Dad's temperament mirrored the land on which he was raised - even, predictable, solid. But for me, the daughter of this no-nonsense, live-by-the-rules father, it was "the wave" that revealed his approach to life.
In the late 1920s, our family moved from Chicago to the then-small town of Downers Grove, Ill. Since we could no longer depend on public transportation, Dad was forced to purchase a car.
I use the word "forced" advisedly With little resistance, Dad became the proud owner of a Buick. He hovered over it, checking the oil more often then required, polishing off spots that didn't exist and monitoring the cleanliness of our shoes before we were allowed access to the back seat.
The rest of us shared his enthusiasm. Unencumbered by timetables and predetermined destinations, we'd drive around marveling at the car's mechanical prowess.
My brother, Bill, and I even looked forward to trips to Chicago to visit our grandparents. It was on one such trip that "the wave" became a byword in our family.
Bill and I, relegated to the back seat, scanned the level countryside for cows and horses. I'd counted up to 47 when a passing car obscured my view. As it passed us, all the occupants waved.
Mom scowled. "Someone we know?" she asked.
"Some dumb fool," Dad muttered. "He's going at least 45."
In a few minutes, Bill called, "There's that same car parked on the side of the road."
"Big hurry to get nowhere," Dad grunted.
BUT the "nowhere" seemed to be a place where the car could lie in wait for us. In minutes, Bill stopped adding to his count of farm animals and focused on the car behind us.
"Dad, here comes that guy again," he called. "Speed up! We can beat him!"
"Yep, guess we could." Dad glanced at the speedometer, which registered 35 miles per hour, "but I'm already doing the speed limit."
The car inched past - first the hood, then the front seat occupied by a driver who gleefully tooted his horn, and finally the back seat in which three children, crammed to our side, once again give us an exaggerated wave.
Dad, shoulders stiffened and hands tightened on the steering wheel, maintained his steady speed. Bill and I scrunched low in the seat, trying to ignore the insulting honk and the jeering wave.
The most perfect of all cars had failed us. We sat silent, staring out the windows. Occasionally we cast furtive glances to the rear, fearing that somehow our unknown humiliator had managed once again to get behind us. Maybe he'd parked behind a clump of trees, waiting for us to pass. Maybe he'd turned off the highway, circled back on side roads, and was coming up on our rear. We were sure he was lurking somewhere ready to overtake and speed past us.
We were so involved with what was behind us that we hardly noticed we were approaching the "wooden hill." It rose, a planked overpass, breaking the monotony of the flat ground. Constructed on the two-lane road as a bridge that allowed cars to continue overhead while trains ran underneath, it provided the great excitement of the trip. Bill would always tease, "We won't make it! We're going to roll back!"
As our car would chug upward, a part of me believed him. Although repeated successful trips built my confidence, there was always a little twinge of doubt. The car didn't go very fast, and the hill was very high.
Today, in our defeated car, my doubt grew. The hill seemed more of a challenge than ever.
To make matters worse, a blaring horn announced our adversary was once again ready to pass!
Dad, one eye on the speedometer, sitting forward in his seat, started up the hill. The boards of the bridge rattled in protest.
The engine strained, the car slowed. Dad shifted, our car surged forward. The pursuing car, now right on our tail, shuddered, bucked, and stalled.
Just as we reached the crest of the hill, my no-nonsense, live-by-the-rules dad gave a blast on his horn. Above the blast, we heard his exultant command, "OK, kids, wave!"