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Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project

Mount Ayr Record News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, July 05, 2012

The in's and out's of the Ringgold County wave are revealed

To the editor:

I happen to be one of those people who believe that travel, although enjoyable, is not always the best part of a trip. I have traveled a fair share in my life, yet it never ceases to amaze me that one of my most treasured traveling experiences is still coming home to the "Ringgold County Wave."

I noticed my fondness for it as I returned from a trip filled with business, rushing from one meeting to the next, and not really noticing the people all around me.

As we neared home the ritual was the same, turn off the highway, enter Ringgold county, look forward to seeing the porch light, and imagine how I ever could have thought anywhere was better than home.

Only this time as we entered Ringgold County I did not drift off into the happy thoughts of home, I began to notice that home was driving all around us.

I believe it was the stark difference between big city driving and home driving that demanded my attention.

I was compelled to investigate what I would later come to know as the "Ringgold County Wave."

You don't have to sign up for this local experience, in fact all you need to do is pay attention.

Participation is optional, but over the years I've noticed it does seem to be a part of polite interaction.

The oncoming traffic will appear, just as in any part of the country, but as you near the oncoming vehicle it is very likely you will be transported to a time when neighbors were friends and checked in on one another.

At first you may miss the interaction, yet with a little time you will quickly notice that each driver you pass is sending you a message.

It took me a while to catch on to the secret Ringgold county code, not because it wasn't there, but because as you get closer to the borders of Ringgold county it seems to disappear.

As a newbie to the art of spotting the "Ringgold County Wave" it is easy to believe your eyes are playing tricks on you. The questions zip through your mind like deer on a dusky summer eve.

"Are they waving at me?"

"Do I know those people?"

"Did I leave something on top of my car and they are trying to warn me?"

I'm sure each new initiate goes through a similar thought process.

Silly me, the answer was as simple and friendly as the act itself. I had been invited to participate in an age old ritual of kindness.

I moved here from a large city and had a difficult time believing this ritual could come without strings attached, so I watched.

Yes, it was me a few years back with the perplexed look behind the wheel, attempting to unravel the secret mystery of the Ringgold County Wave.

"Were only a few people invited to participate?"

"Do theydsend out a bill each month for the privilege of being part of the waving community?"

"Do you have to be invited into the 'wavers club?'"

"Once you join, is there a penalty if you decide to no longer wave?"

"Can you be ticketed for poor and unexciting wave technique?"

"If you forget to wave, how severe is the punishment?"

Now I'm sure you understand why I not only looked perplexed, but a bit tired from all this "to wave or not to wave" thinking.

I took my time.

I watched and named a few of the different waves that came my way.

The "three fingered lift" seemed to be a common wave executed by those who did not wish to let go of the steering wheel and still participate in the ritual greeting. It offered steering control while still giving a full greeting to those passing by.

The "first finger raise" seemed to be offered by those who appeared to be busy, but not too busy to participate in local tradition. I found it often shared by farmers, workers and moms with cars full of energetic youngsters. Personally I was impressed these busy people had time to wave at all.

The "two fingered peace sign" wave did not get past me. Having a teenager myself, I quickly noticed it offered young people a transitional wave. With one finger honoring the tradition of the past and one claiming their independent voice for the future, it made sense that they offered their wave with the age old sign of peace. I kind of liked the idea that my daughter was driving around making a statement for peace.

I'm not sure if the "Ringgold County Wave" was covered in drivers ed, but my daughter seemed to pick up on the art of driving and waving long before I did. Although popular with her driving age group, I noticed this style did not appear to be a local favorite.

The "everything is cool" thumbs up wave, also seemed to be used by younger wavers. Not being sure if there was an age limit for this wave, I quickly dismissed it for the young or very cool. Not fitting into either of these categories I decided to be a watcher of this style, and to this day have not attempted it on the open road.

I could not help but be impressed by those who released their steering wheels all together and offered a full frontal, "nice to see you out and about wave."

Not being a driver who is comfortable releasing my steering wheel, I could only admire those with the driving confidence and experience to call this style their own.

I'm not sure if the "side window wave" came about from those who missed the front wave and did not want to be left out of wave interaction, or those who wanted to leave a lasting impression on passing traffic. It appeared that this wave took more energy and timing then all of the others. Yet, not feeling comfortable with the side wave, I did my best to make frontal contact and avoid this tricky timing issue.

To the drivers who call this style their own, you have my admiration.

Although not a traditional wave, I believe the "head nod" fits into the wave category. I believe it is for those who do not feel comfortable taking their hands off the wheel at all, or those who are already multi-tasking, and do not want to be excluded from the wave experience. You have to admire this commitment to tradition.

