family fun

Back in the day — I mean way back in the day, when I was a kid — car trips were a bit different.  No video screens, no headphones, and, I swear, not even one cup holder.

Most of our trips as a family were to “the farm.”  That’s where my dad grew up and where my cousins lived, an hour away from our home.

There were a couple of things that you could count on.  When we’d drive through the tiny town of Wilder, my dad would say, “That last town was wild, but this one is Wilder.”  And, somewhere along the way, the most-bored child would say, “Let’s play Family Fun.”

It was pretty simple.  My dad would go from kid to kid, asking age-appropriate questions of each of us.  There were a lot of geography questions, which I loved, since I was good at it.  State capitols, all that stuff, plus, “Name the seas of the world.”  (There were a dozen or so expected answers, although the internet tells me that was a pretty simplified version of things.)  In addition, some spelling questions, history, general interest, and oddball challenges like “name all of the different reasons for windows.”  I wish I had made a list along the way.

I don’t remember any kind of a scoring system, although we were a pretty competitive bunch, so people were probably keeping track anyway.  (When my mom passed away, one of her grandkids wrote, “She married a force in Willis and then raised and endured four children with the strongest and yet most divergent personalities imaginable.   She deserves her rest.”)

On longer trips, to the Twin Cities or to see my mom’s family in North Dakota, there would be other games, including identifying license plates from the states and Canadian provinces, and being the first one to spot a particular thing we’d be looking for along those prairie roads.  The big one was catching the first glimpse from miles away of Grandpa’s elevator, which dominated the town where my mom grew up.

Of course, there were some tensions along the way.  Having a family cooped up in a car together for hours at a time will do that to you.  (Baba Ram Dass said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”  Same idea.)  But if we could get back to Family Fun, things would settle down for the most part.

A couple of decades later, Trivial Pursuit became popular.  I think it’s a lousy game, because too much time is wasted on the board moves; I always just wanted to go through the question deck and see who got the most right.  (Did I mention “competitive”?)  As our children grew up, we also played Facts in Five, which is a more challenging game, and eventually various combinations of us did some bar trivia nights.

It’s always interesting when playing as a group to see what things people know and don’t know, and how a person’s base of knowledge is framed by their age and background.  As with most endeavors, a diverse group will usually outperform a uniform one, because everyone is approaching the problems from different angles.

Many of us are facing another holiday apart from those with whom we usually gather, to say nothing of the general distancing practices that keep us from friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Thankfully, we have the technology today that allows us to communicate in new ways.

We started having once-a-week Zoom sessions with our family that are not the normal fare.  Each time, a different person chooses something for the group to do in advance, and then we talk about it for an hour or so.  Four weeks in, we’ve listened to a podcast about religion (being up first, I thought I’d stress test things right out of the chute), another one about the search for a vanished song, watched a compilation of British television commercials from across the years, and read a couple of interesting short stories.

The discussions have been wonderful.  People bring different perspectives, make different connections, and catch things that others don’t.  There’s just the right amount of family banter, and we end up talking about topics that we otherwise wouldn’t and learn new things about each other.

One of the kids decided that we should call it Family Fun.  This time around, it’s not about the answers but the exploration – and much needed time with each other.

Subscribe: email | twitter