Thursday, August 30, 2007

Return to Return

What is it like to hear yourself speak and not recognize the sound of your own voice?

What is it like to have once been a writer and then, after a hiatus of twenty years, hear yourself think on paper once again?

In the Deep South, there are many, many accents. One of my relatives spent his entire academic career cataloging the speech patterns of the 67 counties in Alabama. In our family, we loved to listen to people speak, then guess where they called home, much in the same way we liked to look on the frosty green bottoms of Coca-cola bottles as they rolled out of the chute of my father's red metal Coke machine to see from which distant city the bottle had begun its journey. The bottle that had traveled the farthest won the bet and earned its holder a free Coke.

I watch the old VHS tape of my toddler children, a tape that I now transfer onto DVD. I hear the young mother softly speak as she holds the dinosaur camera, heavier than a sack of sugar.

"Look here," the voice urges. "Look at the camera."

The twin boy and girl stand beside a red canoe. The boys holds up a tiny sunfish by the monofilament line, the hook still set in its mouth. Both children look into the camera and smile. We are at my grandfather's bass pond, just out of view of County Road 14. I remember when the pond was built in 1960. I remember playing in the mud, catching hundreds of baby frogs the size of dimes. And when I was a little older, learning how to thread wriggling worms onto blue steel hooks as my grandfather taught me how to cast a Zebco reel.

I remember holding the camera and trying not to speak, my goal always to be silent and behind the camera, never in front of it.

The children I recognize, but the woman's voice I do not. We had just moved back from Virginia. I didn't yet sound like myself. Not like the girl who had reeled in enough bass for supper. Not like the woman I've become.


Jeanie Thompson said...

Listening for the nuances of Alabama accents is a quietly pleasing pasttime to me. Hearing the nuances of Alabama writers works much the same way. No one can say that Alabama writers all sound the same anymore than they can claim all Southerners just write about grits/bubba/blood subjects. Thanks, Anita, for starting a conversation about how we hear ourselves as Southerners, as writers, as parents, and as women.

Anita Miller Garner said...

Thanks, JT. There are plenty of people with lots to say. And plenty of other people not unwilling to listen.