Columns

2010.01.27 The alphabet game got us here

on . Posted in By The Way

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.

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