County Editor Scott Yost is taking a well-deserved break this week from column writing. So we decided to bring you a classic Yost Column from 2004.


I went to my college reunion this weekend, and a lot of my friends brought their little kids.

I don’t have any children that I know about, but I think one day I’d like to have some. I haven’t always felt that way – when I was younger, I never saw the appeal of kids. They used to strike me merely as noisy, messy, time-consuming money-holes, just to mention a few of the negatives. But, as I’ve found out over the years, kids are great, too.

I do think these days our kids are a little spoiled. I realized this the other day when I was riding in the car with a friend of mine who had her 5-year-old daughter in the back. My friend was trying everything to calm her daughter down. You know why the girl was upset? Because for some reason her Game Boy wasn’t working and, since we’d been in the car for about an hour, the little girl had begun to get bored.

We suggested that she watch a movie on her portable DVD player. No, she wanted to play the Game Boy. How about listening to some of the hundred of songs on her iPod? No, she didn’t want to do that either. Well, was there anyone she wanted to talk to on the cell phone? Nah-uh; she wanted to play on her Game Boy.

Things were so awful the little girl was about to cry.

At some point I started thinking: I mean, come on. I wanted to tell her how lucky she was to even have any of those things in the car. I wanted to tell her about how it was when I was a kid and I had to go on a long trip. When my brother and sister and I went on a trip, you know what we had to keep us occupied?

Cow counting.

That was what we had in place of movies and video games and cell phones and iPods. We had cow counting.

When my brother and sister and I went on a trip, our parents would get us to play this game, and I don’t even think it was a real game. I think my parents just made it up to make us be quiet. That was our Game Boy – hours and hours of counting cows.

Here’s how the “game” went. Whatever side of the car you were sitting on, that was your side of the road. Every time you passed some cows, you would count them and add them to your total. You were competing against your brother and/or sister on the other side of the car, who were counting their cows as well.

If you’re one of today’s spoiled kids reading this right now, you might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Oh, and here’s where it gets exciting: Horses were worth 10 cows, so you really wanted to pass some horses on your side of the road. And here’s where it gets really exciting: If you passed a cemetery, you lost all your cows and had to start over at zero.

I feel certain my parents made that game up.

I mean, counting cows. I think my parents came up with that game to keep us from asking, “How much further?” for the 14,000th time in 10 minutes. (The modern version of that question for kids is, “Are we there yet?” I’m not sure when or why that changed.)

I’ll bet the conversation right before the creation of the cow-counting game went something like this.

Mom: “I don’t know what to do; just think of something, anything.”

Dad: “I know. Tell them to, uh, tell them that it’s a game if you, OK, I have it; tell them it’s a game if you … uh, count cows, yeah, that’s good, counting cows. Oh, and horses equal, say, five, no make it 10, cows …”

Mom: “Oh come on. I know they’re only 4, 5 and 6, but even they’ll never buy that that is a real game.”

But we did buy it – hook, line and sinker. We would spend hours on the road going, “OK, there’s four cows, and OH, THERE’S A HORSE!”

When my friend’s little girl got upset because her Game Boy wasn’t working, I got the bright idea to try to get her to play the cow game. I explained it to the girl, and when I had finished, she looked at me with this deadpan expression as if to say, “That is the lamest thing I’ve ever heard in my five years of existence. Please do not tell me you fell for that load when you were my age.”

But I did fall for it. In fact, to this day, when I’m driving down the road, my heart jumps a little when I pass a horse, and when I pass a cemetery I think, “Darn, I lost all my cows.”

The cow game is like the whole quiet mouse game scam. I have a master’s degree and do you know when I figured out the quiet mouse game was a scam? Just a few weeks ago. I was at a kindergarten, and I started thinking about when I was in kindergarten and about how we would play quiet mouse.

The teacher would say, “All right now, kids, the object of the game is to see who can be the most quiet and the most still,” and we would all sit there rigid and stay as silent as, well, a mouse, and just concentrate intently on not making a sound or a move.

Game? That’s not a game – that’s just early childhood behavioral modification and control through outright deception. Why not have the take-out-the-trash game, or say to children, “OK, kids, now we’re going to play rake the yard! Hooray!”

I’ll bet they can’t fob off quiet mouse as a game on the kids today.

Here’s another example of how bad we had it when I was a kid on a car trip. We didn’t even have air conditioning in the car. Well, we did, but my dad would never turn it on because it reduced gas mileage.

I remember saying countless times, “Dad, why did you even have an air conditioner put in the car if we’re not going to turn it on when the car is, like it is now, 400 degrees?”

I read an article years later that said drag from windows being down reduces the gas mileage more than running the air conditioner does. That information doesn’t do me much good now, but if I’d had the article back then I would have shown it to my father so we could have had some AC. On second thought, it’s probably a good think I didn’t because back then he might have read it and decided from then on whenever we went on trips on very hot days we would keep the air conditioner off and keep the windows rolled up, because that way we could really increase our gas mileage.

And we didn’t have Attention Deficit Disorder, either, when I was growing up. You know what they called ADD back then? They called it “not paying attention.” And you know what they gave you for it? No, not Ritalin. A stern warning followed by a pop.

If you’re a kid, the next time your Game Boy is on the blink, take a powder and relax. You have nothing to complain about.

And another thing. There were no school buses. We had to walk to school barefoot in the snow, our blistered feet encased in frozen blood.

Oh yeah, and it was uphill, both ways.