The other day someone had listened to our podcast and sent me a message, saying, “I like your accent” I messaged back and asked what accent? And he then said he liked listening to my Minnesota accent. I had to laugh, because compared to those living up on the Iron Range and closer to the Canadian border, where it is much more pronounced, I have a minimal Minnesota accent. Most people that are not from around here think that a Minnesota accent sounds much like the people in the movie Fargo, which by the way is in North Dakota. It’s on the Minnesota border. But North Dakota claims Fargo as theirs.
I mentioned the message I had received to my kids and of course they had to remind me of the family trip out to Maryland and Virginia to see the love of my life’s relatives. We took a 3 week vacation to drive a monster size RV we borrowed from friends and headed East and South. The minute we got past Chicago is when the trouble began. Southern Illinois is where the little hint of a twang started and it was all downhill for me from there. Pop is soda, or Coke. I was in my 40’s and everyone 39 and younger called me Ma’am or worse yet Hon short for Honey I guess. My husband having lived in Virginia and Maryland many years basically had to take over any communication concerning directions or campgrounds nearby. AMazingly, his Southern twang reappeared as if he never left the South.
When we got to the relatives the teasing began, but not just me, my kids also. We were clumped into the group..” those who speak Minnesotan”. I didn’t notice it at first, but as the days went on it became more obvious to all of us that we had communication differences. Aunt Jean asked me or my youngest to hand her the pocketbook on the table behind us. We searched high and low on the table, on the floor nearby and could not find her pocketbook, only to have her get up and walk over and pick up her purse. Pocketbook...something you stick in your pocket, like a wallet. Not a full fledged purse! My kids and I were foreigners in a foreign land.
The next day, my oldest daughter and I ran into the local grocery store for a few items we needed. All went well until we got up to the checkout and I was going to sign a traveler's check. We ran in so quick neither one of us looked at the sign outside of the name of the place. When I asked who to make the check out to, the clerk said “John’s”, I said, “John’s?”, she said no it is “John’s”. This went on for a few more seconds and there was a line starting to form behind us when my daughter decided to run outside and look at the sign. She came back shaking her head and quietly said, “Mom it’s called GIANT’s”. People behind us were shaking their heads and the clerk just looked at us kind of strangely. I signed the check and we high-tailed it out of there.
Our next trip was to the post office across the parking lot. We had explained what happened in the store to Uncle Bud and he just shook his head. When I got out to go into the post office, he offered to go in with me. I assured him there was no way I could mess up buying stamps and would be right out. I got my stamps and as I was leaving I asked the post office worker if she had an extra rubber binder I could borrow. I had some things I wanted to put together. Once again I saw the look I had gotten in the grocery store….kind of one of pity and one that said “you’re not from these parts are you?”. Like at the grocery store, the exchange went on for a minute or so back and forth, me asking for a rubber binder and her offering me a manilla envelope and some paper clips. I thought hard about what the relatives might call it, and then asked for a rubber band. The look of relief on the post office person was priceless. She said. “Well sure enough hon, all you have to do is ask.”. She handed me a handful of rubber bands.mProbably in hopes I wouldn’t be back.
The next day we went to Rehoboth beach for a day at the ocean. We spent a whole day at the ocean, watching the waves and dolphins. Sunburnt and exhausted we then went to the local Cracker Barrell for supper...or dinner as they called it out there. There were about a dozen of us gathered around a long table. I was on the far end by the wall. The place was packed and loud and the waitress was at the head of the table taking everyone’s orders. I was last and when she finally got to me, I realized she had asking me for my order and I was sitting there and staring at her talking to me. Between being tired from a day in the sun and the loudness of the restaurant, I was just zoned out, unable to process her thick accent. I looked at those around the table and at that moment, they realized, I had no clue what the waitress was saying. I made a quick decision to pretend I knew what she was asking me regarding my order, and just agreed with whatever the first choice was she was asking and writing down.
When the orders all came to our table they looked delicious. Uncle Bud had a thick steak, along with a few others. A few of the kids had huge hamburgers and fries. And a few more had some shrimp and sides of salads and some kind of hotdish. Although I was corrected when I said hotdish, it was a “casserole”. It all looked great. I was starving. The waitress was unable to deliver my plate due to it being so crowded so she had to hand my plate to a cousin who had to pass it down one by one until it finally got to me. I watched as each of their faces looked at my plate and some shook their heads. My plate finally got placed in front of me and I looked down and saw a few catfish fillets, some greens and a big huge bowl of grits. Well the laughing started slowly coming from a cousin and then the entire table was laughing. I had to ask what the bowl was and what should I do with them? I had never eaten grits in my life and no matter what I put on them as suggested by the Southern grit eating relatives, they had no flavor, just a weird texture. The greens were pretty sitting on the plate where they remained for the remainder of the meal. The catfish were good enough and crispy. They reminded me of the bullheads we would catch up at the cabin when I was a kid. We would fish late at night and catch a bunch and fix them up for a midnight snack.
That trip and the several others we have made South, have always, always found me in a language dilemma of some sort. I am fortunate that most people are kind or take pity on me. I am always glad to get back home to the north country of Minnesota and hear a “Ya” instead of Yes or :you Guys: instead of Ya’ll or instead of “yes” an affirmative hearty “You Betcha” And when asking for a pop, not getting a strange look. Ya, maybe I do have a bit of a MInnesota accent.
Our Niece in North Dakota is from the Lakota tribe. She works with elders and young kids trying to keep the Lakota language alive. She will be one of the first Lakota speaking people to receive the Covid vaccine along with the Lakota elders, a way of preserving the culture and language of the Lakota people, making it a priority.
As many people leave Minnesota for other states and many transplants arrive, I can only wonder if the Minnesota accent that many of us have here will begin to fade into just a memory. Maybe as a gesture of preserving the Minnesota accent, I should be one of the first to receive the Covid vaccine, along with others who speak Minnesotan. All they can say is no….or maybe even “You betcha”.