Waving goodbye | Mark’s Remarks

When the end of summer rolls around, I begin to remember things I knew as a kid.

I remember the katydids and crickets singing as the sun was going down. Back then, we started school after Labor Day and there had already been cooler mornings and nights.  Then there were shorter days, and that little tinge of sadness that the summer was over, even though that tinge was usually eclipsed by the hope and promise of a new school year.

For some reason, my thoughts also go to leaving the homes of my grandparents. I don’t really know why those thoughts correlate with the end of summer.

Our minds connect weird things sometimes, I guess. But every time I start paying attention to the end of summer smells, sounds, and feelings, I think of backing out of the driveway with my parents and watching my grandparents wave goodbye.

Everyone used to walk one another out to the car, it seems. Long before I was around, families “went visiting” on Sunday afternoons, and the practice of walking people out to their cars probably started back then.  I remember going to visit friends and relatives, and it seemed that the polite thing to do was to walk out with your guests. My parents did it, too.  When people leave our house to this day, Michelle and I do it.  

When we left our maternal grandparents home, it was usually in the evening after we may have stayed for supper. Dad was usually working. Mom would decide it was time to get us home and tucked into bed, so she’d announce that we needed to get ready to go. 

I would race out to the car, teasing my brother that there were vampires coming to get us, and we’d huddle in the backseat after quickly jumping inside.  Mom would roll down the window and exchange a few parting words with grandma and grandpa, and then start up the motor.  

Sometimes, if the engine turned over but didn’t start on the car, one of my grandparents would pretend to “turn the crank” as they used to in Model A days.  If the crank joke wasn’t used, one of them would say “let’s drop a nickel in it.”  

After we waved and said goodbye, my grandparents would stand in the driveway and wave. It seemed like we backed down the long driveway slowly, and as we did, we watched our grandparents put down the large green door of the carport. 

Because the light in the carport illuminated their shadows, we’d watch their silhouettes disappear as they walked from the lowered door to the back of the garage.  I’d always say “There they go, down the stairs!”  To me, that’s what the shadows looked like as they disappeared, as if my grandparents had some sort of secret stairway in the middle of the garage, next to grandpa’s turquoise Mercury.

And then the garage light would go out. We watched until we couldn’t see the house anymore.

It wasn’t as if we wouldn’t visit again. In fact, we’d most likely be seeing them again the next day.  But thinking back, maybe we appreciated being at our grandparents’ house more than I thought we did. I sometimes wonder when we stopped “watching them go down the stairs.”   

Eventually, it was only grandma walking us out to the car, most always with a “Well, you don’t need to rush off” courtesy statement before we started out the door. If there was a current farm dog on the premises, grandma would usually chastise the dog for barking or trying to get us to pet them as we left.  

As she got older, we’d wave to her through the kitchen window and put the big garage door down ourselves.

I recently saw a photo series by photographer and author Deanna Dikeman. Although she has taken many photos of midwestern life, she decided one day to take pictures as she left the home of her parents. She continued the photographs for 27 years, eventually making the photo series into a book called “Leaving and Waving.”

The photos begin in 1991, and depict her parents coming out of the red frame house to say and wave goodbye, much like my own grandparents. Over the almost three decades, Dikeman simply snaps the parting photo, showing subtle and simple changes from year to year.  

We see the seasons change, the changing model of the car in the garage, the growth of landscaping and the cosmetic changes to the house. Her parents’ clothing styles change a little, and her son goes from an infant in a carseat to a young man behind the wheel.   

We see her parents aging gracefully, gradually adding a cane to the picture to help with mobility. Eventually, her mother, like my grandmother, comes out to the car and waves alone.  In some of the last photos, she snaps a pic of her mother standing at the door of her assisted living apartment.   

As you may guess, the book ends with a final photo of the house standing alone.

Of course, it is not realistic to think things go on forever, but I think there’s a little part of our brain that would like for it to be possible. We cherish those memories and the feelings attached to them, whether we have a snapshot or not to help us remember.  

Even if the separation isn’t a long one, there is a tinge of sadness to waving goodbye. Because life is unpredictable and sometimes unfair as well, I think saying a proper goodbye is important, for all parties involved. 

It’s good to part ways on a nice note – with a smile, with a wink, with a thumbs up. Or with a good ol’ “turn the crank” joke. 

 And of course, that last wave before the garage door goes down and the light goes out.

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Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.
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