Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 12, 2013

July surprise

Only 16 months apart in age, sister Gaila and I have always been close. But maintaining that connection became more difficult after she moved to Bolivia 30 years ago. And after she met Humberto, I knew we would live far apart. That separation became easier with the development of e-mail and then Skype sessions make it easier yet.

But that bond has remained solid principally due to her returning to Kansas every summer except one. In 1992, we were both pregnant and joked that if we had been together, we would have only compared belly size and morning-sickness stories.

The first few years we were apart, neither of us had children. But when I reflect on our summers together, it is the years with the girls that come to mind. Swimming, playing at my folk's farm, dressing up in Mom's clothes, going to movies, visiting the zoo, eating McDonald's Happy Meals, enjoying Dairy Queen treats and celebrating the 4th of July all played big parts in those summer years.

But now it's hard to just get them all together. Daughters Mariya, 27, and Katie, 20, and Gaila's daughters, Gabriela, 24, and Larisa, 20, are now adults and the summers without responsibilies are a thing of the past. Mariya is probably the least tied-down as she uses the summers to recharge her batteries after teaching four classes at Kansas State University during the fall and spring semesters. But Katie took eight hours of K-State summer school classes that ran until the end of June. Gabriela now lives in Washington, D.C. and works at a law firm and so can't get away much. Larisa, who will be a junior at the University of Kansas, spent 10 days working on an urban project in Detroit.

While Mariya, Katie and Larisa found time to go to movies, shop and eat out, it just didn't seem quite right; the fourth person was missing. So I texted Gabriela: "How are you? Miss you being in Kansas! Love you!"

Gabriela's response made me a bit sad: "I'm OK. I miss being there too. Feeling left out ...well more lonely than anything. Love you too."

"You should fly here for a LONG July 4th weekend! :-) That would be awesome!!! XXXXXOOOOO," I responded.

"Jajajajajajaja! If only the corporate world would be so nice," she answered. (The "j" in Spanish is pronounced like our "h's" so "jajaja" is equivalent to our "hahaha.")

"Sigh... they just don't understand family, do they? Well, we love you muchly!" I replied.

I knew the day would come when the seemingly endless summers of childhood fun would come to an end. But that realization didn't make it much easier.

The days passed. Katie finished her summer school classes. Gaila and Larisa cleaned Mom's house and helped her with various other tasks. I went to work in the mornings and tried to find as much spare time as possible to spend with Gaila and the girls in the afternoons and evenings.

On July 1, Gaila called and asked if I was in my Kedzie Hall office because she was going to stop by. I was, but a few minutes later she called again. She said she couldn't find a parking spot, but she said I should go outside because she had something for me.

I walked outside and did a double-take. Gabriela was sitting in the front passenger seat! Was that really her? I checked the back seat. Larisa was there. So I really wasn't seeing things. I ran down the steps and, as soon as Gabriela opened the door, I threw my arms around her.

"Oh, wow!" I exclaimed. "When did you decide to come? Have you been planning this a long time?"

Gabriela and Gaila had "plotted" the surprise when Gaila was visiting Gabriela in Washington before she came to Kansas.

Gabriela was only going to be in town a short time so we took advantage of the time she had. On July 2, we bought fireworks - more and bigger ones than we've purchased before. On July 3, husband Art and Gabriela went out to eat and had one of their "heart-to-heart" chats. On July 4, we celebrated Independence Day with a barbecue and fireworks display in Mom's back yard, where we could also watch the CiCo Park show. On July 5, the girls went swimming and we had a "slumber party" at Moms, where we watched "The Hobbit" and "The Avengers." And on July 6, brother Dave and his wife Linda came over from Salina so we could catch up on family news. A trip to Dairy Queen rounded out the evening.

Later, Art said to me that he couldn't think of anyone that he was happier to see return for a visit.

Reflecting, no, it wasn't like the old days. But it was fun to see them all together again and so this summer will be added to our memories too ... the summer of the special July surprise!

Left: from left, Katie, Larisa, Gabriela and Mariya enjoy a little summer barbecue at Mom's home; right: closing out Gabriela's time with us with a late-evening run to the Dairy Queen.

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