Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 25, 2008

Three old hens and a spring chicken

Mom, mother-in-law Donna and I traveled to Council Grove last week to visit Mom's sister - my Aunt Edith. I had been watching the weather because nice days have been few among the cloudy, cool, rainy ones this spring and I knew it would be easier to help the ladies in and out of the van if we didn't have to dodge rain drops.

My vigilance paid off it because it was a glorious sunny day. As we drove down K-177 along the Konza Prairie, Donna, a native Wisconsinite, declared how beautiful the hills and grasses were.

I smiled, for I remembered some of her visits not that many years ago when she described the Kansas landscape as that "God-forsaken place."

The trip went quickly as we chatted about this and that. I occasionally had to repeat things Mom and Donna said to each other since their hearing isn't the best.

When we arrived in Council Grove, Edith was waiting for us. I helped her into the van and we were off to lunch at the Trail Days Bakery Café, located in the Terwilliger Home at the west end of town. Although Mom and I had eaten there with Edith several times, this was Donna's first visit to the historic limestone home.

On our arrival, we were greeted by café operators Ken and Shirley McClintock. Mom immediately noticed the crocheted tablecloth and commented that it looked like one her mother would have made

Donna asked what everyone was going to eat and when I said I thought I'd have salmon patties, she and Edith immediately began comparing notes on salmon loaf and salmon patty recipes. Mom chimed in that Shirley should enter her cole slaw recipe in a contest she'd read about.

Then Donna interjected, "Poor Gloria with all these old hens!"

"Speak for yourself," Edith said.

"But she's just a spring chicken to me," Donna said.

Donna turned 98 in late March, Mom turned 84 the same month and Edith will be 88 in May so I guess at 54, I must seem like a spring chicken to them!

After some discussion, Edith and Donna decided on the meatloaf, Mom chose the fried chicken and I stuck with the salmon patties.

When Shirley brought the food, she also served up a history lesson about the Terwilliger Home, pointing to the large framed photographs of people significant to the history of the home.

The home was built by Abraham and Mary Rawlinson alongside the Santa Fe Trail in 1860-61. It was the last home the trains of freight wagons passed going West when leaving Council Grove. William Riley Terwilliger purchased it in 1870 and eventually added a south wing.

In 1927, the main floor of the front of the house was converted to a filling station. And that was how it stayed until it closed after 1977. The home was almost demolished, but the Historic Preservation Corporation came to the rescue in 1994. The house was then restored to its appearance in an 1880 photograph and its 1907 remodeling and is one of the four oldest homes remaining along the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas.

After all that history, we decided we needed dessert. Mom and Donna chose mixed berry pie with ice cream while Edith and I chose the tapioca with butterscotch sauce.

With lunch done, we were off to visit Edith's apartment, but first she wanted me to drive past her old home so she could see the forsythia blooming.

Driving back along Main Street, Edith pointed out the Post Office Oak, the Council Oak and the Madonna of the Trail statue, all historic sites on the old Santa Fe Trail.

I thought that would be it for the history lessons, but when we arrived at Edith's apartment, she asked me to get a small heart-shaped box from under her bedroom dresser. Inside were my grandmother's wedding dress, one of Edith's dresses from when she was a little girl, daughter Linda's baby dress, hat and pink baby shoes, and son Ron's blue baby shoes.

I had never seen grandma's wedding dress. We compared the muted peachy ivory crepe-de-chine creation with the black and white 1917 wedding photo of Grandma Hulda and Grandpa Nels that Edith had hanging in her bedroom.

We wanted to stay longer, but rain had been predicted for the evening, so we headed home.

As we approached Manhattan, I thought about earlier in the day when I had felt somewhat guilty about spending time away from work. But when I thought about choosing between grading a few papers and spending time with the old hens, there was no contest for this spring chicken.

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