A few old-time readers may recall I used to write an annual April Fool’s yarn. Every year some folks were entertained and got a good chuckle from that trickery, while invariably somebody was so incensed they wanted to string me up from Beloit’s infamous Hanging Tree.
Yes, there is no such tree. I wrote a phony story about the demise of an ancient tree upon which lots of bad guys supposedly met their untimely end. There were plenty of other tall tales. Let’s see, one had to do with discovery of an old Indian tunnel under the Rock River. Another involved a farmer coming up with a growth strategy that produced double-sized cattle. I got in trouble over a story claiming the old hospital on Olympian had been sold to the state and would be converted into a facility for the criminally insane. A lady was trying to sell a house in the neighborhood and was convinced the story would make that impossible. Which meant, of course, we ought to pay her for the house.
Since April 1 had a history around the Barth household, I thought there was a certain appropriateness when Jackson Robert Barth, my first grandson (five girls came earlier) arrived on that day in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
Jack will be celebrating his first birthday with his folks, John and Amanda Barth. And what a year it has been.
To start with, there was some worry over whether John could get into the hospital for the birth because many facilities had begun locking out nonpatients. Jack was born in Rockford, where his dad is a city firefighter-paramedic. The problem was solved by John going in with Amanda and not coming out again until they all went home.
In a normal birthing cycle, after going home the newborn would have encountered a whirlwind of extended family rotating in and out for visits. With coronavirus, that clearly would have been a bad idea, so Jack met grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles and cousins on the other side of a sliding glass door. We could look at him. We couldn’t touch him.
The good news is that bothered us. Jack had no problem with it.
The entire family decided to follow whatever advice Jack’s physician offered, without deviation or complaint. After awhile, the doc said we could have brief in-person visits with Jack, fully masked and one at a time. In a real sense, that made holding the little fellow even more poignant and meaningful.
Later the group could be a bit larger. When Jack was baptized, there were three sets of grandparents, mom and dad and the preacher in an otherwise empty church. Again, the unusual quiet only added to the solemnity of the moment.
Not long ago, Jack’s doctor said family could see him without masks, so long as individuals had no symptoms and had been practicing full mitigation routines out in the world, including masking up, avoiding indoor gatherings and being strict about hand hygiene. And those of us—which includes me—who have been fully vaccinated were considered even safer around Jack.
That allowed a watershed moment to happen about a week ago. For the first time since he was born, I gave Jack a kiss on the cheek. He smiled. I melted.
For him, it had to be like meeting a new person. He discovered my beard. He liked it, and rubbed and pulled to his heart’s content.
For good measure, we spent quite a bit of time engaging in a ritual that began weeks back, fully masked. Jack has taken to head butting (gently) his grandpa. He thinks it’s a lot more fun when he can see grandpa laugh.
I’d like to say that our maskless time together was the highlight of Jack’s week, but I’d be lying. His father introduced him to ice cream last week. Ice cream is a family weakness. Clearly, the tradition marches on.
Jack still has plenty more family to meet. Only one of his Barth-side first cousins—that’s the five granddaughters—has looked him over. His 94-year-old great grandfather, back on the family’s downstate Illinois farm, has yet to meet his latest descendant. There are some to meet on Jack’s mother Amanda’s side and John’s mom’s side. And Jack will have to get acquainted with Stephanie’s gang, the big Klett clan.
All in good time.
As his birthday approaches, there are two ways of looking at Jack’s strange first year.
One is to think how sad that he couldn’t immediately be swept up in the joy of a new arrival, with lots of folks fussing over him.
I don’t see it that way.
The other is to believe he is blessed to have spent the first year mostly isolated at home in the loving arms of his mom and dad. Not a bad beginning at all. It makes me think of our family history, in very rural places where beginning life isolated with close relatives has been the norm. Shoot, my dad was born at home. Imagine that. Over generations—I was the first to leave the farm, going back into the 1800s—rural life resulted in some pretty good people. I prefer to think Jack’s start in life—away from the noise and rush, and often vulgarity of modern society—isn’t a bad thing at all.
Of course, he’s a baby and won’t remember any of it. That doesn’t mean it won’t forever be etched on his soul.
William Barth is the former editor of the Beloit Daily News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.