Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 20, 2004
Our house was full of laughter and a few tears on Sunday. It was Mariya's graduation day, and, after the commencement exercises, Freeland, Vaughan and Johanning family members and friends got caught up on family news and shared stories of the past.
Often when we get together with the Johannings, the conversation turns to my first husband Jerome, who died five months before Mariya was born. It was only natural that we would discuss how proud he would have been as the daughter he never knew walked across the stage to receive her high school diploma.
For one of Mariya's graduation gifts, I gave her a scrapbook of letters and other mementos from Jerome's life. I had saved most of the items in a small trunk and a few file drawers, but hadn't opened them for years. When I went through them, I had to take a breath. It was like going through Jerome's life stage by stage, page by page.
I didn't even remember all the things I had put away. Jerome's baby book - with only a few pages completed - was among the items I re-discovered. The youngest of four sons, he often joked with his mother that she didn't have the time with him that she did with the other boys. The virtually empty baby book shows, indeed, that she had little time to put pen to paper.
His kindergarten progress report as well as his diplomas from Conway Springs High School, Wichita State University and K-State were there as well as a high school prom program and a St. Christopher's medallion. Drama and speech medals were sprinkled among various plays he wrote when he took play writing at K-State. I had forgotten how he much he loved drama and how many high school plays he performed in - just as Mariya has. Maybe it literally is in her blood.
Clippings from his high school newspaper and the Wichita Eagle as well as three years' worth of press releases he wrote when he worked for K-State's College of Engineering gave testament to his career as a journalist. Poetry from his undergraduate days at Wichita State and even his flowery letters to his parents from Costa Rica, where we met and lived after we were married, also demonstrated his love for the written word.
Pictures he took of the Triumph TR-3 he bought in high school brought back memories of hours spent in junk yards looking for parts and many more hours working to get them installed.
Writings from a Spanish literature class he took as well as materials he put together for the English composition and Written Communications for Engineers courses he taught at K-State filled several file folders.
I even found pictures of old girlfriends and a class ring - probably from one of those girlfriends.
But probably my favorite items - not including all the photos I have of him - were the letters written by friends after he died. I had asked them to write their memories of him so Mariya would know her father through others' eyes.
When I re-read some of the letters, I was amazed at how many of the traits are similar to Art's - a booming, but friendly voice, a raunchy sense of humor, an insatiable curiosity about life, an easy laugh, a deep concern for others, an argumentative style when seeking the truth, a fierce love for family. And Jerome had and Art still has an uncanny knack of being able to irritate me more than anyone else on earth and then making me laugh afterward.
Looking through Jerome's writings, Art mentioned how surprised he was to find their points of view coincided so frequently. He's also kidded me that he knows whenever I'm upset with him that at least I won't be wondering how it would be if Jerome were there because I'd probably be upset with him, too.
Art sometimes speaks about how the roles of moms and dads are different - how moms try to protect their children from harm while dads try to prepare them for the world. If that's the case, perhaps graduation day is a father's day - or in this case, fathers' day. I know both of Mariya's fathers are proud as their daughter takes another step out into the world.
Mariya, middle left, looks a lot like her father Jerome Johanning, top left.
First picture, lower left, I took of Art with Mariya. She called him “Aht” until
she began calling him Daddy. Right, high school graduation day May 2004