Here are some excerpts from my journal, 8 years ago…

December 23 – woke early, did laundry, cleaned the townhouse, taught several lessons, went to Normandy Church [where I was director of music] to rehearse choir and Christmas eve performers; talked to Mother – Dena is 3 weeks over due, still no baby; finished up work on the upcoming three months of Sunday anthems and the Easter cantata; went to sleep at 4:00am.

December 24 – woke at 6:00am, shopped, wrapped and packed, loaded car; at Normandy for the four Christmas Eve services starting at 5:00pm. Two hours of sleep, but energized. Left Normandy around 1:30am and headed to Indiana.

December 25 – arrived home around 4:00am just as Destin was pulling in; sat up and talked with Mother; family up at 7:00am, breakfast, gifts, dinner. Dena still big and ready to burst with first child. Loaded the car around 9:30pm and headed to Anderson, IN to watch the new movie, Titanic. Around 2:00am headed to Centerville [Dayton].

December 26 – arrived in Centerville around 4:30am; unpacked, wrote ‘thank you’ notes, put away new items; finally into bed at 7:30am. Mother called at 8:00am to say they were taking Dena to hospital. Laid in bed for 30 minutes before rising to shower, shave and head back to Indiana. Arrived at hospital at noon where entire family was gathered; no baby. Destin was sitting in Dena’s bed watching a game while Dena sat in a rocker. My brother-in-law, Greg, was there, peculiar man and quite a hard person to know. His family trickled in and out. 11:00pm the doctor decided to halt the labor so Dena could sleep through the night. I have trouble sleeping after a Mexican dinner and cannot see how anyone could sleep with a 40 lb baby inside! Discovered I had not packed anything – clothes, toothbrush, etc. Destin offered his clean underwear and toothbrush – nausea set in. Destin, Jason and I drove over to Anderson to the Meijer’s, and returned home around 3:00am. Destin insisted we all watch a movie; head is numb and had a headache. Finally went to bed around 6:00am.

December 27 – Mother woke us at 7:00am saying the contractions were starting back up. Destin and I showered and ate breakfast at Friendly’s, went to hospital. Finally after a C-section, Jonathan Garrett Surber was born in the late afternoon. Held my first nephew and headed back to Ohio. Slept for 14 hours.

My first nephew was named after our great-grandfather, John William Garrett Clary, who had passed away in late October. It was exciting to know that I was finally an uncle. My uncles were the best and no nephew was ever luckier. How many third graders had their own black & white television set complete with an ear phone, an 8-track tape player with tapes of Chicago, Helen Ready, Cher and Credence? The best part was that they all spent time with me and seemed to truly enjoy me. My one uncle, Ron, had been died in 1987 after driving his car into the wall of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel – a suicide. When Jonathan arrived ten years later, I was still missing Uncle Ron terribly. A few weeks before Jonathan’s birth I had a dream that I was riding my bicycle in downtown Waynesville, a beautiful little community southeast of Dayton. My uncle was sitting on a park bench near the street and I pulled up and sat with him. Uncle Ron told me how excited he was that I was going to be an uncle and we talked about all the fun we had enjoyed – my visits to him in Norfolk where he was stationed in the US Navy; trips to Cape Hateras and the Outer Banks; Washington, DC; and so many other fun adventures we had enjoyed. I rose to check something in one of the many antique shops and when I returned, Uncle Ron was gone. I can remember being somewhat sad when the dream was over, but revitalized.

Jonathan was such a happy, active baby. When he began crawling, he also began climbing and was one of the most active little critters I had ever witnessed. Fourteen months later, my very fertile sister gave birth to Andrew Langlee Barmes Surber. Andrew’s middle names were from Destin, Grandpa and myself: Barmes from Leroy Barmes, and Langlee, a combination of Destin Lang and Darin Lee.

Jonathan seemed to thrive and grow into an intelligent, happy and bright little boy. I can remember how I would look over and find him looking at me, as though he was searching for something, asking questions about the world around him. Jonathan and Uncle Darin always seemed to have a wonderful connection – a spiritual connection. He was a brilliant little boy and I could hardly wait to take him to the Outer Banks, Washington, DC, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, Conner Prairie Farm and all the wonderful places I had visited with my uncle.

Then one day, it all changed…
Jonathan stopped smiling.
There was no more laughter.
The bright sparkle in his eyes was dulled.
Behind the smiling eyes a stranger seemed to lurk, staring blankly at those of us he knew.

At first it was not as noticeable. Dena began noticing how Andrew was passing up Jonathan in his development. The fact that Jonathan could not jump up and down like Andrew was not cause for alarm. When Jonathan had stopped talking and Andrew was putting together sentences, the entire family laughed at how familiar that was that Destin did not talk for the longest time because Dena talked for him (and the rest of us). After one visit to the pediatrician, Dena was told that some tests needed to be completed. Then, we heard the word, “autism” for the first time. I barely remembered the word from my studies in counseling psychology and began researching. Destin and I spent countless hours on the internet and chatting with colleagues and school psychologists.

Since Jonathan did not speak verbally – or when he did, unintelligibly – we noticed he was using his hands. The entire family began learning sign language. For nearly two years we communicated with simple words. Eventually, Jonathan was diagnosed as “developmentally delayed” although I firmly believe is, very much, autistic. Dena has been a remarkable advocate for her son, and he has progressed more than the specialists believed he would. His speech has improved, but I am still, “Unka Baron.” At eight years old, Jonathan is as big as a fifth grader, but, mentally and emotionally, he is approximately three or four years old. He loves coming to visit Unka Baron’s and looks forward to spending the day after his birthday through January 1st with us in Ohio.

This morning I am watching Jonathan and Andrew while my sister works. Jonathan came downstairs after waking, all smiles. He came over and sat by me on the sofa where I was reading. Still, like the 9 month old baby, he looked up at me, searching for something, and smiling when he realized – after many seconds – that I was looking back at him. He smiles more, and is finally learning how to laugh and play, but there will always be the question, “What could he have been like had the one ingredient not been included in his two year booster shots?” We sat on the sofa for a good fifteen minutes. I talked to him, telling him about Uncle Darin’s story surrounding his birth and he would listen, in his own little world. Whether he truly understands is a great mystery – yet, several months later, he often does something to let us know he had indeed heard us. Once, in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant, I was swinging him around. Six months later, we went to the same restaurant and Jonathan grabbed my arms and began swinging – he had remembered! And he even ran to the same table where we had dined.

“Go to Unka Baron’s,” were his first words. I reminded him that we would leave for Uncle Darin’s in the morning because we had to celebrate his birthday tonight. He repeated this another dozen times before running off to his mother’s room to watch the movie, Elf, the first of a total five times today. At lunch, like all other times when he eats, Jonathan descends – or ascends – into his own world, his eyes searching something in the distance – whether it is something real or imaginary is beyond us.

Tonight the house will be filled with family and friends to celebrate his birthday. Whether Jonathan completely understands the significance of the celebration is a mystery. Tomorrow, he and Andrew will join my sons and I for our annual Ohio adventure, my Christmas present to them. We will go to the Air Force Museum, the zoo, the Newport Aquarium, a movie, and an event at Riverscape on New Year’s Eve.