It's a Country Thing. #1. Waving.

April 29, 2022 - 4:27 PM


#1. Waving.

It all started one summer when we were visiting friends in Sullivan County – a visit that would become one of the definining reasons we would eventually buy a home of our own in the Catskills.

The Catskill Mountains is bursting with stunning mountains and farms and small populated areas too small to be called a town. They're called a village. But some towns, I've since learned, are both a village and a town, and some are a town inside another town. And that's an oxymoron I'll be happy to try to figure out at another time.

This visit was my first experience driving in such rural beauty and I found it to be a wonderful experience. After getting over quirky things - like every town or village (again, a discussion for another time) has a Route and an Old Route of the same number - I realized that people were doing something that this 40 year Long Island and Queens resident just didn't expect. They were being friendly. And being friendly for no particular reason that I could wrap my urban brain around.

The first time it happened I had to ask Phyllis if it had actually happened. “Did that guy - the driver of the pick up truck coming the other way – did he just wave at us?” We concluded that he had indeed waved and must have thought we were someone that he knew from the area.

But we weren't 100% committed to that explanation since neither of us were wearing a bright green John Deer cap and our car didn't have an American flag decal on the back window.

Well, we concluded, he must have made a mistake. It's like when that person on the other side of the room looks real familiar. He waves at you and smiles. You're pretty sure that you must know each other real well so you wave back.

He walks right toward you, smiling. He seems really excited to see you! Now you're convinced that you must be old buddies to justify such a public display of recognition, and... and... and you could almost feel the rush of air as he runs and waves his way right by you.

Yup, he was waving at the guy behind you. We've all been there.

The guy in the pick up must have made that kind of mistake and was obviously waving at someone else. Maybe looked like us, but certainly not us.

That's what we thought... until it happened again. Another pick up truck and another guy, but this time he just raises three fingers off the top of the steering wheel. I guessed that his hands hadn't been at “ten and two” since high school Driver's Ed and he's joined the most-of-us who relax our hand on the top of the steering wheel at a definite 12:00 noon.

But safety is still important, albeit not apparent at first wave, as he didn't totally release the wheel to wave. He and raised half of his hand and still had his other two fingers right there on the wheel, ready to grab on in an emergency - like swerving to avoid some road kill that hadn't been flattened out enough yet and could get caught on the underside of the trailer hitch - and that, as we all know, is a bitch to clean but it happens.

But he had definitely waved. We still didn't exactly know why, but I started to feel guilty that I hadn't waved back. And a little embarrassed that I was unaware of proper rural automobile etiquette. I was, by definition, a “citiot” (a portmanteau of city and idiot). Citiot is a term I would later learn is what the locals call us urban folks who just don't know any better. I would also later learn that they call us that because it's pretty accurate.

Now that I'm looking at it, if I'm going to use the word “portmanteau” it's likely to be just the kind of thing that helped the term citiot come to be in the first place.

So I was determined to not only be alert and be sure to wave to the next driver who initiated the ritual, but I would try my hand, as it were, at waving first.

It took some time, but I eventually learned how to do a two finger wave (index and middle finger in a relaxed V) or the three finger (add the thumb like a lazy half salute).

And I learned that it's pretty rewarding when you wave and the other driver waves back.

All this time I've never asked anyone the reason that this tradition exists, when it started, or are there any real rules other than, obviously, wave back if someone waves to you. But now, after about 20 years of rural driving and waving, I do have a few working theories.

One is that people in the country are, as a rule, much friendlier than people pert near anywhere else and waving to strangers is just part of that friendliness. For example, more than once we'd drive by a man donning a green John Deere Hat, mowing his lawn atop a green rider mower (it matches the hat, or more likely the hat matches the mower), and he looked to the side and waved as we drove by. Just being friendly because, well it's what everyone does and just why the heck not.

Whenever someone asked me why I was waving at people I don't know, I tell them my second theory. I remind them that this county is a very small town and it's very likely we'll bump into that guy from the rider mower when we're shopping at Tractor Supply for a new chain saw bar or at the Walmart where everyone seems to know to go to get the cheapest ammo.

So why not start out as sort of already being friends? “I'm pretty sure we waved to you, maybe three Sundays ago, when you were mowing your lawn... up on Old Lower West Doogle Farm Mountain Pass Road. It's good to see you again – only none of us are moving this time.”

That's how you make life long friends in the country. With a simple wave to a stranger. And by the way they're not strangers, they're your neighbors.

I've learned that there's a difference between neighbors and strangers. You probably don't know it yet. But there will come a time when you will learn the difference.

You'll learn it on the day that you drive your car into a ditch.

It seems that, before you had a chance to curse and get out of the car, ten people have shown up in under ten minutes, lining up their pick up trucks and ATVs figuring out who has a winch attached to their truck and how they're going to pull you out without putting one scratch on your car.

Your prediciment has been all over the police scanner because someone had already thought it was a good idea to call 911 just in case assistance beyond a winch might be necessary. And all ten of your neighbors showed up so quick because all of them have a scanner at their house, naturally.

And a minute later the sheriff arrives. Well, just because they thought it was a good idea to be there, you know, just in case.

It might be right then that you reach an epiphany. You realize that your neighbors may not be the close friends that invite you over to dinner (truthfully though, most likely they will) but they are definitely not strangers. Neighbors come to your aid and get your car out of the ditch and make sure you're OK. Strangers don't do any of that.

At that point you will officially stop being a citiot (well, a bit less of one anyway). And you'll most definitely be sure to wave.


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