Thursday, January 20, 2011

Xylophone is Never on a Billboard

When I was growing up, we farmed. Farm families rarely get what could be termed a "vacation". Someone has to come milk the cows and feed the pigs. Forget a summer vacation because there might be hay to bring in or corn to cultivate. School runs from the end of August to the end of May. The best you could do was drive to a cousin's for an extended weekend, assuming you could find someone to watch the animals.

My dad had wanderlust. He loved to travel. He liked farming, it's what he knew, the life he grew up in. But he really wanted to travel. Once he sold the milk cows and got out of that, we went places and did things.

We went to the Black Hills in 1972. Dad took a look at the map and saw how close this place called "Devil's Tower" was, so, we crossed into Wyoming and drove to see that. This was waaaay before Steven Spielberg turned it into an icon for alien life enthusiasts. I went back in 1974 but have not been back since.

We went to Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1974. It was part of a two week vacation that saw us leave Iowa, heading east, hang a right towards Indianapolis, head south to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama, turn right and drive over Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, turn around and head north along the Mississippi, through St. Louis and home again. It was great, even if, at times, you wanted to kill your siblings. My friend, Jon, lives in Chattanooga and says the view from Lookout Mountain hasn't changed all that much although there is more development. That cannon, he says, is still there.

I couldn't, and still can't, read in a moving car or bus, without getting motion sickness. I can do cross-stitch and I remember knitting and crocheting, but while my sister and brothers could read, I was left watching the scenery. I also wound up taking 90% of the photos so you'll rarely see me in any of them. I would get bored and we kids would get antsy. Somewhere along the line, my mother stumbled across a book of travel games. It was a big, thick book that had word searches, crosswords, finish the photo, match the picture, all sorts of games. It was passed around to each of us and we could do one thing from it. Crossword puzzles didn't seem to bother me so I would do one of those, which sparked lively discussions of a 5-letter word for a container, usually for beer. My mother has a great vocabulary and my dad would, occasionally, surprise everyone with what he knew.

At the back of this book were suggestions for games that could be played without paper or pencil and required simple observation. One of our family favorites was called "Bury the Cow". In this game, you picked a side of the road and counted the cows as you passed them. If you passed a cemetery, you lost your cows and had to start over. At first, this was a fun game to occupy the 2 hour drive to grandma's. But, as there weren't a lot of routes between Monona and Cedar Rapids, you eventually figured out, if we took Highway 13, the person on the right side of the car was going to lose. There were more cemeteries on the right side of the road than on the left.

For long road trips, particularly ones involving Interstate driving, another game became a family favorite. Called the "Billboard Alphabet Game", the premise was finding a word on a billboard, street sign, or building name that started with a letter of the alphabet. Everyone could play and what letter you got depended upon who started, and stayed because sometimes someone would drop out, in the game.

One grew to hate certain letters, however. Why does "Kwik-Trip" have to be spelled that way? There are only so many "Dairy Queens" around. "V" wasn't much better. At least with "U", traveling on the Interstate would net you the "No U-Turn" signs. Shell's "V-Power" gas hadn't been invented yet.

"X" is, absolutely, the worst letter to get in this game. Even the book said someone getting "x" could use a word that contained the letter and not try to find a word that started with "x". Back when we were traveling as a family, triple X stores weren't that common on our routes. Thank heaven for "Exit 263" ahead.

As a parent, I handed down the Billboard Alphabet Game to my daughter. It really is a great game to play with kids, particularly kids learning the alphabet. It teaches not only words, but also observation. I find myself, on long drives, such as going to Connecticut to visit Carole and David in November, playing the game in my head. "Okay, I need an 'F'." It's a great way to pass the time on a drive.

Now that you've read this post, I'm willing to bet on your next drive, you'll be more observant, looking for words that start with the more obscure letters. Let me know if you find something other than "XXX-Rated!!!"

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast Tea


No comments:

Post a Comment