Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 19, 2014

A bit of holiday serendipity

Husband Art and I often reminisce about how when we were younger, we occasionally took off on trips without any idea of where we would spend the night. "If we can't find anything, we can always sleep in the car," he'd say. We always found a place to stay, but as the years have passed, the thought of not having a place waiting is even less appealing than it was then.

Still, in an attempt to avoid the possible downside of travel without such preparations, it is easy to move too far to the other extreme - to always take the safe or familiar or comfortable path. This inevitably leads to diminishing one of the primary reasons to travel - experiencing new things up close.

This pulling back as we get older isn't limited to travel. Art was out with his mother one day when they stopped at a McDonald's for lunch. Unlike other occasions, Donna said, "Just get me something," and went to find a booth.

Art's parents were married just as the Depression began and Donna learned quickly to be frugal. Art always joked that she believed any hamburger patty you couldn't see through was wastefully thick. The idea of putting two in a single sandwich was unimaginable. So Art ordered her a Big Mac, knowing it would be her first.

"This is good," she remarked after the first bite. "Why didn't you ever get this for me before?"

"Because you always say, 'Get me the chicken,'" Art replied.

Remaining open to new things can yield unexpected rewards. For many years, Art's high school classmate JoAnn, who worked in a Chicago area bank, had tentatively planned on building a retirement home on a little corner of her family's farm in western Iowa. But those plans were shaken when her sister announced she wanted to sell the farm. The safe course would have been to try to convince her sister to change her mind and thereby keep Jo's plans on track. Instead, Jo decided to buy a country place in nearby Wisconsin. Not only did she get a place to retire to, but had the benefit of enjoying it on weekends while still working. That turn of events leading up to its purchase caused her to name the place "Serendip."

We had a somewhat serendipitous experience of our own this past week. Just for the enjoyment, daughter Katie has been helping music teacher Staci Payne at Manhattan's Marlatt elementary school. Two other music education majors and classmates of Katie's were also helping in conjunction with a course they were taking. There was a holiday show on Thursday and each was to conduct one piece for the two performances - one for the students during the day and the other for the parents in the evening.

Christmas time is always extra busy for me. Along with the usual holiday activities, I have all of a teacher's end-of-semester duties to complete. So I consciously try to avoid adding anything more. I had also had cataract surgery in the morning, so the reasonable thing to do would have been to just stay at home that evening. But seeing Katie interacting with the kids sounded like fun.

It was fun, but more than anticipated and not in the expected way.

Ten years have passed since we had anyone in elementary school, so I had forgotten that parents don't usually arrive early. Doing so just means a longer period when you have to handle youngsters who seem to have boundless energy. The program was only 30 minutes away when we stepped inside the building, but the combination gym, lunch room and auditorium to our right was empty except for Staci and the carefully arranged chairs and risers.

It also felt a bit strange being in a school where we weren't the parents of any student. This feeling was reinforced when the parents began to arrive and we didn't recognize anyone. In the past, those before-program minutes would have been spent chatting with other parents or teachers we knew.

Art confessed that for a fleeting moment he questioned his own sanity. In his day, the choir was where all the kids went who didn't have other activities. This meant that the sounds produced only remotely resembled music and if it hadn't been for parents, the auditorium would have been empty.

Before the program began, Staci asked the singers to raise a hand when their grade was called. One father in the back let out a whoop when his daughter's group was called. Her eyes immediately turned toward him, her face simultaneously displaying a mixture of pleasure and embarrassment.

When the singing began, it was obvious things had changed for the better from our days in elementary school. While the songs were simple ones, everyone seemed to be on pitch, including during the selections with multiple parts. Katie's piece involved "choralography," which is choir-speak for choreographed movement during a song. It was surprising to see everyone moving in the same direction at the same time.

One of the choir members did a fine job accompanying the group on the piano for one number and performing two others solo.

And then all too soon it was over - not a thought I had expected to have! We had come just to see Katie, but had enjoyed the experience far more than expected. It had indeed been a bit of serendipity that never would have happened had we made the comfortable and quite reasonable choice to just relax at home during this busy season.

Top: Katie directs part of the school choir; bottom, l-r: teacher Staci Payne, Amanda Sipes, Annika Schneider and Katie Vaughan.

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