Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 06, 2017
As I pulled the mittens from the closet, I thought of husband Art’s friend Carol. I met her only once - at their 50th high-school reunion. Yet each time I put the mittens on, she comes to mind. Carol made them - stitched together from old sweaters. She gave them to Art for me while he was in Wisconsin helping plan their class reunion.
Those mittens prompted a discussion of how people we meet just in passing sometimes leave an impression on our lives. The lyrics of “For Good” - a song in the play, “Wicked” - explain how people can come into our lives and change us.
... Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun.
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood.
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I’ve been changed for good ...
The movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” plays on that theme. Recently-bankrupt banker George Bailey considers ending his life until he is shown the positive differences he made in the lives of his family members and friends across his hometown. Most of us are unlikely to consider our banker a close friend, yet without someone willing to lend money, few of us could buy a home.
It might be argued that since Carol enjoys sewing or George Bailey was just doing what bankers do, that it diminishes the importance of what happened. I don’t agree, but for those who see it differently, consider what happened to us one Christmas Day when the girls were young. Art’s daughter Karen and family in Kansas City were out visiting other family members during the day and we would be getting together in the evening. Our plan was to stop somewhere and eat first, but being Christmas, almost nothing was open. Eventually, we found a Chinese restaurant for our holiday meal.
It was an eclectic group in that small eatery. I assume most people were with family that evening. But the food was good and we had a great time.
For some reason, a middle-aged man eating with two late-teenage boys at a table across the room had caught Art’s attention. So he noticed immediately when the older man arose and began going from table to table, chatting quietly with the people at each. When he arrived at our table, he wished us a “Merry Christmas” and asked if he could have our bill. Art, somewhat perplexed, agreed and then the man added ours to the others he had previously collected. He paid for all of them and then waved as he and his companions left the restaurant.
Another example occurred during Art’s first year in Kansas. After spending Thanksgiving vacation with his family in Wisconsin, he headed back in an unusually heavy snow storm. South of Des Moines, Iowa, Interstate 35 was reduced to two ruts and here and there he passed vehicles that had slid into the ditch. Those on the road were crawling along. Then, just before the exit for Truro, a wheel bearing went bad.
He took the exit and attempted without success to find someone at the two houses nearby.
Across the country road from one of them was a natural gas pumping station. Art coaxed the car to the gate with the headlights pointed toward the station. After much use of the horn, a man came out and Art explained his plight. Art needed to get back to Kansas City and to let his boss know he'd be late for work. The man told Art he’d have to wait until he got off work at 11 p.m. Art was so tired he slept on a table in the station’s break room.
At 11 p.m., Lester Freeman took Art to his home and made a bed for him on his sofa.
Art awoke at 5 a.m. to the smell of bacon frying. After a full bacon-and-eggs breakfast, Lester took him to Osceola, where Art could buy a bus ticket to Kansas City. Lester asked Art what he should do with the car. Art told Lester it wasn’t much of a car and he could keep it.
Then Art tried to pay him. Lester just waved the money away and said, “I’d just like to think that if one of my kids broke down near your home, you’d have done the same.”
“I don’t think he believed I really meant it until I sent him the title,” Art told me.
Art stopped by the Freeman house the following spring. Lester told Art he had fixed up the car and given it to his daughter who liked it very much.
Many more of these life-changing intersections leave only the smallest of marks on us that surfaces only at unexpected times. Art says that when he looks in the mirror these days, a quote from Les Scruton comes to mind. Les was from his Dad’s hometown and Art actually never met him in the flesh. Les’ observation, printed in the local newspaper, was, “I think as you get older, it’s less important to look good.”
When someone is going on and on about something that Art feels is hogwash, he thinks of a phrase he overheard a junior high gym teacher use. After a youngster had tried to explain something he had done that really had no explanation, the teacher said, “Drop your pants; it’s muffling your voice.”
Art’s brother will occasionally mention a quote from a childhood-acquaintance. Andy pops to mind only when it seems appropriate to recite his question: “Why are there more horse’s rear-ends in the world than there are horses?”
These random intersections, brief as they may be, often play out again and again over our lifetime.
Art, Gloria, daughter Mariya and Mariya's high school classmate Josh and her girlfriend Miriam after our most recent Christmas-Day excursion to our favorite Chinese restaurant.