Saturday, February 25, 2006

Where Did You Get That Accent?

“I think you’re from the South. You have a southern accent.” I’ve heard this from many people the past fifty years. Not as much anymore. Years pass, and my southern accent has faded.

I didn’t come by my Southern accent the usual way. My parents weren’t from the South. Pop was born in Washington State on the flank of Mount St. Helens, and grew up in Bakersfield, California. Mom was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Maricopa, California. I was born in Torrance, California, and grew up in Point Arena on the northern California coast. I was twenty years old before I got further from California than Reno, Nevada, and Tijuana, Mexico.

So where did I get my southern accent? For the answer we have to look at historical migration and employment patterns affecting California during the past century. During the Depression, many Southerners came to California looking for work and to escape the Dust Bowl years, as Steinbeck chronicled in The Grapes of Wrath. Many of them came from oil drilling parts of the South, particularly Oklahoma. When I was a five-year old in Bakersfield in 1947 I remember listening to a song:

Dear Okie,
If'fen you seen Arky
Tell him Tex got a job for him
Out in Californy

A lot of the Southerners got jobs in the oil fields, and that’s where Pop worked as a “roughneck” from about 1932 until 1949, except for the war years when he worked in Long Beach building Liberty ships, again alongside a lot of Southerners.

When we moved to Point Arena in Northern California in 1949, and Pop worked in the sawmills, one thing didn’t change. Most of his fellow workers were from the South. When the Air Force built the Point Arena radar station in 1950, most of the military that manned it were from the South.

So there is the explanation for my Southern accent. I didn’t go to the South. The South came to me.

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