Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 21, 2011

Happy birthday, Grandpa!

A few weeks ago, Mom opened up her fire safe to retrieve the title for her pick-up. Inside was a large envelope that contained a number of family legal documents. The one that jumped out at me was Robert Haddon Freeland's birth certificate. Grandpa was born Oct. 21, 1884 - exactly 127 years ago today!

Grandpa was born to William Freeland and Mary Hillyer on their farm in Mills County, Iowa. His Aunt Anna Belle was the attending midwife. She and Mary had married brothers James and William.

Not long after his birth, both families moved to Sherman County, Kansas. Homesteading was in full swing there, and if people staked a claim, improved the land, and maintained it for five years, the land became theirs. Their initial homes were made of sod.

While Anna Belle and Jim stayed after gaining the title to their land, Will, Mary and their kids sold their farm and moved, first to Chase County and then to Marion County, Kansas.

As a young man, Grandpa followed in his older brother Willis' footsteps, working as a telegrapher for the Santa Fe railroad. That job caused him to move frequently and it eventually led to his meeting Ethel Stewart, who became his wife. But a heart condition not diagnosed until much later, caused him to suffer from shortness of breath. The railroad's doctor thought he had tuberculosis and prescribed mountain air. So Grandpa, Grandma and their two boys Bob and my Dad Edgar, moved to Colorado and began farming, selling vegetables and milk to tourists. Later, after Uncle Stan was born, Grandpa had hamburger stands and popcorn and candy stands in California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.

But as the Depression dragged on, the family returned to the two farms they owned in Marion County outside of Burns.

Registering a birth was considered of little importance before 1935. But in August of that year, the Social Security Act became law and many people without birth certificates scrambled to get them. By then, both Mary and Anna Belle had died. So in 1941, Mary's sisters Jenny affirmed by affidavit where and when Grandpa had been born.

When World War II came, Dad's brothers went into the service while Dad and Grandpa farmed. Both Bob and Stan said the reason they never returned to the farm was because Grandpa was a man who had definite ideas on how things should be done, and didn't often entertain alternate views. I wonder how many times I've heard the story about the time Grandpa kept giving Dad directions because he was unhappy with how Dad was plowing the field. My father, who was normally an easy-going man, suddenly stopped the tractor, got off and said to Grandpa, "If you don't like the way I'm doing it, do it yourself!"

I was only 14 when Grandpa died, so my memories of him are limited and are largely fond ones. He had a garden with sweet corn, green beans, peas and strawberries. His work as county assessor fit his personality well because he loved to be out with people. More often than not, a trip to town with him would entail a stop at every corner so he could chat with friends. When people visited him and were ready to leave, he'd follow them out to the car, often leaning inside the car window to share just one more piece of news.

A favorite childhood memory is of Grandpa and Grandma's 50th wedding anniversary. Relatives and friends from all over the country came to wish them well. Sister Gaila and I wore white dresses with cummerbunds and wrist corsages. Our job was to stand at the table where guests signed an album. We felt so important.

The blank record books Grandpa kept in the bottom drawer of his desk, along with pencils and other supplies, were perfect toys for the hours my sister and I spent playing "office."

I have several mementoes that make me think of him. One of his favorite meals was ham and beans. The brown bean pot they were cooked in now sits on my kitchen hutch. I also have the large copper candy kettle from the Depression-era candy stand.

In 1964, after Grandma died, Grandpa gave me the tiny gold band she wore as a girl. I put it on my right hand and kept it there until it eventually wore through. I had it repaired and I now keep it in my dresser drawer.

Grandpa may have influenced my life in an unexpected way. By late in his life, he was afflicted with Parkinson's disease, which caused his hands to shake and his feet to shuffle. I thought I wanted to be a nurse, so I'd put on a little nurse's hat I had made and then took him his pills on a tray.

When he became ill, I visited him in the hospital. He died just two hours later. It was then I realized that nursing was not for me.

Grandpa's been gone 44 years now. But somehow I think he'd be surprised and pleased that I was thinking about him on his 127th birthday ... except, perhaps, for that part about plowing the field.

Happy birthday, Grandpa!

Left: Dad, Grandma, Uncle Bob, Uncle Stan and Grandpa on our west place farm;
right: Grandpa with his chickens while my cousin plays with the feed tray.

Grandpa with his boys Stan, Edgar and Bob.

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