Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 6, 2005

50 years of memories

When I flip through our family albums, I'm often struck by how the photos tell the story of my sister's and my life together. In one photo, I'm in a child-size rocker kissing my doll while Mom sits nearby holding Gaila. In another, big brother Dave is holding the two of us in a big overstuffed chair. There are pictures of us sharing - sharing chicken pox, the bathtub, clothing, kittens, dolls, and last minute 4-H project preparations.

As we got older, we continued to share.

Gaila and I both attended Kansas State University, she following two years after I started. We lived in the same wing of Ford Hall only two floors apart; the back steps of the dorm between our rooms were worn thin from our frequent visits.

My adventures in Peace Corps after college represented my first experiences without my sister close by, although she did visit me in Ecuador.

When I moved to Costa Rica to work on a newspaper, Gaila and the folks visited. It was on their first night in San José that I announced that I wanted to marry Jerome - whom I had met only a few months before. Although Gaila was disturbed that I had made this decision without her input, she agreed to be my maid of honor.

After my Latin American adventures, Gaila tried her wings. She traveled to Bolivia in 1983 to visit friends we had made in college. She warned me I might have to put her things in storage if she decided to stay longer than the six weeks she had originally planned. Stay longer she did. She met Humberto and brought him home for Christmas in 1984. They married in June 1985. I was her matron of honor and Jerome was his best man. She still calls Bolivia home today.

In spite of the physical distance between Bolivia and Kansas, we still remain close. E-mail has helped that, but so has sharing life's experiences. Much of it has been fun, but we've also shared unhappy times and grief.

When Jerome was stricken by a brain aneurism in late 1985, Gaila rushed to my side. But as days went by with little change, Gaila had to return to her job in Bolivia. She asked what many people might have left unspoken.

"Do you want me to come back if Jerome dies?"

I responded that she had come when Jerome and I needed her and I wouldn't expect her to return for a funeral.

When I gave birth to Mariya five months after Jerome's death, she was one of my coaches in the delivery room, and she helped me in my first few weeks of coping with a newborn.

In the summer of 1988, when Art and I were discussing our plans to marry on New Year's Eve, Gaila told us she wouldn't be able to come in December because she was pregnant and due in early January. We got married in July so she could serve as one of our witnesses. We told everyone we had to get married early because my sister was pregnant. Her daughter Gabriela was born a few days after New Year's.

The only summer Gaila didn't come back to Kansas was in 1992, when we were both pregnant. We joked that we'd probably just sit around and commiserate about how fat we felt.

Gaila and her family joined us in Kansas that Christmas when Larisa was three months old and Katie was one month old. We took dozens of pictures with the two little ones dressed alike and the two older girls dressed alike - reminiscent of when Gaila and I wore look-alike outfits.

Gaila has lent her support many other times when I needed her, too. In February 1997, when I was in an intensive care unit paralyzed by an auto-immune disease, she rushed home and stayed until she knew that I would recover.

In November 2002, she was here to support all of us after Dad died.

We have been best friends for as long as I can remember. I'm only 16 months older, so it's natural that we shared a lot of growing-up-together, awkward-teenage-problem, whispered-night-time-secrets memories as well as growing-older, having-kids and losing-those-we-love experiences.

This month Gaila will celebrate her 50th birthday. Happy birthday, sis! May we share many more memories!

Inspecting my new sister (left), and Gaila and I "sharinging" chicken pox.

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