I am a southern-fried Yankee. As you know by now, I was born and raised in the Midwest, but have spent most of my adult life residing south of the Mason-Dixon line. (Not being a history buff, I am not sure what that is, but, on the other hand, I am pretty sure it’s north of where I live.) As I have mentioned in some of my earlier ruminations, this came about following my enlistment in the Coast Guard, as my first duty station was Hawaii. My experience in Hawaii is reminiscent of an experience my wife and I had with a cocker spaniel we once owned named “Scooter.” When Scooter was just a pup we found that we could open the front door of our home on any given Saturday morning and the little guy would dash out to the driveway, ears a-flopping, pick up the newspaper, which was almost as big as he was, and bring it right into the house.
Then, one Saturday, I opened the door and, as usual, he dashed down the front steps to get the paper. But, just before arriving at his destination he suddenly stopped short, cocked his head and alertly looked down the street—something he had never done before. And then he bolted. It took me thirty minutes to track him down and bring him back to the house.
And that was the end of that.
Similarly, snow and ice and blizzards and slush and sleet and frostbite and frozen mud never really bothered me all that much when I was growing up in Michigan. Until I went to Hawaii, looked up, and discovered it was not necessary to live in a region where one was exposed to snow and ice and blizzards and slush and sleet and frostbite and frozen mud.
And that was the end of that.
Long story short, I now speak with a southern accent. Prior to my southern migration I assumed that all of us up there in the north spoke with proper pronunciation and everybody down here had the dialects. I soon learned this to be incorrect. So, don’t be smug, you Midwesterners. You guys have accents too, you just don’t notice it. Anyway, having a keen ear, I have always had a tendency to subconsciously mimic the speech patterns of those around me.
Having lived in the south for quite a long while now, I have also become fairly adept at discerning one regional dialect from another—a deep-south, Louisianan or Alabaman accent from, say, a Virginian accent, for example. The deep-south folks tend to have a smooth, round-sounding locution that is influenced by the French and Cajun, whereas the typical Virginian’s accent is a little more abbreviated and curt-sounding for some reason. In any event, down in this neck of the woods, we all say “y’all” when addressing any group of two or more persons. That’s just how it is.
Many years ago, after first becoming aware of my newly acquired accent, I made a concerted effort to eliminate, or at least reduce, its presence. This was especially important to me because, living in Northeast Florida I had managed to pick up the dreaded south-Georgia drawl. With all due respect to my wonderful friends, extended-family, esteemed colleagues and acquaintances around here, I must admit that I find the traditional south-Georgia “Cracker” accent particularly displeasing to the ear. For example, the south Georgians don’t say “five,” they say “făv.” They don’t say “cannot,” they say “cain’t.” Or how about “down?” The Georgians pronounce this as “dayŏwn.” Try this: “Hep me! Hep me! I cain’t git dayown!” I know this is difficult—you have to learn to hold your mouth a certain way to get these noises out—try holding your chin as far left or as far right as possible as you speak, depending on whether you are “left-brained” or “right-brained.” That will help. Some Yankees have posited that having “no brain” is best for this. I disagree, of course.
I had experienced a reasonable level of success with this project (you know, getting rid of the accent) until just the past few months when a new colleague set up operations in an office just down the hall from me at my day job. Although a thoroughly delightful person, she has such a deep, Georgian drawl I can barely understand her. So, here I go agin—gol’ durn it!
Getting beyond those unique locutions, Southerners also have a whole different outlook on life than do their Yankee counterparts—probably because they are not annoyed by incessantly inclement weather. They tend to be friendlier and more open to strangers, for example. They also refuse to wear warm weather gear until they are absolutely freezing their duffs off. It is not uncommon to see bikini-clad locals sunbathing on the beach in the winter as our northern visitors walk by on the hard sand all bundled up in sweaters and coats. I think this is a simple case of denial on our part. But it works. We prefer to ignore the existence of cold weather as much as possible.
On the other hand, you will rarely see a North Floridian in the ocean in the winter, unless he or she is a surfer, in which case such person will be wearing a wetsuit. But you will routinely see Yankee vacationers taking an invigorating splash in the surf right smack in the middle of February, their chill-bumped, bone-white skin brightly reflecting the low, wintry sun. I guess in instances when they see a body of water that is not frozen solid they perceive this to be a cue that the water is warm enough to enjoy a little hypothermia. (They must be homesick already.) Interestingly, these folks have to take their coats and mittens off in order to do this. Go figure.
Then again, these are often the same people who find it a desirable pastime to set up shop in what appears to be a portable outhouse erected in the middle of a frozen lake, in the middle of Michigan, in the middle of winter, while sitting on what appears to be a short, cow-milking stool, next to an eight-inch hole in the ice in order to catch a fish. For you southerners unfamiliar with such oddities, this is referred to as “ice fishing.” And, frankly, with only an eight-inch hole, these fishermen are not being particularly optimistic to begin with, in my estimation. Perhaps the larger fish have migrated south for the winter. In any event, I can assure you the only way I could possibly be persuaded to engage in such an activity would be in those rare instances when I might find the companionship of my fellow fisherpersons more enjoyable than simply sitting in front of a roaring fireplace by myself.
With regard to fireplaces, one of the best ways to ascertain whether a person is from the north or from the south is to see how he or she reacts to a blazing hearth during the winter months. Without fail, the Yankee will approach the fire, rub his hands together, and then hold his palms up to the radiance; the southerner will always back up to it and rub his behind. Never fails. Y’all learned it rat heah.