Albert’s father was a partner in his brother Jacob’s gas and electric supply company. One day, he took Albert to see an electrical lighting system the company had installed. The customer, Frederick Thomas, owned a local brewery, Munich Brau. The reason Hermann had dragged Albert along was that Thomas had a son, Johann, who was Albert’s age. Both boys would soon begin first grade, and Hermann thought it would be good for the shy Albert to know at least one boy in his class.
Albert did not want to go with his father; he preferred the familiar routines at home. Being out in new places caused him to shut off inside. When the boys were introduced, Albert just stared at the floor and went into his own inner world. He thought boys his age were dull. He wanted to be alone.
Hermann forced a smile onto his lips. He reached down and shook Albert’s shoulder. “Come, Albert, Johann wants to show you the new lights in the barn.”
Albert knew his papa would not like it if he did not do as he suggested, so, reluctantly, his eyes still down, the reluctant guest shuffled over to Johann, wishing he could escape.
Unfazed by Albert’s shyness, Johann encouraged him with a broad grin. “Wait ’til you see the lights! C’mon, I’ll race you to the barn.” Whooping, Johann burst out the kitchen door and ran toward the barn. Albert rolled his eyes. He ambled along, making his way across the yard.
Impatient, Johann bounced on his toes as he waited near the barn door for his guest. When Albert finally arrived, Johann flung open the barn door. Running inside, he jumped up onto a wooden box, reaching for a switch on the wall. “It’s amazing to see,” he said as he flipped the switch. In a moment, incandescent light flooded the spacious barn. The smell of fresh hay and saddle soap met Albert’s nose. He noticed wooden beer barrels, stacked bales of hay, and horse carriages.
Unimpressed by the lighting, Albert pointed to the incandescent bulb and went into lecture mode. “When electrical current passes through a wire, it causes the wire to heat. The wire gets so hot that it glows and gives off light.”
Johann looked at Albert in surprise, his blue eyes dancing with amazement. He could not believe what he was hearing. “How do you know that?”
This boy is interested in this? Albert thought to himself. Albert relaxed a bit and began to explain, encouraged that he seemed to have impressed Johann. “Papa takes me to work with him. He teaches me about electricity. He and my uncle want me to learn the lighting business and apprentice with them.”
“No kidding?” Johann asked with obvious interest. “Is that what you want to do?”
Albert shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess it could be okay.”
Johann nodded, becoming thoughtful. “I know what you mean. My papa has plans for my brothers and me to take over the brewery. But I don’t know if I want to do that, either.” Another smile lit up Johann’s face. “Hey, I know. I’ll become a great brewer, and you can electrify all my breweries!”
Albert had to smile. Johann’s friendliness and enthusiasm were infectious. Without warning, a lightbulb went off in the electrical expert’s head. “Wait for a second,” Albert said, tugging at a chain around his neck, pulling something out of his linen shirt. “Want to see something exciting?”
“More interesting than electric lights? You bet!” Johann nodded eagerly.
As Albert dangled a brass object on a silver chain, Johann’s eyes grew large. “Wow, what is that?”
“It’s a compass. My father gave it to me. Have you ever seen one before?”
Shaking his head, Johann guided Albert over to a bale of hay, and the two boys sat. “I haven’t,” Johann said, mesmerized by the fantastic device. “What does it do?”
Albert held out the gleaming brass compass with the twelve sparkling gems. So, Johann could see it better, he opened the top and rotated the compass. “See how the needle always points north no matter how I move the case?” His bright, brown eyes twinkled as the mystery of the unknown captured his soul. “Someday, I will understand why it does that.”
Johann’s blue eyes grew even more extensive. Not only had he never seen a compass before, he had never seen anything like it. Amid this fantastic day, Johann paused in thought. He had two older brothers, Francis and Daniel, who worked in the brewery, but they never talked like Albert did. His father, Frederick, a Lutheran, said the Einstein’s were Jewish. Maybe that was the reason he knew so much.
Albert surrendered himself to the moment. He found himself trusting his charming and friendly companion, and he allowed Johann to hold his cherished prize. Johann opened and closed the clasp. “Hey, come on!” said Johann, jumping to his feet. Their eyes glued to the compass, the two boys marched around the barn and watched the needle.
Content with their first parade, they returned to their seats on the hay bale and Johann returned the compass. Albert closed his eyes and held his precious gift to his chest. “Oh, I love my compass, and I love my Papa, who gave it to me.” The compass tingled against Albert’s chest. From inside the compass, a shimmer of light burst then radiated out about ten inches all around Albert’s hand. Albert felt the unexpected warmth and opened his eyes to find a rainbow projecting from the gems. Above the compass floated a three-dimensional number 33. Johann, struck with wonder, squealed, “Look at that!”
Albert threw his hands up in surprise, dropping the compass onto the straw floor.
The boys sat mesmerized for what seemed like an eternity.
Behind them, the barn door opened. Papa Hermann hollered into the barn, “Albert, say goodbye to Johann! Your mama has dinner waiting.”
Albert snatched up the enchanted instrument and looked earnestly at his new friend. “Johann, you must never tell anyone what happened today. You promise?”
Speechless, Johann nodded his compliance.
Bonded by a special secret, neither boy had any inkling what a vital role the compass would play in the adventure of their lives.
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