April 14, 2021–Did anyone else grow up with visiting relatives who kept saying good-bye but never left?
I put this up on a social media post and was amazed at the response. Everyone seems to have their own family memory of the “long goodbye.”
Part of the fascination is that families did more “visiting” in the black and white days. Unannounced drop-ins from aunts, cousins, neighbors and farm chemical salesmen were a normal part of daily life no matter where you grew up.
Often they would come conveniently around suppertime. Or at least in time to start a batch of hand-cranked homemade ice cream topped with berries just picked from the garden outside the back door.
Usually a deck of pinochle cards came out, and adults arrayed themselves around the Formica tabletop while kids took off to play hide and seek or sprawled under the table, sneakily listening to adult conversation and picking up new swears.
But the real drama started when one of the visiting adults announced, usually with an audible exhalation, “Well… I guess it’s time we should be thinking about getting home.”
At this, everyone around the table silently nodded or mumbled in agreement, yet, even as a kid, I noticed nothing happened. “We’re leaving” was followed by a few more hands of cards and probably another ladle of ice cream if there was any left at the bottom of the floating canister.
Kids were often blamed for the amount of time it took to herd everyone into the wood-paneled station wagon. But we were smart. We knew that when mom first mentioned it was “time to go,” we probably had a good 45 minutes of play time left, especially if we expanded the hide and seek boundaries to include the hay mow and the railroad tracks across the road.
But eventually all the offspring were sorted out, coats fetched off the bed, and discarded shoes collected. After a final round of goodbyes, thanks for the evening, we should do this more often, you need to come over to our place next time, starting from the kitchen table, through the kitchen door, off the back porch, along the sidewalk, into the car, and through rolled-down windows as the car left the driveway, ending with hearty hand waves through the gravel road dust, the visitors had well and truly left.
In contrast to the 45-minute farewell, when our dad announced it was time to go, it was time to go. He said goodbye one time, stood up, walked to the car, and drove off. There were several occasions when he had to turn around to pick up one of us nine kids that got left. We learned not to dawdle.
Invariably, long goodbye-ers and abrupt leavers ended up marrying. From my social media feedback, most said it was their mom who loved lingering on the doorstep, while dad fumed silently in the idling automobile, fingers choking the steering wheel while calculating how fast he would need to speed to get home in time to catch the TV weather report.
Goodbye styles apparently run in the blood. On my mom’s side, parting ways involved a multi-layered ritual. Dad’s side specialized in abrupt departures. After a Sunday meal at Grandma Houseal’s, when one uncle got up to leave, relatives scattered as if revenuers had crashed a hillbilly picnic.
I’m not exaggerating. My dad told of the day his brother Bill left for Army duty during WW II. He shouldered his duffel bag, paused at the front door, said to his mom, “Well, goodbye,” and got into his buddy’s car, off to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. Nary a hug, kiss, or a “see you later.” I don’t know if this is apocryphal or not, but I grew up perceiving that as normal, much to the disbelief of my wife whose family falls into the “give me a hug before I go to the grocery store” camp.
Our kids adapted. My departure method was “ready or not, the bus is leaving in 5 minutes.” And in 5 minutes, we left. I am ashamed to admit it, but I once ran over my daughter’s foot because she was too slow hopping into the back seat.
And this column is over.