Monday, April 10, 2017

Siblings and Accents


The recent “national siblings day” led me to take stock of my spread-out family. I have a 96-year-old big brother Stanley, who lives in Atlanta. He flew 50 missions in a B-17 in WWII. Now a retired colonel, Stanley sings made-up songs all day and up into the night. Amazingly, the lyrics often rhyme and have varying pitches and tones, most of them with substantial country influence. As a young man, he and my sister Gloria, a few years younger than he, sang with The Sunshine Boys on stage and radio in northern Louisiana. My brother Curtis, just a few years older than I, used to join their act. He had a cute lisp and would run on stage while they were performing crying, “I can’t see; I can’t see.”  They would ask, “What’s wrong, Curtis,” and he would reply, “I got my eyes shut.”

Curtis followed in Stanley’s military piloting footsteps, but, unfortunately, as an Air Force lieutenant, he was killed in a B-47 crash in Lockburn, Ohio in 1960. I was also in the Air Force at the time and flew home from Germany on emergency leave to be at the funeral.

Gloria fudged on her age and went into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) not long after our father’s death and a failed marriage she entered much too hastily and quite young. You see, Gloria was only 14 when our father died. Mother was a poverty- and grief-stricken widow, pregnant with me. Curtis was only five. She made a good soldier and learned some stenographic skills that sustained her throughout her life. She died in 2004.

She did not feel like moving back to the glorious southland after her enlistment was over, so she got a clerical job in the Boston, Massachusetts water company. When I was eight, Mother and I took a trip up to Boston to visit her. She had a cold water flat near Beacon Street. Boston was like another country with an almost foreign language. People said “cah” for “car,” “Bahston” for “Boston” and they pronounced the word “water” very clippingly, as if they were afraid the word would hurt their lips. It was even stranger out in Common Park where the squirrels would come sit on your knee and beg for peanuts and the pigeons were not scared of people. What surprised me most was that Gloria not only understood the language up there but she could speak it. When she moved back south, it took her awhile to speak normally again.

I vowed that I would avoid living up north and that if I had to move there I would never change my accent. I ate those words down in south Florida, where most of the inhabitants are from the northeast. After just a year of working at a university down there, I started speaking more rapidly and saying “Aye” for “I.” When I lived in Ohio, I kind of used a midwestern tone while out shopping so folks wouldn’t say, “Aye big your pahdin?”

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