When my co-worker BJ spoke to me (known as Barbara Jean to everyone in the town she came from in one of the Carolinas or Kentucky, I am so sorry that I didn’t commit that part of her background to more solid memory) I couldn’t help myself in imitating the way her lips moved. I found myself pursing them in a small O shape, wanting to make my words sound like honey, only succeeding in looking like a poor-man’s Angelina Jolie and sounding worse. It simply wasn’t possible.
I tried again, without knowledge that I was even doing it, my lips moving completely on their own this time, trying to hold the words longer in my mouth, rolling them off my tongue, slow and deliberate. Hoping to be able to have just the right lilt and melody.
I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes it happened without even my knowledge. (Certainly without even hers.) And after she went on to the next job I noticed that this happened to my mouth on its own volition; and with other more worldly accents: Spanish, Italian, Irish, Australian and British. Their accented-speech coming across so much more full and romantic to my ears than my deep, truly unfeminine, nasal-y tone could have possibly done for them.
I had occasion recently to listen to two books on compact disc that were more animated for me due to the accents of the readers. The first was The Kite Runner written and read by the writer, Khaled Hosseini. It took me several minutes to realize that an “Af-wan” man was from “Af-wan-is-stan”. The story was exceptional; a real tale of what an immigrant goes through in feeling forced to leave the beauty of his own country for the safety of ours being just one of the themes. It especially rang true for me with my beloved co-workers that had fled their very own Nicaragua and Philippines. But it was his accented reading that made the book so much more dear and realistic.
The second book, both I must stop here to mention were borrowed from the public library, was Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. My mother recommended it in 2001 and I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. When I checked it out at the library, along with a few others, the librarian only commented on that one saying, “It’s not just an excellent read but the reader is perfect for it. Just wait.”
I would have wet my pants right there if I had an inkling of what I was in for.
I read the back of the CD case again for the story description but hadn’t guessed at the pleasure I was about to dip into. I couldn’t wait to get into my car for my long commute home. I strapped on my seat belt and settled in. After two minutes of a young teenaged voice in perfect Southern drawl, full of rolling hills and deep valleys, I was rapt. After hearing an entire disc alone I decided that it was appropriate, and a little more than just exceptional, for my ten-year-old daughter to savor as well.
It takes place in the 1960’s during the civil rights movement. Lily, the heroine of the story, is 14 year-old white child living on a peach farm in South Carolina. She has barely survived a family trauma and has now run away to a small family nest of black female beekeepers. I don’t want to give the entire storyline away to you but suffice to say the reader’s voice, Jeana Lamia is the talented actress credited, is dripping with honey. I was craving honey all throughout. I was craving a visit to the south. And during the reading, you guessed it, my mouth was forming that perfect little O.
My daughter couldn’t wait to get in the car after disc one. She put down her new Nintendo DS. She wanted more honey. We got a copy of the book later and she read it back to me, imitating that voice pretty well. I have no clue what book and whose voice to look for next. I am in a reader’s rapture. And to think if we had read this book, or I had read The Kite Runner in its original format, we would have missed out on being so taken in.
Now only if we could get the people of Santa Clarita to hone their own accent? We wouldn’t have to leave home! But…at least we are reading! And forming those little O’s, for all of the people driving their own commute along with us, to see. Maybe we can start a new trend, and a new accent, for our native SCV’ers as well.
Eve of Destruction