I graduated from a college located deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I worked the cash register at an appliance store after class to make a little extra beer and gas money. This store sold ovens, refrigerators, televisions and stereo systems but the big seller was satellite television dishes. Keep in mind, this was 35 years ago. Cable television was only available in densely populated areas and satellite dishes weren’t the cute little contraptions we mount on the side of our houses today, these were big ass, six-foot wide, got their own zip code dishes.
There were two big cash crops in this community (not counting moonshine), Christmas trees and burley tobacco. After selling their burley corp, and after Christmas, families who lived deep, deep in the nook and crannies of the mountains that surrounded this community would come to town with a fat roll of bills in the pockets of their overalls. They wanted two things, the biggest television they could afford and a satellite dish, paying cash.
Now I am a southern born, southern bred boy and I talk slowwwwwww, real slow, so slow that most non-southern’s try to finish my sentences or they just go to sleep. I thought I had heard all manners of the southern dialect. Every region, city or town has their own little nuisances, terms, words that are common to the area. But then I tried to communicate with these mountain boys. Some of these guys were seemingly speaking a language I had never heard before. The store actually had an employee back in the service department that we would bring down to the floor just to help us translate.
Thirty-five years ago when I moved to the city I now call home I found an old barber shop run by a group of ancient barbers. The first chair that opened up was Pee Wee’s who would cut my hair for the next ten years until he retired at the age of eighty something. I was new to the community, I told him my name and he said you aren’t from here. I asked him how he knew that and he said because of my accent. Now I grew up 100 miles north of this city and I told him there was no way in hell he could have known that based on the few words I had spoken. We made a bet, by the end of the haircut he would tell me what city or town I was from within 30 miles plus or minus. If he was right I would pay a $10.00 tip, if he was wrong the hair-cut was free. Over the course of 30 minutes he asked me random questions, none of which I remember. After he brushed some talcum powder on my neck and took the cape off he looked at me and said, Gastonia, NC. Shit I thought, I am from Charlotte, NC 25 miles down the road. Amazed I paid him the extra $10.00 and asked him how he did it. All he said was, “I have listened to people run their mouths for 50 years”.
My children and my nieces don’t have thick southern accents. They should but they don’t. They may offer the random y’all from time to time but they don’t sound like me or their parents. I blame television for homogenizing our language. It is actually kind of sad to me. How we sound, what we say and how we say it is very defining and for an old southern boy like me, very comforting. I am headed to Denver, CO in a couple of weeks and I will be asked at least 100 times in an irritating fake southern drawl “Where are y’all from” and I will say with smirk, “Can’t y’all tell, Boston”.