Tuesday, November 30, 2021
Nov. 30, 2021

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Everybody Has a Story: Rhode Island for the win


My husband and I taught our children to play games such as “Alphabet” and “I Spy,” during long car trips. The small prizes awarded, such as the choice of where to eat dinner or which flavor of ice cream to buy, were sometimes just enough to get the tired kids through the last few miles of the day. One common game involved watching for license plates from other states.

Thus we come to the topic of Rhode Island, a small state that looms large in our family lore.

On one trip east when the kids were about 5 and 7, we flew from PDX into Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia. After a long flight, we had many long stints in the car ahead. Luggage reclaimed and rental car acquired, we immediately launched into the “license plate game,” with the challenge being to find one from Washington or Oregon.

That was accomplished less than a mile from the airport, given the large number of people in that area from all over the country, and so the level of complication had to be raised for that game. Many contests were held over the course of the trip. At the end, a special prize was promised for a back-at-home challenge: spotting a plate from Rhode Island. Small state, a long way from the Northwest. It seemed like the tournament would last for a while.

It did. In fact, I completely forgot about the quest for a Rhode Island license plate, but the kids did not. A couple years later, I took both children with me to the Department of Licensing for the basic get-’er-done task of car tab renewal.

We were walking toward the service counter when both children suddenly became startlingly alert on either side of me, and I looked around to see what had caused their reaction. Normally such a trip wouldn’t be the occasion for much excitement, but I quickly became aware of my son resolutely pointing a finger at the wall ahead — on which were displayed license plates from every state.

After a moment, I realized what I was looking at and startled the quiet office by bursting out with laughter. Finally, the long-sought Rhode Island plate was found! Trumpet peal, “Hallelujah” chorus and drum roll! (That the license plate had to be on a moving vehicle had never been specified.)

Both kids had seen the plate at the same time but one was quicker on the pointing. Although my daughter good-naturedly declared her brother the winner, she did not cede any rights to helping negotiate for the prize.

“Cheeseburger!” declared my now vegetarian son.

Drawing on her extra two years of life experience, his sister told him that she thought, given the time of day, they were going to be taken out to lunch anyway. She advised holding out for something bigger. After intense sibling consultation, the prize ended up being something along the lines of choice of restaurant, no input from mom as to what was ordered, and ice cream.

Small state. Big victory for being open to serendipitous discoveries in unlikely places. You take your number at the DMV, and who knows what might happen. You might get a more exciting lunch – and ice cream.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions