Back in the 1980s, my family and I used to drive from Oklahoma to Maine to visit grandparents, and then back to Oklahoma three weeks later.

Whichever way we were headed, we’d spread the trip over five days because six hours of driving was all we could handle with young children in the car.

We’d eat breakfast in a restaurant and pack a lunch. Supper would be in a fast food place before checking into a motel for the night.

In that pre-electronics day with no cell phones or portable movie players, it was a challenge to keep the kids from going crazy and us from joining them. We did have a car radio, but stations often faded out before another pleasing one could be found.

To pass the time, my wife would read aloud (I can’t read in a moving vehicle or I’ll feel sick for days), we’d play games, and each child had a folder (an actual folder with papers in it) of activities.

Some of the games we played were alphabet, animals, and license plates.

The alphabet game consisted of the family working together to find the letters, from A to Z, in road-side signs.

“A in highway,” someone might say, then we’d all be looking for B.

B in Boston. C in factory outlet. And so on.

If you have played this game, you know that some letters take longer than others to locate. Q, for example. Often we would ride for miles hoping for an antiques shop or a quiet zone. As for X, Exxon stations and exit signs were our friends. For Z, we depended on pizza shops.

The animal game was a little slower. It consisted of watching for animals, live or on a billboard.

“Horses!” a child would shout, pointing.

Cows! A dog! A rabbit! No, really. I saw a rabbit. A kangaroo on that sign! Pigs! There are pigs!

The license plate game had us on the lookout for as many different state plates as we could find. Instead of a list of the 50 states to check off, my wife merely wrote the states down as they were seen, and we’d have to figure out as the game progressed which ones we still needed. How glorious if somewhere along the way we saw Hawaii or Alaska.

During a day’s drive, there would be multiple bathroom stops, each accompanied by a quick game of freeze tag or soccer.

Along with these activities, there was also a healthy dose of giggling, squabbling, and ‘are we there yet?’s.

Once we were in Maine, we couldn’t go anywhere without a kid asking, “Is this going to be a long drive?”

“No,” we would say. “We are just going out to eat. It will only be 15 minutes.”

Something we learned from those treks is that a trip to a desired location always seems longer than the trip back home. This, certainly, was the case with our Oklahoma/Maine trips. It took forever to get here, but no time at all to get back.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: