Creating Stories for Strangers
Have you ever played this game? It's basically an add-on to another favorite game of mine, maybe yours too, called People Watching. People Watching is eponymous; it's just what it says it is. You watch people. Creating Stories for Strangers takes this game to a more advanced level. You don't even need a controller or cheats to move to this next level, as in the "Area 51" game my teenage son can't stop playing. Your imagination is all that's required.
I had occasion to play this game yesterday. My husband and I spent two days canoeing stretches of the Kickapoo River, an enjoyable activity on its own. You can't really beat the solitude of a stream running low, working those paddling arms, and playing tag as you do so with a pair of Great Blue Herons. The scenery is majestic as the river winds with hairpin turns through a variety of unglaciated rock formations, rising above on one bank of the river. Solitude, of course, is not the place to be people watching. The drive to the river is, however.
In order for the two of us to do this, we have to expend more fossil fuels than we might wish, in order to return upstream, retrieve a vehicle, and then retrieve our canoe. We're at a point where ownership of our own canoe doesn't seem so economical, since shuttle service is provided to those who choose to rent from one of the many outfitters. Travelling the 45-50 miles to and from the river requires us to travel through Amish country.
We have done business with some of the families in this Amish neighborhood in years past. Baby quilts and rocking chairs have been bought. We bought a total of four Amish rockers from Harvey Borntreger on this very route. I remember with a chuckle getting stuck in Mr. Borntreger's driveway with my 4WD. He and his father stood there chuckling, and I stuck my head out the window and said, "Another good reason to travel by horse, right?" Harvey laughed and said, "They get stubborn, too," to which I replied, "Usually you just have to crack the whip a little harder and they'll go, right?" At just that moment, amid laughter all around, the 4WD pulled out of the mud.
We don't have that 4WD anymore. My son, a baby when we last visited Harvey's family, had it for his first vehicle after getting his license, and then it was "retired" through a donation to the KidneyCar program last summer. It looked like Harvey doesn't live at that house anymore, either. The "Amish Rockers" sign has been replaced with one reading "Saddle and Tack Repair," and a different name graced the mailbox.
I don't know where Harvey and his family have relocated, but I enjoyed creating stories for some of the other folks I passed as they traveled the highway in their buggies and carts.
One buggy was moving at a really good clip, almost too fast for its red triangle sign on the back. A middle aged fellow and his wife were in this one. On their way to the neighbors to help with a barn raising that I'd seen. It was his younger cousin, moved out upon marriage--signified by a thin new growth of beard--and the family was anxious to be there to help and enjoy the festivities. That's their story I created, anyway. I did indeed see a young man working on a barn, so it could be true.
Another buggy was the Drivers Ed class. You see, a boy in a pale green shirt, probably aged 12-13, was managing the reins, while his father sat next to him. It was the boy's first time driving the buggy on the highway, controlling the horse as it faced the fast-moving cars driven by the "English." You could tell it was his first time by the broad smile that filled his face. Amish or "English," those smiles are universal.
The last one is my favorite story. A young married man--he had the beard, but his face was clearly a young husband's face--was driving an open buggy by himself. He'd been down the road at his brother's farm, enjoying the morning chores at their furniture shop. He was going to surprise his wife when he came home, because he'd stopped along the way to visit a neighbor whose goat had twins this spring. How did I know? He had a white goat sitting in his lap on the driver's seat, one arm around its neck to reassure it as the cars whizzed by.
Creating Stories for Strangers may be easier to play when you travel through a place like Amish country, by virtue of the fact that in reality, their lives are in stark contrast to ours and invite curiosity. If you aren't lucky enough to find your travels taking you through Amish country, don't despair. It's a game that can be played at restaurants, malls and especially places like airports. Share your creations here. I'd love to hear them.