Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 23, 2009

The landscape has changed

The patriarch of the Freeland family - my Uncle Bob - died last week.

We had some warning, but still the news is never easy. His son, my cousin Bob Jr., and wife Kate were planning a trip to Kansas, but an e-mail arrived indicating his Dad wasn't doing well and so, they were cancelling and going to California instead.

Husband Art came from a family with six uncles and five aunts, but I had only three. With Dad's passing in 2002 and now Uncle Bob's death, there is only one Freeland brother left - my Uncle Stan.

It's natural at a time such as this to reflect - to think of all the times we spent together. The three Freeland boys and their parents moved around a lot during the early years of the Depression, but ended up on a farm in Marion County - the farm I grew up on. Uncle Bob moved to California in 1935 and Uncle Stan followed after World War II while Dad stayed on the farm. Both Bob and Stan worked as lithographers at a company that printed Life and Time magazines, among others.

When I was young, my parents, sister Gaila, brother Dave and I made several trips to California. Leaving our small farm outside of Burns, Kansas - population 300 - and going to the big city of Los Angeles was a great adventure - an adventure that began with a long train ride.

Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay, who are on-the-go people, always took us to Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Marineland or someplace else. In contrast, Uncle Bob and Aunt Hazel were more relaxed in their routine. Bob liked to garden and Hazel liked to serve meals at home and was an excellent cook, so when we were with them, we tended to move more slowly. Together, our aunts and uncles were the perfect match for what we needed - great adventure mixed with time to rest and relax.

Often they came to visit us in Burns too. Just as we loved the change we experienced by going to the big city, Bob's sons Bob Jr., Jeff and Peter seemed to enjoy leaving the city behind for the tranquility of the farm.

Dad was the quietest brother, although he had an excellent memory and could always seem to remember when certain things happened or who all of the distant relatives were and how they were connected. Maybe that is where my love of family history comes from.

Stan is quick in his actions and quick with a quip. Bob sort of fit in the middle, talking more than Dad, but less than Stan. His speaking style was very slow and he often spent as much time tamping the tobacco down in his pipe and relighting it as he did talking.

At family get-togethers, I enjoyed watching the three brothers as they sat side-by-side, arms crossed. One or the other would remember some funny incident from their growing-up years and they'd all chuckle.

Bob and Hazel celebrated 50 years of marriage before Hazel became ill and died. After her death, Bob reconnected with his old sweetheart June, who had lost her husband. They married and enjoyed 11 years together before illness claimed her too. Then Bob met Iris through his church. They married and had more than seven years together before Bob died last week at almost 94.

Whenever I lose someone I love and something brings them to mind, the same scenes play again in my head. In Uncle Bob's case, common parts are snippets from those trips to California or on the farm with my cousins. Another is him sitting at the head table at his 90th birthday celebration that Iris arranged for him at a restaurant in Los Angeles in 2005. In that one, he's wearing a crown and has his left hand wrapped around the bowl of a favorite pipe that he draws on occasionally. He was a little embarrassed and yet pleased to be "king for a day."

But the final scene was during his trip back to Kansas 10 or more years ago. We had gone out to eat at a small restaurant near Marion and, naturally, there was a lot of reminiscing during the visit. On the trip back to the farm, after a short break in the conversation, Bob shared one of his observations about the way things used to be and how they had changed.

"My gosh, only the landscape stays the same," he said, somewhat wistfully.

But now that landscape seems sadder and quieter than it did a few days ago.

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