Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Wave

 When we first moved to West Virginia in 1975 people still waved. At first the practice was astonishing. Anytime we met a car driving along the one-lane road, a hand rose above the steering wheel just enough to acknowledge the meeting, but not enough to imply a stop. To us, coming from the West—where traffic was thick and populations were the same—being waved at by a stranger was a curiosity and somewhat mystifying at first..

Like all things valued too lightly when plentiful, waving to unknowns has died out around here, JOTOLR.  In retrospect, it was a lovely tradition, one that MM and I adopted quickly, responding in kind, waving to everyone, accepting waves from others. Out here, JOTOLR, we learned from our neighbors that waving was something you just did.. It was such a warm, friendly tactile nod.  And it made sense. Even if someone was feuding, they could still wave at one another from the safety of their cars.

Initially there was a learning curve for us. We had to decide whether to wave only to those we knew, but not to others we didn’t know (that’s the way we did things in our last locale) or at the risk of accidentally not having waved at someone we DID know, we would wave to everyone and thereby –like Sherwin Williams—we would cover the (local) earth.  It was safer all around to take the latter approach.

As time went on, it became evident that we had been the first of many “outsiders” moving into this beautiful region in West Virginia. (Even if you live to be 100 years old, and spent 95 of those years here, you will still be an “outsider.”)( I always tell people that, no, I am not a native, but I got here as quick as I could!) Gradually, the population changed. Traffic out here JOTOLR increased markedly and it sped up. People going to work and returning were intent on the destination, not the journey. Mailboxes had names that now deviated substantially from traditional Celtic-origins. The price of gasoline made Sunday drives outmoded, and picnics “in the country” down by the river, became a thing of the past.

And, over time, along the lines of the passenger pigeon, waving, too,  became extinct. For one thing, it became de rigueur to have fully tinted, dark, wraparound windows in the vehicle. Tinting became big business.  Industry tells us we’re “preserving our privacy” and preventing “serious injury” from glass that might otherwise shatter and fly, harming us in an accident. (Have you ever noticed the propensity of marketers to depend upon the Fear Factor for sales of unneeded items?) So, in meeting a car now, you aren’t always sure there’s even a driver inside or not! You’ve got to study hard and fast,  and be ready to jump in the event the vehicle is a runaway with no driver! One of my “defensive driver” tools, used to be watching the driver of the other car to anticipate their intentions. But with dark-tinted windows that particular tool is no longer available in most cases.  Most of the time, I can't see a driver. 

Even waving to someone you know, there’s a problem: people are trading cars every year, it seems, so instead of an old Buick that you’ve been waving to for years belonging to the Smiths, has morphed into a 2010 SUV that looks like every other SUV.  People seem to buy a new car every other month!

A couple of years ago, we finally had to admit we were in the dying throes of waving. For awhile, folks tried to accuse wavers, not as waving AT or TO something, but rather waving the black flies out of their faces. But that wasn’t it. We were all waving to EVERYBODY! 

But now, in today’s fast world, the vehicles whoosh by with no response to our friendly gesture. Worse, people are on their cell phones yakking away, as they blindly barrel around a corner at 40 mph on a 10 mph one-lane road..

Yes, it took us awhile, but eventually, we gave up waving, too, and we now remain stoic inside our car cocoons (without tinted glass).

It’s sad. I miss the waving.  Waving to all our neighbors, whether we knew them or not, was a lovely piece of Appalachian Americana that no longer exists out here, JOTOLR. Back in the waving time, there was an innocent unspoken trust and reciprocity that implied a connectedness, one to another, if only in the politeness of a wave.


  1. A very sweet post. For what it's worth, I still wave! And also for what it's worth, it's not just advertisers using fear as a sales tool. Have you listened to or watched coverage of a Tea Party rally lately? Those folks are scared to death, and they think we should be, too!

  2. People still sometimes wave here in southern Pa, though we more often the waves are between driver and porch-sitter. Or the wave is to allow the other driver to have the right of way (and that is often followed by the other driver waving as a "thank you" for allowing that).

    Carolyn H

  3. Elora -- Oh, a dying custom in your area, and such a warm one at that! When I moved to KY a couple years ago most of my neighbors waved even though they did not know me yet. I thought it was such a neighborly custom. Then I found out that this only seems to be a rural thing. When I am in various towns there is no waving. So I don't know if the "no wave" in town is a harbinger of what is to come for the rural areas or that its always been this way. Hope you don't give up waving. Someone has to carry the flag. -- barbara

  4. Waving just to say Hi doesn't really happen here unless it's some one you know when it's a vigorous wave or in the case of people you know even better, pulling up (in the middle of the road) and passing the time of day. Most of our country roads are only wide enough for one vehicle so unless you are a rude upcountry visitor you wave a thank you when someone pulls over to let you past or nod an acknowledgement of the other person's thanks. I won't mention how I 'wave' when people don't say thank you.

  5. Oh, and heavily tinted windows, a la drugs dealers, are illeagal here.

  6. Ah the waving, I found that pretty amazing, in Andrea's home town...people driving down those twisted roads wave at each other (in my opinion risking their lives..) At first it made me uncomfortable, but now I find it endearing. It is the only place I have ever seen people wave at each other...In Genoa there are usually screams of frustration - and most importantly a lot of honking horns!!

  7. We still wave! There's a quirky little wave around here, just the slightest raising of the forefinger above the steering wheel of the car or tractor. A mere movement of maybe 5cm but we all know what it means. Strangers, locals and the mailman all get the same although heaven knows how many times in a day our rural postie does it in return - at least he knows how much he's appreciated! I have noticed though a change creeping in - English migrants are settling in droves in this region in pursuit of a 'lifestyle' (and driving our property prices up dramatically). They seem to miss the point of why we wave - in this valley we may not see our neighbours to talk to for quite a stretch but somehow that little wave just keeps everyone in contact. Sadly their pursuit of a 'lifestyle' misses the finer points as they zoom by in their highly unnecessary 4 wheel drives. A lovely thought provoking post, thank you.