My informant was born and raised in the small town of Hanford, California. She describes it as a town so small that everyone knows each others’ business. The industry there is largely rural, and my informant belongs to a wealthy family that owns a successful mill. She spent much of her time as a teenager with her friends driving around the country roads because there was nothing much else to do.
A Driving Gesture
My informant was driving us to an event when I saw her kiss her ring finger. I asked her why she did it and she told me that she does it every time she drive under a yellow light. We had talked in my Forms of Folklore class about the practice of hitting the ceiling of the car when you drive through an intersection, and that there are variations that make this a game (to see who hits the ceiling first). When I told my informant this, she told me that its different in her town.
My informant explained to me that she had a friend in high school who kissed the ring on her ring finger every time she drove through an intersection. Though she never knew why her friend did this, my informant suspected, based on her personality, that she preferred kissing her hand to hitting the roof of her car because it would be easier on her hand. Sadly, this girl was killed in a car accident in town when she tried to beat a yellow light. Ever since her death my informant, and many of the young people in town who knew the girl, have taken up the practice of kissing their ring finger when they drive through an intersection when the street light is yellow.
This variation on the common gesture acts as a severe reminder to the people of Hanford of the poor girl’s memory. I believe that the practice may have once inspired some guilt in those who would speed up to beat a yellow light instead of slowing down; guilt over not being more cautious. However several years later I cannot say that I’ve noticed that my informant has driven any more cautiously. It has become a reflex action for her. Underlying it however is the grief for the loss of a friend, and when traveling in a car with someone else who kisses their hand in Hanford, those who knew her share their loss.