appear in everyone's kitchen, perhaps around the window over the sink. And if you don't have a window over your sink, one would magically appear, just for a few minutes. And we could all hear a small earnest quiet voice fill our kitchens briefly with the sacred first words read. Barely and briefly in our kitchen windows, if we were quick, we might see just the sweet face of the child reading over the top of their book, their lips moving purposely and with that gathering pride and excitement.

It is one of the most gratifying moments of anyone's education. And imagine all the accents we might hear. I love accents. And I've noticed, speaking on the phone with many of the wonderful women blogging next to me, in our collective internet kitchens, many of the accents are upper mid western. You can hear Mommylion's accent right now, if you click over. And her daughter has learned to read. (Twinkly twinkly twinkle, I hear bells.)

There are at least four easily identifiable accents in my state alone. I can often tell, just from listening for a moment, if you grew up in North Carolina and if you are from Charlotte or West Jefferson or Raleigh or Manteo. Being in the mountains this week was music to my ears.

Accents are yet another beautiful thing about reading out loud, instead of listening to screens talk. Once upon a time, most folks in a region sounded the same. But this is changing fast, at least here in my corner of the south, where people from all over the country are flooding in at a truly horrifying rate, our culture swept down current as surely as our farm land. I've been noticing that children growing up here sound like their parents. They don't sound like my parents. I don't even sound like my parents. I think it is a shame and a loss, this homogenising of culture and region and flavor.

Lately, I am at war with my mouth. This war is oddly unconscious. I am hardly aware of it. If you could hear a tape of me and my siblings when we were young, you would hear a pack of yammering fighting little rednecks. My grandmother hid a cassette recorder under the Sunday table once, as a joke. That turned out to be the last meal I ever ate seated in that house. It was, possibly, the last meal I ever ate with both my parents at the same table. It was 1976. They divorced a week later. The tape sounds like Gothic Southern Misery straight out of Hollywood. If I published it, I would be accused of exaggeration.

But by the time I was living in Santa Cruz California, in 1989, I was dating a Rastafarian who refused to believe I was southern. I had no accent he could detect. And this was no conscious choice of mine. I didn't try to not sound like the south. But I spent way more time with the television than in conversation with any adults in my life. How surprised can we be? Then the Rasta and I fought one day. "Oh Girl, he said, you are from the south then." When angry, I revert to my deepest roots quick. And when I am tired or sick, the same thing happens. And now, as I age, the accent wants back in.

There are moments the words can hardly escape my mouth, they get so confused on the way through my brain. Where is the remote? It's on the... Winda Seal... Window Seal... Winda Sill... Window Sill... I freeze, trapped by my mouth. I want to give over completely. I love what David Sedaris called the "soft and beautifully cadenced accent" of this region. And it is most natural, except when it feels forced. Now that "window sill" has been pointed out to me, how can I get up to close the winda seal? But there are no real window sills in my mouth, and I thank God, y'all.

I think, often, about my brother transplanted in Vermont. I wonder if he still waves at people driving by. He said it was a difficult habit to break, when he first moved up there. And I love to hear all the accents that arrive in my life from this blog. I hope all your children sound just like you, forever. Even when they know "better."


Anonymous said...

Every once and awhile, my kids will say something so country that it will shock even me. Inside I am a little proud! After all, I graduated from the same high school my daddy did down here in the small town Arkansas.

Mommylion said...

My accent... it burns, it burns :) I can hear my accent, even as I speak it, but can do nothing to stop it. Accents fascinate me. I love learning languages and accents and dialect are like the living part of language.

I also have a cassette tape of my sister and I with little southern accents. We lived in Texas for a few years when I was little. Later we moved to Iowa and when I said "Yes, ma'am" to a teacher in proper southern style and was yelled at for being sassy. :) I learned to acclimate quick.

Dating a Rastafarian in California to a homesteading southern mama? Fun! Geesh... I am such a voyeur. All the random details on blogs make me smile :)

rae said...

Mommylion? What accent? I'm kidding of course. I went to college in the same state where Mommylion lives, and I was teased mercilessly by natives of that state because of MY accent. I don't have much of one anymore - other than in those moments you mentioned that your comes back (only please add after a few glasses of wine in my case.) At those times I am pure hillbilly.

I am pleased that I learned that the word wash contains no R - My mother is still waRshing clothes to this day. Like you and the window sill, I hesitate just a bit before that word comes out of my mouth.

I don't know how our children will sound as they develop their own language. It could be interesting. My husband is pure Tennessee (nothing like a Southern man whispering sweet anythings), and I'm well traveled hillbilly. Most importantly, I want them to own their voices and use them well.