When I was a little girl growing up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, my best friend was Nancy Jane Mendoza. We lived in the same neighborhood and began playing together when we were about three or four. One of my favorite childhood memories is of one particular play session in the Mendozas' cellar. These days, at least in the part of the country where I now live, we would call this an unfinished basement. I suspect that on Cape Cod, even today, it's still called a cellar, or more particularly, a “cellah.” When I was a kid, we referred to the basement of a house as “down cellah,” as in “Let's go down cellah and play house.”
My accent wasn't as bad as that of most people born and raised in Massachusetts. I've always attributed this to the fact that my mother is from Indiana. At this point, she's lived on Cape Cod for forty-six years and still retains her Hoosier accent. Somehow, between our “fathah's” Massachusetts accent and our mother's mid-western drawl, we kids were fairly well- balanced. In fact, I remember people accusing me of speaking incorrectly at times.
“Yaw talking like yaw mothah again,” they'd say.
The Mendozas had a play area set up down cellah complete with kid-sized table and chairs, play dishes, games, building blocks, and a chalkboard on an easel. I was an extremely shy child. I liked to play down cellah at the Mendozas' house because that way we were a little more removed from Nancy's parents; I said as little as possible to grown-ups in those days, and wasn't very comfortable if I knew grown-ups could hear me.
On this particular day, we must have been playing a counting game. I remember Nancy got to “fawty-faw.”
“It's not fawty-faw,” I countered.
“Yes, it is,” she insisted. “Fawty- faw! Fawty-faw! Fawty-faw!” She skipped around on the cement floor of the play area.
“No, it's not,” I argued.
“Fawty-faw! Fawty-faw!” she sing-songed as she skipped.
A moment later we heard the door open at the top of the wooden set of stairs. Nancy's fathah's feet and legs appeared and began to descend. Nancy Jane quickly ran to the chalkboard and picked up a piece of chalk. She wrote the numeral in question.
“Dad, how do you say this numbah?” she asked him, pointing to it on the chalkboard.
“Fawty-faw,” he replied with confidence.
Hand on hip, smug expression on face, “Seeeeeee?” Nancy declared triumphantly.
Naturally, I clammed right up and looked at my feet.
I left the East Coast for the Intermountain West at age eighteen. Over the years, as I've returned for visits, I've noticed that the classic New England accent is fading. The last time I visited with Nancy Jane I noticed it, and even my own fathah is pronouncing r's where he nevah has before. (Although he still adds them to the ends of words when they shouldn't be there--- think “idear” or “the United States of Americer.”)
I suspect it has something to do with the information age and worldwide communication. When we were kids, we didn't even notice that the people on television shows spoke differently from the people in our community. I guess media is such a huge part of our lives today that regional accents don't stand much of a chance.
I think it's a little sad.
My birthday is in a few weeks. I'll be fawty-faw. I plan to celebrate the entiah ye-ah.