Country Greetings

Every time I don’t write a column, somebody is sure to complain about it that next week.  I really appreciate such a reaction because it is so flattering, but I resolved recently to avoid such complaints which are at times delivered in a scolding tone. Thank you, my fans (!), I’m really trying but some weeks I have no thoughts besides the usual drudgery of housework, computer work, miscellaneous physical complaints and other run-of-the-mill stuff.

When I was writing on Okinawa, I discovered quickly that keen observation and a sense of humor was enough to get me by every week.  And there was so much new to see there!  A never-ending source of fun, amazement and great topics.  Here everything is becoming old hat, 7 months after my move to the country.

When I first starting writing this column, someone suggested that I write on a custom  that she, a big city girl, was still getting used to out here:  the greetings from other drivers.  This phenomenon is not new to me; I was first introduced to it back in the early ‘80’s while living in another small town.  Every since Susan mentioned it,  that seed of an idea has been rolling around in my brain and it finally did some growing last week.

I’ll never forget the first time someone raised their index finger off the steering wheel as an acknowledgement, a greeting.  I was 30 and had lived overseas and was raised in north Georgia.  To discover such a custom was truly a revelation.  I had just spent 3 years in Japan and was glad to get home to Georgia, yet I was immediately faced with a “foreign” custom.  I didn’t know what to make of it.

In the years since it has become familiar to me, but I have been reintroduced to it local-style.  I have observed some interesting things out here in my quiet “neighborhood”.  Of course, there are some folks who simply lift that finger while staring straight ahead. It is an acknowledgement, nothing more, that says “Yup, I see you.”

Others lift all 4 fingers which is a friendlier, more personal greeting.  Others still actually lift the hand Indian-style (how, kemo sabe!).  It looks like a “Howdy!”, not a hello.

These gestures can be delivered with no eye contact, no smiles, and very little personal interest, almost in a big city way.  I thought for years that was the way it was supposed to be done.  You know, to avoid seeming personally interested in someone who you really didn’t know. When Susan suggested this topic, she also mentioned how such activity could be construed by one’s husband as personal knowledge.  “Like, who was that man you waved to?”  Jealousy had never entered my mind.

In the months since though, I have tried to adopt a new way of looking at life out here, working on becoming more observant, and I am now more experienced in the ways of country greetings.  So, now, some new thoughts!  (mom would be so proud of me!  I sure am!)

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed recently has been the messages also being delivered by these country drivers around here. No longer do I see just an impersonal finger lift.  There’s more and it’s infecting me, too, since I’m now comfortably settled into my country home.

Now I see folks waving and craning their necks.  I now see the curiosity in their eyes:  they’re wondering who I am.  I recognize that now.  Why?  Well, because I am wondering, too!  There’s simply not much traffic back here, though lots of folks use my road as a cut through to neighboring counties.  This I didn’t realize until recently when someone told me you can get there from here without going south down the highway.

Up until I found that out, I wanted to know who those folks were that traveled my road.  On Sundays, the church folk are obvious—they jaunt along in their finery with a sense of purpose about them.  The loggers are identifiable as well in their big trucks and pickups, bristling with implements and official airs.

I now wonder who the others are. I’ve talked to some of my neighbors on the phone, but I’ve not met them in person.  So I wonder, “Is that Mrs. So and so?  Is that car full of a neighboring family of 5 kids or a carpool?”

So now I know, curiosity has a lot to do with those country greetings.  But that’s only what it looks like to me.

I asked my husband, who is simply naturally at home out here,  how did this custom of automobile greetings get started?  He wasn’t sure of the origin but he did have another thought.  It’s not just about wondering who someone is. It’s about a different mind set as well.

He says that folks simply expect to know who you are. “If you’re here on this road, you must be somebody I know or know of.  But, wait, I don’t recognize you.  But I must know you!  I’ve lived here for 30 years.  I know everybody. I must know you, too.”  Assumptions that I am now tapping into.  Assumptions that are really starting to make sense to me here in my country home.