I was in the local hardware store recently when I heard this question posed by a voice with an unmistakable accent, "Bin ova ta camp lately?"
Although it wasn't asked of me, I was tempted to respond, "Yup, ova just t'utha day." I resisted, however, and quietly went about gathering the items on my shopping list.
That simple question, spoken in the local vernacular, confirmed why I chose to live in Maine: No one questions my accent here.
I speak in the vernacular of Mainers. It's the accent of what we call "the natives," those who have been born and bred in Maine. Although I can't claim that honor, I can claim ancestors who were native.
Imagine my delight on hearing that familiar accent at a camping ground in Cody, Wyo.! I traced it to a nearby camper with, you guessed it, Maine license plates. It belonged to a couple who had struck out from Maine three weeks earlier to see the country. "What a coincidence, meeting you folks from Maine out here in Wyoming!" I exclaimed.
That bond, confirmed by the spoken word, was already established, and we chatted amiably in our unique accent about where in Maine we were from and where we were heading. But mostly we were just glad to hear a fellow Mainer.
I get twitted about my accent only when I step beyond my geographical boundaries. That's when I'm fair game for teasing.
It's not just the accent, but the way words are put together that sets the Mainer apart. Once, at a sale of furniture in a house that was no longer occupied, I engaged a fellow shopper in conversation by remarking, "Found anything yet?"
A plain "no" would have sufficed, but how much richer the chap's reply was when he said, "Nothing but what I didn't think I could do without."
Duane, a local farmer in western Maine where we vacationed during many summers, spoke with such an accent that we were hard-pressed to understand a word he said.
His voice ebbed and flowed with that Maine twang like the rise and fall of the coastal tides. His topics of conversation ranged from the local economy to what was going on in Congress, and he seemed pleased to have a captive audience that would not rebut his strongly held opinions.
I might have had something to add to his continuous commentary if I'd been sure of what he was saying.
As it was, I allowed myself to be lulled by the cadence of his speech as he held sway in the milking parlor, raising his voice to be heard over the hum of the milking machines.
When I traveled to Maine with friends during my working years, I always treated them to a visit with Auntie Jo and her third husband, Clyde.
They'd greet us in the dooryard, Auntie Jo in her bib apron and Clyde in his bib overalls. Auntie Jo would take the lead in the conversation, Clyde chiming in when he had something to add.
"Clydie's bin workin' in the gahden. He finally got the harrowa fixed," Auntie Jo would volunteer, opening up an opportunity for him to get a word in edgewise.
"Ayup," Clyde would interject, scratching his head.
"Got the peas in already so's they'd be ready for the Foth. Always have peas and salmon on the Foth, ya know."
Since moving to Maine, I've reconnected with a childhood friend whose family had a cabin next to my family's on a pond in Maine and who lives in the town next to where I now reside.
I feel as though I've come home, listening to her drop "r's" from words ending in "r" and add them to words ending in "a."
Then I remembered that's exactly what I was twitted for when I worked in Massachusetts. Former President Kennedy did the same. It must be a carry-over from the days when Maine was a part of Massachusetts!
Many years ago when I worked for a publishing firm in Boston, all the employees spoke with the same accent, the accent people from away often attribute to Mainers.
About a dozen years ago, I returned to Boston from Connecticut to work for the same organization. This time, most of my co-workers were from "away," and once again my accent set me apart.
"Hold that cah," one fellow worker would call out as he approached the elevator in my presence. My dropped "r" became the brunt of many jokes.
It was then that I began to consider my accent a badge of honor. It told people all they needed to know about me. Those who lived outside New England immediately identified me as coming from the northeastern part of the country.
Those who heard my accent when I lived in Connecticut knew instantly that I was from Boston. Then when I moved back to Boston, folks always asked where in Maine I was from.
Now that my accent and I have found a permanent home in Maine, it's no longer considered an accent. It's just the way folks in these parts talk, and I'm glad to be one of them.