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Southern Accents and Slowing Down

By Ellie H. Ashby, Crimson Opinion Writer
Ellie H. Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column “From Houston to Harvard” appears on alternate Fridays.

It has recently come to my attention that I have a bit of a Southern accent.

Allegedly evident in the slightly twangy way I say the word “when” (apparently I say it like “win,” but I am not fully convinced) and my drawn-out pronunciation of “y’all” (okay, this one I understand), it was something I was originally averse to, but have slowly grown to love.

Why do I love it? Many reasons. Maybe because it comes out the most prominently when I am on the phone with my parents. You may have caught me in the act — speaking perhaps a little too loudly on the curb of Widener with the slight trill of a Southern accent, calling my parents every Sunday afternoon. Maybe because it reminds me of old friends and family back home. Regardless, it is a piece of home I may have once rejected, but now embrace with open arms, all because it reminds me to slow down.

In these little moments I am reminded of where I am from, and I tuck these moments away as part of what I now deem my “Southern accent.”

Just last week, I decided to reorganize my room, and part of that endeavour involved untangling all of my necklaces — the dainty, thin chains were all wrapped around themselves, forming impenetrable knots and gnarls that eluded my persistent fingernails. And as I began to get annoyed at the seemingly endless task ahead of me, a family fable danced into my consciousness.

My great grandmother is a legend. The first story I remember hearing about her was that when my dad was a child, they were both picking strawberries in their expansive Kentucky backyard, and as they did, a snake slithered out from the vines. My dad’s hand recoiled, and he shouted to my great grandmother: “Nanny! There’s a snake!”

This intimidating 4’10’’ woman with round, rosy cheeks and fingers nimble from decades of knitting and quilting came over to where my dad was and slowly peered into the vines. Then, as if struck by lightning, grabbed the snake from the mess of foliage, snapped its neck, and threw it to the side. “Alrighty hun, get back to work,” she told my dad — unfazed and unbothered, Southern accent dancing upon her jovial tone.

My great grandmother, in addition to her snake-snapping abilities, gives amazing advice, and my favorite is this: You will never untangle a necklace chain by yanking at it — you must gently and slowly encourage it to unravel. And so, alone in my dorm room at Harvard hundreds of miles away, the words of my Nanny came to me, reminding me to take my time and to slow down.

That piece of advice has remained with me for years, just like my nagging Southern accent that colors certain vowels and words. And just like the elongated, molasses nature of the Southern accent, my great grandmother’s words emphasize the beauty of slowness. You cannot disentangle a gnarled necklace chain quickly — in fact, the faster you try to go, the more knotted it will become.

This is what a Southern accent means to me. Purposeful and intentional slowing down, little mannerisms and memories and ways of speaking that remind me of where I come from.

College is a time of transition, of transformation, and while we should be figuring out who we are and who we want to be, we must also remember who we have been and where we come from. I will always untangle my necklaces with care, with gentle fingers and delicate intention, and I will always elongate the “a” in my favorite word “y’all.”

I choose to slow down, to float on the surface of the water rather than frantically treading it, within this insane, exhausting work culture of Harvard. I choose to get up early in the morning in hopes of seeing some semblance of the grand Texas sky in the muted colors of a Cambridge sunrise, instead of jumping straight into the Harvard hamster wheel. I choose to slow down, and I have my subtle Southern accent to thank for that.

Ellie H. Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column “From Houston to Harvard” appears on alternate Fridays.

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