Growing up in a town of 300 people, with no cable TV, we had a full time job just keeping ourselves entertained. Mostly we ran around town like rabid monkeys, riding bikes, swinging on swingsets, jumping through sprinklers. But in the car, especially, when we couldn’t get out and play with amphibians, my sister and I would get bored. So we invented a few (brilliant, if I do say so myself) travel games.
The first was the simplest, and it may be that our dad invented it. It involved careful watching out the windshield once we were past Perley, and the first person to see the Hendrum water tower, that clear evidence that we were almost home, would chant, excitedly, “I can see the watertower! I can see the watertower!” Emphasis on the first of each pair of syllables, as in I can SEE the WAterTOWer. (This may have been when my love of iambic language comes from, now that I think of it.) Now, this may not seem like much of a game to you, but with two Johnson girls in the backseat, we could raise holy hell trying to shout louder than the other. Then we’d usually devolve into pinching and shoving over who saw it first.
It’s a miracle our parents let us live to adulthood, frankly.
The second, and more impressive, game is one Jess insists I invented, but I’m pretty sure it was her idea. This was one we usually saved for longer car trips (to White Bear Lake or Brookings or Eagle Bend), when we were more than 100 miles from our water tower. It was called, brilliantly, “Lip or Tongue?”
As you might imagine, it was a game of illusion, where one or the other of us would try to trick the other into guessing wrongly as to whether what was at the bottom of our closed, giggle-stifling mouth was actually our bottom lip or our cleverly disguised tongue. This game could actually be quite challenging, though I imagine my nearsightedness helped Jess win quite a few. If you really couldn’t tell, and you were mad enough, you could reach out and poke the lip or tongue to see which it felt more like. This was, obviously, against the rules, and usually led to one of us punching the other in anger. The winner of each round was whoever managed to fool the other person, or if you happened to guess correctly.
This is very hard to explain without a visual aid. Let me assist you.
Now, sure, those photos may seem clear and ridiculously identifiable now. But try it when you’re 4 years old and your 3 year old sister has a smooth baby tongue and wily ways to convince you that you don’t know what you’re seeing.
Now that I’ve admitted my most treasured childhood games, I’m feeling vulnerable and I’m pretty sure I should delete this whole post. But I won’t. Because some day, when the iPads all run out of power, we’re going to need to remember how to entertain ourselves. This story, and stories like it, will carry us all through. I’m certain of it.