As my grandchildren grew from infancy into young childhood, we enjoyed playing word games together. Challenging them to spell different words, come up with rhyming words, find words with opposite meanings, and other such contests have always been a source of pleasure for me. And for them, too, I think.
One of the great places to play such games was while travelling in the car. Classics—such as spotting out-of-province license plates, finding misspelled words on billboards, and watching for funny bumper stickers—were some of our favourites.
Sometimes, though, the games had unintended consequences. For example, on a rush-hour street one afternoon, we were behind a car with a bumper sticker exhorting all who might read it to Honk If You Love Jesus. My first reaction was to scoff, wondering who would be crazy enough to start bearing witness on the horn of an automobile.
“Grandpa,” exclaimed my eldest granddaughter, “we love Jesus, right? You should honk your horn.”
I demurred, but her sister insisted. And their sincerity made me wonder what harm there could be in responding to such a simple invitation to show my beliefs. In fact, if I chose not to respond, could that be construed as a subconscious rejection of my religious convictions? In front of impressionable little ones?
So, somewhat abashedly, and in order not to jeopardize my granddaughters’ faith, I did honk—a long and loud affirmation of Jesus. The reaction of the driver in front was immediate, and rather unexpected. His car jumped ahead momentarily in the clogged traffic, quickly followed by the flash of his brake lights. His arm jacked out of his window, and he began to gesture in what I hoped my granddaughters would think was an attempt to point out the direction of heaven…with his middle finger. Luckily, they appeared not to notice.
On another occasion, while driving to my grandson’s soccer game one Saturday morning, we overtook a car with a brightly-coloured bumper sticker asking us to Buy From a Breeder.
“What’s a breeder, Gramps?” my grandson asked.
“Well, that’s someone who brings animals together so they can have babies,” I answered carefully. “Those people want us to buy babies from someone who breeds them.”
A few minutes later, we passed a car whose bumper sticker advised, Caution. Baby On Board. My grandson craned his neck to catch a glimpse of the baby as we flashed by.
“Those people are breeders, right?” he asked.
I confess I nodded in the affirmative.
One of the funniest bumper stickers I ever saw was on the back of a black hearse, but my grandchildren didn’t really understand the humour. In flowing, black script, it proclaimed, Yours Eventually.
One I admit I wasn’t too fond of, but which my grandson thought might apply to me, was stuck on the back of an old, copper-coloured Nash Rambler, driven by a white-haired codger: I Used to be Cool!
That was a bad day because, a short while later, we saw another that declared, Watch Out for the Idiot Behind Me!
“That’s you, Gramps, right?” my grandson asked. Innocently, I choose to believe.
We’ve occasionally had close calls in the car, trying to read bumper stickers with print so small that it’s impossible to decipher from a reasonable distance. The first time we saw one, it took five minutes of white-knuckled bursts of speed to get close enough.
“What does it say, Gramps? Get closer!” Two little girls were peering avidly through the space between the front seats.
Grammatically incorrect, it nevertheless smugly stated, If You Can Read This, You’re Following Too Close!
“You’re too close!” my wife was yelling by then, her arms locked rigidly on the dashboard to brace herself. “Slow down, or we’ll be a bumper sticker!”
The girls giggled, but I didn’t dare.
I was much fonder of the message we saw another day, in living colour on the mud-flaps of a huge eighteen-wheeler we were following. Impossible to miss. My youngest granddaughter recognized the cartoon character immediately—a short, red-haired, moustachioed gunslinger with a huge sombrero and two smoking pistols pointing at us.
BACK OFF! was all it said. No ambiguity there.
But the most sensible bumper sticker we ever saw was plastered squarely in the middle of the rear bumper of a large recreational vehicle. It sported two bright red arrows, one pointing left, the other right.
“The left arrow says Passing Side,” my granddaughter declared.
“And the right arrow says Suicide,” her brother replied worriedly.
We had come up on that camper in a great hurry, so, as my grandchildren spoke, I stole a glance at my wife, who was staring pointedly at me.
Smiling reassurance, I slowed right down and backed right off, heedless of the traffic piling up behind me.
And, with all the honking that began to blare behind me, I figured those drivers must really love Jesus.
So, I was glad for the sticker I had on my own rear bumper—