A few years ago, when my nephew from the city visited our farm for a couple of weeks in the summer, he learned more than he bargained for about farm life. For instance, he had no idea that if you touched an electric fence wire that was hot, it would shock you. He didn’t know that a cow with a baby calf could become somewhat protective in nature. And he learned that he could mow around my farmstead and he didn’t have to worry about what direction the blade lines ran. I was just happy to have someone to mow for me.
All of that aside, he learned something much more important to rural life. He acquired the proper technique of waving to neighbors and friends when they pass you driving down the road. On our first drive together to town during his visit, as I waved at neighbors and friends along the way, he asked, “Do you know all of those people?”
I replied, “Yup, and I’ve known most of them all of my life.”
“But you wave at everybody,” he said, rather shocked. “If I did that in the city, people would think that I was weird.”
I told him that people around our part of the world expect you to wave to them, as a sign of greeting and courtesy. If you don’t wave at a neighbor, they might worry that you are having a bad day.
“What about the people you don’t know?” he continued.
“I just wave at them to be friendly, and to mess with them. The out-of-town folks will go all day wondering who I am and why I waved at them,” I told him.
As we drove to town that day, I evaluated the variances of the proper farmer wave, trying to encourage him to develop his own form.
I’m sure psychologists would have fun analyzing these. Most farmers who drive with one hand at the top of the steering wheel of their vehicle do that for a reason. It is easier to raise their hands slightly to wave. Others who are perhaps tired from a long day of waving might only raise their index finger to acknowledge a neighbor.
Other farmers hate to remove even a few fingers from the steering wheel and choose instead to lower and raise their head in a bobbing fashion, in a nod of greeting. Then there are the neighbors who use both hands to wave you down, so you will slow your vehicle and stop in the middle of a country road to visit. Or they might just want to tell you that your cows are running wild down the road on the other side of the hill. Either way, the translation of these movements is all the same.
My nephew was astounded. He felt like he’d discovered some new futuristic culture out here in the farms and fields, and he openly admitted that he liked it. He liked how friendly folks could actually be to each other.
Here, in rural America, we’ve come a long way. We rely on cell phones and smart phones and all of the technology that has kind of replaced our traditional visits with each other over the fenceline.
We have the technology of our urban friends, but our way of life – although hectic and imperfect – still allows us the simple pleasure of offering our neighbors a friendly wave without receiving a nasty look in return.
But, I advised my nephew to only use his newfound waving technique when he came to the farm. Folks in the city just aren’t ready for such futuristic friendliness.