Today I took my daughter Veronica to see the doctor. She complained of dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, etc. Turned out she had sinusitis, and now she is doing much better. But what I want to talk about here for a moment of your time is something that emerged from our polite chit-chat with the physician, Dr. Donna Capps.
Veronica mentioned something her English teacher had said, and Dr. Capps asked her who her English teacher was. Veronica named her, and the doctor noted that she had had the same English teacher in the same school. Of course, this meant that the good doctor was native to either Smithfield or Selma. I then had to ask: "Why donít you have a Johnston County accent?" Now donít ask me to describe the unique accent of the county. It has its individual features like any other. I wonít even say I know it when I hear it. But I did know she didnít have one.
Her answer was not particularly mysterious: she had studied and lived away from the area, and she tended to adapt unconsciously to her linguistic surroundings. She guessed that in a year or so, she would have recovered her native accent. I am a native Mississippian, but I moved to New Jersey when I was only ten years old, and it did not take me long to lose that accent. I never quite picked up the "Joisey" accent. I guess New Jersey and Mississippi cancel each other out, and thatís probably not a bad thing. Now itís too late for me to change my accent.
What struck me about the doctorís answer was simply the fact that she had come back home to the small town where she had grown up. She could have taken her M.D. degree and no doubt gone to some city with a faster pace, with more to see and do. So many young people do leave our Eastern North Carolina small towns that some of them threaten to become ghost towns before too many more years. (Hence the need for our towns to provide attractions for youth, but thatís another story for another time.)
The doctor is to be commended for investing her life in the place where her roots were. Nor do I mean to imply that it was a sacrifice to do so. My children itch to go elsewhere, somewhere more exciting, and I canít blame them. But I have been to places that are more exciting, and I conclude, here at age fifty, that "exciting" is not necessarily the kind of place you want to live day in and day out. I love the depiction of the life-cycle in a pair of Rushís songs on their 1982 Signals album, "The Analog Kid" and "Digital Man." In the first, a small-town boy daydreams about an exciting life amid the bright lights of the big city. In the second, a city-dwelling yuppie bemoans the fact that he has been caught up in the rat race and wishes he could return to the simplicity of his youth. There is an irony here, but little to regret: he would have been cheated if he had not tried both paths.
Eventually you learn the lesson George Bailey learned in the movie Itís a Wonderful Life: the worth and love of life depend far more on what you bring to your town and your family and friends than on shifting and changing momentary thrills. Maybe Dr. Capps has learned that wisdom early. It is not a bad bit of medicine to pass on to her patients.