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Monday, August 15, 2016

Keep doin' the rural wave

The Kemptville Farmer’s Market is more than just an opportunity for me to sell some books and unload a truckload of zucchini. It’s my social time. I get to visit with people I haven’t seen in years, catch up with close friends and meet loyal readers of this column for the first time. Many thanks to everyone who takes the time to stop by and say hi.
Sometimes I get really good suggestions for columns too. Last week a woman said she would like me to write about the disappearance of the rural wave. Many farmers still do it – it’s a hard habit to break.
When you’re on the road headed to market and you pass another pickup truck, you put two fingers to your temple and give a quick salute. Some of you just raise your hand slightly from the steering wheel. The light effort is symbolic of the casual nature of the wave. It may also be a sign that you are a bit low on energy, as you have been working hard on your farm. Your laidback nature is indicative of your lifestyle. You take your time and live in the moment, aware of your surroundings. The weather determines your daily activities. You’re on farm time. You probably drive a bit slower than city folk as well. What’s your hurry? That kind of wave. That is how it is done. And it seems to be a lost art.
I grew up in the country outside the bustling metropolis of Kemptville when it boasted a population of about 4,000. There were no subdivisions to speak of, and we knew just about everyone in town and the surrounding hamlets. We didn’t live on a farm but we certainly knew how to do the rural wave. It was a comforting gesture. It said, “I know you. We are neighbours. Go safely.” My father in his Chevy Silverado rarely missed the opportunity to wave as he passed someone he knew.
I still get to do the rural wave a few times a week, because I live near a single-lane bridge. If two vehicles are approaching this bridge from either side, you have to decide who will go first. Now let me tell you, it’s a sure sign that you aren’t from around here if you speed up to get across the bridge before the other approaching vehicle gets there. The neighbourly thing to do is to decrease your speed and pull over slightly. When you are close enough to the bridge you decide who is closest and let them go first, obviously. If you both reach the bridge at exactly the same time, it is common courtesy to let the other person go first. Pull over, signal to the ditch and that will indicate to the other person you are letting them go. Sometimes the courtesy volleys back and forth a few times before the final concession is made.
“You go first.” (beckons the other driver with a flick of the wrist)
“No, by all means, you go first.” (a come-along motion)
“Oh all right then, thank you very much.” (driver proceeds across bridge, deploys the rural wave).
I have to admit I don’t recognize half the vehicles or drivers that I used to. We have grown in population and I’ve lost track of who owns what farm. Other than at the single lane bridge crossing, there are only a handful of people I wave to when I pass them on the road. These are family members, and lifelong friends like, for example, Jim Perry. Being a truck dealer he is always in a different set of wheels but I’m pretty recognizable in Dora the Explorer so he usually recognizes me and waves first. As the descendant of a multi-generation farm family, the rural wave is a habit he likely won’t be breaking soon. And yet I’m sure when he recognizes and waves at some people, they probably give him a confused look.
“What? Is my headlight out? Should I pull over?” the uninitiated can be bewildered by the wave. It is probably best to reserve it for those who know its purpose.
But for those you recognize, wave away. You might get a text a short time later, asking you what’s going on, but you can explain you are just being neighbourly. We’re from the country and we like it that way.



Dale Carscadden said...

Growing up in Russell, your article on the wave hits a chord. After spending years in Ottawa with a career, it is great to be back in the country. People still it!

Karen said...

The rural wave lives in in the Upper Ottawa Valley!