Good-by--Now!

by EDMUND WARE SMITH

EDMUND WARE SMITH divides his time between Maine and Michigan, and in the latter neighborhood is managing editor of the Ford Times.

TO ME, no words contain a higher quotient of potential anticlimax than “We’ll all come down and see you off.” There is an unvarying and practically inevitable sequel to these words, as follows: —

“Please don’t bother.”

“Oh! But we really want to!”

“ You mustn’t.”

“ We’re going to! ”

You’re in for it—especially if the train or plane you are about to take happens to be an hour late. The conversation you will endure during that hour will be eloquent of nothing, an agony of embarrassment to one and all.

I submit that the ceremony of farewell should conclude at the front door of the home you are departing. It should be a clean, swift, precise thing, like the blow of an ax. But as generally practiced today, parting seems to be such sweet sorrow that it frequently doesn’t take place at all, the good-by merging mysteriously into a perpet nation of the hello, or visit, so that the two blend in a bewilderment of afterthoughts, repetitions, and sentences which begin nowhere and end with colons.

Purely in the interest of human betterment, and in view of the fact that, saying good-by is an important part of our daily intercourse, I should like to suggest a few simple rules.

Since the sole object of saying goodby is to release people from each other graciously and speedily, any prolonging or dragging out of the good-by is obstruction. To avoid this, it is proposed that the dialogue of leave-taking be limited to two “Good-by, darlings" on the part of the departing, and a like number from the lips of the host or hostess. That says it twice, which is ample underscoring.

Between males, a single handshake and one parting jest are sufficient. Between male and female, one to three kisses ought to get the point across. Children should be prohibited, by law if necessary, from more than an extremely brief moment of clinging, tugging, and back-climbing.

But, unfortunately, the parting of Romeo and Juliet, which took an unmercifully long lime, seems to have established today’s pattern. Indeed, the average good-by, except between commuter and spouse on the ranchtype threshold of a morning, takes from ten minutes to an hour and a half, with plenty of documented cases where bon voyages have extended from the East River piers all the way to Cherbourg or Southampton.

Once, at the rail of the S.S. Manhattan, I heard a departing lady shout to another lady who was standing on the pier: “ You leffa gas on!”

I was able to identify the recipient of this intelligence by the look of horror on her face as, with a last shriek of farewell, she shot off through the crowd presumably to turn off the gas in some stove neglected in the bon voyage caper. I have often wondered what was on that stove or in its oven.

The “one for the road” school of good-by sayers has developed abundantly and perilously, the one for the road leading to the BLA, or Bloody Last Absolutely, the BLA in turn calling up the ABLA, or Absolutely Bloody Last Absolutely, and so on even unto a round of Smiling, the Boy Fell Deads.

Less hazardous to life and limb, but far more inimical to human sanity, is the prevailing good-by ceremony of the family group at the family car. The following instance of leave-taking, while composite, is by no means exceptional. From a simple and innocent start, it progresses with an alarming mushroom effect and eventual fall-out, in a sequence roughly as follows: —

“Good-by, all.”

“Good-by, darlings.”

This is repeated verbatim; and it is right here that the driver of the car should let in his clutch, the ordeal terminate, the host and hostess retreat to the benign privacy of their house. But no!

“Write to us, darlings - won’t you ?

“First chance. And by the way, did I show you my letter from Sibyl?”

“No!”

“But you must see it. It’s right here—in the little suitcase. George! Get the little suitcase out of the trunk.”

George turns off the ignition, unlocks the trunk, and gets the little suitcase which, when unpacked, discloses no letter from Sibyl. So the big suitcase and two medium-sized ones are unpacked and ransacked, until the lawn is a-glitter with garments and undergarments, all exposed to the setting sun; but no letter from Sibyl, which is finally remembered to be in a desk drawer at home in Scarsdale.

About now, a child protests that it is hungry, and this child is fed; and so, subsequently, are its brothers, sisters, and parents; and at nightfall the sheets are replaced upon the guests’ beds, and the blankets as well, for it is decided that the group might just as well spend another night. Thus deviously, and wit bout mercy, the entire good-by has turned wrongside out and become a hello, with compound fractures.

Untotaled layers of pride, convention, and oversensitivity combine in producing this disastrous type of farewell. It occurs everywhere, every day.

Your guest says, “I’d better go.”

Instead of saying, “Okay —go ahead,” you say, “ What’s your hurry ? Stick around awhile.”

And your guest, settling back into his chair before it has had a chance to cool, says, “Don’t mind if I do.”

Do you actually want this guest to stick around? Does he want to stick around? Nine times out of ten, the answer to both questions is no, and you are both living a conventional lie and will be obliged to perpetrate it at least once again before you both achieve what you truly want — which is to separate from each other gracefully.

In the above example, there has been what amounts to mutual discourtesy disguised as mutual courtesy. I find it difficult to condone. I would almost prefer to settle for “See ya, pal — it’s been real,” or the even more reprehensible “G’by now.”

But not all is lost, for in the field of tighter, terser good-by saying, I am pleased to report a ray of hope — three rays, to be accurate. One is the American cowboy, who, while perhaps on the wane, is still lighting the good fight. He says, “So long,” and is on his horse and gone before his right toe has caught the off stirrup.

Number Two ray is a man I haven’t met, but should like to. I heard about him while doing research for this essay, and my informant is reliable, so I know my good good-by sayer is real, and alive. I hope he lives forever. He doesn’t even say good-by. He just goes.

My favorite good-by sayer, however, is Number Three. She sets the pace and standard for mankind, and has started a small but determined human movement in her home town. She is a great-grandmother of eightyfour, with immense experience in good-by saying, its timing and evaluation. When she decides to take leave from a domicile she does so, resembling an entire backfield in motion as she strikes out from whatever threshold she may be standing on, calling merrily as her strides lengthen toward the conveyance of her choice, “ Let’s get the hell out of here.”