I watched, and as with all great sports I saw a unique style or two. I'm sure their inventors have the form down perfectly. I sometimes wondered if these creative people could be hired to design a personal wave, yet I had a sneaking suspicion not creating your own signature wave would be frowned upon. So I continued to watch and learn.

I suspect there is a "family wave," one whose base components are passed down from generation to generation, leaving the finishing touches to be added by the individual family member. I imagine these are some of the family secrets shared at large family reunions insuring the continued success and unity of the family. Certain this would not be my key to a signature wave, I continued with the trial and error method of wave development.

It is likely you saw me driving about town, often shifting awkwardly from one wave style to the next, in the hope I would master one of the simpler waves.

I was determined.

There were times I took the long way to my destination, so I could get in a little extra wave time. Often I would ponder on what a classic wave should look like, only to find that at the critical moment of wave decision, I had little idea which wave would appear.

Now that a few years have passed, and I have relaxed my self-imposed pressure to find the perfect wave. I find that the "four fingered wave" seems to suit me best. It meets my need to stay in contact with my steering wheel, while allowing me to enjoy a full frontal greeting wave.

If I happen to be distracted, you may see me revert to the newbie "just get any greeting out there" style.

I still hold to the belief that any wave is better than no wave. I've found that time has not only added a creative flavor to the wave process, but the ability to laugh at myself.

Once I was clear that I had the opportunity to choose a set style or create my own, I began the quest to understand the rules of wave engagement. Again the questions circled my mind like vultures after the latest road kill, and with a watchful eye at my husband's style, I began to put together a mental handbook of "rules for the road."

I have often wondered if possibly these styles and rules could be added to the local "welcome to town packet" or maybe integrated into the local driving test so that newcomers can get up to speed as quickly as possible.

In retrospect, I imagine not sharing the secret wave is a good way to spot newcomers, and so in a sense it is a "first defense warning system" for those who have yet to understand the benefits of Ringgold county living.

To those of you who have wondered if there is a class, you can stop checking the paper for upcoming events. The art of waving is taught in families or in the classroom of practice, practice, and more practice.

As someone who has little information to offer those of you looking to understand the art of the wave, I only have a few words I hope can help you on your quest.

When in doubt wave. You cannot be too polite. Try out a few, and decide what your signature wave will look like.

It's best if it becomes second nature.

I'm sure we newbies can be spotted car lengths away, as we mix wave styles together and look as if we are swatting at a bees instead of communicating. We don't look cool; the sooner you accept this, the more quickly the wave will be fun.

No one will judge you if you start with an easy wave style and develop your own creative one as time goes by.

Get in the game and start waving.

Don't forget, the boundary lines for the Ringgold County Wave appear to be within Ringgold county. If you find a waver out of county enjoy the exchange, but do not expect a return wave out of county lines.

If you happen to be an "out of town waver," especially when you are so conditioned to waving at your neighbors that it happens without thinking. Do not be surprised if the city driver response is to contort the face, while non-verbally implying you have just landed from another planet, recently married a close relative or escaped from a mental ward. Try and remember they have had no wave training, and continue being yourself. Chances are you will give them something to think about.

While learning your wave make certain you are still focusing on driving. I know from experience that I have missed a wave or two by learning to balance watching for deer and executing the proper evening wave.

Don't be upset if in county you do not get a return wave. Even the best and most experienced wavers can be distracted too.

If you have just exited your vehicle you are still responsible for a wave if you see the passerby.

I'm sure there are many more rules and techniques I have yet to learn, yet now I see them more as a treasure hunt and not as an entrance exam.

As the last car passes by, and I acknowledge with my personalized "I have left my vehicle but I still noticed you" wave, I can't help but wonder how many people said "hello" "good-bye" "have agreat day" "call me" and so much more with the seemingly simple "Ringgold County Wave."

As we pull into our driveway the thought of sleeping under our own roof still fills me with gratitude. Returning home is a journey in itself.

Maybe tomorrow someone will share with me their unique wave story and I will be promoted from "Ringgold County Wave Newbie" to "Wave trainee."

With all the community activities coming up, the chances to get a glimpse into the secrets of the wave improve.

To all you newbies I wish you the best of luck.

To all of you "keepers of the wisdom," take a moment and think about your wave and how your personal style evolved.

Please don't be surprised if a "stranger" asks you what your wave style is, we newbies are a determined bunch.

To all of us a bit of gratitude, after all we live in the home of the "Ringgold County Wave."

Connie Newton, Kellerton, IA

To submit your Ringgold County Tales From The Front Porch,
contact Sharon R. Becker at
Please include the word "Ringgold" in the subject line. Thank you.

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