Know what I like about the South? People still wave at one another.
Oh, I know, everybody doesn't wave, but that's how you tell who the Yankees are. There are other ways, of course, but who has time to follow folks into a restaurant to see if they order sweet tea?
Back when I was growing up in Porterdale, waving was pretty much taken for granted. If you were sitting on your front porch and somebody you knew walked by on the sidewalk, you waved at them. If you were sitting on the front porch and somebody you didn't know walked by, you waved at them, too. That's just the way things were.
And more importantly, they waved back. Friend or foe, stranger or close acquaintance, it didn't really matter. Folks in the South waved at one another. Why, a person would no more ignore a friendly wave than they would fail to pull over when meeting a funeral procession. It was just something everybody did - like closing places of business on Wednesday afternoons.
Former Covington mayor Sam Ramsey still closes his place of business on Wednesday afternoon. I found out the hard way when I went there a couple of weeks ago to buy a new living room suite. Anybody who has ever heard Sam talk knows he is Southern, and I bet he still waves at people, too.
Back when traffic was a lot lighter - and it may be lighter again soon if gas prices stay as high as they are - people would wave to one another while they were driving. I mean, they would wave at every single person they met in another car and everybody they passed on the side of the road. Otis Spillers probably set the record for most cars waved at in a lifetime. Mr. Otis had a patented one-finger wave. He drove with his right hand on top of the steering wheel and lifted his index finger at every single car that passed. Maybe he still does, for all I know. I just haven't encountered him on the highway in the past 20 years or so.
I have, however, encountered a few other people who have waved at me with one finger - mostly when I cut them off in traffic, but none of them used the same finger that Otis Spillers used.
But like I said at the top of the page, I believe that here in the South, natives will still wave if the occasion warrants, and I have been testing my theory this summer. I have resumed my walking habit, you see. I do so periodically. Every time, in fact, that my bathroom scale tops the 220 mark, I start walking again. Not because I want to, understand. My lovely wife, Lisa, makes me.
Well, she doesn't make me exactly, but she badgers me until I do, which is what she has been doing lately. So once again I am out and about on the highways and byways of Rockdale County and surrounding areas. And while I walk, I wave - at every single car I encounter. Well, I don't actually wave at the cars, but rather the drivers and passengers in the cars, but you get my drift. And believe it or not, almost every single person waves back.
Some people, I will admit, are a bit taken aback by my friendliness. You can tell by the shocked expressions on their faces. Those are usually the ones who resent the fact that they are being asked to share the road with a pedestrian. You know the type. When they encounter someone walking on the shoulder of the road, they aim their car right at the person and seem to speed up - as if challenging the walker to a game of chicken.
Hey, even at a hefty 220 pounds, I know I am no match for an automobile. When I see those folks coming, I get in the ditch - and then I wave at them as they approach. Most of them slow down and wave back. The rest are probably from Michigan - or DeKalb County.
It's fun to watch how people wave. Little kids love to wave. They throw their hand up - sometimes both hands - and move it back and forth in a big sweeping motion. Older people are usually more reserved and barely lift their hands - but the hand lift is usually accompanied by a head nod, which makes it seem a bit more genuine. Some people do the beauty pageant wave - the one where they point their forearm toward the sky and rotate their wrist about 83 degrees.
See? Some of you are doing it right now, just to see if the wrist really does rotate 83 degrees and not 92 or 88.
Sometimes, people I know will pass by and they not only wave but also blow their car horns. And once in a great while, someone will assume that nobody in his right mind would be walking down the road in the middle of the day when the temperature is approaching 100 degrees and will stop and offer me a lift.
That's when I really know that I am still in the American South.
Y'all look for me on the side of the road, and if you can't stop, wave. And if you wave with one finger, make it the one Otis Spillers uses.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.