I’m originally from a tiny, little town (we’re talking one stop light, and they only got that since I’ve been an adult) in the southwest
corner of the state of Georgia, named Colquitt. My living grandparents and my biological father still live there, so I’m forced to go back at least once a year. We moved away from there the summer that I turned 12. My mom remarried a man who was in the Navy – the same man that we now refer to as BeeBop – and he moved us up to Dover, New Hampshire. At twelve years old, I had only been above the Mason-Dixon line once, to visit my grandparents when they were living in Omaha, Nebraska.
So, moving as far north as New Hampshire was considered something akin to treason. My paternal grandmother was horrified, but I highly doubt that she had ever been out of the state in her life. I take that back, she may have gone to Alabama or Florida, they were both about an hour away. At the time, Dothan, Alabama was considered the best shopping to be found without going all the way to Atlanta. We’re talking late 1970’s, early 80’s. Anyway, my mother might as well have been taking me to the other side of the world, as far as my Granny was concerned. New Hampshire was a place that good, Southern girls had no business in. Why, who knows what all them Northerners might get up to?!
As it turned out, we only lived in New Hampshire for a year. I had a thick Southern accent and I often got a lot of “say this,” because the kids thought I talked funny. But I was 12, and stuff like that didn’t really bother me much. It was worse for my mom. She got a job at the University of New Hampshire as a secretary and spent a large part of her day answering the phone. Apparently, Southern people had never before invaded the great state of New Hampshire, because people were absolutely shocked to hear my mother’s fine southern accent on the phone. She answered the phone, professional as always, and often got a response of, “Is that your real voice?” My favorite retort of hers was always, “No. I’m auditioning for a play. Do you think I’m getting it down?” No one can say that I didn’t get a bit of my sarcasm from my mother. Maybe even all of my sarcasm, she’s pretty witty. When the genius on the other end of the line would ask “Are you from the South?!” my mother would dryly respond, “No. I’m from Mars.”
So, at an early age, and whether she meant to or not, my mother taught me to appreciate, embrace, and defend my Southern accent. I know lots of people who, as soon as they move away from home for the first time, completely drop the accent and teach themselves to speak as if they’re from the Midwest (aka, having no accent at all). I understand why they do it. In fact, I once had a boyfriend from California who informed me that he couldn’t take me back there with him because his friends would think that I was uneducated because of the way that I talk. Yes, he was a douchebag, for many more reasons than that, but let’s move on. It was at that moment in my life that I knew that no matter what anyone ever had to say about it, I would not give up my southern accent, ever.
After a year, BeeBop asked for and was granted a transfer back to the south. In fact, he managed to get us almost all the way back to Colquitt. We moved to Leesburg, Georgia which was a suburb of Albany. Compared to Colquitt, Albany was a metropolis. I’m going to guesstimate that Albany probably had a population of about 100,000 people (I don’t really know – that’s what guesstimate means). There was hundreds of stop lights! They even had a mall! And it was only a little more than an hour’s drive to Colquitt, where my father and grandparents still lived.
Growing up Southern, you use words like “y’all” and “yonder” regularly in sentences, apparently everyone else does not. Words roll off the tongue differently. Language moves the same way that time does in the South, slowly. I didn’t know any of this until we moved away. At the age of 12, I made what I still think is a rather astute observation. Northerners talk fast because it’s cold and they’re trying to keep warm. They do everything faster in the North. Talk, drive, live – all faster in the North. At least, that’s the way that it seemed to my 12-year-old mind, and frankly, I still kinda seems that way to me. You see, in the South, it’s hot. I don’t mean like, “Oh, it’s warm today.” I mean, in the South, it is freaking HOT. And we have humidity in the South. See, you Westerners may know something about heat, but you have a dry heat out there. Here in the South, we have a wet, sticky heat. An oppressive heat. A heat that weighs down on you as soon as you step outside. Sometimes, it gets so heavy that you feel like you’re trying to breathe through a wet blanket. Forget about styling your hair (not that I do that anyway, but I hear it’s a problem for others).
Anyway, when you live under an oppressive, wet blanket of heat, things start slowing down. Speed, speech, way of life – they get a bit slower what with having to hold up that damn blanket. So we slow it down. We draw out our words because believe me, when you’re already fighting the heavy humidity, the last thing you want to do is exert much effort. Like we discussed before, Northerners are speaking fast, raising that heart-rate, trying to keep warm. Southerners are doing the opposite. We’re slowing everything down so that we don’t cause anything ELSE to sweat. I’m telling you, you haven’t experienced sweat until you’ve spent the summer in south Georgia. So, in my humble opinion, there is a reason for the drawl. There’s a reason that things, including our tongues, are slower in the South. It’s a necessity. Much like sweet tea and gnats, it’s just something that comes along with the heat. And frankly, I’m damned proud of it.
I speak my Southern drawl plainly and without apology. I type it sometimes, too. You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to read it. That douchebag from California certainly doesn’t have to listen to it anymore. But I’m gonna keep on speaking it. It’s in my blood. It’s who I am. It reminds me of home, no matter where I find myself. It connects me to my family and my roots. It reminds me of where I come from and where I’m trying to get to. I love it. It’s part of my embracing who I am.
Embrace who you are. And talk your talk. Words to live by.