When does something end?
An ex-brother-in-law of mine always worried about not being able to tell when he did something for the last time. When, he would wonder, was the last time he wore his winter jacket before it was put away for spring? And why, when he was wearing it that last time, hadn't he known it would be the last time? How can you know?
I've been wondering about when we Sandwich residents stopped waving as we passed each other in our cars.
After Don and I moved here in November 1976, we laughed about all this waving. Everybody seemed to do it, not necessarily a big wave of an arm and hand, but at least a lift of the hand from the steering wheel or, for the most casual folks, a raising of an index finger. The venerable real estate agent in town had a royal wave that resembled Queen Elizabeth's.
At first we waved back self-consciously, fretting about the etiquette. We were honored to be recognized as new townsfolk and the polite response was to wave back, but would it be presumptu- ous of us as newcomers to initiate a wave? We did, and soon the waving began to feel natural, even automatic. We had become part of Sandwich, part of the daily acknowledgment of - what? Neighborliness, I guess, and in hard weather, in snowstorms or in mud season, a rueful camaraderie.
Thirty-two years later Sandwich is still a small town, but it has grown and the general waving has ended. There's only specific waving now, when you see a friend behind the wheel. Like my ex-brother-in-law, I've worried about when it ended, when was the last time on a Sandwich road I exchanged waves with somebody I didn't particularly know.
And I've wondered if anything has replaced the waving. It occurred to me that perhaps the Sandwich Board, our Internet discussion list, has done so, but no. Not all the townsfolk read the chat, the yard sale ads, the queries for information, and my estimate is that most of those who do check it don't enter into the discussions, which seem mainly to be carried on by one bunch of people. It's not the same as waving.
For several Septembers Don and I spent a week or two on an island off the Maine coast, Isle au Haut. We didn't take our car out there because the ferry, which is also the mail boat, isn't big enough to carry cars, but the owners of the cottage we rented did have a loaner, a typical island type of clunker. In this we would drive to the trailheads for our favorite walks. We were easily identifiable as visitors, yet still the locals we met on the road waved at us. We returned each wave enthusiastically, feeling accepted and as if we were back in the Sandwich of years ago.
This summer when Don and I were visiting Penny, my sister, in her Maine coastal town, we three were taken by Michele and Mark, friends of hers, on their boat to go to a restaurant down the bay. Other boaters waved to us and we waved back. I explained to Michele how people used to wave in Sandwich. Michele said, "Out here on the water, we still wave." NH
This article appears in the March 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine