It all started on a long car trip from North Carolina to Indiana.
Paul challenged the girls to find the license plates of all fifty states. And it became a family project that is probably one of the sweetest collective memories from the last few years.
Of course we found a ton on the trip. I was delighted by how quickly even the little girls could recognize plates that we had seen several times. (I should add that just a month or so earlier Paul had helped the girls memorize all fifty states. So it was easy to keep track of what we had already seen and still needed.)
We all were so in tune to license plates for months! Every trip to the store or anywhere the girls were pointing out states. It’s amazing how many are around all the time if you just look.
Confession: sometimes we would drive around parking lots looking for plates.
On two occasions we found new ones we needed at a mall about an hour from our house. I can’t even explain how excited we all would get when we found a new state. The rules were just that one of us had to see it with our own eyes. And it had to actually be on a car, not like on the wall at Cracker Barrel.
So around October we had narrowed it down to North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Hawaii. And pickins’ were slim. We were all sure that Hawaii would be the last one we’d find.
Owen’s due date came and went.
We even got my mom in on the excitement, but still nothing.
October 31. We had realized the night before that we needed to go buy candy. Around 11 that morning I began having contractions and by lunch around 2 or so, we were pretty sure this would be the day. (for the baby) So we stopped at our grocery store about five minutes from our house, and on the way back to the car…we saw a North Dakota!! In the parking lot! Of our grocery store! Five minutes from our house!
It was unbelievable! Such a sweet little blessing in the midst of another big blessing! (Owen)
We were over the moon excited and incredulous. Only three more to go!
Some weeks after that, I was invited to a little Christmas party at a friend’s house and left Owen home with a sitter for the first time since Paul had a late appointment. Hating to be away from him, I kept my phone close just in case I was needed. We were eating dinner at this gorgeous table when a text came through – I tried to check it discreetly but gasped out loud when I read the message: Paul had found South Dakota!!!
That was fun trying to explain why that was so exciting.
So Vermont and Hawaii remained.
I mean, we should see a Vermont. It’s not like we’re on the other side of the country from it or anything.
We totally gave up on Hawaii. I hatched this scheme to buy one online and give it to Hope for Christmas.
So in early December we were out shopping for Christmas decorations, and by a miscommunication on my part we ended up at a shopping center we are not normally at. Between taking six kids (including a newborn) up and down the aisles of Michaels, and Mommy who has trouble making her mind up, we were all fine, but borderline cranky.
After getting in the car Paul started to wind through the parking lot, you know, just in case. And I saw it.
My arm shot out and grabbed him, “I just saw Hawaii! Go back, go back!”
He was unsure, “What? No you didn’t.”
But I knew I had seen it. “I did! I did! Go back! It had a rainbow on it!”
He circled back around and sure enough we all saw it. Hawaii!!
Evening made. Month made. Holiday season made. Year made.
We had found Hawaii!!!
And we were all together when it happened!
The parking space next to it was open so Paul pulled in and we got out and stared at it and took pictures with it like crazy people.
We literally talked about it the whole way home, replaying how it all happened and how crazy it was that we were even there, and how we all felt when we saw it. And that we were all together when it happened.
I guess you’d have to understand how long we’d been looking and how sure we were that we would never actually find it. It still makes me smile just thinking about it.
We contemplated getting in the car and heading north until we found one. (It’s okay at this point for you to be absolutely certain that we are nuts). But we had come this far and just had to have that last one. We had even looked it up online to be sure we knew what we were looking for. Apparently, Vermont has one style of license plate so that was good.
Christmas came and went.
On one of those awkward post-Christmas days when you’re not quite sure what to do, we decided to take all the kids for a hike. We were almost out of our neighborhood when a little red car pulled in. Paul noticed the sign on the front of the car and whipped around to check when it passed us.
It was a Vermont.
He pulled in someone’s driveway and turned around action movie- style. The poor little red car, we followed it ’til it parked in a driveway only a street over from ours. Paul parked on the road and jumped out. (I think they were a little perplexed, to say the least.)
He explained our great license plate game and how all we needed was Vermont and they were our Vermont! The man was really good-humored and let us take a picture with the plate and the girls. They had just arrived from Vermont to visit the grandkids. We wished each other well and went on our way.
“Can you believe it?” We kept asking each other. We found Vermont! In our neighborhood.
A better ending to such a hunt could not have been scripted.
We were so excited that we decided to celebrate with milkshakes after our hike.
We went to Sonic. And they were out of ice cream. Are you kidding me? You’re Sonic. #youhaveonejob
But just forget that part because it didn’t matter.
Our excitement could not be dampened. We had found all fifty states.
Yay for family. Yay for hunts. Yay for memories we will never forget.