When I was three and a half years old, Dad decided he wanted to go back to school and get his PhD in mechanical engineering. He wanted to attend Purdue University, which was one of the top ten engineering schools in the country. So we moved to West Lafayette, Indiana for three years.
It took three days to drive from Florida to Indiana. Dad always wanted to leave early in the morning so many of times we were on the road when it was still dark out. Mom said for me to lie down and go back to sleep in the back seat. Most of the time I didn’t. I saw quite a few sunrises on those trips. Mom was supposed to read the map while Dad drove. One of the cities we had to go through was Atlanta. And Mom hated that city with a passion. One time, she got us lost in Atlanta twice in one day. That’s when Dad would rip the map out of her hands and try and read it himself while going 70 miles per hour on the freeway.
After Dad knew pretty much where he was going, Mom would sit in the back seat and play travel games with me. I always looked forward to this. One of the games we played was the Animal Game. One person thinks of an animal and the other person asks questions and tries to guess what the animal is. We also played the alphabet game. We would look for road signs or licenses plates that started with the next letter of the alphabet. We also played tic tac toe, cards and travel versions of popular board games like Trouble. When I got older, I would want to listen to the radio. We always listened to the Oldies station. I used to ask Mom how she knew some of the words to these songs. She said she grew up with these songs. It’s funny now because I know more of the words than she does.
I always worried about when I had to go to the bathroom because I didn’t know how far away the next rest stop was. We always had to stop once within the first hour because Dad drank a cup of coffee. We didn’t stop very often for lunch. If we got hungry we would have candy bars we bought specifically for the trip.
We lived in a small apartment complex called married student housing. Our apartment was on the second floor, which I thought was great because I loved to climb stairs. I also taught myself to slide down the banister. There was one large room that was the kitchen/family room, two bedrooms and only one bathroom. I could not clunk around in high heels when I played dress up or jump around for fear we would make the people living underneath us mad.
That year was the first time I saw snow. That morning there was a loud thump right outside our window. Our neighbor from across the hall had thrown a snowball at our window. So naturally I wanted to throw one at their window, but I wasn’t tall or strong enough. I made a small snowman I ended up laying on top of and snow angels. One time, I turned around just as Mom was throwing a snowball and it hit me smack dab in the face. I tried eating snow, but found out it really didn’t taste like anything. I thought it was neat if we had snow on my birthday.
We met a lot of international people in Indiana. One girl and her family were from Jerusalem. Her name was Muna, but I called her Mona. When someone would tell me Mona was not her name, Mona would say, “Joanie can call me whatever she wants.” One time they had shish kabobs on the grill. Mom asked Mona’s mother what they called them because in America we called them shish kabobs. Mona’s mother looked at Mom and said, “So do we.”
We were also friends with two Japanese families. We invited the Kaowi’s over for an All-American meal. They had two children, Sayaka and Shunchi. Sayaka was a year younger than me. For supper we had roast with potatoes and carrots, jell-o salad, homemade dinner rolls and cream puffs for dessert. They ate and ate and ate. I had no idea how they stayed so thin. Mrs. Kaowi said they had something similar to cream puffs over in Japan. Mom was dumbfounded. What could be more American than cream puffs? Mrs. Kaowi also taught us some Japanese words and how to sing “This Is The Day.” Mom asked me what word I wanted to know how to say in Japanese. I wanted to know how to say the word ‘cake’. Cake in Japanese is cake.
The Sasaguchi’s had us over for a traditional Japanese meal, complete with chopsticks and everything. They had special slippers for us to wear. We greeted them by saying, “Hello, friend,” in Japanese. For supper we had cold shrimp salad. I was able to pick up and piece of shrimp with my chopsticks, but dropped it before I got it to my mouth. Then I realized the reason Japanese people were so thin. Mrs. Sasaguchi finally had to give me a fork. After the meal, the adults had soup. Mom and Dad sat there wondering how they were supposed to eat soup with chopsticks. The answer was to put vegetables in the broth, eat the vegetables with the chopsticks and then drink the broth. It is customary to give the guest a gift when they leave. We received a nice tray wrapped in a scarf. The Sasaguchi’s also had two children: Sogo and Hiroko. We still get Christmas cards from them.
Dad had a chance to go to Japan and give a lecture. Mom and I would have gladly gone with him, but he turned it down.
One of my best friends was from China. Her name was Eleanor, but there was no English translation for her name so they shortened it to Ella. If her parents weren’t home after we were done with school, she would come over to our apartment and play. She was two years older than me. Ella liked to play with my Barbie dolls. She didn’t have any Barbie’s, but she did have a Jem doll from the 80’s cartoon, Jem and The Holograms. We also had the same ballerina doll. Ella called her doll Nancy, but I decided I wanted Nancy to be the name of my doll so we called her doll Jenny. We invented a game we called Scuba Bed, which was just another form of doctor. Ella and I also wrote stories. She was the author and I was the illustrator. One of the stories we wrote was entitled Dawny’s My Friend. When we got ready to move back to Florida, Ella gave me a little jewelry box in the shape of a chest of drawers. She had also given me little pins every so often over the past three years. She gave me a little toy dog I named Tammy.
The family just underneath us had a boy named Harry. He was a year older than me. Harry was the one who got me into dinosaurs. We always played with his dinosaur erasers on the school bus. Tyrannosaurs Rex was the father and the duckbilled dinosaur was the mother. They had a pterodactyl son and his name was Sonny. I always played that part. The pterodactyl was my favorite dinosaur. When we did dinosaurs projects in school, my group always got assigned Triceratops. Except for one time we got assigned Brontosaurs. Harry and I also played Spaceship and went to the place where the dinosaurs lived. When I got my own set of dinosaur erasers, I made sure I had a purple pterodactyl just like Sonny. Harry always called me Joanie-Monster and I called him Harry-Dinosaur.
We were really good friends with the people who lived right across the hall from us. We always called Yvonne, Y-vonne and I was afraid of her husband, Gary. Gary had a beard and I thought all bad guys had beards. They had two boys, Brent and Jason who were both older than me. Jason and I played together sometimes. I liked to look at his swimming ribbons and he let me keep his twelfth place ribbon. It was pink and purple and I thought it was really pretty. He also gave me a big green marble when I really wanted the purple one. Jason and his brother both had hamsters and I liked to watch them roll around in their plastic balls. One time Jason thought it would be funny and he put his hamster down the back of my shirt. Years later when I reminded him of that, he said he didn’t remember, but apologized anyway.