My dad forced me to sit through show after show of Hee Haw with him when I was a boy. Certain shows, as well as specials such as The Wizard of Oz or Charlie Brown Christmas or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, were an event that my family gathered to watch together. This was the time before video tape machines or DVDs, so if you missed the show or movie or TV special, you had to wait until reruns if you wanted to see it. TV held a lot more value in those days than it is now in this day and age if instantaneous, specialized entertainment. A show like Hee Haw would never make it today.
Watching Hee Haw was where I learned to salute. SaaaaaaaaaLUTE!!!!
I’m not sure when I learned the other type of salute, the less friendly intended one fingered salute, but I am sure I didn’t learn it watching Hee Haw or Lawrence Welk, although I swear Bobby grabbed Sissy in the wrong place one time and received a salute. Mom covered my eyes. I’m pretty sure the first salute I received was from our friendly neighbor Harry Critcheloe, who decided pretty much from the day we moved in next door that we should be hated. As the oldest of the three boys in my family, I was Harry’s main target and he saluted me every chance he had, waited for me to come out the front door, greeted me with a sneered “Faggot” and a raised finger, the exclamation point of his disdain. Third finger salutes were not a common sight in the calm little town I lived in. People were just plain friendly, so flipping the bird was something difficult for me to understand, a gesture that I never really knew the meaning of. I just knew it was a way to demonstrate hate. And if I ever flipped someone off, I had best not do it where either of my parents, a relative, or anyone who remotely knew my family could witness it. My mother would have ripped my middle finger off of my hand, cooked it in a pie, and force fed it to me.
I’m an adult now.
That means I can give people the finger. I don’t make a practice of it. Maybe it’s that whole thing about the way I was raised. Occasionally there is opportunity to salute someone, however. I am a bicyclist, after all, and often raising a finger is the only form of communication available to me if a motorist offends. That’s a dangerous proposition since motorists have this big weapon called a car. Saluting them tends to create more hostility from an already hostile adversary.
My most memorable and almost my most costly salute came a week before my wedding day. Mir shared a two bedroom apartment on the eighth floor of a high rise. We had chosen a one bedroom apartment for our first place to live together, a nice place with a real wood burning fireplace and it’s own little laundry room. I moved there a month before our wedding, so we started moving a few of her things to that apartment from her eighth floor apartment a little at a time during the month prior to our ceremony. In order to move the big stuff, we had to reserve the one freight elevator to move the big stuff like Mir’s bed and furniture. We did that the weekend before our wedding.
The freight elevator was not solely ours that day. We had to share it with another couple who was moving into the high rise that same day. Sharing the elevator required patience, something the other couple and especially the guy, did not possess. It didn’t help that Mir’s apartment was not close to the elevator, so we took more time than the other couple wanted us to take. A few times the guy had a few choice words for me as my dad and I unloaded the elevator. I tried to ignore him, especially since my bride to be was present, but our final load brought more conflict than a tired me could handle. I don’t remember what the guy said, but I remember how in seemingly slow motion I raised my middle finger in his direction… right in front of Miriam.
She gasped. And she began to sob immediately. It took three days before she was able to talk to me and then it was to express her concern about marrying me. She had never seen that side of me and she didn’t like it. A salute almost cost me a fiance’.
To this day I hesitate before saluting anyone.