Lately, I notice myself strolling, lingering, and talking to people in line at the grocery store or even people I pass while running. Small talk is easy to do. But, really, when did this happen? I find myself wondering if I have always been this nice. What happened to the me who walked extremely fast and never made eye contact with people on the sidewalk or while running?
Let, me clarify a few things. I grew up in New York. I grew up with sarcasm, Billy Joel, tough sisters, my father’s words like jerk & knucklehead, phrases like ‘breaking your shoes,’ ‘busting your chops,’ ‘ knuckle sandwiches,’ and playing kickball in the street, barbecues, and sitting on the front stoop. My father was raised in Queens and took the subway to school and my mother remembers Long Island as the country.
I was raised a New Yorker, only I didn’t know it until I left. For so long, I wanted to escape and live in the middle of nowhere. I was the only one I knew in my high school who loved country music. When I arrived at Mary Washington in the fall of 2003, I was ecstatic to find myself living in a hall with only girls from Virginia. I played the how-do-you-say-this-word game with my roommate and we constantly teased each other for pronunciations.
Throughout college, I remained fascinated by open space, towns that didn’t overflow to the neighboring town, and the world outside of Long Island. I traveled to Kentucky and Oregon with my preservation club friends and suddenly had justification for my adoration of the United States. Still, west of the Mississippi called me – I had to live in the Great Plains. After college, I had my wish. Finally I had a reason to wear cowboy hats and boots! I lived in Omaha, Nebraska for the summer.
Oddly enough, I found that my gypsy soul easily became homesick. (Not to mention, no one in Omaha actually wore cowboy boots and hats.) I wanted to be closer to the east coast with my family. Next, I returned east, this time in North Carolina, living in a small town, which happened to be another long time goal of mine. My job threw me into a variety of southern culture, from upper class to lower class. Some of the accents were rather hard to understand at first and posed troubles in transcription.
Two years later and I know what a cookout is, what a pig pickin’ is, what a dune buggy is, more about tobacco farming and fox hunting than I ever thought I’d know, and the accents no longer pose a problem. And, despite my resistance, I am slowly acquiring certain words that sound southern. When I go home, my family and friends tease me for the slightly different ‘o’ sounds I now use. I never had a very strong New York accent. I never picked up a Virginian accent from college. But, two years of transcribing southern voices and it’s slowly seeping into my own voice.
My newfound mixed accent is not something I had wanted. You see, I’m not southern. I don’t plan on becoming southern. I love country music and the easy-going southern life, but it’s not for me. This is mostly due to my abhorrence of hot weather, my remaining sarcasm, and my need to stay connected to my roots. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the south and for the record, I would never live on Long Island again either. I am just meant for the north.
With that said, how did I succumb to the extreme politeness and the accent? Just call it an occupational hazard. In oral history, it’s hard not to live in the world that you are researching. But, this begs the question: which has been more powerful for me, nature or nurture? I don’t know. I lived in New York until I was 18 and then for two summers after that. But I grew up as an adult in Virginia, Nebraska, and North Carolina. Would I be different I worked in the north after college? Maybe. It’s an interesting thought to ponder: how much do regional differences shape who we become? Every place you live must offer some form of nurturing and environmental/regional influences. Where we live must speak to and about who we are, whether as children or adults.
I’m northward bound in one year, but I must clarify that as much as the southern climate and I do not get along, I am grateful for who the south has helped me to become as an adult. I’m also grateful for country music, which is my absolute favorite aspect of southern culture: that modern country music and the good old timey bluegrass music. I love every region in this country, but I just can’t live everywhere – hopefully that makes sense.
[And for the record, I’ve never said “yous guys” (even as a New Yorker) and I’ve never said “y’all” (even as a Carolinian.]
Where have you lived and how has it shaped you?