Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 3, 2003

Country roads, take me home

Last Saturday, we drove the familiar route to my hometown of Burns - south on K-18 to I-70, west on I-70 to Highway 77 and then south.

"It's been awhile since we've driven this way," Art remarked.

I couldn't recall when our last trip home had been, but I've driven the roads so often the past 30 years or so that I can almost do it blindfolded.

The Flint Hills were still green from the recent rains, and it looked stormy ahead as we made our way toward Herington. The clouds rippled across the gray-blue sky like ocean waves topped with foam.

We ran into sometimes-heavy rain and it was still sprinkling when we arrived at the Burns United Methodist Church. We had to dash into the foyer of the church to escape the cold drops.

The church was a welcoming sight - deep red carpet and pads on the pews, lighted cross at the front, hand-made banners draped over the pulpit and hanging on the walls. It's the church that several generations of my family attended. My brother, sister and I were baptized there as were my sister's daughters.

We were there to celebrate Dad's life. We had a memorial service in Manhattan after he died last November, but we also wanted hometown friends and relatives to have the opportunity to tell him "goodbye." The service was simple - a tribute to his life as a farmer and family man. A quartet from the Mennonite Church sang "Amazing Grace," the pastor played "The Gift of Love" on her violin and one of Mom's former students sang "The Lord's Prayer."

My nephew Paul shared memories of his Grandpa, memories he described as a series of Norman Rockwell images - sitting on the fence by the barn to watch the sunsets turn the sky from purple to orange, walking down the dusty road, exploring the mysterious loft in the barn, chasing Copper the beagle, shooting cans with the BB gun - all with his Grandpa's quiet, gentle presence making him feel safe and loved.

Outside, the thunder rolled and the rain poured down, while inside the pastor spoke about men like my father - farmers who had to be willing to take risks and be persistent, to endure when there was too much rain or not enough, to press on in spite of circumstances.

Before and after the service, our family was greeted by friends we hadn't seen for years.

We had lunch at the beautiful new community building - a source of great pride for the town. The church women served up stew, Jell-O salads and cake they had prepared. We supplied the laughter and reminiscing in equal amounts.

By mid-afternoon, when the guests were heading home, the sun came out. Our family proceeded to the cemetery just outside town.

The new gravestone was startlingly bright next to the faded ones of my great-grandparents William and Mary Freeland, my grandparents Robert and Ethel Freeland and other relatives. My Grandpa had been the last Freeland to be buried there and that was in 1967.

Mom designed the new stone. It is engraved with wheat and sunflowers to represent the farm, a school bus to recall Dad's years as a driver, an artist's palette because of Mom's love of painting and a school bell from her years of teaching. In the middle is a ring with Mom and Dad's marriage date of 5-19-1946. To the left is Dad's name, the year he was born and the year he died. Mom's side has her name and birth year. Below are the words "Parents of David, Gloria, Gaila."

Paul carefully placed the urn with most of Dad's ashes behind the new stone. We each took turns with the spade - one that Dad had used in his gardens - lifting the soil and gently placing it over the urn. We finished with a prayer and then drove to the farm to spread the remainder of Dad's ashes in the cornfield north of the barn.

Dad was home.

Dad, left, carrying milk buckets from barn in 1945. Mariya, Gabriela, Katie and Larisa on the farm.

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