I wouldn’t necessarily say that I hated the game of “Beaver” when I was a child. Perhaps, words such as “detest” and “heinous” would be more apt. In the 60′s, whenever my family went on the obligatory summer road trips, it became increasingly difficult for my parents to occupy me. Somehow, and at least for a while, they were indeed able to engage me in some activity to both pass the time and to quiet me so that they could talk quietly of adult matters.
By age eight, the notion of spotting certain autos for sport seemed pointless, boring, and far too unchallenging. “Beaver” was no longer relevant. My father turned to quizzing my proficiency in Spelling, as I was indeed a competitive and budding perfectionisto. The more focused he became in stumping me, the more determined I was to rise to the challenge. (The Daughters of Charity at St Pius X would’ve been be so proud, had they only known that I had a life prior to my transferring!)
After three or four hours of such “gaming,” my father would inevitably grow exasperated, unable to continue, and desperate for either quiet or conversation. He would almost reveal his impatience when he’d finally suggest: “why don’t you amuse yourself for a while. Your mother and I need to discuss some things.”
Stumped the first time, I pondered my options. I couldn’t read because reading (while in a moving car) was frowned upon back then: it was widely thought that such an activity would result in headaches or nausea. Drawing was out of the question because it was impossible to maintain a steady hand.
Frustrated, I propped my head against the window, peered out, and contemplated my next activity. I saw at once the magnificence of the billowy, layered clouds against the light teal sky, and was just as quickly mesmerized. I had never before noticed their complexity and dreamy nature. I was drawn in. The longer I studied these clouds, the more I detected them moving and would see outlines of clouds forming new shapes.
Such was how my nebular kingdom was at once created. I would try intently to identify each cloud formation (and its many peaks and puffs) and assign it a secular counterpart: Majestic castles with grand spires and drawbridges. Glimmering oceans with diving fairies and nymphs. Ancient hollowed trees with elves scurrying about.
I thus could easily dream away the remainder of the trip lost in my own worlds … without bothering my parents or getting restless. Years passed and, on subsequent and similar journeys, my fantasies grew more complex and visual … especially as my own yearnings and experiences grew. It was always my highlight of the drive.
Of course, in respect and deference to my father, we did always begin future trips with our own spelling bee, ultimately learning to keep it under an hour’s time. And by age eleven or so, we moved on to geography: state capitals, foreign capitals, even ultimately reciting all fifty states. However, after an hour or so, I’d gently retreat into my own game of “clouds passing by!”
Naturally it wasn’t terribly long before I possessed the many keys to my freedom. I became my own driver and the virtual master thus of my entire domain … at least in my imagination.
And I never had to play “Beaver” while I, instead, became proficient in both spelling and geography. (I won the statewide bee when I was in fourth grade, thank you!)
It was at this very early age that my mind and fantasy fused so effectively and became my favorite mode of transportation.
(Image: “Prettiest Star” by Timothy Cummings.)