The girl with the funny accent…
A pretty fourteen-year-old girl with dark-hair and brown-eyes newly relocated to a Marine Corps base in the middle of the California desert. The year was 1972.
Several young teenagers, including myself, sat on the curb or on the grassy hillside under a large shade tree, comparing places we had lived with our Dad’s military service.
I said, “I just moved from Georgia.”
A skinny, dark-haired boy looked at me and pointed, laughing, “That’s what that accent is!”
I had no idea what an accent was and why this boy thought that I had one. I pushed back, “What accent? I don’t have an accent! Um, do I?” Obviously, his comment had made me self-conscious and a little bit embarrassed.
He went on to say, “It’s so obvious. I hope you can get rid of that accent, because if you don’t, it’s going to follow you around the rest of your life!”
“Huh, uh. That’s mean!” In my young and naïve mind I prayed that in time he wouldn’t be right.
Within five months my family moved to Fresno, where I became entrenched with California traditions, wearing bell-bottoms, midriff tops, Keds sneakers, headbands, and mood rings. I dreamed about having long, straight dark hair like Cher’s and fell in love with rock n roll music.
My friends and I held up the peace sign to our friends or to an occasional acquaintance without myself really knowing what the true meaning was behind a peace sign. I would later find out that it was about ending the Vietnam War and, at the time, unbeknownst to me personally, the Vietnam War would unknowingly make an impact on my life. But that’s another story.
Those were just the kind of things we did back then.
During my first days and months at Kings Canyon Junior High School, we talked about the Olympics in Social Studies class and I always looked forward to my last and favorite class, art.
And, within a few days I quickly became known as the girl with the funny accent.
I tried desperately not to talk like a ‘Georgia peach’, but the accent continued, following me through high school and well into my twenties. As much as I like to talk…uh, hum, somehow, California’s articulating accent began taking up residence. I’m not sure if that was a good, or a bad thing.
Well into my forties and on one occasional trip visiting family in Oklahoma, one of my nieces, about the same age I was when I first learned about accents said,
“Aunt Cheryl, how come you talk so funny?” Words strung into a question that took about ten seconds to slowly spill out.
Laughing, and with the same drawl inflection, “I don’t know Lauren. How come you talk so funny?” She walked away, with a look of bewilderment and everybody in the room laughed.
I knew exactly how she felt. I’ve never figured out why, but I’ve always had a fascination with accents. Although, I miserably failed French in the tenth grade, I still love to hear a foreign accent and find it interesting and fun. To ask somebody where their from and hear stories of other parts of our country, or even from around the world fascinates me. On many occasions Pete and I may be in a public place and hear somebody speaking with an unfamiliar accent. We almost always listen and discuss where we think their native country is. Sometimes, we’re brave enough to ask. It just amazes me how other people’s lives are so different from my own.
Sometimes, a person’s accent can really get in the way of a conversation. One stands out in my mind of a woman that I developed a very close friendship with when I lived in Oregon. Her name was Joanne.
Joanne was born and raised in Maine and her Northeastern accent, with the inflection on the rolling ‘r’ was quite obvious once I got to know her.
We talked about our lives and I listened intently to stories of her childhood and family members still living in the area. She told me about their family visits to the beach, lobster villages, and the Cape Cod style homes.
Joanne was in the prime of her life in the 1960’s. The way I saw her was that she was the new modern woman. She and Ron met when they worked together at the Safari Club in Estacada. Her personality was firm and she knew what she wanted and she wasn’t afraid to tell you.
We spent hours together, sitting at their dining room table, quilting, as she was who introduced and taught me how to quilt. I still enjoy it, although I really do miss her.
One early afternoon, Ron was reclining in the living room watching an old rerun as Joanne and I sat at the table, when out of the blue she said, “Cheryl, have you ever strip-pieced before? She spoke with her head down, facing her sewing machine so I couldn’t see her when she said it.
Thinking what does that have to do with what we’re doing, I laughingly responded, “What did you say, strip-tease? Um, no. I’ve never strip-teased!”
“No, strip-piece? Laughing at what I had said. “I’ll say it again, have you ever strip-pieced before?
I responded, “I’m still not sure what you’re asking? Did you say strip-peas? Yes, I have stripped peas.” At this point, I was thinking, Really? What does this have to do with anything we’re doing!
Ron eavesdropping joined in and laughingly responded, “That’s good!”
“No, like this,” as she took two pieces of fabric, placed them facing each other, and sewed them together, one after another…you get the point!
The three of us laughed hysterically for the next several minutes. I don’t think I had ever laughed so hard. I wasn’t able to attend Joanne’s memorial service in May 2005, but occasionally, I miss hearing her northeastern accent, and when I’m strip-piecing, I have to look to the sky and say, “Hey, Joanne! I’m strip-piecing!”
Like I said, those teenagers on that curb and grassy hillside had said something that would eventually come true because through the years my accent morphed into one of a West Coast native mixed with a little southern drawl.
I think I’m happy with it. But I have to ask, “Where are you from?”