Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 9, 2011

Senior moments, Swedish meatballs and seasonal songs

I wasn't sure if I was looking forward to last Saturday with anticipation or dread. On the plus side, I was to get together with some of my gal-pals for our annual Christmas breakfast. Then, in the late afternoon, husband Art, our two girls, Mom and her friend Stan and I would all climb in our van and head north to Olsburg for the town's annual Swedish supper.

But the weatherman had been predicting rain for days with the possibility of sleet, ice and snow.

The morning broke dreary with a cold rain, yet I knew meeting Ann, Linda, Pat and Wanda at the IHOP restaurant would brighten my day. So off I went.

These get-togethers always seem to involve a lot of laughing, and this time was no different. Ann and I kicked it off by making a fashion error. Pat, Linda and Wanda were wearing purple in honor of K-State's final home football game. But Ann and I had chosen almost identical red sweaters.

"I wasn't even thinking about the game," Ann said.

"Me neither," I answered. "I just wanted to wear something Christmasy."

Qualifying for IHOP's "senior" status, Ann ordered first and chose the "Senior Rooty" - one egg, one sausage link, one strip of bacon and one pancake topped with berries and whipped cream.

Linda thought that sounded good too, but added a slip of the tongue.

"I'd like the 'Senior Tooty,' too," she said.

I started giggling and just couldn't stop.

When it was my time to order, I couldn't get the words out.

Pat, chuckling, turned to the waitress and said, "She wants the 'rooty' or 'tooty' or whatever it's called."

And so it went, the next two hours quickly slipping by.

The rain let up by late afternoon as we headed off on the 30-mile jaunt to our eighth and Olsburg's 56th annual Swedish supper. Mom is 100 percent Swedish, and she enjoys the food, friends and atmosphere.

Because of the weather, we went earlier than usual, which meant the crowd in the grade school gym wasn't as large as we were used to.

Every year I try the lutfisk and every year I decide it's not for me. I think more than anything, I find the texture disconcerting. Art has acquired a taste for it and says it is like eating fish with mashed potatoes. I like both fish and mashed potatoes, but I want my fish to look like fish and my potatoes to look like potatoes.

But the other food - Swedish meatballs, potato sausage, sweet potatoes, salad, pickled herring, cabbage slaw, stuffed eggs, beets, rye bread, ostkaka, lingonberries, cookies and coffee - was wonderful. As usual, I ate too much.

Stan's favorite is the pickled herring. He was pleased that the woman dishing it out looked away after giving him some. He used the opportunity to put more on his plate.

Happy and full, we again piled into the van for the return trip.

On the way up, Art mentioned the year we had hurried back from the supper to listen to the concert at St. Isidore's church in Manhattan. He wondered aloud if they were having it this year. Daughter Katie texted a friend in the choir and confirmed they were.

"We should go," he suggested.

Katie agreed that sounded like fun and I decided to go with them.

Frank, the choir director, does a wonderful job and so the day was brought to a close by listening to ear- and soul-pleasing renditions of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Gloria," "The First Noel," "O Holy Night" and others all sung in a beautiful church.

Reflecting, it occurred to me that the day was like so much of this time of year. The promise of seeing friends and family, doing planned and unplanned activities, eating different foods and any number of other things causes us to look forward to the coming of the holidays. Yet those same things, when mixed with travel and unpredictable weather, inevitably add a certain amount of stress, tempering our anticipation. But with a liberal amount of comforting familiarity created by the rhythm of tradition, the stress seems to melt away and the enjoyment to remain.

Top: Swedes and wannabe Swedes enjoying the supper at the elementary school in Olsburg; bottom: Stan butters his bread while Mom, Gloria, Katie, older daughter Mariya and Art pause for the photographer.

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