When we arrived in West Bradford forty years ago, there were lots of cows but very few people. The main road was unpaved and aside from morning-and-evening milk trucks and the tractors pulling hay wagons, there were very few vehicles. Now, they've run electricity out Welch's old road and must have built forty new homes and as a result there are a ton more folks who commute south. (In the 1960s, the nearest exit off the interestate was thirty-five miles away; now, the interstate is just five miles away.) Very few milking cows are left nowadays -- some horses, some sheep, some heifers raised for beef. Hobby farms, mostly. Inch by inch we've been surburbanized. Or more properly, exurbanized.
In the 1960s, when two cars passed on the road, the drivers would often stop to chat, knowing that it wasn't likely that another vehicle would pass by for a half an hour. If they didn't stop to talk, they'd at least wave. It was bad manners not to acknowledge an oncoming vehicle. I remember that Ron Jepson, now long dead, who made a living off twelve acres and a handful of cows, complained to me once about one of our local grumps. "He doesn't even wave when he goes by." Not waving was an intolerable breach of road etiquette.
What's happened to the custom? The wave is in steep decline and only survives as a vestige of an older way of life. When we take our morning walk on South Road or on Hackett Hill Road, I make a point of waving at the oncoming drivers. The response is inconsistent. There's a rare enthusiastic open palm wrist-waggle, an occasional mock salute, and sometimes a big windshield wiper wave, but more often merely a perfunctory palm lift off the steering wheel. Sometimes the palm lift is reduced even further, to a right index finger lift -- a feeble gesture to antiquity. Half the drivers don't wave at all; they are recent immigrants who don't know that the wave has a history. They're in a hurry to get where they're going, wherever that may be.
Clearly, the great age of waving has passed. But not for all of us. That will be me out there on the side of the road, elbow raised and wrist oscillating, clinging to the customs of our forefathers.