When my daughters were little, we got a computer, a Compaq Presario that cost two grand. That was a lot of money for my wife at the time and me, but it was not too high a price to pay to make sure our kids weren’t left on the roadside of what was then called the “information superhighway.” Also, it meant Cindy and I could play Myst, a game that inexplicably took over our lives briefly. For those of you under 40 or so, Myst was an immersive game with no real rules, but a series of puzzles that needed to be solved on a mysterious island (and other lands) for the purpose of . . . Well, I don’t really remember the backstory, but it was a very important mission, important enough for us as young parents to put the girls to bed, grab beers and drop into that wonderful world.
Myst was of course too scary and mature for the two girls we had at the time, ages four and one, so we also bought Oregon Trail III on CD-ROM. (Again, for younger readers—and God am I getting old if UNDER 40 is young—CD-ROM games did not network with anything, for who wanted to tie up the phone line to go online to play a game? CD-ROMs were discs inserted into the computer and containing the whole game on them. Even video!) Oregon Trail placed you as head of a party setting out in the 1840s and going to, as I remember, either Salem, Oregon, or Salt Lake City. You began in Missouri in a small frontier town, with the amount of money you had dependent on what your occupation was—bankers started off with more money than farmers or blacksmiths, but had fewer skills once the journey began. Anywya, by the time Becca was seven, Meri was five (and spelled her name Mary, an odd quirk on our part since her name is Meredith) and Libby was two, they had become quite addicted to the game. I’ll admit I liked it too, primarily for the chance to “hunt” game and carry meat back to the wagon train. The girls’ favorite part, though, was, oddly, at the beginning of the game, walking through the frontier town and deciding how best to outfit their wagons—how many rifles, how much flour, how many horses? They could spend a rainy afternoon negotiating with each other on whether a single cast-iron skillet would be enough or if rope was really worth a nickel for 10 feet. I know, I know—they were being trained as capitalists; still, they had a good time.
Given my Jeep’s limited storage space, I spent the past four days in Manchester playing my own version of Oregon Trail. I mean, I’ve got a Cherokee, but it’s not a Grand Cherokee, so each visit to a Walmart or Market Basket or my friend, George, at Liberty House was filled with the same conversations the girls had. A quick inventory of the Jeep:
–Six 2.5 liter boxes of Poland Spring Water
–Eight jugs of generic water
–Five bags of Trader Joe’s peanut-butter-filled chocolate-covered pretzels (the only sweet treat I’ve allowed myself)
–A small electric heater
–Three dozen washcloths
–Two Pier One multicolored table runners
–Materials for scraping rust and repainting the Jeep’s roof
–A Hohner Marine Band harmonica in the key of C (more on this to follow)
–Two small bags of quality coffee to be mixed for maximum psychological effect with the six or eight cans of Folger’s coffee
Now, I’m back in this strange new world—I call it home—with a wagon train just emptied of goods.
As Becca, Meri and Libby would have inquired years ago, though, Is one harmonica enough?