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The Missing Consonant

An extra letter can speak volumes

By Amberly Glitz Weber

Growing up in a military family, frequent moves ensured I never felt quite comfortable with the question “Where are you from?” But I could always tell you where my mother’s people lived. Every other winter, we traveled from wherever we were living up North to find my grandparents’ North Carolina ranch bursting into bloom, a front porch heavy with camellias as the longleaf pines stretched up into the blue.

The adventure started as soon as we touched down at the airport in Greensboro. Bringing with us an eau de oddity, my twin sister and I were both delighted and impressed that the shuttle bus played country music on the speakers, as we peeled off sweaters and coats in what, to us, was balmy summer weather.

I always felt a little foreign in this vacation land. “Bless their hearts,” my aunt once said, “they sound just like little Yankees.” I remember conspiring with my sister to fake an accent in the Goody’s checkout line, just to see if we could pass. We were sure our mangled, mostly Chicagoan syllables made us stick out, blatant as — in those days — Wingate’s solo stoplight. I pity any cashier who had to endure the performance.

Our speech marked us even more than our shorts in January, so different from the magic and strange mystery of the voices we heard in Rockingham and Hamlet. Not voices with the refined husk of Tara, but a warm, earthy accent that found space for an extra “R” in water — right after the “A” — turning the syllables round and deep in my grandfather’s mouth.

Today, I’m a proud Aberdeen homeowner, and my first daughter’s birth at UNC-Chapel Hill earns her Tarheel status. Already my husband and I detect a hint of the South in her speech. Sometimes it’s so strong we think she must be putting us on — or is she? I doubt it will ever reach the height of my granddad’s drawl, his gravelly voice ever saying in my memory, “Come here an’ gimme some sugar.” It was a voice grown in Carolina, on a farm of many children and countless passing farm hands working the land.

We won’t be moving again, not for a long while. How strange to think that as they grow, my babies’ answer to the question that plagued my childhood will be “from here.” Now, on my daily commute or a mundane dash for groceries, pine trees piercing the Carolina blue sky give me a sense of holiday adventure, no matter the calendar. Here, the camellias burst into bloom in weeks where other ZIP codes are buried in snow. And, though I love this busy life and my once-little town — I find myself missing that extra “R” in water.  PS

Aberdeen resident Amberly Glitz Weber is an Army veteran and freelance writer. She’s grateful for every minute among the murmuring pines of North Carolina.