Slipping out of touch
“Hiiia. This is Vail-ma at Yoo-Pee-Aiss.”
I looked at the number on my work phone’s caller ID — area code (502). That would be Louisville, but unlike most of my calls from there, this woman was not my mother. I wondered if one of my friends from back home was playing a practical joke on me, because the timing of this phone call and Velma’s accent from the deep South could not have been more appropriate.
Because last night, I lost my accent.
For weeks now I’ve loved the idea that no one can hear that Southern twang in my voice, but when they ask about its absence, I could always slip into it.
I used to slip into it at home when those bleedin’ Blue Kentucky fans from Hicksville, Ky., would call the college bookstore to shoot the breeze about those young boys we had comin’ in that basketball season.
“Honey,” they’d say, “I been a UK fan for 40 years, and I’ve run outta them blue beads ya’ll sail. Ya know I buy ’em every year from ya…” and they would continue with a heartwarming story about the beads and their grandchild — whether we had the beads in stock or not.
I used it to my advantage as a reporter, goin’ Southern when I had to talk to Lexington residents about the shooting that happened down the street, or chat with some locals about their favorite White Castle shutting down. People really open up to you if you can speak their language.
But I turned it off when I talked to people in power: lawyers, and university administrators in other states, human resources staff in NYC when I was interviewing for a job.
And now, it seems I turned it off for good. I can think in the accent, but when I tried to vocalize it last night, I sounded like an actress who grew up in New York, exaggerating her character’s Southern drawl to a degree of mockery.
When Velma called me this morning, after I realized it wasn’t a prank call and remembered that UPS was based in Louisville, Ky., I really wanted to speak her language. But I couldn’t. I haven’t heard a Southern accent in so long that I barely understood the woman.