Monday, May 26, 2008

Channeling Scottish

Sometimes I like to describe moments and events from my past, especially the strangely memorable ones. The other day while exchanging emails with Hope, while talking about our family history, a very weird evening from the early 80s popped into my memory.

Back then, I used to be quite the dancer, or perhaps I just fancied myself one. Regardless, hardly a weekend went by that I didn’t spend a Friday or Saturday night, or both, at the Yokota Air Base NCO club. I’d drink a lot of beer and then proceed to sweat most of it right back out by dancing nonstop. It used to freak out a lot of folks that a white guy could dance “like that,” especially the black guys.

One night, I got semi-involved in a fight, not as a brawler, but as a peacemaking interventionist. I guess I was in my U.N. mode. Afterwards, when all the action had died down, I was asked to come back to club manager’s office to write out my affidavit of what happened. I was pumped up from the action of the fight, which, combined with a few beers, had me feeling quite intense.

Then, a moment came where I no longer felt like myself, as if a part of my consciousness had transitioned outside my body. I was looking through my eyes, but it wasn’t just me in there running the show anymore. It was like I was sharing my being with another entity. I blew it off as the beer. But then, something truly strange took place.

I began speaking with a perfectly effortless Scottish brogue. When the new accent kicked in, the people who knew me and knew my normal voice looked at me quizzically, like what the heck is that?

Without a thought as to why, for the next 10 or 15 minutes I began recounting the events that led up to the fisticuffs to the SSgt security policeman. I didn't know him, had never met him before, and he never guessed that I was speaking "in tongues" so to speak. Listening to myself however, I was totally amazed at the strange sounding words pouring from my mouth.

A girl from work, a female airman who was a buddy of mine and had known me for years, was also there in the office with me. Along with two or three other friends, She had also been involved in the fight, and once I finished speaking to the cop she asked me, “I didn’t know you were Scottish.”

I laughed, “I didn’t either. I have no idea why I’m talking this way. I didn’t even know I could.” I chuckled again; I even laughed Scottish! I heard myself doing it, was greatly self-amused by it, which caused me to laugh even more.

This is really cool!’ I thought delightedly.

With an approving nod she encouraged me, “Well, don’t stop. It sounds great. Are you sure you’re not a Scot? It sounds very authentic.”

“Aye. As far as I know my family comes from Ireland.”

Aye? Did I just say aye?

“Well, I know what an Irish accent sounds like and that ain’t it. It’s as Scottish as it can get.”

For the next hour or so my strange new accent along with the feeling that it wasn’t me speaking it continued. I enjoyed it immensely. It was fun trying it out on people that knew me and to watch their reactions.

Alas, after a while it wore off and I was back to my blandly normal Midwestern enunciation. Try as I might I could not bring the brogue back and never could. I even found a book on how to phonetically speak English in a Scottish accent and still couldn’t recreate it.

Many years later I learned that my ancestors on my dad’s side did indeed come from Scotland, from Paisley to be exact. So what happened to me that evening? Did some long lost ancestor in spirit form jump into my brain? Or maybe I had just watched one too many Star Trek episodes. You know, the ones with “Scotty,” the classic Scottish engineer with his fake, yet wonderfully lilting and rolling Scottish accent, telling Captain Kirk that he didn’t know how much longer the engines would last at warp drive, or if the shields could take even one more hit from a Klingon photon torpedo.

Then again, maybe we retain flashes of memory and traits from our ancestors; I’d like to think that’s what happened to me that night—the evening when I had mysteriously “turned Scottish.”

3 comments:

Tin Ma'am said...

My pinoy accent comes out when I'm drunk...does that count? I also start going back between french/english/tagalog when I'm intoxicated, depending on how I learned to say something first...
but its hardly the same.

Now if i suddenly turn german/spanish, I'll talk to you to find out what the heck happened to me.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Nope, doesn't count. No one in my immediate family ever spoke like that and I sure never did. I'd been snockered countless times before and since, and never had it happen before. Some things just can't be explained I guess.

Ed Abbey said...

My wife worked for awhile in Scotland and for several years after would talk in a Scotish accent at random times. When I called her on it she would immediately go back to her Filipino/English accent and deny it. It finally wore off after a year or so of being in America.