A Nostalgic Gesture

Recently, while driving home one evening, I was witness to a specific “hand gesture” made by a driver. A gesture that I’ve not seen used in a car for some time, and it triggered a poignant sense of longing for the days of my childhood. No, the hand gesture was not the use of a single digit as you’d typically experience these days. The gesture was a right hand turn indication, done by the driver by extending his left arm out and upwards. We all know it, at least I expect we do, as it remains a part of the DMV Driver’s Handbook and testing to this day and is still used by motorcycles and cyclists. But I don’t know that anybody really uses it in cars anymore, except for those that who forced to do so due to issues with their vehicles turn signals, or simply due to their age and habitual attachment to it.

I remember it, though. I remember it vividly.

I can still see it, from the vantage point of sitting behind the drivers seat of my father’s chocolate brown Peugeot. I can still smell the musty aged scent of leaking oil that burned off the engine as the fumes crept into the passenger section. I can feel the strained rumbling of the engine as it would unevenly idle at stop lights, and I can hear the rattling of the loose fitting windows as they vibrated in time to the motion of the pistons. I can feel the aged and cracking leather seats beneath my legs, the minor crevasses revealing an aging yellow padding, inviting a young boy with restless fingers to mindlessly pick away at the opening while trying to maintain the appearance of sitting idle within the scope of the rear view mirror. I can see the dusty woodgrained console, the large balled shifter between the two front seats, and my father’s worn and tattered tan attache case, the corner folds of the openings echoing the same distress as the seats upon which I sit.

Look at this thing. Could it be more “Bond”?

I see the close cut hair on the back of his neck, the worn crew neck white t-shirt that symbolized a Saturday of lawn care, sporadic errands, and on the rare occasion, a stop at “Cupids“. I can still make out the dark sun tan along his forearm as it extended routinely out the window, peppered with freckles. It’d rest along the top edge of the door when not in use, but instinctively jut out when turning left, up when turning right, and routinely draw back inside to momentarily position the burning Kent cigarette to his mouth before being returned to it’s resting position against the surface of the door.

I don’t recall if the vehicle didn’t have signals, or if it did but they were defective. I suspect it was simply a habitual reflex. I’m almost certain, as I remember seeing that same series of gestures when riding in his Triumph as well as other cars to follow.

Seeing the man in the car ahead of me took me back to those moments. It was almost as if I was watching him again. And it gave me cause to contemplate the eventual demise of my father’s generation, and with it, that habit and that direct experience association. The fact is that, at one time, this was simply how it was done. It wasn’t until the 40’s that cars started to have them, so it was likely something he picked up from observation or necessity. If you’ll pardon the unintentional pun, it’s something he and his peers learned to do ‘first hand’.

But that’s fading away. Along with so many things that have come and gone, and served their purpose, replaced and improved upon, it’ll gradually go the way of the tube driven television and radio, the rabbit ear antennas, and the reel-to-reel tape player I saw on in our living room shelves. The heavy leather attachés of their time are all but gone with the exception of the occasional spotting at an antique stores. The large cast iron and steel Underwood Typewriter? That’s a piece of history as well, right along side the relative predominance of a true fountain pen.

And as things are improved and these old items become obsolete, the people that knew them as a way of life gradually age and pass away, taking with them another piece of the fabric that not only knows our history, but actually lived it.

It’ll happen to us as well, but in the mean time, in the interest of keeping alive the legacy and the respect for the heritage, take time to reflect on how many things that were a part of our childhood, or that of our parents, are completely removed from the experience of today.

It’s humbling to consider at will, let alone at a moments notice, when an obscure gesture bring about a nostalgic reminiscence of a “time not quite gone by” just yet, but clearly on it’s way.

Written by gsm

08/20/2007 at 7:07 am

Posted in  Journal 

2 Responses

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  1. do you think our kids will ever know the true meaning of ‘roll down the window’?


    08/20/2007 at 8:01 am

  2. I don’t think this one will ever go the way of Morse Code; there needs to be some way to signal driver intent in the event of equipment failure.


    08/20/2007 at 10:28 am

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