Accents are entertaining things. Particularly those considered to be the more stereotypical accents. I’ve always been fascinated by dialect and accent – especially by those various dialects heard all across the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand. But it wasn’t until I was in my early ‘tweens that I finally became more aware of the wide array of accents and dialects dispersed all across the United States, and discovered that I, myself, actually had a quite discernible accent – not discernible to me, of course, but most certainly to someone who had grown up anywhere outside of California. And I came to the very beginning of this realization the first time I ever met my cousin Jecinda.
I can recall with near-perfect clarity the moment we first met Jeci. This is partially due to the fact that my sister and I had – up until that point – grown up for most of our childhood without having any first-cousins at all – a very sad thing, to our way of thinking. So, when our youngest uncle married a lovely woman from Bristol, Tennessee – who had a daughter only a few years younger than us! – we found out that we had suddenly gained a ready-made cousin to hang out with at family get-togethers, and we were as happy as could be.
I remember running with giddy steps alongside my sister through my grandparents’ screened-in patio and mudroom, and on into their warm and sweet-smelling kitchen in North Oaks, Minnesota. Rounding the corner, we were met by two of the biggest, brightest brown eyes I had ever seen, peeping out from under an adorable mop of bouncing brown curls, and the biggest smile you could imagine. Just picture the children’s book character Fancy Nancy – but with dark brown curls instead of red – and that was her to a tee!
(Amazingly coincidentally, my little niece – my sister-in-law’s oldest daughter – is, almost literally, Fancy Nancy come-to-life…and she constantly reminds me of my cousin Jecinda, as a result! But back to my story…)
Well, my sister and I walked in and, amid exuberant hugs and smiles, babbled out all the excitement that would be expected, under the circumstances, for two upper-elementary-aged California girls voicing their excitement at meeting a brand new cousin.
“Jeci, it’s sooo RAD to meet you!!”
“Ohmygosh! It’s so AWSOME to finally actually have a cousin! We’ve been, like, the only kids in this family for waay too long!”
And Jecinda just started laughing. Laughing so much that she had to cover her mouth with her little hands. She crinkled up her nose and was smiling so big and laughing so hard that she almost had tears in her eyes. And then she looked up at us and said the funniest thing that could’ve come out of that adorable little Tennessee girl at that particular moment.
“I had to promise not to make fun of you all’s accent!” And she covered her mouth again amid bubbling laughter.
Now, if you are reading this and have never heard an authentic, born-and-raised Tennesseean speak before, then you need to understand that what came out of her mouth sounded something like a rather sped-up version of this:
“I haay-ed to praw-miss not to maay-eek fuuun of you awll’s ack-say-ent!”
It was seriously one of the most adorable things I had ever heard in my life. And one of the most hilariously ironic…at least that’s how it struck me at the time.
My sister and I stood completely still for a few shocked moments, and then – after a few moments of consideration – we looked at one another, grinned, and burst out laughing, ourselves. I don’t think that it had ever occurred to either of us that someone might actually chuckle at us for sounding…well…different. But it was a very pleasant way to wake up to the fact. And, honestly, I don’t think we couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to our becoming a happily larger – and slightly more vocally diverse – extended family.
* * *
This little (and hopefully pretty accurate) retelling of my own personal recollection was inspired by my current audiobook project for Bell Bridge Books and Audible.com. The first person narration in the novel is that of a fourteen-year-old girl from North Georgia, and, as the Southern Appalachian dialect is one of my personal favorites, I’m quite glad to be able to practice up a bit for this narration and character dialogue.
I must mention here, as well, that, years after the above-mentioned incident, I distinctly recall laughing heartily with my aforementioned uncle (who also, by the way, has quite a Tennessee accent, himself) about all the possible uses – and inflections – of the word “dude”. It was awesome. We tried to come up with all we could: “DUDE!!” “Duuuude.” “Hey, dude!” “Um…dude?” and the list goes on and on… It was a great moment, totally making fun of my own way of speaking, and yet being completely stoked about – and proud of – my own accent, all at the same time.
All that said, I’m glad – for many reasons – for this particular audiobook production. And thanks to the various members of my extended family from Tennessee, reading with a Southern accent definitely feels quite a bit like…well…home.
Love and thanks – to all y’all! – for reading.