Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 25, 2012

90 years young

She walks a little more than a mile each day with a quick deliberate step. She smiles as she goes, radiating a warmth that draws people to her. She said people often stop and ask how old she is.

"I don't mind saying 89, but 90 sounds so old!" she said, laughing.

I don't think anyone would consider calling her old - even though she reached that milestone last Sunday.

Husband Art and I went to California two days earlier so we could be there to help her and Uncle Stan, 89, celebrate. It was a whirlwind four-day trip, but we packed a lot into those days.

We arrived at 3 p.m., and it took us about two hours to get our luggage, rent a car and maneuver the 405, 105, 605, 91 and 57 freeways to cover the 40 miles from the airport to our hotel near their home in Chino Hills. Luckily, Art acclimates quickly to the roller coaster of blast-ahead-at-full-speed one minute followed by creeping-along the next that so characterizes the always-crowded freeways.

Kay and Stan met us at our hotel and we ate at a Chinese restaurant nearby. The next day, Stan drove us to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where we visited the graves of Aunt Hazel and Uncle Bob, Stan and Dad's oldest brother. It was a lovely spot near orange-flowering coral trees.

We also went to the street Hazel and Bob lived on for 50 years. Their home, one of the first to be built on the peninsula in the 1950s, had been razed and a new house was going up in its place. Kay and Stan, always curious and sociable, followed Art when he walked in to ask the workers if we could look around.

Chris and Kim, the new owners, happened to be there, and we spent the next 30 minutes or more learning about them and taking a tour of the 6,000-square foot house. When I told them Kay would be 90 the next day, Kay said she didn't like the sound of that.

"You should enjoy it," Chris told her. "People ignore you when you're in your 80s, but then they start paying attention again when you turn 90."

We all laughed.

From there, we drove along the peninsula, stopping at the Donald Trump golf course. It is on the site where the Marineland oceanarium had been located.

We then went to Redondo Beach, where we ate at Old Tony's restaurant on the pier. It was fun looking at all the signed pictures of stars who had eaten there ... Barbara Streisand, Bob Hope, Hugh Laurie, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Wagner and Cary Grant among them.

The drive along the coast and back through Anaheim, where Disneyland is located, reminded me of times past, when brother David, sister Gaila and I were young. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of our trips to California to see our aunts and uncles. The images of exotic palm trees, bougainvilleas, oleanders and cacti, the excitement of Disneyland's rides, and the smell and feel of the ocean � these are all engraved in my memory. On more recent trips to California, our kids have had the chance to experience some of the same things and to get to know their great aunts and uncles.

But this visit was more a time to talk, to reminisce and to celebrate Kay's birthday with them and their friends.

I had given Kay an album filled with cards, letters and pictures from nieces, nephews and friends, so every now and then she would get it out and look at it closely.

"I think a lot of people were kissing the Blarney Stone when they wrote these nice things," Kay commented.

Mom remembered that Kay and Stan visited her and Dad on the farm before they had electricity and running water.

Our oldest daughter Mariya said "... it has always been a joy to see you." Youngest daughter Katie said, "You have always remembered my birthdays, graduations and the like and I always appreciate getting a card or note in the mail."

Sister Gaila recalled Kay playing Barbies with us when we were small, and Stan and Kay's trip to Bolivia, where she and her family live. Her daughter Gabriela remembered Kay playing "Chopsticks" with her on the piano. Other daughter Larisa reminisced about our 2007 Freeland family reunion in California and our trip to Laguna Beach.

While we were there, Kay also received calls from well-wishers near and far.

But while the trip we took on Saturday was fun as was eating lunch with some of their old friends Sunday noon, we really enjoyed just spending quiet time together. One morning, we chatted over a breakfast they had prepared of freshly-squeezed orange juice, grapefruit halves, bacon and scrambled eggs. Monday evening we shared family stories over the grilled hamburgers Stan made. While Art asked Kay questions about her Lloyd genealogy, I quizzed Stan about the Freeland chronology.

I took pictures of their roses and bottle-bush trees and of the lantana, birds of paradise, succulent plants and other flora in their neighborhood.

All too soon, it was time to go. As we told them "goodbye," Stan joked that if I were Gaila, I'd be crying. Gaila was always the crier in our family, but while the tears weren't visible on the outside, I was crying on the inside.

But upon reflecting, perhaps brother Dave made the most telling observation in what he wrote about Kay. He said, "I'm pretty sure I have never seen you in a bad mood, which says a lot."

Indeed, it does!

Kay has always looked on the bright side of life. The combination of her sunny disposition and Stan's wry humor make them magnets for family and friends.

So while I was sad to leave, I felt good, too. It had been a fun few days.

And as we turned the corner on their street to begin our drive to the airport, I looked back � and Stan and Kay were waving - and smiling.

Left: Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay, foreground, listen to Chris describe some of the challenges in building their new home while Chris' brother listens; right: Aunt Kay, Gloria and Uncle Stan at the Redondo Beach pier.

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