Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Nita Stories. Juanita, my mother, grew up in a suburb of Atlanta called East Point. So she grew up with a North Georgia accent. Actually, accent is a little light to describe the way she talks. She talks very Southern, even at this point in her life, after living in Miami for 60 or so of her 85 years.

My theory about her not losing her accent is that she is tone deaf. She sings pitifully or hilariously. She says that when she gets to heaven, she expects that, finally, she will be able to sing. However, her inability to carry a tune did not ever stop her from singing out the hymns that checkered our Southern Baptist liturgy. I was impressed into attending the worship services from an early age, so I got to hear her sing every week. Over the years, I gravitated from wonderment, to laughter, to embarrasment, to pity. None of my reactions ever phased her a bit. My dad, who was a fine singer, never seemed to mind. No one else did either. They were all too busy singing out themselves. At my church we had a congregation full of singers. It was great. Maybe it was because we had both a big pipe organ (a real one, not an electronic thing) and a grand piano, one on each side of the "platform", whereon stood the pulpit in the center, and massive chairs where sat the preachers along the rail that separated the "platform" from the choir loft. The choir was always full of singers too, of course. So you had Mrs. Murrell on the organ, Miss Linton on the piano, making great, loud music, playing those hymns in a way only Baptist women (and a few men) can play them, the choir blasting forth, each member trying to out-volume the other, and then the congregation singing back at the choir as if to raise whatever bid the choir seemed to be making. Amidst all of that singing, nobody much paid attention to my Mom's singing, except me.

Anyway, my theory is that she has kept her Southern accent, because she could not pick up as easily as a normal person the way that English is spoken in Miami. I think musicians probably do well with new languages too. They have the ear for it. My mother did not have the ear for it.

My mother began working for Eastern Air Lines in Atlanta before WWII. I think in early 1941. There she met my dad, who also worked for EAL. When the war started, he went into the Navy and there came a point where he was stationed in San Juan. By that time, a romance had kindled between them, thanks to the US mail, and my mother decided to transfer to Miami because the letters would make the transit back and forth between San Juan and Miami a couple of days faster than San Juan and Atlanta.

Her boss in Atlanta said he was not going to grant her request to transfer on that silly basis. So my mother quit EAL, drove to Miami in her little Plymouth coupe, walked into the EAL office there, where they knew her and were glad to see her, and got hired again.

Even then in Miami, a North Georgia accent was unusual, and everyone got such a kick out of my mother's way of speaking that the station manager arranged for her to make the announcements of the flights and all that over the PA system. She had no idea why she was so annointed, but she was a good scout and would make the announcements. But one day she saw some of her male fellow workers trying to suppress their laughter during one of her announcements. She walked over and demanded they tell her what was so funny. They told her that everyone looked forward to her announcements and would stop and listen when they knew she was about to make one, and that they thought it was funny.

My mother didn't think it was funny. She walked into the station manager's office (the boss) and told him she had made her last announcement and he could do whatever he wanted with her job. He laughed and said she wouldn't have any more PA duty. And she didn't.

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