A warm welcome to author H.M. Shephard joining us today to talk about the release of her story “Just for Nice”, part of Dreamspinners States of Love series.
Welcome H.M. 🙂
We know that everyone speaks with an accent, and there’s no such thing as someone who has no accent. What’s difficult is parsing out precisely what makes yours different than everyone else’s. There’s the obvious, of course, like whether you say “soda” or “pop,” and the more academic, like whether you’ve fallen victim to the Mary-merry-marry merger. But some of these things are really obscure — one thing that I never noticed I did was that I drop the infinitive before a second verb in a phrase; for example, “The car needs washed.” It wasn’t until a few years ago when I was visiting a friend in North Carolina, and one of her neighbors pointed out how weird this sounded to his ears. And I didn’t realize until just now, when I looked it up for this post, that I probably picked this up from my mother, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh.
I’ve lived in Eastern Pennsylvania since I was seven, and I went to college in Dutch Country. My father’s family is also Pennsylvania German, and they’ll drop odd words and phrases like a New Yorker uses Yiddish. Even though I’ve grown up with this, I had to do some research in order to make my character Sam sound authentically Dutch (he also speaks Pennsylvania German fluently, which is something that I unfortunately never had the opportunity to learn). I relied pretty heavily on the Youtube series Ask a PA Dutchman for this, especially their video on Dutchified English. I recognized almost all of them, but until it was specifically pointed out I didn’t realize it was something unique to the area where I chose to set Just For Nice.
Nick Caratelli flees the city in an attempt to escape a broken relationship and a career he never wanted. He plans to set up a bed-and-breakfast in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country—despite the fact he has no experience in renovating the old building. Luckily his handsome neighbor Sam approaches him with a curious proposal: he’ll help with the restoration in exchange for Nick babysitting his niece. As they work to have the bed-and-breakfast open for business by summer’s end, their lives become interwoven without them even trying. Before he knows it, Nick is recovering from his loss and taking his place in the unconventional family that seems determined to form. But for Nick and Sam to be together in all the ways they desire, they’ll have to realize all the arguments against romance exist only in their heads….
Pressed together side by side, Sam was acutely aware of how much smaller Nick was. Not in height—there was only a fraction of an inch difference between the two of them—but Sam was so broad that he dwarfed Nick’s slender frame. It would be so easy to wrap his arms around Nick’s narrow hips and envelop him—
“Can I ask you something personal?” Nick asked suddenly, and Sam stopped imagining. What had the social worker said? What could he say to head off any questions Nick could have? Or did he deserve a full explanation? Nick climbed back up the ladder with the paint, and Sam barely heard him as he continued. “The way you speak… I can’t place the accent and it’s been driving me insane.”
“Oh. Oh!” Sam stepped away, hoping Nick hadn’t noticed the relief in his voice.
“It sounds German, but it isn’t quite.”
“Jah, ich schwetz Pennsilfaanisch-Deitsch.” Sam blushed a bit. He hadn’t meant to show off, but Nick’s delighted laugh made him feel a little less like a braggart.
“That’s amazing! I honestly thought only the Amish spoke that anymore.”
“The Plain folk tend to more often than the rest of us. My grandmother was an Old Order Mennonite before she married my grandfather. She knew English, but she only used Deitsch with us. We were around her more often than we were our parents.” Sam shrugged. “I guess it stuck.”
“She sounds like my nonna, except I didn’t pick up Italian quite as well. Just enough to flirt with the waitresses whenever we went to visit the fatherland.”
Sam could picture Nick on the patio of a sun-drenched café, charming a pretty, dark-haired girl with carefully practiced lines.
“What do you mean by Plain, anyway?”
“Like the Amish, sort of. Mostly anyone who’s Anabaptist, though I’m not sure if some of the New Order faiths count.”
“I thought the Amish didn’t marry outsiders.”
“They don’t, typically. My grandfather was Fancy Dutch. My grandmother was a Wenger Mennonite and Plain. She met my grandfather while she was on Rumspringa—sort of like a time where Anabaptist kids get to try the things they won’t be allowed to do once they’re baptized,” he explained at Nick’s puzzled look. “It’s a little more complicated than that. But anyway, she met my grandfather when he offered her a ride home from a party. They kept running into each other, and eventually he asked her to marry him.”
“Did that get her… oh, what’s the word? Like, excommunicated?”
“Nah, Mennonites don’t do the Ban, and she hadn’t even been baptized yet anyway. But her father completely shut her out. Marrying outside the faith was bad enough, but she had to go and pick a Brauchers son.”
“I swear to God, you’re just making words up now.”
H. M. Shepherd is a twentysomething paralegal living in Berks County, Pennsylvania, with both parents, two dogs, a baby sister who should stop growing up, and a brother who similarly failed to launch. Contrary to the Millennial stereotype, however, she does not live in the basement—a blessing considering the size of the spiders down there. She crochets as a hobby, cooks when she can, and reads as though it were her vocation. She is also an amateur genealogist and spends entirely too much time squinting at old census records and church documents. A little spacey, she once managed to forget that her car needed an oil change until it stopped running, and regularly has milk-in-the-cupboard-cereal-in-the-fridge moments. While she is an avid writer, Just for Nice is her first and so far only professional publication.
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