Because Life can only be lived a moment at a time.

Voice Lessons

Those of you who know me only through this blog are unaware of an important aspect of my identity.

I talk funny.

I didn't come to this conclusion on my own. Unlike the flaws I dwell on when I look in the mirror or examine my thoughts, I had no idea my voice was anything other than perfectly fine until Mr. Pettit and I left South Carolina for Lubbock, Texas, in the spring of 1982.  From that time on, as we moved from state to state---nine in all---whenever I've met someone new, I've waited half a beat, wondering if the Question were imminent.

"Where are you from?"

Occasionally the Question is accompanied by a compliment, such as "I love a Southern accent!"  More common is "Say something else!" or my personal favorite, a really bad impression of a Southern accent, something about as authentic as collard greens in New York City:  "Waaayylll, I thawwt you must be from the Sowwth."

I've joked that if I ever have critical information to impart no one will hear what I say, only the way I say it.  Maybe this is why I'll never be in a Mission Impossible movie:
Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise):  If this bomb goes off we'll be thrown into a nuclear winter, cats will rule the earth and I'll go bald!  Can't somebody defuse it?!
Rita:  I can! I can!
Ethan: Where are you from?

Here's where I acknowledge that on the continuum of burdens to bear the recurring commentary on my accent is about a negative 5.  I suppose I should be over it by now, that such remarks should have lost their sting.  But I haven't figured out how to make that happen anymore than I can ignore a wasp circling my soft drink.

I haven't rambled on about this in order to elicit a series of comforting statements from my friends.  I bring it up because I had a revelation in France.

Mr. Pettit and I love to travel and our most recent journey took us to Italy and the French Riviera.  It was wondrous and exhilarating to visit so many places I've dreamed of since middle school.

In St. Tropez we joined an excursion to the towns of Grimaud and Port Grimaud.  I took French in high school and college and have continued to study on my own.  Although I'm far from fluent I had been looking forward to practicing with our guide.

So of course I greeted Helen with a chirpy "Bonjour!" when we met.  She replied, "Parlez vous francais?"  To which I responded "Un peu." ("A little.")

Helen seemed surprised and said something I'll never forget: "You have a beautiful French accent."

Dumbo learned how to use his big ears to fly.  The Ugly Duckling became a Swan.  And the accent that had been the object of curiosity and even derision became beautiful.

The lovely streets of Grimaud
The next time I meet someone and they ask, "Where are you from?" I'll give my standard reply: "I'm from South Carolina but I keep my Southern accent wherever I go."  But in my heart I'll revisit the moment when I gained a new perspective on my voice.

Merci beaucoup, Helen!

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