2010.01.27 The alphabet game got us here

Written by David Green.


I recall driving up to East Lansing a few weeks ago with my father. He probably wasn’t the only one in the car, but he was the one playing the alphabet game with me.

You know, you find something that starts with an A, then a B, then a C, etc. We did pretty well that day. It seems as though we might have made it all the way through, although I certainly don’t know what we did about Z, or X, for that matter. But we just might have made a complete run.

Sometimes that game seems impossible. I’ll be driving down the road and, let’s say a K is next, and you look around the empty countryside and think, “How am I ever going to find a K?”

But then a kestrel will appear in the wires alongside the road or you’ll spot a kidney in some roadkill or you look in the window of a house and see someone knitting. Somehow, it always works out.

I thought about this when I saw a column from years gone by, 20 years to be exact. I know you’ve forgotten it, so allow me to refresh your memory.


Taking the long route

There’s more than one way to get to Toledo, including the long way. Let me take you along that route.

Toledo isn’t a terribly long distance from here, but I wanted to shorten the trip even more. With that in mind, I introduced one of those famous car games designed to entertain children who equate automobiles with drive-up service at McDonald’s.

“OK, we’re going to find an object for every letter of the alphabet,” I announced. We headed down Route 120 toward Lyons in search of objects.

No one was saying much so I pointed over toward a farm house and said, “Look at that apple tree.” We were on our way.

Ben soon found a bird house, then we took the easy route with C when we passed a car. After a mile or so, Colleen suddenly realized we were driving alongside a ditch. I saw an evergreen and explained what a fence row was all about.

The game was moving now. Grass, a house and a frozen puddle of ice were recorded rather easily, but we stumbled on J. Jack, jelly, jade, juice, jewel johnny-cake. Nothing was coming through. We couldn’t stoop to use jaw because we already outlawed objects inside our car, such as Ben, baby and brother.

Somebody finally noticed a pile of junk in a yard, but then K must have lasted four miles. Kestrels! Kestrels! You always see little falcons sitting on wires looking for mice, but not today. I saw one earlier in the alphabet, but not a feather in sight now that we needed one. We were stopped at an intersection when Colleen noticed a bunch of knotholes in a telephone pole.

Metamora was already in sight and we weren’t even halfway through. And I’d nearly driven off the road twice already.

We accepted lawn for L and mailbox for M, then Colleen argued for corn nub to take care of N. What’s a corn nub? She has an FFA jacket from New York City and she’s talking about corn nubs? Ben spotted a squirrel nest and we were moving again.

I chose outbuilding, somebody saw a pipe and then we were faced with Q. We hadn’t yet arrived at the quarries and there wasn’t a Quonset hut in sight. I don’t know how readers will take this, but I knew what we had to do if we were to finish by Toledo. I searched for an oak tree and said, “There it is—quercus.” That’s the genus name for an oak. No one in our car questioned it for a second. They were just eager to move on to R.

R should have been easier than it turned out to be. Raft, rat, rug, rumba, reptile. I finally saw a lightning rod, then Colleen chose shingles and Ben saw a tank. We were still struggling with U when we entered Sylvania. I desperately wanted someone to spot a pool umbrella left out over the summer and Colleen finally found one.

We passed a house with plenty if vines and saw a store with a wreath still on the door. The trip was almost over and we still faced X, Y and Z. The odds of finding a xylophone were slim and we decided to strike X from the game.

There were yew trees in yards, but there sure weren’t any zithers or zebras. We were approaching the parking lot of our destination and becoming a little frantic. In game-ending triumph, I pointed at a bewildered pedestrian and yelled, “Zipper!”

With the eXception of X, we did it, in one long drive to Toledo.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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