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Wiggle your fingers at these numbers

Burt's Eye View

There has always been the notebook.

My earliest memories of family trips — other than bouncing all over the back seat with my little brother — are Dad reciting the odometer reading and the number of gallons the gas station attendant had just pumped into the car.

Mom recorded these in the pocket-sized notebook. She penciled calculations while Dad pulled onto the road before announcing how many miles we got to a gallon on that last tank. Dad nodded — or grimaced, depending on the number. I asked why we couldn’t get candy bars instead of gasoline.

Mom popped the notebook back into the glove box until next fill-up. This was a horrible misuse of paper. I was getting really good at drawing cats, but Dad never let me decorate the notebook.

Somewhere in their house today, there’s probably a shoebox jammed with 60-some years worth of spiral-bound pads — all of them from every car except for the notebook tucked into the dashboard cubby of their current car. None of the notebooks are graced with sketches of cats by Burton, age 5.

I tried to keep a notebook when the state of Ohio, by some error, granted me a driver’s license. But I was always in too much of a hurry to fill it in. When Dad flipped through my notebook, he found drawings of bears, dogs and cows (I’d expanded my artistic repertoire) and a sprinkling of random numbers (mostly guesses).

I finally gave up the pretense and stopped stocking a notebook in my glove box. But I’d already learned the lesson that the notebook taught: We’ve turned life into a paint-by-numbers canvas.

The first thing grownups ask little kids (besides, “Do you know how much I paid for that?”) is, “How old are you?”

“This many.” I wiggled the appropriate number of fingers. (As for the “how much” question, “Free cents” was never the correct number.)

It was always about the numbers.

“I only have six trucks and Timmy has eight. No fair!”

“You may have just one cookie.”

“No, we aren’t there yet. I wouldn’t still be driving if we were. Stop asking me every two minutes.”

I was 10 when Sesame Street debuted in 1969. I already could count to 1,000 — except I got bored by 32 and always quit by 57.

As I aged, numbers filled my head as I memorized the backs of baseball cards.

Clock hands barely crept toward the numbers during social studies but sprinted to the digits during recess.

Schools converted the letters on our report cards to numbers to slap us with grade-point averages.

It didn’t get any better as an adult with numerals like Social Security numbers, phone numbers, PINs and account IDs. Scary numbers like A1C, 401(k) and 1040 send shivers up all 26 vertebrae of my spine.

What if we swapped numbers for something different? Could we replace digits with, say, kitchen utensils or animals?

“I hit unicorn today.”

“No, Daddy! Did you kill it?”

“No, I mean I reached unicorn on the car odometer. It took a spoon but I finally got past skunk.”

Never mind. I’ll scratch that idea from the notebook as soon as I get it out of the glove box. Right after I finish the last elephant sketch. It’s No. 17.

• Find Cole’s number at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at @BurtonWCole on Twitter.

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