The Southern Accent
Going to Catholic University Columbus School of Law as a Southerner was an interesting experience. Before going I didn’t really think about the fact that there weren’t many big Southern-Catholic areas. OR at least not anywhere in the same league as Boston or New York. I think there were even more West Coast kids than Southerners. There were some Floridians, but anyone will tell you Florida isn’t really the South, it is it’s own place. Not that I am complaining, I loved the school, just an interesting comment on law school demographics.
My family is native to West Virginia and Virginia, and I grew up in Western Maryland. My Father’s family is VERY Southern and so was my Mother’s Mother, Betty, but I just didn’t realize that until law school. You would have thought all the etiquette books, obsession with Emily Post, Miss Manners and A Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Princess Margret will Never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma would have been a clue. Or the fact that my family actually used the phrase, “Bless their Heart,” in conversation. But it just didn’t hit me. I learned all the right ways to present yourself in public, to throw a fantastic party and all the subjects a lady never discusses. I knew how to sew, how to raise a garden and how to ride a horse. And to top it off the only sport my Father ever cared that I was good at was tennis. He sent me to tennis camps at William and Mary, and was so happy when I made the college team at my college. Alas how did I not know?
My first day at law school orientation there was a big lecture about what it meant to be a professional, at that time I met one of my very best friends. It was friendship at first sound when she muttered under her breath, “It means you wear pearls and suits everyday.” There was an instant bond, someone who had been raised with the same ideals I was raised with. And she has the most beautiful Southern Accent. It makes me feel welcome just to hear her speak to me. It was only upon our friendship I realized what I hadn’t put a finger on all this time. My morals, my standards of etiquette, the way I did things were a Southern tradition. It became so apparent at Catholic where there were so few of us.
I have a bit of an odd accent. It isn’t the traditional Southern Accent- it is the Appalachian Regional Southern Accent. Sometimes I am twangier and sometimes you don’t notice so much. I have found that my accent can be very good at helping out in life, especially in Washington, DC, where there is such a melting pot of people and lack of distinctive regional accent. After a time being home I come back to Arlington and have to erase the gonnas and hankering to’s from my vocabulary. Because it can come across in many situations as a lack of education and being from the sticks. But interestingly enough here in what is kind of no-mans land between the North and the South people really love the Southern Accent. So many people just adore my accent, and to me it is just how you speak. But I too have learned to love it because it really can open doors.
Court clerk’s love it. Yankees love it. Virginia Judges- heck yes, when I am out in unfamiliar small courtrooms I am not the big city girl, I am the girl with a familiar accent. You wanna haggle with someone in a nice way over a price at the Big Flea, Southern Accent time. You NEED something done at a government run institution it is Southern Accent time. You wanna crack up friends and colleagues with everyday sayings- Southern Accent time. But it isn’t just the accent, it’s the standards of conduct. DC is a very formal area and the manners I grew up with just make people in this area feel comfortable. The time honored conduct and etiquette fits this formal city.
Is it because DC just loves to think we could be full of Southern hospitality (Not the case unless you are in Alexandria City limits)? Or is it the influence of so many Southern politicians? I am not sure. But I have to say here I am proud of my accent. And I am so thankful that my best friend helped me realize who I am. Looking back on it now it is so obvious, but it wasn’t before. And it isn’t that Western Maryland is Southern, it’s not, it’s that my family is Southern. That is something I truly cherish. My Grandmother Betty is no longer with us, but I think she would be proud that I finally figured it out and hold it as such a treasure, as she did. She was a beautiful Southern Belle, and I hope to live my life with such grace.