Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 24, 2011

Forty years of catching up

For most of us, walking across the stage at our high school graduation is a turning point - a time when we begin new things and leave others behind.

Frequently, it's people we leave behind. We may stay close with a friend or two and our paths will cross again with a few more. But often, the ending of our senior year is also the ending of relationships that may extend back to kindergarten or before.

Distance has a big impact. So when a classmate is a foreign exchange student, the likelihood of remaining in touch after graduation is small. Still, such students stand out and they become local celebrities, in a way. Everyone wants to know them and see how they are different or the same.

In my case, Venezuelan Ingrid Rojas was such a student. Like most exchange students, Ingrid felt that attending school in another country would be worth the life-changing experiences she would have.

Unlike Nadja, our German exchange student who stayed with us the entire school year in 2005-2006, Ingrid was hosted by three families. One of those was the Robinsons. I came to know Ingrid pretty well during her time with them because Joyce, the Robinson's only girl, was one of my closest friends my senior year.

In the 40 years since we graduated, I had never seen her again and we remained in touch only briefly. In later years, husband Art heard me wonder aloud about her and encouraged me to search for her. But as all too often happens, life got in the way.

In 1997, Ingrid attempted to reach me. She called one day when Art was home alone. He understood immediately who was calling and attempted to tell her how to reach me, but it did not work out. That call came during the time when I was in the hospital, and Art was so surprised by her call that he neglected to get her phone number.

What I didn't know is that Sherri, one of my classmates, had remained in touch with Ingrid all through the years, first through letters and occasional phone calls and later via e-mail.

But this past Tuesday, that all changed. Ingrid and I met again at a dinner coordinated by Sherri to give us a chance to get together with her again. We also met her daughter Liza, who is about the same age as Ingrid and I were when we last saw each other.

Those 40 years seem to melt away quickly. Ingrid and the rest of us chatted as if it were just yesterday when all of us were involved in pep club, Future Homemakers of America, the school newspaper and other activities. We reminisced about slumber parties and our senior trip to Six Flags Over Texas.

Then we caught up on each other's news - families, jobs, hardships, joys.

And we giggled a lot.

All the while, Liza looked on in amazement as we women acted like high-schoolers again.

Sherri has played host to Ingrid and Liza since their arrival in Kansas on May 4. She has taken them to a baby shower, a wedding, a birthday party, a funeral, a fishing tournament and an American Legion Auxiliary meeting, during which they decorated crosses for Memorial Day.

She also took them to Coronado Heights near Lindsborg and to Oklahoma, where they saw the Alabaster Caves and the Great Salt Plains. She has also treated them to Salina's Cozy Inn hamburgers and Bogey's milkshakes.

She plans to take them to Peabody's July 4th weekend activities and she wants Ingrid to sit in the back of her 1971 convertible Volkswagen Bug and throw treats to children along the parade route.

I have offered to have Ingrid and Liza come to Manhattan so I can show them the Konza Prairie, Wamego's Oz Museum, Kansas State University and Council Grove's Santa Fe sites.

But the main thing will be to talk. A two-hour dinner, while nice, just isn't enough to catch up on 40 years!

Stay tuned!

Our June 21 dinner: left, Brenda Farr Hague, Peggy Phillips, Ingrid Rojas, her daughter Liza,
Gloria Freeland, Sherri Hicks Bowlby, Barb Lowden Gomez and Myrna Wood. On the left
near the end of the table is our yearbook. How did we ever decide that was a good color?

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