Just Who Are They Waving at?
(Page 2 of 2)
When I pass our neighbor, he salutes me with his customary broad, slow wave, which makes him look as though he's cleaning a window. His wife waggles her fingers to wave hello; you can almost imagine her saying tootle-ooo!Skip to next paragraph
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I know a detective with the sheriff's office who waves as though he's shooting a six-shooter - a quick jab with the index finger, the thumb up like a trigger. (I'm still waiting for him to blow the smoke away.) There are others who raise three fingers from the wheel, others who raise two, and some who lift a single index finger straight in the air, as though stressing some indisputable point.
People in the country will wave whether they're going 60 miles an hour or 10. They wave on narrow curves, on the crests of hills, or driving into a blinding sun. Often they wave in town when they should be watching for pedestrians. In short, they wave at all the times it's most inadvisable to wave. (What I remember of the moment my windshield was cracked from a stone tossed up by the wheel of a passing car was that my hand was still up in the air, after waving back at the other driver.)
If for some reason you forget to wave back at someone - if you're fiddling with the radio dial or looking for deer - you can't help but feel a tinge of guilt for a while. Did the people who just waved know you? Were they neighbors? Do they wonder why you're putting on airs? How could you have violated one of the cardinal principles of the universe, ordained when the first good person waved hospitably to another from his cave?
To more fully understand the geographical nature of this custom, try a simple test: Wave from the safety of your car at strangers along the street of any moderately sized city. Wave at every car you see. Wave deliberately, so that your gesture can be seen. The results will be remarkable and conclusive. The scenarios that will unravel are as follows: (1) you may be stared at as if you were crazy; (2) you may be followed by one of the recipients of your wave and then imposed upon in some unseemly manner; o r the most likely upshot, (3) you will be ignored. Vastly ignored. Ignored in a way that will confirm the essential anonymity of the human condition.
And yet I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that there's something fundamentally hostile about city dwellers. On the contrary, people who rub shoulders with each other as often as city folk do have to sweeten the grist with a heavy dose of camaraderie just to get by. I also suspect that if they spent a couple of weeks on country roads, they'd be waving as much as any dairyman, cowboy, logger, beekeeper, or darn fool summer person like me.
If there's any reason why people wave at strangers in the country and not in the city, it's because it is possible. The human figure stands out against a rural landscape; it demands recognition. A wave is simply the easiest way of confirming that recognition. But I think that waving is also a way of recognizing the context that the human figure stands in.
I wave at the farmer passing me in a pickup, and my wave extends to the grasses waving along the roadside, the line of trees tossing in the wind, the billowing white clouds. I wave, and my wave goes all the way to the horizon.
And so, for one season out of four, I'm a dedicated waver. Howdy, I wave to the far range of mountains. Howdy, I wave to the horses wading in timothy up to their bellies. The gardeners are turning their gardens. Dogs and kids are romping on the lawns. The clouds are beginning to develop bulges right out of Michelangelo, promising lightning and walloping thunder. I wave to the oncoming storm. I wave to the three summer months sprawled luxuriantly ahead of me. When I pull into the driveway, my wife waves f rom the porch. Then she tries to teach our baby daughter to do the same. Howdy, I wave. Howdy! Howdy!