Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 5, 2014

Skyping, swimming and 7-UP salad

In the early afternoon two weeks ago tomorrow, husband Art and I climbed into our old "lumber wagon" of a van and headed toward daughter Katie's apartment. We picked her and boyfriend Matt up and then made our way to daughter Mariya's duplex. She and girlfriend Miriam climbed aboard and the six of us set sail for McPherson, Kansas. Our destination was the Johanning family reunion.

It was a typical hot Kansas day with the thermometer heading toward 100 degrees. Art had warned us that he was going to have the air conditioning on full for the nearly two-hour trip. I took a blanket in case I got cold, but with six people along, the vehicle was just barely cool enough.

Art asked Mariya to pilot us through the last few turns and she did so effortlessly. Once parked, I asked the "kids" to take the food and soda into the house. I found Jo in the kitchen with counters stacked end-to-end with various appetizers. We greeted her, my other sister-in-law Dorothy, and other relatives before heading to the back yard, where brothers-in-law Dave and Gary were seated in the shade while grandkids and great grandkids horsed around in the pool.

Whenever we get together with the Johannings, I know it's going to be a rowdy affair. And this year's reunion of about 40 of us was no exception. I've been a part of the family for 35 years, having married Jerome, the youngest of Ken and Rita's four sons, in September 1979. Jerome died in early 1986. In some families, such a death might sever the relationship, but ours are not like that. In fact, when I asked if it was OK to bring Miriam and Matt along, Dave's response was "Absolutely, the more, the merrier."

And it was merry. We had warned both Matt and Miriam that Gary would probably give the two first-time attendees a hard time and he didn't disappoint. He quizzed Matt about how he met Katie and what he liked about her. Then he asked Miriam similar questions and what she planned to do when she completed her schooling.

Then he moved on to what he called the more important questions ... the ones that can make or break a relationship. He went around the circle of lawn chairs asking each of us whether the proper way was to put the toilet paper onto the dispenser with the tissue going over the top or under the roll. Dave's daughter Jennifer said she was happy if they just put it on the dispenser at all.

When that topic was thoroughly dealt with, he asked whether we put our pillows on the bed with the opening flaps facing to the outside or inside.

"These are all really serious issues," he said. We all laughed.

Gary has a reputation for the odd tall tale that he introduces with such a straight face that the listener is usually well into it before he realizes what's happening. One involved a local event Gary said was originally called the grasshopper rodeo. He explained that many years ago the dry Kansas weather had encouraged an outbreak of grasshoppers and they were eating every living thing. Needing relief, farmers asked for help and someone developed a spray that would kill the pests. But it had the opposite effect on some of the hoppers and they grew to the size of small horses. The locals decided to make the best of it and started the grasshopper rodeo!

With that, Dave excused himself to attend to the grill. Before long, we were all heading to the tables, laden with brats and hot dogs, taco salad, baked beans, bacon and cream cheese roll-ups, watermelon, grapes, cranberry salad and 7-UP salad. Art declared that the latter was one of his favorites and that he had two helpings.

"I used Rita's recipe," Jo said.

After supper, Art and Dave talked about their jobs. Jo, Dorothy and I decided we should meet in Abilene sometime to visit the Eisenhower museum and go antiquing. The young ones swam, squabbled and played bean bag toss. One had been practicing speaking with a British accent and soon several others had picked it up as well. We reminisced about past get-togethers and remembered Ken, Rita and Jerome.

About halfway through the evening, we Skyped Jerome's brother Kenny, who lives near St. Louis. He had just returned home after several months in a rehab hospital. He fell from a tree in April and is now in a wheelchair. We missed him at the reunion, but it was good to talk and see his face on the tablet screen. The picture wa somewhat pixelated at times, but I passed the tablet around so most of us got to chat with him.

As the sun headed toward the horizon, the heat of the day was replaced with a soft summer warmth. The fading light put a damper on playing with the bean bags. The blue lights in the small fountain near the pool came on and the crickets began their evening songs.

A few more stories followed to accompany the various desserts. Then, around 10 p.m., we again climbed into our lumber wagon and set out for home. It had been a great day, a day complete with Skyping, swimming and 7-UP salad.

Rita�s 7-UP Salad Recipe

7-oz bottle 7-UP
2 cups miniature marshmallows
Small package lime JELL-O
1 large package cream cheese
Large can crushed pineapple
3/4 cup walnuts
2 packages Dream Whip
2/3 cup Miracle Whip

"Melt� the marshmallows in the 7-UP. Add lime JELL-O. Beat cream cheese. Pour 7-UP mixture over cream cheese and beat. Add pineapple and crushed walnuts. Chill until almost set. Make Dream Whip according to package directions. Fold with Miracle Whip. Add to the other mixture.

Left: Katie, left, and Mariya chat with Dave; right: Gary finishing one of his tales.

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