The long goodbye

snowy road

As we head into the holiday season and all the visiting we do this time of year,  I am immediately transported to childhood. In my memory, I am sitting on a relative’s sofa sweating in my winter gear while the adults say goodbye for hours.


There are basically two types of goodbye habits. The long, aka “Midwestern goodbye,” and the Irish goodbye. The Irish Goodbye is when one quietly leaves without saying goodbye. My father-in-law is a skilled proponent of the latter.

A Midwestern goodbye lasts approximately 45 minutes to a day and a half, give or take a few “just one more things” — as if we didn’t all live within a few miles drive of each other and would likely see each other mere days from then. The goodbyes after Sunday night dinner at my grandmother’s house were undertaken as if one or all were embarking on an international voyage. It was a familial “farewell tour.”

The Midwestern goodbye begins with an announcement that you are, in fact, “heading out.” The timing of this is crucial. If this is a multi-guest function, one person leaving will start an onslaught of followers. Literally. No one wants to move their car multiple times. Better we all “shove off’ together.

It has to be after any dining and cleaning up. Everyone helps tidy up. If extra chairs and tables were used, they are folded and returned to the barn, garage or shed from whence they came. Leftovers, if applicable, are portioned into empty whipped topping and margarine containers to be sent home with guests. No one gave away the good stuff. Tupperware was strictly for home use only.

Babies and children are wrestled into coats, boots and snowsuits. Hats are pulled firmly down. Zippers firmly yanked up.


Now is time for hugs. We are a hugging family. There may also be some cheek-smooching. What can I say, we love each other. Every aunt, uncle, grandparent, child and so on gets in on hugfest.

If this goes on too long, you get confused and start giving repeated hugs or, funnier still, exchanging hugs and long goodbyes with people who are actually going home with us. I’ve lost count of how often Mr. Wonderful has embraced me with a big hug and “love ya!” right before we left a family member’s home together.

The next step is literally a step. Maybe six. Never more. Even if you are already at the door you must make a show of moving toward it again. Here is where the long goodbye really takes hold.

Participants must settle in. There must be mention of the following things: How wonderful the visit was and how we should definitely do this again “real soon.” Mind you, we had family dinner at my gram’s almost every Sunday of my entire childhood, and yet we went through this like we only saw each other every decade or so — a blessing I appreciate now.

Now we are deeply into doorway chit-chat. The conversation can either touch upon subjects previously discussed throughout the visit or, throw a curveball and suddenly mention a fresh topic. Perhaps a “Hey, have you heard from Joe lately?” This will then evolve into discussion of Joe. Whether he is, or is not, still a “character” and so on. Good old Joe.

At this point if you have played it right, almost an hour has passed and you have moved maybe six to eight feet. Someone may have already gone out to warm up the car. At this point there is real concern it may run out of gas in the driveway. Pro-level Midwestern goodbyes feature “we don’t want to keep you” implying you are only leaving out of consideration for your hosts.

Once you are safely ensconced in your idling vehicle, the goodbye is STILL not quite finished. If you are lucky, this is when the hosts wave from the porch or window to be sure you feel — in your heart — how deeply you are already missed. Some folks fancied this up with a flickering porch light, headlight, or a light, polite honk. It’s enough to say “love you!” without alarming the entire neighborhood.

Timing is crucial. If you have small children — or small bladders — in the mix, you risk staying too long. Someone will then have to go to the bathroom. At this point the entire process returns to “go,” and you start all over. I don’t make the rules.

I am sure I swore, as a child, that I would never do this to my own children. I wasn’t going to admonish them to “get your coat and boots on!” and then stand around yapping endlessly. Then, of course, I grew up to do just that. At this point, it is a Midwestern rite of passage.


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