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| the history of wake forest
actually spoke the practically unintelligible dialect of that
picturesque area. But the young professor told me that it
was an object of such stigma, any intelligent young man
was bound to remove it as quickly as possible, so he took
unto himself the goal of speaking what he called “B.B.C.
English,” a perfect uninflected standard tongue that would
never betray his provincial origin. I decided that he was by
no means peculiar. I found, for example, that the Cockney
speech is rapidly disappearing and that it is often hard to
discover obvious differences in speech as we moved from
county to county in England.
Not so, North Carolina, at least not yet. The difference
between the Tidewater counties and the Piedmont is still
most noticeable, and I like the mountaineer’s speech too—
remarkably like the Oklahoma hillbillies in inflection,
phrasing, the openness of the vowels, and the hardiness
of the humor. The cultivated speech of the South is not
disappearing, it is being modified and extended to a much
broader group of people, and it is no longer quite so easy to
distinguish a Baptist from an Episcopalian! I do enjoy the
musical voices of Carolina. Some, as with the best British
voices, can be set to music. J.B. Priestley’s barb is certainly
not true of North Carolinians: “Americans are sensitive
about their voices. They think we think American voices are
ugly. It is a pity they are sensitive. Their voices are ugly.”
Now, having generalized for half an hour I must post
a warning about generalizations. What I have said about
differences it true, but there are similarities between the
states as well. All boundaries are rapidly being demolished.
Highways link all the states together. The airways and the
sea lanes of the world bring all people closer together.
Swiss chalets are being built in Oklahoma City, and I have
seen some French Provencal décor in some North Carolina
houses. (We are probably more inflexibly traditional here
than anywhere else in the country, perhaps because of
our production of colonial brick.) America’s Coca Cola,
hamburger, and the hot dog have encircled the earth.
Skiing is no longer Norwegian. Judo is no longer Japanese.
Surfing no longer belongs to the Polynesians. But for all our
exchanges, for all our assimilations, regional differences—
geographical, ecological, and personal—will persist. It is
these differences that give variety to life and ultimately
draw us together.
As a recently displaced Oklahoman I respond with all
my senses to North Carolina’s best known literary son when
he speaks of change. Thomas Wolfe’s memories of a North
Carolina boyhood recall my own Oklahoma growing up:
The wheel will turn. The immortal wheel of life
will turn, but it will never change. Here, from this
little universe of time and place, from this small
core an adyt of my being where once, hillborn
and bound, a child, I lay at night, and heard the
whistles wailing to the west, the thunder of great
wheels along the river’s edge, and wrought my
vision from these hills of the great undiscovered
earth and my America These things, or such as
these, will come again; so too the high heart and
the proud and flaming vision of a child—to do the
best that may be in him, shaped from this earth and
patterned by this scheme…to go out from these
hills and find and shape the great America of our
discovery…to know again the everlasting legend
of man’s youth light, quest, and wandering—exile
and return.
Thomas Wolfe speaks for me. From however different
an environment, from however far away, one can and does
come home again. I am here in North Carolina, and I am at
home.
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