Calumet Roots

I'd know a Calumet Region native anywhere — if I can hear them

2013-06-30T00:00:00Z I'd know a Calumet Region native anywhere — if I can hear themBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist
June 30, 2013 12:00 am  • 

You all know people who grew up in Indiana Harbor, perhaps a next door neighbor, perhaps a sidekick at work, perhaps a fellow churchgoer. And you would know that person in a totally strange atmosphere. I’ve heard people say that if they ran into a regionite abroad, they would know their roots spot on. But why is that true?

I once thought that it had to do with a lingering foreign accent. I’ve since given up that notion because I couldn’t prove it.

What I now think is that the reason is rooted in language, but in a different way. The early settlers learned to communicate, particularly at the workplace, by a variety of means. One way was to imitate the sound of what the speaker was trying to communicate. The result was an astonishing array of sound words. This explains why regionese is the most echoic of languages.

You may also have noticed that that person engages in a great many pantomimes of what he is saying. The Indiana Harbor communicator goes far beyond simple shoulder shrugging. He’s got more moves than a belly dancer.

A person accomplished at this sort of substitute communication can be a whirling dervish. He is far and away a silent exclamation mark.

Another factor that played into the way a regionite communicated is that the schools put tremendous emphasis on stage plays. This, again, goes back to other factors that inhibited communication.

In my memory, I remember how we took cream and made it ultimately into butter. Along the way we created all of the trappings of a milk delivery system. The largest one, of course, was the wagon that delivered the milk. This would be a most conventional vehicle in today’s environment in that it did not use fossil fuel. It was electric.

The fact that plays were sometimes entirely written and produced by the students encouraged whole new disciplines to develop. One of these was writing. That led to competition and thus evolved great dancers and singers and other musical performers who did not require spending money on an instrument.

The performing arts contributed much to the development of Harborites. The obvious ones went back to the Romans, as in the case of the choral club. When rules confined an endeavor, as in the case of African-American performers, other mechanisms jumped to the fore.

The incredibly successful Paul Robeson Glee Club came about that way, and became the most requested performing group in the Calumet Region. And there was never anything prettier than the Girls’ Marching Band covering the football field on a balmy day.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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