Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 2, 2009

"Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think"

Each year husband Art writes a genealogy letter that he sends to selected relatives and friends who have similar family history interests. About five years ago, he wrote one he titled "The way we weren't." In it, he compared the way newspaper articles and similar documents generated near the time certain events took place compared to our current perceptions of those same events. A typical example is how today most Americans think the United States entered World War II with a sense of inevitability and that Pearl Harbor was just the final straw. In truth, the overwhelming majority of Americans were isolationists and wanted Europe and Asia to sort out their own problems while we tended ours.

The other day I was going through our annual Christmas newsletters and I saw many similar examples of how my recollections of family events varied from what had actually taken place. Most often it involved bringing back sharply something that time had softened or had allowed to slip away from my conscious thoughts entirely.

I sent my first letter in 1986 when I was a young widow with a five-month-old daughter. In that letter, I thanked people for supporting me throughout that year, which I described as my "agony" - the death of my husband Jerome, and "ecstasy" - the birth of our daughter Mariya. I didn't feel much like celebrating Christmas, but I wrote that Mariya had brought joy back into my life. I shared one of my journal passages in my letter. The entry from Dec. 7 was to Mariya: "The tree lights sparkled in your eyes. You reached for the string of twinkling red, green, blue, yellow and pink and the magic of Christmas flickered in my heart - even if only for a moment. You are my Christmas. I love you so."

In 1987, I wrote that I had met a kind, caring man named Art who had made me laugh again and who loved both Mariya and me. The following year's letter brought news of Art's and my marriage and our trip to Great Britain. In 1989, highlights included the fact that sister Gaila and husband Humberto had their first child - daughter Gabriela, and that Art and I traveled to Austria and West Germany just a few months before the Berlin Wall fell.

All of these things were events I recalled, but rereading about them allowed me to mentally realign them. The family happenings somehow don't seem that long ago, but it is easy to forget that the Cold War came to an end relatively recently.

In 1990, I wrote that Art and I traveled to the Netherlands and Germany with Art's mother Donna. I noted that I was amazed by how Art's 80-year-old mother was 80 steps ahead of us the whole time. I also mentioned that at the end of the year, Mariya had some serious questions for Santa, who made an appearance at a friend's party . . . "Why aren't you wearing gloves? Where do the reindeer sleep? Why do you have a white plastic bag instead of a red one?"

I had forgotten those details completely. Rediscovering Mariya's questions and my observations about Donna made me smile as if they had happened just moments ago.

In 1993, I wrote, "As I look back over the year, I once again realize how much my immediate and extended family members and friends mean to me. I also realize how quickly the milestones in our lives come and go . . . Mariya turned 7 and Katie turned 1. Just a year ago, Mariya would slowly and carefully read through a book for me. Now a second-grader, she sits down and whips through nine books by herself in one sitting. Just a year ago, I was transporting Katie around the house in my rectangular laundry basket lined with receiving blankets. Now, I'm chasing her through the house as she squeals and giggles."

Our last letter - the one we finally finished on Christmas Eve this year - included news of Mariya's graduation from Kansas State University and Katie's performance in a high school musical as well as of our family's trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland, where we toured the home my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Shannon lived in.

Letters such as these have provided at least a partial documentation of the milestones in our lives with an accuracy and freshness that recollections can never provide. In this cell-phone, Facebook and e-mail society, they also allow us to take time to reflect on what the past year has brought us.

And they make me realize how quickly the years go by and remind me of a song Art likes to sing: "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think. Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink. The years go by, as quickly as a wink. Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think."

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