Saturday, January 09, 2010

Car Games

It used to be the custom for children to be seen and not heard. When I was a child, it was our duty to be heard, especially in the back seat of the car on a long journey. (Any car trip that took more than seven and a half minutes was considered long.) To keep us occupied—and reasonably amused—my parents relied on a number of car games. Now that kids have their own mini-TVs and video games installed by auto manufacturers, these games will probably go the way of the Model-T.

Our favorite was the license plate game simply because it had the most variables. We began by seeing who could collect the most out-of-state-nameplates. Shouts of, “I’ve got six New Yorks,” and “Yeah, well that Vermont one is mine!” made my father’s knuckles go white on the wheel after a few miles.

Next, we’d make the numbers on the passing plates add up to a hundred. When we tired of that, we spelled words with the letters. I’ve never told, but often before the hour-long trip to Holyoke to visit our grandparents, I would look up words in the dictionary, hoping to stump my little sisters. “Spell acrimony,” I’d suggest. They’d just look at me. “No,” Jackie would reply. “I’m going to spell monster.”

We often expanded the list of available numbers or letters to billboards and the numbers tacked to signposts. Or, instead of spelling words or adding numbers, we found all the letters of the alphabet, or the numbers 1-100 in succession.

Our efforts at amusing ourselves weren’t limited to math and language arts. We sang songs, favoring the unending rounds that eventually made my father threaten to leave us by the side of the road if that %$#@ bear went over the mountain one more time. My mother would look at him and say, “Jay,” very quietly. He knew she meant he ought not to be increasing our vocabulary. In retaliation, he taught us Army songs. We’d bowl along the highway, yelling in unison, “And those caissons went rolling along,” until he was sorry we knew that song, too.

One of my uncles let slip that if we did not hold our breath going past a cemetery, the ghosts of the dead would enter our noses or mouths, a thought so horrible that when we knew we were approaching a cemetery, we would hold our breath ahead of time, just in case. My mother disapproved of such nonsense. My father welcomed the respite.

As we grew older, the games became less sophisticated and more physical. The boys favored punch-buggy. Anytime we spotted a Volkswagon Bug, the first to see it cried out, “punch-buggy!” and whatever color the car happened to be. A solid punch to the upper arm was delivered at the same time. My arms were perpetually “punch-buggy blue.”

Padiddle was the girls’ favorite. It required a kiss at the appearance of a car with one headlight. My eye was keener at night, apparently. It was an especially exciting game if there happened to be two fellows and one girl riding in the back seat. It’s a shame, really, about those in-car TV and video games.


Barbara said...

I really loved long car trips. It took a lot longer back then because there were no interstates and, well, my father didn't drive very fast. I think we played a game of trying to collect license plates from the most states. I sometimes made "kites" to fly on strings out the window; they inevitably flew away. I was in charge of making snacks appear from the back seat. I think we snacked all the way from Florida to Minnesota. My father just drank coffee and smoked cigarettes.

Tabor said...

This reminds me of the many games I played with my children on our long journeys to see grandparents when we drove from Texas to the southern tip of Florida. Nice post.

Land of shimp said...

Luckily there is still motion sickness, Pauline :-) The reason you could never read for long in a car applies still, so kids still play all of those games.

We played the memory game "I'm going on vacation, and in my suitcase I'm taking an Advark, a Banana and a Catholic Priest..."

Then the next person would have to repeat the things that came before, as well as adding their own "Dog" or "Decree" or whatever.

My son and his friends took a recent car trip and did all the games. License plate games, counting cars of a certain color, etc.

I heard about it because they'd gotten all the way through two suitcases, you see.

So not quite as dead and gone as it might seem. I had my son when I was 23, so before many of my friends. As a result a lot of my friends have younger children. One friend purchased one of those cars with the DVD player installed. I'll just quote her:

"Yeah, that was special. One hour into Finding Nemo and we had to pull over so that the vomiting could commence. Glad I paid for that extra."

And I suggested the suitcase game, free, and less likely to make you hurl!

Great post, and it brought up so many memories, but not necessarily of the distant past!

Jo said...

Omigoodness, my husband and I used to play "padiddle" when we were dating. I had not thought of that since then. What a hoot!

For some reason, I thought he had made the game up.

The munchkins play "punchbuggy" too. Goodness, what memories.

Meggie said...

This brought back memories of games my children played, when we took long trips.
Now, our SG plays his Nintendo and his father is might relieved at the peace!
I agree though, that the social aspect of those games were fun, and a good workout for the brain.

Pauline said...

Looks like I stirred up some memories eh?

Molly said...

Nothing like them for squashing creativity! We used to sing in the back seat, at the top of our lungs, on trips home from the seaside. "Itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini" was a favourite.... Eventually we'd fall asleep, full of sand and sunshine. Much, undoubtedly, to our parents' relief.