Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - August 30, 2019


A "point of light"

Some folks, whom we might call “characters,” are easy to write about because they sometimes say and do “over-the-top” things - things that are easy for a writer to describe in words. My mother and husband Art’s mother fit into that group. In the years since their passing, family members and others continue to tell stories about them.

In contrast, our fathers were quiet people - people who went about the business of their lives providing for their families in many important, yet understated ways. But choosing words to describe them is frustrating, for they invariably leave the impression of someone rather ordinary and uninteresting.

My sister-in-law Linda was in this latter group. She was quiet and shunned the spotlight. She had a deep faith, yet while she helped her church in many ways, she focused much of her energy and love on my brother Dave and their two boys, Paul and Michael.

In October 2017, Linda was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. But while the treatments made her tired, in most regards, she went on being that quiet, solid pillar of her family she had always been. She had a good appetite and matching attitude. She lost her hair, but it grew out into a beautiful white “do” that made her look a bit like a “warrior queen.” In April, she celebrated her 70th birthday. She enjoyed her grandchildren’s sporting events, community theater activities and family get-togethers.

But the disease progressed. Earlier this month, she told Dave she was “sick of being sick,” and passed shortly after.

Yet there was an important side to Linda that we family members rarely thought about. At her memorial service, Paul reminded us.

... She and my dad are both entrepreneurs, starting their businesses over 40 years ago right here in Salina, [Kansas]. As a member of several national and state organizations for the education of young children and a preschool teacher for over 40 years, my mom’s influence spans literally thousands of children ...

In her Four Seasons Preschool, Linda taught more than 1,400 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, including her two sons and two of her grandsons. Because of her reputation, people sometimes contacted her as soon as their children were born to make sure there would be a spot for them when the youngsters would be old enough to attend.

She loved teaching children their ABCs, numbers and colors, but she was especially proud of introducing them to sign language. She and Dave recently endowed a scholarship for students intending to study early childhood education.

At her service, the minister said Linda showed her “teacher side” when he visited her in the hospital. He was wearing a tie that someone had left at a small church where he had been the pastor. He waited for several weeks for someone to claim the tie, but when no one came forward, he claimed it for himself. Linda pointed at the tie and then pointed one index finger at him, while running the other over it - the gesture every child recognizes as meaning “shame on you!”

When I submitted Linda’s obituary to our hometown newspaper, I discovered the woman I spoke with knew her. Phyllis’ children, Miranda and Ben, now in their 30s, had been Linda’s students. Phyllis said that while both had a positive experience under Linda’s guidance, it was Ben she had been concerned about.

Ben ... was a difficult child. I would have worried much putting him into the hands of “just anyone,” but my experience with Linda had taught me that he would be fine under her instruction. I was amazed at how her unconditional love for the children made Ben want to cooperate and learn, and work hard to please her. She simply had a way with the children ...

She did have a way with the children, and she delighted in doing craft activities with them. When Linda was in the hospital, Michael’s young son Dominic insisted on taking to his grandmother a fabric bird he had made in a summer art class. Michael told others about the experience:

... He made a little brown bird out of fabric, stuffed it and sewed it together himself. He was so proud of that little bird ...

When my dad saw this little bird, he initially thought that Dominic had made a canoe ... We all had a good laugh about this, and then the bird’s name became “Canoe” because of the joy it brought us all.

Mom never let that bird leave her side during her days at the hospital. She showed it to everyone who came to see her, and we told them all the story of “A Bird Named Canoe.” If the bird went missing from her bed, she quite adamantly asked for it back! Canoe was the perfect size for her to hold in her hand, and became a kind of stress ball as the days passed and the hope of her being able to come home began to fade ...

The Sunday before she passed, all of the grandkids came to visit her a couple more times. During Dominic’s visit, she ... [said] ... she wanted Dominic to “Make More” birds.

Michael, wife Kristina and their boys already have made more birds and would like to give them to the hospital and cancer center so others might be comforted by them. Fulfilling Linda’s directive to “make more” birds is a way for her family to continue to share her love.

But Linda also will live on in the thoughts of the more than 1,400 youngsters who experienced her loving, yet firm guidance during an important formative time. For them, she will be one of those "1,000 points of light" President George H. W. Bush spoke about. So, despite being one of those quiet people, no special words are needed to preserve her legacy.


Top-left: A family gathering at the Brookville Hotel in Abilene, Kansas. Left-to-right: Linda; Mariya Vaughan; Gabriel Freeland; Miriam Macedo; Dominic Freeland; Gloria; Art; Oliver, Dave, Kristina and Michael Freeland. Top-right: Freelands in front of the Four Seasons Preschool in Salina, Kansas. Back: Paul, Rachel, Dave, Kristina and Michael; front: Sydney, Erynn, Linda, Dominic, Chase and Gabriel. Bottom-left: Linda in the preschool with grandchildren Dominic and Gabriel. Bottom-center: Linda. Bottom-right: a "Bird named Canoe" held by Michael.



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