The signs were small at first. I didn’t really realize what was going on. I started enunciating the ending R on words like summer and dinner. I would ask people from deep in the Confederacy to repeat phrases to me. Hollywood southern accents began to sound authentic.
Even when the problem became obvious, I denied it. There was no way this could happen to someone like me. I was a smart man aware of his surroundings. It just wasn’t possible. The final straw was watching Sweet Home Alabama and thinking it was a cute movie. The next day I started paying attention to my speech patterns and realized I was clearly pronouncing my G’s. I had to get help.
I wallowed in self pity for a few days; making excuses, denying how bad things were and trying to justify the change. I see Yankees all day long. My best buddy is from Ohio. The Woman Whose Garbage I’m Responsible For was born in Michigan and spent four decades in South Carolina without picking up a drawl. I need to speak clearly and succinctly to communicate with my customers. It was pathetic.
While vacationing in Ireland I looked inward while listening to a harp player at the Cliffs of Moher and knew I had to do something. That and using succinctly in a sentence. I met a guy from Alabama in a Holiday Inn Express elevator just before we came home. I took it as a sign to get my life back in order.
The first day back I fought off jet lag long enough to drop by Publix and pick up a package of dried Lima beans. We call them butter beans in Alabama. Last weekend, after spending the day watching SEC football, listening to Levon Helm and Lucinda Williams, and reading a little Rick Bragg, I was ready to make things right.
I put half of the butter beans in a pot of water and let them soak overnight. They swelled up real good. The next afternoon, I dropped a couple of pieces of bacon in the pot with fresh water and started a slow boil. At first I was going to use fatback but was a little leery of an overdose, so I used the bacon. I whipped up a pone of cornbread in my iron skillet forged in Birmingham and waited for everything to be ready.
I grew up on what later became known as soul food. The recipes were passed down; roots and tradition dripped from every mouthful. I have stretched my culinary envelope as I‘ve gotten older and drifted away from many of the dishes that anchor me to my heritage.
It became obvious to me I was losing my southerness and needed to take drastic steps. Butter beans and cornbread worked for me because I haven’t had any in such a long time. Like shock treatment. The first taste melted years away and reconnected a link to my past that had nearly rusted away.
That evening I stopped the television carousel on an episode of Andy Griffith. The next morning when I stretched y’all out for three syllables, I knew I was back to normal.