I am from a small town just southwest of Cape Cod; On our end, the Cape Cod Canal begins in the waters of Buzzards Bay, just outside of Onset Bay. My husband says that people here “talk funny” but that is because I don’t have an accent, not a discernable one anyway. My mother wouldn’t allow it. She wouldn’t let us ‘Pahk our cahs.” For that matter, she insisted on being called “mother” not “mom or mommy.” She did not like nick names. She was from Baltimore, where people generally call everyone “hon” (pronounced ‘hun’ and short for honey) and they go “downey ocean” which means they are going to the ocean, literally ‘down to the ocean’ short cutting the articles and infinitives. Somehow those local shortcuts offended her sense of the English language. But please, don’t stop reading.
My grandmother was from Lisbon, Portugal and she spoke wonderful broken English, with a thick Portuguese accent. I loved to hear her talk. I loved my grandmother, I loved the sound of her voice and because of all those things, I learned to love the sound of all languages. She loved the soap operas which she called “her shtories” (that’s not a typo, but an attempt at her dialect) and she would point to a character who was especially bad and say, “Him no good! Him bashta!” Now, I am not sure if that is Portuguese or if it was her mangled English, but it meant that his mother was not married. My husband though, has a different translation. When I tell him that he is a “bashta” after what I think is some genuine provocation, he turns to me and says, “That is Portuguese for ‘you sweet loveable man.”
I had a lot of opportunities to do overnights with my grandmother and I was enthralled with the slow, definite, way she would do things. At night she would take the hairpins out of her long, grayish white hair and brush it, probably 100 strokes like many of us were taught. Her furniture was very modest. The couch was a bed with a couch cover and bolster cushions. She had at least one large wicker chair if not both. When I was very little and spent the night, after she tucked me into bed, she would push the wicker chair over to the side of the bed to keep me from falling out.
I never learned Portuguese and my father who most likely spoke it, never spoke it at home. That worked out in my Aunt Myra’s favor because when I was at Grandma’s and Aunt Myra came over from her house next door and she began to rattle off in Portuguese and they would talk. I never knew what they were saying, although now I am pretty sure that the conversation started with Aunt Myra saying, “Is she here again? Why don’t her parents stay home?”
I am not sure I can spell my mother’s name the way my grandmother pronounced it, but it was something like “Mahhhhhh ga retttttttttta, you got ‘em cup shugah? ” One of the best accent stories about my grandmother could get me in trouble here; It is the day my grandmother got in trouble with the bus driver. She was taking the bus uptown and wanted to be dropped off at the USO. But what she said, from the back of the bus was, “Bus drivah, you let ‘me off UASSO?” She really wasn’t calling him names; it was just how she spoke. And if you are reading this and thinking, that sounds like….you would be correct.
Grandma wasn’t the only one in the family to get in trouble or embarrassment over accents and languages. I recently checked into a unit for vacation and two men were discussing the best location to set the new thermostat. They were rattling away in a language I didn’t recognize, and so I asked them what language they were speaking and where they were from? Imagine my embarrassment when one of them said, “we were speaking English!” He was polite, I was red faced. He said he was Turkish, and his friend was Albanian. As embarrassed as I was over this little international incident, it also made me wonder why we could come from 3 different backgrounds, have a conversation in which one of us had committed a social guffaw (that of course was me) and walk away peacefully without retaliation?
I can’t say that I have a studied ear for accents but when I hear any accent that is not native to the particular locale we are in, I generally ask “Where are you from?” and it can be a good conversation starter. When my husband and I made our first short trip to Massachusetts, after he ordered breakfast and the waitress walked away, he looked at me and said, “These people talk funny.” I really don’t remember what I said in response, but what I wanted to say was “Shut up and let me listen!” Because that accent sounds like home to me.
I recently made a phone call from home in Pennsylvania to a local businessman in Wareham to request his services. We talked for a bit about when he could do it, etc. and I wanted to say, “just keep talking.” I just wanted to listen, not so much for the sound of his voice, but to the sound of his accent. But I didn’t want him to think I was flirting, so I concluded the conversation and hung up.
Even though my husband says that I do not have that accent and therefore do not ‘talk funny’ he has said for years that when I get tired my “A’s” get a little broad. He says that when I am referring to the Lord, it would be spelled “G-a-w-h-d” and then there is the little matter of the liquid one uses to make tea, coffee and the like. It is probably not strictly a Massachusetts accent but something I picked up from the Philadelphia nuns who taught school at Sacred Heart, near Plymouth. “Wart-er” has crept into my conversation. In one of the churches I served, every time I would say “Wart-er” the youth in one of the families would nudge their parents, as if to say, “she is at it again.” Indeed, I am. One night last October, I had dinner with 11 of my high school classmates, and to hear them talk! Really, you should hear them talk! It was wonderful, it was music to my ears and heart.
Not holding back the tide,