The phone rings. You pick it up. “Hello?” “Hello, is this ….?” The question ends in a name, and it is not yours.
But that is of no importance. Your immediate instinct – to reply “No, this is ….” with your own name - is short-circuited. Because you have heard something in that voice, something that has immediately aroused your interest and curiosity.
A Texas accent. You do not live in Texas any longer, you may even have lost your own Texas accent, but you recognize it right away. And the response immediately comes out of your mouth.
“Are your from Texas?”
This starts a conversation. You exchange home towns, perhaps a few stories about these towns and what it was like growing up in them, then information about any visits you have made since moving away. There may also be stories about how people “up North” or “back East” or “out West” react to your Texas accent, if you still have it.
An hour or two later, after wishing one another well, you finally hang up.
You have just experienced The Texas Telephone Call.
The Texas Telephone Call may have regional equivalents, but not all parts of the United States produce people who are so willing and open to talking to strangers from their home state. Moreover, I believe that the era of The Texas Telephone Call, if not exactly over, has definitely passed its peak. With modern types of telephones that have answering machines and Caller ID, we are less inclined to pick up the phone every time it rings. Occasionally, in our household, the nearest phone is one of our “old telephones” and we don’t want to run to check the Caller ID on another phone, so we just pick it up. 95.5 percent of the time it’s a nuisance call, 4 percent of the time it’s actually a friend, relative, or business associate, and the other .5 percent of the time it’s a wrong number, so a Texas Call could still happen, but it’s not likely.
The only time I remember receiving a real, true Texas Telephone Call was when I was in graduate school in Boston. The only Texas voices I expected to hear were relatives.
The caller had one of those sweet little lady voices. She was very apologetic about dialing the wrong number, but I laughed and said that I never minded hearing a Texas voice and accent, gambling that I had pegged her home state.
“Oh, my, how did you know that?” Only, it sounded more like “Oh, mah, haow did yew know thayut?”
“That’s where I’m from. Seymour. It’s near Wichita Falls.” My conversation-starting instincts were automatically firing up.
“Yew don’t sound like a Texan.”
“Oh, just wait a few minutes; that’ll change.” Laughter on the other end.
We exchanged a some pleasantries and a few stories and then hung up. The call was probably no more than 30 or 40 minutes long. But by the end, the accent actually did start to creep back. Five years of college in Washington, D.C. and another year in Boston had erased the Texas overlay on my California accent, but not permanently. A phone call with another Texan can restore it in a few minutes.
My most recent equivalent of the Texas Telephone Call is actually genealogy-related. I have had telephone conversations with three research contacts that started as online exchanges. One lady is a fifth cousin through my South Carolina Lewises, the second contact is a cousin of my half-brother, and the third is a descendant of the wife of a great-great uncle (by a different husband). And all three are from Texas.
And I have had some really looong telephone calls with them. Texans must have extra talking genes. The conversation with the descendant of the great-great-uncle’s wife lasted for over two hours, and we’re not even related. But we managed to piece together the fascinating life of the great-great uncle’s wife, who had had three husbands. He was descended from the first husband, the one who was hanged for horse-stealing. The descendants of the first and third husband did not even know of the existence of the second husband, my great-great uncle, and I was happy to fill them in on the details. We exchanged quite a few bits of juicy information on these families and, of course, on our respective backgrounds in Texas.
I still have an automatic response when I hear "that accent," but the experience is now limited to in-person meetings. Over at What's Past Is Prologue my friend Donna's post tonight deals with how changes in telephone technology have changed our lives. Based on Donna's list at the end, not only am I "at least as old as" she is, I am older, though only because I remember party lines (we weren't on one but we knew people out in the country who were). And one of the hallowed traditions of that long-ago age that has been eliminated by modern improvements in telephony - the prank call - I also remember fondly (and, as in Donna's case, it was my brother and his friends who made these calls). Of course, such modern conveniences as Caller ID were made necessary by the increasingly invasive and pervasive nature of telemarketing and other nuisance calls. But I would never consider a wrong-number call from a fellow Texan to be a nuisance call.