Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 30, 2010

Katie knows

Katie knows.

We all do.

My sister Gaila certainly does.

She's always been the most openly emotional one in my family. So it isn't surprising that when her summer visit to Kansas draws to a close, the tears come easily.

But this year seemed a bit harder than usual, and she wasn't even heading home yet. In most years, husband Art, daughters Mariya and Katie and I have headed off to our cottage in Wisconsin at about the time Gaila and her two girls fly home to Bolivia. But this year wasn't most years. Instead, she and younger daughter Larisa boarded a plane for Washington, D.C. where her older daughter Gabriela has a summer internship. It will be exciting for them and they plan to take advantage of the sights that city has to offer. The day after they arrived in our nation's capital, Larisa texted me from the Smithsonian.

Still, Gaila knows. When she hugged Katie the day before she left, she cried. She doesn't usually break down until a bit later.

As a family, ours isn't unique. There are periods when things feel as if they stay pretty much the same. Then, in what seems like a relatively short time, important threads in what was the fabric of our lives change.

For what now seems like forever, I looked forward to the start of June when Gaila and her two girls, and in some years, husband Humberto as well, would arrive. With Gabriela and Mariya being only two years apart, they were almost inseparable. And since Katie and Larisa are only two months apart, they were even closer.

June and July were filled with the girls playing with Barbie dolls, Gaila and I buying fresh produce at the farmer's market and making meals together and everyone going swimming.

After 1993, the sadness of Gaila's gang's departure was blunted by my family of four departing for Wisconsin. We'd first head to Appleton to get Art's mom Donna. The next day, the five of us would travel northward for two weeks of fishing, exploring, berrying, working on crossword puzzles, visiting flea markets and a liberal dose of just doing nothing at all.

And for seven years, each summer was very much like the prior one. But in 2000, there was a change - a change that generated mixed emotions. Mom and Dad moved to Manhattan. The farm that had been such a part of our lives became a thing of the past. Still, the summer that followed was even better because we no longer had to spend time traveling. And so we would be together every day.

The loss of Dad in 2002 had a big impact, but probably not nearly as much as it would have had he been in good health his last few years.

Then things settled down again. The following five years were again a time when one year seemed pretty much like another. Mariya was in college, but she was attending K-State and so we saw her regularly - just not quite as often as before. And here too, just as when the folks moved from the farm, there were benefits, such as having her drop my office on campus to chat.

But in 2007, Gabriela began her college career. St. Paul and not Manhattan became her second home. Summer breaks were devoted to activities furthering her education.

We didn't know it at the time, but our summer of 2007 was also the last "normal" one in Wisconsin as well. In 2008, Donna decided that while she loved the cottage, at age 98 it was just a little more than she could handle for two weeks. And then in June last year, she died. The trips to Appleton as an intermediate destination in the summer and a place to share Christmas in the winter were over.

I think noticing these sorts of shifts in our life is easier once we become adults, and that sensitivity is heightened if we are also parents. But even Katie was thinking about these things last spring.

She had an unusually large number of friends in the senior class and she became sad as the year drew to a close. Her friends promised they would stay close, but she knew that was unlikely. She has seen how once high school is over, graduates quickly refocus on what comes next for them. High school friends become part of a memory rather than an active part of day-to-day life.

I think these same thoughts were on her mind when she pointed out to Larisa that next summer would be the last of the ones that will be anything like the past. Larisa said she didn't know that was true - that there may be more.

But Katie knows that is unlikely. Larisa is looking at colleges and, as part of a need she feels to spread her wings, she's not considering K-State. But for Katie, since K-State provides the education she's looking for, along with lower costs and nearness to family, it's her top pick. So while it's possible, after next year, it is unlikely the two of them will ever again share the countless idle hours of summer.

Whenever Donna had some sad news to share, such as the death of a family member, she'd often wrap it with a simple, "Well, I guess that's it!" It was her way of saying that it was good while it lasted and now it was time to move on - time to move from "Isn't this great" to "Wasn't that great."

So after next summer?

Well, I guess that's it!

A few summers ago during one of those times when each year seemed pretty much like the one before. Pals Katie and Larisa, left, Mariya and Gabriela, center, and sister Gaila and me, right.

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