Monday, July 25, 2011

The Misfit Lightning Bug

Hello, my name is Cliff.  I live in Ohio, by way of North Carolina, by way of Georgia, by way of North Carolina, by way of Arkansas, by way of North Carolina, by way of Birth Canal.  I’ve spent the bulk of my waking life in North Carolina, the Raleigh-Durham area, specifically.

It’s strange, because North Carolina is in the South and several of its inhabitants have Southern accents; I do not.  I appreciate the Southern accent, I like the Southern accent, but I lack one of my own.  Whenever I tell people where I’m from they do a double-take and say, “But you don’t have an accent!”  Usually I don’t mind such astute observations, but sometimes it makes me feel like the only lightning bug in the world whose butt won’t light up.

The lack of accent may have to do with my parents who both lack accents of their own, and/or perhaps the particular town in which I was raised (for most of my life): Cary, NC.  Over the years, due to a significant influx of folks from the North, the name “Cary” was imbued with the meaning of an acronym which stands for “Central Area of Relocated Yankees.”  So while a number of people around me as I grew up had Southern accents, a large section of the population did not.

While the obvious accent is lacking, I do pride myself on the prominent usage of distinctly Southern words and sayings such as, “y’all,” “shucks,” “ain’t,” “if it was a snake it would’ve jumped up and bit me,” and “stomp on frogs and shove a crowbar up my nose!”  And it’s not something I consciously try to do; it’s just how I talk (except, admittedly, maybe for that last one which I actually picked up from Garfield).

I do like some Country music, but mostly of the old-school flavor: Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson and some Toby Keith.  Usually, though, I have to be in the mood (except for Johnny – his tunes are good anytime).  Bluegrass music is wonderful as is Southern Gospel – and straight-up, massive-choir-gettin’-down-to-the-tunes-of-the-Good News, clap-your-hands-and-stand-up Gospel. 

Square-dancing is a lot of fun and line-dancing is alright.  And Southern hospitality – it’s one of my favorite things about the South.  For one thing, you’re always going to get a good meal when you’re invited to someone’s home for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  There’s a natural sense of ease among most of the folks and while punctuality is important, if you do it right, you never feel like you need to be in a hurry.  There’s also a general sense of friendliness.  Walking along the streets of Cary or Raleigh, Wilmington or New Bern, you can say, “Hey,” and smile to passersby and you’ll at least get a “Hey” back and not a funny look. 

But there is one thing: I don’t like sweet tea.  I like hot tea, but not sweet tea.  While visiting a family one Sunday I was asked if I’d like sweet tea as my lunch beverage.  I politely declined and asked for water instead.  Everyone seemed shocked that I didn’t want sweet tea.  “Well, you’re obviously not from around here,” they observed.  I explained that I’m actually one of the few natives of the Raleigh-Durham area.  “But you don’t have an accent!” they aptly observed.  I shrugged my shoulders and agreed.  Then the awkward moment passed and we had a good old time eating and talking and later playing some football or something.

So, while I proudly and affectionately call North Carolina home, I am missing two fundamental social markers: the accent and affinity for sweet tea.  It makes me feel out of place sometimes, like the misfit lightning bug, but then everyone else gathers ‘round and we share the ambient light of their glowing rear ends and sometimes I think my own starts to flicker a bit.  I’m given the occasional hard time, but it ultimately doesn’t matter that I’m missing something because in the end, I have everything I need.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE this! I "lol"ed multiple times, even. I also TOTALLY get the accent thing: I have, myself, described my own lack of New England accent in an identical way, minus some story of an influx of Southerners to my area of the North. I do not have a Southern accent either. (That would be weird.) I also don't like sweet tea, but then, I'm not supposed to.