Without prior notice, part 2: Life synopsis

(Part 1 may be found here.) It's taken for granted that nobody living in Huntsville is actually from Huntsville (Kat being our resident exception). There is no single 'Huntsville accent,' just a variously-lilting amalgamation of the various Southern accents of the engineers who have found their way to this town. But the lack of a specific accent does not imply a lack of commonality in the way the locals speak; go far enough away from standard 'Southern' and the questions begin to pop up:

As some random Southerner has undoubtedly said in some overblown novel, "Ah don' thank they's from 'roun heah."

I like to think that it's the little things, like the crispness of your consonants, that get you through the winter up North. It only seems right that the kind of people who have the patience to put up with multiple feet of snow each winter would be the kind of people who would find refuge in making their consonants ice-brittle. This kind of stoic precision might not keep you warm, but it would certainly keep your spine straight.

Move south, and you're best off leaving both your snow boots and your consonants at the Mason-Dixon; you won't need either of them down here.

Move south, and you'll find that even something as simple as the weather will prompt someone to tell you their life story. Learn to tell it like the telling doesn't matter, and you'll be one step closer to sounding like a local, even if you don't actually sound local.

They were from Illinois, see, and their surname had a cluster of consonants somewhere in the middle, boding ill for pronunciation in this town, where the only things longer than the summer days are the lengths of the diphthongs. Despite the wrong accent, he had it right; his son standing to his right, watching quietly, while he put his hands back in his pockets and leaned backward against the door.

In the space of ten minutes he'd handed us the synopsis of a life: he'd done contracting and construction up in northern Illinois, and had moved down here and been thoroughly amazed at how inexpensive housing was down here. He was taking a year or so off from doing contracting and construction so that he could become familiar with Alabama construction codes, and was working as a cable installer in the meantime.

He made it clear that it was his wife's second marriage, and possibly his as well. If I'm remembering the progression correctly, she had two of her own, he had one of his own, but they tried for a long time to have a child together—"and finally, the good Lord decided it was time for us to have a child together," referring to his youngest daughter.

"I've been in that house, visiting some people who lived there when we first bought our house. How in the world do you fit everyone in there?"

He laughed, eyes crinkling behind small glasses. "It gets a bit interesting sometimes. We moved from a thirty-two-hundred-square-foot house in Illinois to this house, and it was a bit of a change."

"So, about the lawn…"

Soon: part 3.


I love the comment about the diphthongs. :) You're right about the transformation that happens when you move to the South. I thought that mine would be easy, considering that I'd visited often because my parents' families were from Mississippi [Dad] and Alabama [Mom]. I was wrong--I went through about six months of absolute, utter culture shock and depression. Then, I began to perceive what life around here was really like. Just as there is no one Huntsville accent, I have no one Southern accent--I've moved too often to really pick up any one accent and stay with it. I can hear myself modulating from time to time, and sometimes I'll go, "What the hell did I just say?" Unfortunately, I've never been able to get my life story--or any of my stories--down to ten minutes or less. Funny, given that folks aren't that wordy up North.

I remember a long long time ago that Amy told me that as a northerner, I'd be secretly yelling at her to get to the point when she was telling a story. She was right, and I still do. Secretly, of course. :-)

It obvious that the warmer the climate the slower you talk and the friendlier and longer the conversation. Especially between people who don't know each other or are just acquaintances. Its no different down here. Once you cross the border into to Queensland, it like another world. Which is not a bad thing, just a different thing. Part of my jobs involves meeting customers, and I have to allow for more time in between meetings in QLD than down here, were people just want to get on thier way. The major difference is that I don't have to listen to a different accent, just an Ay! at the end of most sentences.

I'm in shock considering Amy's always telling Sean and myself to get to the point when we tell stories. For me, it's just bred into the blood being Southern. And yet... There are words and phrases in my vocabulary that a Southerner would be ashamed to hear from me. I think I've travelled too much. When I travel, I like to blend in and not stand out like the tourist that I am. So, I pick up words and phrases in different accents. Sean pointed it out to me the other day. Oh, and just for the record, apparently I don't have a Southern accent. I have an American accent (that's just a whole 'nother story there).

Kat, there's a world of difference between telling a single long story and trying to tell story A, then digressing off to stories B, C, and D and possibly never getting back around to story A, which is what people were trying to listen to in the first place. That's what my reeling-in comment is fot. :)

Fot. For. Jeez. Note to self: never attempt to type in a comment while your glasses are off. Silly Amy. It's not as if I could actually SEE the text without my glasses. Sigh. I guess I should be glad that the rest of the comment is even legible.

Neither Kat nor Sean get as digressive as I do. The cool thing is that they're digressors themselves and can usually try to follow the digressions. :)

From what I've observed, Southerners are extremely good at digressing. That is exactly how you learn about everyone's family history is because everything that happens eventually boils down to family. Geof, I completely agree, you seriously digress every time I talk to you, but that's all right. It's at least amusing when you do digress. :)

I digress so often and so well that I usually have a hard time remembering how I went from A-to-Z. :)

Gosh, Amy, haven't you read T. R. Pearson's "A Short History of a Small Place"? It's nothing but a giant digression! :)