Every once in a while when the mood strikes, I’ll offer a friendly wave to oncoming motorists. Most of the time, it’s on my weekday afternoon trips up and down Fern Road while transporting my son to his child-care provider.

This particular topic might sound familiar to many of you. I wrote a similar column years ago but it seemed to strike a chord with so many people — especially my older readers who could identify with what I was writing — I thought I’d revisit “the steering wheel hand wave.”

As a Midwest youngster, I often witnessed this traditional art among small-town folks. It involves the friendly act of waving at other motorists as they pass you on the road in the opposite direction. This practice is most common in smaller towns because just about everybody knows everybody else.

Even the toughest, anti-social individuals will periodically participate in the steering wheel hand wave. My late grandfather quickly comes to mind.

A weathered and tough individual who worked on the kill floor of a meat packing plant for 25 years until age 72, Grandpa seemed to live in the moment. He enjoyed “teaching” me things, even putting me on his lap when I was about 8 years old so I could drive his old Chrysler as we tore through the backcountry hills at speeds that made my stomach jump.

As we headed down the highway, it always fascinated me that my grandfather waved to everyone he passed. He never failed to give the finger wave to all. Maybe it was part of living in a town with only 69 people. Or, maybe he just liked people and was exhibiting his friendly nature.

Of course, this was the same man who once shot his car because it wouldn’t start one cold winter morning. He enjoyed the occasional practical joke that many would deservedly frown upon and often shared off-color jokes — even with an 8-year-old. Grandpa also routinely offered me a pinch of his Skoal, a memory I’ve had from my earliest years (I never had the courage to try it until I was a teenager on a fishing trip and yes, I got pretty sick to my stomach).

But deep down, he liked just about everyone. I guess his finger wave led me to this conclusion.

From what I’ve seen, the steering wheel hand wave has three variations:

• The simple finger wave from one hand on the steering wheel.

• The full hand wave from the steering wheel.

• An actual waving of the hand off the steering wheel — the highest, most sincere wave you can offer.

Many times, you offer the hand wave and don’t get one in return. Some motorists may not see it in time and have already passed you on the road by the time they think to respond. Others may not see you at all. Some don’t care.

As I mentioned, I’ve tried the steering wheel hand wave here in Philomath and have experienced mixed results. Most of the time, I’m preoccupied with some thought going through my head involving work or family and the hand wave doesn’t happen. When I do wave, I get a wave back about half of the time — and that’s OK.

Over the years while living in larger cities, the steering wheel hand wave doesn’t go over well. Most drivers are strangers to one another and everybody seems to be in a hurry. But now that I’m back in a smaller town, I bring it back out once in a while. If I don’t get a wave back, no biggie.

As for Grandpa, depending on his mood, if he didn’t get a wave back, he just might motion toward the rear-view mirror and bring out his middle finger wave.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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