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Susquehanna Life

The Country Wave

Nov 26, 2015 10:09PM ● By Susan Ryder

Many folks will find themselves in unfamiliar territory when traveling over the holidays.  Some will travel to their city relations and others to their country kin.  Whether city or country, each destination has customs particular to its area.

I’d like to address the rural cultural phenomenon I’ve termed, the obligatory wave (O.W.).  For drivers, the wave consists of a half hand wave over the steering wheel. For pedestrians, it involves a raised arm, high five style, with no shaking of the hand. Not unique to Pennsylvania, the wave consists of a single raised index finger in the Midwest.

The O.W. proves vexing to those who first experience it and prompts question like “Did he just wave at me?” and “Do I know her?” Folks don’t have to know you to wave. They assume that, if you inhabit the same piece of road as them, you live there; know someone who does; or are related to someone who does. And that’s reason enough.

The O.W. simply demonstrates neighborliness between country neighbors.  The neighbor label may be broader than you’re accustom to. Country folks call someone who lives a mile down the road neighbor.   The wave expresses kinship with folks who have chosen the rural life. 

While you visit your rural relatives, you may find yourself on the receiving end of the O.W.  It’s always best to wave back.  Not waving carries the label of the “city slicker” visiting for the holidays.  And while that’s not so bad, returning, or better yet, initiating the wave creates general goodwill.

You know that you’re in the Pennsylvania O.W. realm if you begin to see fields of tufted goldenrod, fluffy milkweed, or plenty of purple defoliated red raspberry canes along the road. If you spy a burner barrel, a silhouette of guy leaning against a tree, or chickens running free, as you trek on a tarvy (gravel and tar) road, you can most certainly expect the O.W.

If however, the posted speed limit is over 35 m.p.h.; there is a store larger than a Sheetz or Turkey Hill, within three minutes of your destination; or you pass more than four cars in 15 minutes you are most likely out of the O.W. zone.

A little wave doesn’t seem like much, until you consider that many people lament that no one has manners anymore. Unlike, boarding an elevator and immediately looking at your feet or staring the shiny floor designations, the obligatory wave acknowledges someone’s presence.  A bit like holding a door for someone, the wave says “You’re important enough for me to take two seconds to see you.” That simple little wave doesn’t cost a dime; but carries a lot of country kindness.  Try it.

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