This coming February marks three years since my wife and I made the move from Chicagoland to Memphis. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed, and even harder to believe how much being back in the South (I’m originally from Mississippi) has rubbed off on me.
Tammy and I recently went back to Chicagoland, where I had spent the previous 15 years, to visit her family during Christmas. Of course it snowed while we were there, and as beautiful as it was, it quickly reminded me of just how much I don’t miss it.
Driving in snow was no big deal when I lived in Illinois where I’d go to work even if it snowed 8 inches overnight. That’s a stark contrast from down South where everything closes if we get an overnight dusting.
When the Memphis area was hit with the White Death back in early 2015, I was the only one from my department who made it in, well except for the boss (of course). It’s kind of hard for me to say I couldn’t make it in after driving in Chicagoland winters for 15 years.
Although our time in Illinois was shorter than we would have liked, we were able to spend time with a few friends.
I met a former coworker at a bar and one of the first things he said to me was “I see you have your twang back.” I had been there all of three minutes. Seriously.
I stared at him and tried to think about what I had said that came off as twangy. I didn’t say “y’all,” mention banana puddin’ (always with no “g”), and most likely didn’t say I was “fixin’ to” something.
I guess it’s possible that I stretched out the “I” when I said I’d like Coors Light, but I really didn’t think it was that bad.
When Tammy and I met some of her friends for dinner later in the week, one of them called me out on me sounding a lot more Southern than I did during my stint in Illinois. Again I was shocked.
When I moved to Illinois I went out of my way to NOT sound like I was from Mississippi. Not because I was ashamed of where I was from, but because I didn’t want to be excluded from a job interview due to someone’s perception of me sounding different.
While I had already decided I needed to talk differently when I arrived in Chicagoland, it took a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts with Tammy to show me how much work I still had to do. I placed my order and the last item was a strawberry-filled donut.
The person behind the counter understood what I had asked for, but as they turned to retrieve my donut, Tammy asked me a question.
“What’s a strawberry-field donut? Is that a field where they grow strawberry jelly?”
I looked at her and instantly knew I had just ordered a strawberry “field” donut instead of a filled one. From that point on I was more conscious about how I said things.
I started saying “you guys” for y’all — something I still do — and didn’t say things like “see-it” for “sit.”
I got so good at speaking Midwestern that I was called a Yankee a few times during visits to see my family. My wife and I were often asked, “Where are y’all from?” when we were out places down South.
But after only three short years in Memphis, all of that hard work went away and my twang had returned. This time it’s going to be more difficult for me to get rid of it.