Years ago, I read a really good book about the importance of rituals in our lives. (From Beginning to End – The Rituals of Our Lives – Robert Fulghum — good read). There are funerals, baptisms, holiday dinners, weddings, morning and evening rituals, greeting rituals and farewell rituals. Every family and culture is different with the application of each particular ritual.
For example, the dinner ritual. In some cultures, everyone sits at the full table and passes around the serving dishes, each participant filling their own plate. In others, the plates are served at the stove and brought to the table where everyone sits to eat. When our children were young, we all sat down to dinner together, filled our plates and usually all sat at the table until everyone was finished (with a clean plate). Now that we’ve retired, our ritual is to cook dinner together, fill our plates at the stove then eat dinner while playing gin rummy. (Something that would NEVER have been allowed when the kids were home!)
Recently, I’ve been pondering the “farewell” ritual. In my core family, as a child, when it was time to leave – we would just say goodbye, get in the truck and leave. No hugs, no fond farewells – just load up and go. In my husbands family, they hugged goodbye and started walking toward the door, thinking of several other topics to discuss as they went. Eventually, they got into the car – still talking as they started the engine and continuing on, until finally they would leave or run out of gas in the driveway! As you may guess, my husband and I have a small conflict with this ritual.
My uncle Otis was notorious for long goodbyes. One summer, they came to visit from Texas. It was a rare thing to see our Texas relatives because it was such a long drive – so seeing them was bittersweet. Great to see them, but it may be YEARS before we will see them again. When the time came for them to leave, we were all crying as we hugged good-bye. It was heart-wrenching. Eventually, we felt pretty silly when 45 minutes later, Uncle Otis was still talking on the front lawn. Our tears dried up and we eventually just started playing in the yard. That was my first experience with a long goodbye ritual. (Side-bar: this was common practice with EVERYTHING my uncle Otis did — you never had a time schedule when you were with Uncle Otis!)
Years later, when my uncle Otis would come to visit, he and my dad would go gallivanting, visiting my dad’s family and driving around the valley. Everywhere they went, they had their own goodbye ritual. Dad would say goodbye (saying something like, “Well, we better get to gettin’!”). He would get in the truck and start it up. Otis would say goodbye, shake hands, walk toward the truck, open the door and continue talking. My dad would say, “Get in the truck, Otis”. And if he didn’t get in, dad would put it in gear and start rolling forward.
There are times when I am sitting in the car and my husband is giving his final dissertation on some menial topic when, depending on the company, I will shout from the car, “Get in the car, Otis”. I don’t start to pull away but there are days….