Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 29, 2004

The sunflower state

When Art and I went to the movie, "Calendar Girls," last Friday, the last thing I expected to see was any connection with Kansas. The movie is based on the true story of a group of middle-aged English women who decided to pose nude for a calendar to raise money to furnish the family waiting room at a local hospital. The idea was inspired by the husband of one of the women who had died of leukemia. John loved flowers, particularly sunflowers. In one of his last writings, he mused that flowers are beautiful in all their stages, but are the most glorious in their last one - just like women.

One of my favorite activities when I was in grade school was drawing sunflowers to commemorate our state's birthday on Jan. 29. I remember fashioning mine out of uneven petals of golden construction paper with a big brown circle in the middle dotted with seeds - sometimes made with real sunflower seeds and sometimes made with a marker.

I've carried my love for the flower throughout my life. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I designed and cross-stitched a huge sunflower for my Ecuadorian "Mom" so she would have something to remember me by. The Spanish word for sunflower is "girasol," which literally means "turn around the sun."

The front entrance to our home is a tribute to the sunflower. I have a photo collage of Dad's sunflower fields and a photo I took of a windmill painted to look like the flower. I also have a photo my sister took of wild sunflowers next to a barbed-wire fence. My album is full of them, too - dozens of pictures of the yellow flowers along Kansas roads. One of my favorites is a photo of Dad proudly showing sunflowers from his crop to my Uncle Bud and Aunt Edith. The three of them are sitting at our kitchen table on the farm. The two sunflower heads - larger than the faces of the humans in the photo - dwarf the vases Mom had stuck them in.

Other sunflowers displayed in our entrance include:

*a hankie from when I was a girl with a map of Kansas in the middle bordered by sunflowers,

*two paintings of the bright flowers, one done by my sister Gaila and one from my first husband's Aunt Jo,

*a woodcut of a sunflower,

*a plate with our state's symbols - including, of course, our state flower - and

*Dad's old oil can for his John Deere tractor filled with silk sunflowers.

Gaila is afflicted too. In her home in La Paz, Bolivia, she has a set of sunflower dishes and silverware, and her breakfast room is filled with the big blooms, including a sunflower calendar she received as a birthday gift.

Mom also likes sunflowers. The border of her kitchen has them and she recently acquired a cookie jar with one painted on the side.

In "Calendar Girls," the picture for each month was in sepia tones except for a bright yellow sunflower. John wrote that he loved sunflowers, not just because of their name or because of their sunny faces, but because their heads turn toward the sun's warmth throughout the day.

Happy birthday, Kansas! Keep your face turned to the sun!

The state flower of Kansas - the sunflower - is one of my favorites.

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