I hope that the United States never becomes so blandly homogenized that all fifty-states worth of nifty little regionalisms disappear.
Bad enough that most regional department stores are gone, all replaced by the ubiquitous Macy’s. (Remember when we used to think that Boston without Filene’s and Chicago without Marshall Field were unthinkable?) Thank the lord of retail that we still have furniture stores like Bernie and Phyl’s, now employing B&P’s three adult children in their TV ads. (Quality, comfort, and price: that’s nice.)
Then there’s the chain restaurant. In many parts of the country, Olive Garden is what passes for Italian. Personally, I’d rather eat at the worst Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End – and, trust me, there are some pretty terrible restaurants there – than sup at an OG.
Regional accents still seem to manage to survive, even in the face of threats like late-last-century’s Valley Girl incursion, which seems to live on primarily in the Interactive Voice Recording system used by Fidelity, AmEx and a bunch of others. (You know the one: the chick chirping “Sorry, but I don’t understand what you just said” with that annoying up-lilt at the end of the sentence. IVR systems apparently can’t interpret voices yelling “I just want to talk to a #**&*(&$**@(&^ human being.”)
Thanks to the persistence of regional accents, we have the persistence of bad accents in movies placed in New England (special points to those set in Boston). Fortunately, there are some actors who come by their accents naturally. Thus, I never have to cringe when Mark (or Donny) Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Ben (or Casey) Affleck, or Worcester-boy Denis Leary is on the screen (at least with respect to their accent). I will say that I thought Leo DiCaprio’s version in The Departed was wicked pissah. Jack Nicholson’s o,n the other hand. Honey, you’re so not home-boy. Same goes for Tom Hanks as the FBI agent in Catch Me if You Can. Love ya, Tommy, but no can do.
While regional accents manage to survive, I’ve noticed that some local words have fallen out of use. It’s been years since I’ve heard anyone refer to soda as “tonic.” I do believe that “bubbler” fell off the truck in favor of “water fountain,” followed by the actual bubbler/water fountain itself falling off the truck in favor of bottled Poland Springs. (Nothing tasted better on a hot summer day that slurping some icy cold water from the pebble-stoned bubbler in a public park.) “Rubber band” has pretty much replaced “elastic.” Let’s dig our heels in on frappe and not let McDonald’s get away with perverting the definition!
Anyway, one bit of regional differentiation that has stood the test of time is Patriots’ Day as a Massachusetts state holiday.
It used to be celebrated on April 19th, but that was before Columbus discovered the three-day weekend, so now it’s the third Monday in April. This year, the celebration is off by a day, but that’s okay because April 18th is Paul Revere’s Ride, which is the kick-off event to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which we mark on April 19th.
Now that the so-called “hacks’ holidays” – city workers and state workers who worked in Boston/Suffolk County got off Evacuation Day (which handily coincides with St. Patrick’s Day) and Bunker Hill Day – are being done away with, Patriots’ Day remains our one odd-ball holiday. It’s school vacation week. It’s a state wide holiday that, while not universally observed by business, is a day off for a lot of folks. The Boston Marathon is run today. The Red Sox, a major league baseball team that people in these parts used to care about and follow passionately, play a rare weekday morning-start day game, timed so that fans can spill out into Kenmore and watch the runners pass. And, occasionally,we actually get nice weather.
Forever in peace may she wave!
An altogether splendid holiday celebrating an event nicely commemorated by Emerson, in one of the poems that, fifty years on, I can still recite. (Drat! I missed the chance to show off O Captain! My Captain! on the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination.)
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those spirits dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rest assured, Ralph Waldo, that, at least here in the Commonwealth, or at least here at Pink Slip, memory does their deed redeem.
Happy Patriots’ Day!
Source of picture and cut and paste of the poem: Wikipedia.