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Counting Reds

By Chloe Campbell
September 2006

The natural spontaneity that comes with childhood is often scolded or snuffed out by adults. Most adults cannot help their reaction of severe embarrassment to a child’s blunt comment or bubbling energy. They have already spent their lifetimes reigned in and restricted by unspoken social rules. However, my father has never been one to be hemmed in by the thoughts of the masses. Accordingly, when or how the rambunctious game of “counting reds” was conjured up is hard to say.

Daddy would pick me up from preschool, Kiddy Academy, and once on Route 40, he would ask me, “Do you want to count some reds?” “Yes!” I would scream. It was as if we had made a pact with the highway to mercilessly identify all red cars in a fervent fashion. A red pickup truck would pass by. “RED!” Daddy would start. A bright red sports car would speed past my window, with my chubby finger following its course and a blaring, “RED!” coming from my mouth.

Back and forth Daddy and I would scream until I was laughing hard at the assorted contorted faces of genuine effort he was putting into our intense search. Dad’s ultra silly side could bloom in full color in the anonymity of his white van rolling down a highway with his adoring little daughter in the passenger seat next to him, fully understanding what most adults would call foolish behavior.

I could see his eyes sparkle, the laugh lines drawn in like arrows pointing to them. His salt-and-pepper mustache turned up with his smile, as he faced the windshield with his great arm stretched out, pointing to yet another red vehicle. I imitated him in an even more extreme fashion, and Daddy would draw his knee to his chest and slap it in laughter. This made me yell and point to a “RED” even more dramatically, thinking I was entertaining him as he fanned the first sparks of my developing personality.

It seems funny to think how all those people who drove red cars on Route 40 helped me learn that it was acceptable to be spontaneous and emit emotion about something that I feel is important. In preschool, red cars were apparently at the top of my list. In reality, my father was the one who instilled that value in me, and his skill lies in the fact that he could discreetly get that idea into a four-year-old child’s head by the original game of counting reds. Today, even as I become more exposed to that tight-lipped world of adults, I feel like I can be myself, and I am thankful to my dad for that.