Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 13, 2011

2 + 2 = fun

Youngest daughter Katie made a DVD for her fellow Riley County High School seniors that she presented at their senior dinner this week. For the DVD, she asked their teachers what last piece of advice they would give the students. In his interview, football coach Steve Wagner said it was fine to have goals and dreams, but he urged them to make sure they enjoy the here and now.

I would add that I get a lot of pleasure rummaging through my closet of memories - memories of both milestones and small moments

Now is a time for doing both in our household.

When little sister Gaila met a handsome young lawyer during a visit to La Paz, Bolivia, I was excited, but also a bit concerned. Gaila and I had always been very close and that was how I wanted it to stay. But when Gaila wrote and told me to put her things in storage, I knew what it meant.

My fears were unfounded. While we are on different continents during the school year, Gaila returns to Kansas every summer. We probably have made more memories together than if she had lived just a state away.

A good example of one of those memories is a photo that has been sitting on a hallway shelf for almost 18 years. In it, the toddler on the left struggles to escape from her big sister's grasp. Her sister, 7, is facing the camera with a forced smile and bright eyes as if to say, "Take the picture already!" The 4-year-old next to her grasps her left elbow with her right hand and shyly looks away. And the toddler on the far right holds her hands to her mouth, as if inspecting the scene unfolding before her.

The picture is of daughters Katie and Mariya and their cousins Gabriela and Larisa, all in the matching dresses they wore for their great aunt's and uncle's 50th anniversary in June 1993.

All those little girls are graduating this month - three of them this weekend. Mariya will receive her master's degree in cultural studies from Kansas State University's Department of English today. Tomorrow, Gabriela will obtain her undergraduate degree in political science with a concentration in human rights and a minor in French from Macalester College. Katie will graduate from Riley County High School Sunday. Two weeks later, Larisa will graduate from the American Cooperative School in La Paz, Bolivia.

Our four girls are close enough in age that they've grown up together. First came Mariya in July 1986. Two and a half years later - in January 1989 - Gabriela was born. Then in 1992, Larisa arrived in September and Katie in November.

When Mom and Dad still lived on the farm, the girls spent many summer days there. They played with kittens, explored the barn, roamed the yard and beyond, and gave fashion shows with Mom's old clothes.

After the folks moved to Manhattan in 2000, the girls played with Barbies, swam at CiCo Park, shot fireworks on the 4th of July, raced to see who could finish the "Harry Potter" books first, and attended "Harry Potter" movie premieres.

During the 1998 and 2003 Christmas holidays, I took Mariya and Katie to visit Gaila's family in Bolivia. We shopped in open-air markets, rode a small boat across Lake Titicaca and visited the ruins of Tiahuanaco. In the summers of 1999 and 2007, we all traveled to California, where the girls discovered - and we older ones rediscovered - the magic of Disneyland and the Pacific Ocean.

And as the years passed, Gaila and I often wondered what would have happened if one or more of the four had been boys. It definitely would have altered the "chemistry." As it was, the girls got along famously - with only rare spats or hurt feelings.

For a while, each summer followed on the heels of the previous one. It was a truly special time - a time when Gaila's two and my two equaled endless fun. But then, as the girls matured, their times together decreased. One summer, Mariya took classes and worked at K-State and so couldn't be as carefree as in the past. Gabriela stayed in St. Paul one summer and did an internship in Washington, D.C. the next. This year, she is looking for a job in the East. And now, with the younger girls graduating from high school and making final preparations for college, it's hard to say how often the four might get together in the future.

But that is for them to sort out. Certainly there is a touch of sadness at seeing their summers of togetherness come to an end. But it is certain we lived Coach Wagner's words to the fullest. And now, the memories and photos we generated not only make me smile, but warm my heart.

Left, left to right, Katie, Mariya, Gabriela and Larisa in 1993;
right, Larisa, Mariya, Katie and Gabriela in July 2009.

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