I shouldn’t have a New York accent, but sometimes I do.
Take my hometown of Orange, Connecticut. Everyone pronounces it “Oar-ange,” while my sisters and I say, “Are-ange.” All of my friends called their mother’s sisters “Ont” while we said, “Ant.” Kids said they went to “Am-ity” Regional Senior High School, while we said, “A-mity.” My husband accuses me of saying “Ah-mity,” but that’s not it. It’s “A-mity.” Who would ever say “Ah-mity?”
Connecticut is sort of neutral ground with accents, or at least it seems that way when you’re between New Yawk and Baa-ston. I don’t think Nutmeggers have distinguishable accents, but we can pick out a Massachusetts or Rhode Island accent quicker than you can say, “Pock the cah.”
My sisters and I really didn’t stand a chance. Though my parents moved to Connecticut when my older sister was 1, they were native New Yorkers with accents to match. Mom is from Bayside, Queens, while Dad grew up on Avenue M in Brooklyn not far from the legendary Brooklyn Dodger Gil Hodges. (I know this because my grandmother used to brag that he lived a few blocks away and went to her church.)
They moved to Connecticut in 1958 after my father found himself standing in the middle of the Belt Parkway screaming at other drivers. He realized that he didn’t have the temperament to sit in rush hour traffic so they moved to the suburbs. The move solved his rush hour problem, though not his temper.
They bought their first house in Orange in 1960, and raised seven kids in the town a 15-minute drive from New Haven. Originally settled as a farming community, Orange is a quiet suburban town known for its schools, nice homes and excellent shopping strip along Route 1. The Firemen’s Carnival is the social event of the season, and many kids (including yours truly) went there on our first dates.
Though my father loved Orange, he could never get over the lack of street lights in our neighborhood. I think he even complained to the first selectman, who lived up the street. Dad’s home truly was his castle. He loved nothing more than sitting in his recliner or puttering around the house. One of his last wishes was spending his final days at home.
Despite living in Orange since age 2, I never got the hang of Orange-speak. People used to make fun of the way I said certain words. They said “Cam-era” and “Cam-ero” while I said, “Ca-mera” and “Ca-mero.” My name Carolyn posed the most problems. I said, “Ca-rolyn” while they said, “Care-olyn.” I can’t tell you how many people thought my name was Karen. Sometimes, I didn’t bother to even correct them.
I tried saying Care-olyn, Orange and Amity like my friends, but it sounded odd. I knew I could say “OntJoan,” but hated the way it sounded. It felt somehow disloyal to say words, especially my name, differently from my parents and siblings. There was this unspoken code. We are, after all, half Sicilian.