A Winters Tale: The Winters wave

“But of all the new habits I’ve picked up, its the Winters wave I like best.”

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Every place has its culture and traditions. Here in Winters one of those habits might very well cause me to enter physical therapy—for overuse of my right arm. I’m talking, of course, about the Winters wave.  If you grew up around here, or have lived here a long time, this action may not seem worthy of note. But to newcomers, especially those arriving from a big city, the wave is something of a novelty.  Each day now, when we walk the dog, we know there will be a lot of hand waving. Drivers initiate the process. The pedestrian returns the gesture, and the ritual is complete.  The wave is a a friendly signal, pure and simple, a way of saying “Hi, neighbor.”  I’ve been on the receiving end of waves before. In Los Angeles, many drivers employ a similar gesture. The difference being that only one finger is used.  I prefer our country style wave, though it can take some getting used to. I knew a man from New York who, while visiting rural Northern California, became concerned the first time he was on the receiving end of a wave.  “Did I do something wrong?,” he asked, “Don’t worry,” he was told, “people here are just nice.”  I’ve been in foreign countries, most notably Italy, where drivers wouldn’t dare wave. Instead they stare at pedestrians as though they are escaped inmates. It seems odd to Italian drivers them that someone would actually decide to walk when cars are available.  Once in a tiny village in Southern Italy, I was looking for the apartment I had rented. I asked a local man for help, and he gladly obliged. We hopped into his car and drove to the building. It was approximately 50 yards down the road.  But back to the wave. When its car to car, I find that it makes no difference how fast the other driver is approaching. Never mind the risk. I am duty bound to execute the gesture.  I am also faced with a choice. By my count there are four variations on the wave, depending on the circumstances.  Version #1 is the most enthusiastic. Full bodied. One hand on the wheel, the other moving left to right and back again, the same motion as washing a window.  I use this if the oncoming driver appears to be a friend, family member, or someone important, like a Winters City Planning Commissioner.  Version #2 is less vigorous. Left hand on wheel, right hand up, palm out. Like a politician swearing an oath.  This one I use on neighbors I don’t see so often. Like the ones with that annoying barking dog.  Version #3 wastes no energy, and is reserved for drivers you might not recognize. Hands never leave the steering wheel. Only fingers shoot upward. As many as four, or simply just the index finger.  There’s a writer in Texas who says the index finger wave is best, “a model of efficiency, like all non essential movements by country folks, who must save their labor for the land.”  With that in mind, Version #4 does not involve the hand at all. It requires only the energy needed to jut one’s chin forward, and grin slightly.  This gesture simply says, “I acknowledge you as a fellow human being struggling through life like the rest of us.” I often give one of these to the brave flagmen urging us to slow down in construction zones.  There have been times when I’ve been too occupied to take part in the Winters wave. I might be changing stations on the radio, or trying to get the lid off a cup of hot coffee without dumping it in my lap.  In those rare instances, where I have failed to acknowledge my fellow driver, I feel a twinge of guilt. Do they think I’m angry at them? Are we no longer friends? In those times, I hope the other driver was a stranger, and not someone who knows where I live.  Now that we are full time Winters people, there have been many new things I’ve had to learn. How to use the front loader on my tractor. How to correctly pronounce the word almond. Where to get the best carnitas tacos (El Verduzco).  But of all the new habits I’ve picked up, its the Winters wave I like best. If I see you and don’t do it, please forgive me. I’ve probably got a lapful of hot coffee. ]]>

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