In September Josh had his first birthday. We had hoped to have another child by the time he was eighteen months old, but so far, there was no sign of any new life on the horizon.
Josh celebrated his birthday by beginning to walk. He was so small for his age that he looked like a little windup toy as he walked around.
One day Barbara took him to the screen door to point out a cow out in the field. Josh, however, chose to focus on a loose screw in the screen door and fiddled with it. This was a harbinger of what Josh would naturally focus on in life: machines and how they work. During his childhood he stuck his little hands into so many dangerous places as he explored machines that we were glad he grew up without losing one.
One time when we visited a friend and were talking in the kitchen, Josh turned the dial of the washing machine and was startled when it began to work. But before he ran away, he turned the dial back to “off.”
Another time, he put his hand on the hotplate of a stove and turned the dial to the highest setting. The plate was instantly hot. He screamed and jerked his hand away, but already there were blisters on the end of each finger! He never did that again!
Following the advice of Dr. Goodell, our linguistics professor friend, Barbara spoke only German with Josh and I only English.
“Any child can learn up to three languages without mixing them up,” Dr. Goodell had said, “as long as the child has a physical stimulus for each one, a native speaker for each language.”
Josh’s first word was German, “Vogel” (bird) and his second was English, “turtle.” That winter, when Barbara would take him shopping, dressed in his little fuzzy blue coat, he looked way too little to be able to trundle down the aisles as he did. When Barbara would speak to him in German and he would respond, the other shoppers were amazed. “So young, and already able to understand German!” people would exclaim.
We did not realize that Josh’s linguistic abilities were somewhat unusual until his brother came along. Before Josh could actually speak, he was making puns. One time while he was riding on my shoulders, we passed through a low doorway.
“Duck!” I said. Josh lowered his head and then said, “Quack, quack!”
On the day of his second birthday he asked me, “What does ‘I wonder’ mean, daddy?”
“What do you think it means?” I asked.
“ ‘I wonder’ means you’re thinking about things a lot,” he said. Not only was he speaking in complete sentences, but he was thinking in abstract concepts! However, when his brother turned two, all he could say was, “Mommy, Daddy, food.”
Nat exhibited a different talent, though: when he moved from crawling to standing, he didn’t just start to walk, he took off running, his little pigeon-toed feet flying over the grass. Each child has his own strengths and weaknesses.
As I mentioned before, right from the beginning Josh was more of a little adult than a child. One morning when he was between two and three years old, he walked up the lane, crossed the road to the mailbox, got the newspaper and came back past our house to my parents’ house.
He knocked on the door and when my father answered it, Josh said, “ “Hello, Grandpa. “Is your wife at home? I’d like to talk with her.” Dad told that story for many years. Not only was his speaking extraordinary, but his diminutive size made it even more amazing.
There are two things that every German seems to want to visit in the US: Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. We had made a brief visit to Niagara Falls on a trip after our wedding. Now Barbara talked about going to the Grand Canyon.
Knowing that there might not be another chance if we were going overseas to work, in late September of 1977 we set off for Arizona in our old Dodge Dart.
Those were the days when the speed limit was 55 miles an hour, so progress was slow. We first visited Diane, whose husband Rip had pointed me to the BIA. She and Barbara talked about some physical problems Barbara was having. After listening for a short while Diane, a nurse, suggested that Barbara take a pregnancy test. The next day she announced to us, “The rabbit says, ‘Yes!’” So now there were four of us on the trip!
There followed five full days of driving, twelve hours a day, at 55 miles an hour. Those were also the days before people had tape players in their cars, so we did a lot of reading to Josh. To this day we can repeat from memory a number of the poems he wanted to hear over and over again!
We finally arrived at the Grand Canyon in early October. It was a crisp fall morning when we stood at the south rim, looking out over the astounding, awesome beauty of this mile deep wonder. It is absolutely true that no photograph can captures the canyon’s scope and grandeur.
We had our backpack carrier and with Josh safely in it, set off down the trail into the canyon. As we descended it got hotter and hotter, so Barbara made a little hat for Josh out of my handkerchief.
Along the trail we saw evidence of mules that had come by. Josh asked what that was. When I told him it was mule dung, he commented, “I guess the muumuu’s need a diaper!” We laughed, as we often did at his comments.
When we reached the first level of descent, we made our way to the Indian Springs oasis. Barbara elected to stay there in the shade with Josh while I hiked on a couple of miles further to the edge of the plateau. I wanted to look down into the canyon itself.
When I returned, we started back up the trail, passing several people who were too tired to go any further. They had called for mules to carry them out.
By the time we reached the upper rim we were exhausted; I’d never felt so worn out physically in my whole life; this was worse than a ten mile cross country race! And Barbara made the trek while pregnant! She might not be strong, but she sure is tough.
We dragged ourselves over to a cafeteria, and while standing in line felt like we were going to die of starvation. The whole thing was a definite adventure!
On the long trip back to Connecticut, we passed through Colorado, (one very long state!) and Missouri where we visited with my mother’s mother, Grandma Haslip. She lived til 99 and had a clear mind until the end. She said, “I’ve tried old age and don’t recommend it!”
We got back home just in time to plunge in as the tire business picked up for what turned out to be a very profitable and busy fall.
Picture: my little helper: