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  • Cowbird's "Outsiders" saga theme reminded me of when, at age 7, I was an outsider who didn't want to be one. In January of 1964, my parents emigrated to the U.S. from our home in rural Essex, England. When we settled in suburban Denver, near my mother's sister and her family, I had to enroll in elementary school immediately. With no siblings to lean on in adapting to this strange country (but at least the people spoke the same language -- mostly), I had to make friends with the natives who spoke with a funny accent.

    Oh, wait a minute. ... I was the one with the funny accent, which was pointed out to me by many of the kids at school. This was, as I recall, at the time a nearly all white neighborhood, with a handful of Hispanics.

    As a British "outsider," I was not subject to taunts or abuse in the schoolyard -- just mostly innocent jokes about that accent. After all, I looked just like them. Actually, my British way of speaking and the alternative words I used were endearing, apparently, because I remember being the center of attention during the first weeks of 2nd grade. I particularly remember one girl who glommed onto me and paid too much attention, at least from the standpoint of a 7-year-old boy. She loved my accent.

    It's too bad I can't go back and change how I reacted, but because being the center of attention was not a good feeling for a shy child, I lost the accent. I don't know how I did it, of course, but my family told me that within a year of moving to the States, I was talking with an authentic-sounding American accent. On subsequent infrequent visits to the Essex homeland, my older relatives struggled to understand me.

    In Colorado, I fit in. I was just like any other American kid. You'd never know that I was an "outsider" unless you visited our house and heard my parents speak with their British accents and funny words.

    Damn, I wish I'd kept that charming British speech pattern. (British accents are coveted and considered an asset in America, right? Or do British people who live in the U.S. come across as pretentious?) I bet it would have made dating easier in high school. It might have given me a leg up in job interviews.

    It would have kept me connected with my British heritage. Even though I technically have dual citizenship, I identify as an American, and only occasionally remind myself that I'm British, too. In fact, I can't even fake a good British accent; it's awful when I try.

    At 55 now, I'm still annoyed at 7-year-old me: Why didn't you embrace and enjoy being the one who was a little bit different? Why did you have to try so hard to be exactly like everyone else? Where's the fun in that?
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