By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
When Tom and I started dating 20 years ago, I had to prepare my parents for meeting him. “Tom is great, but he talks funny,” I said.
When Tom took me home to meet his folks, he had to do the same thing, saying “You’ll love her, but try not to make fun of her accent.”
We were both right.
Tom was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota, although his parents moved to Minneapolis later in life. But Tom wanted me to see the town where he grew up so we visited Duluth one year during a July weekend, when the weather forecaster said it was going to be a real “heat wave.” (The temp never rose above 78 degrees. It was cute.)
Duluth is a beautiful city, and that stereotype about Minnesota natives being incredibly nice? It’s 100 percent true. The rest of us could all take a few lessons.
Because he has lived in the South for more than two decades now, Tom’s accent is nearly gone. Truth be told, I miss it sometimes. When we first began dating, Tom pronounced the word “roof” more like the word “ruff,” or the sound a dog would make when the UPS guy is at the door.
And often he used that tell-tale “o” sound when he said the phrase “gung-ho,” as in “I wasn’t too gung-ho about that movie.” The long “o” was so distinctly Northern that I couldn’t help but mimic it and tease him.
Of course, I knew that as soon as I made a joke about his “o,” I was opening myself up for a barrage of jokes about my own accent, cultivated on the sprawling green rice fields of Southern Arkansas. During his first visit to my hometown of Stuttgart, Tom noticed that almost everyone there was “fixin’” to go somewhere or do something. “We’re fixin’ to eat supper so I’ll call ya’ll later.” (Tom says he’s still confused about the word “supper” because Minnesotans only talk about “dinner.”)
He pointed out that the word “about” makes more sense than the word “fixin’.” (I’ll admit he’s probably right about this, but have you ever heard a Minnesotan say the word “about”? It’s hilarious. But I digress.)
Tom also says we Southerners have a way of taking short words and turning them into multi-syllable affairs, like how the word “great” can become “gu-rate” when we’re fixin’ to sip an ice-cold Dr. Pepper during supper.
So what happens when a Yankee and a Southern Belle have children? Their offspring have almost no detectable accent. I don’t know if our accents cancelled each other out or we just modified ourselves over time so as to avoid the mutual ridicule. Either way, the kids managed to grow up sounding mostly normal.
But the good news is that those accents we had when we fell in love haven’t vanished completely. They’re instinctively revived any time we’re with “our people.”
When we visit Tom’s mother in Minneapolis, he always hopes we get to see a lot of “snoh” on the “ruffs” while we’re there. And when my parents come over for supper, Tom says he feels like he’s hearing a re-run of the TV show “Hee-Haw.” We’re always fixin’ to have some gu-rate grits for breakfast.
This accent revival can often last for several days. It’s a “twangover” for me, and it’s more of a “hooold-over” for Tom, (heavy on the “o.”)
But do both of us like the fact that there are certain words and speech patterns that still connect us to our respective roots?
To that question, I’ll answer a whole-hearted, “Sure do, ya’ll.”
And Tom says an extra-friendly, “You betcha.”
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com.