Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 9, 2015

Happy 60, sis!

The plan had been to surprise sister Gaila on her 60th birthday by arriving at her doorstep in La Paz, Bolivia. But a travel requirement of anyone visiting that country is to get a yellow fever vaccination. I'm not afraid of needles, but in 1997 I had an auto-immune disease incident that doctors told me could be triggered anew by an antiviral shot. So I decided I'd better not risk it. I was not aware of the vaccination requirement until recently, so I was pretty disappointed because I had been thinking about the trip for months. The last time I visited Gaila and her family in Bolivia was in 2003, and I really wanted to return.

But rather than let this turn of events dampen my enthusiasm, I decided to figure out how to turn this lemon into lemonade. So I asked Gaila to let me know where she would like to travel with me later on this year. Perhaps Mount Rushmore? Neither of us have been there and we both have mentioned we'd like to see it. Then there is California. We traveled there several times as kids and later with our kids and always seem to have a great time. Paris? Well, who wouldn't want to visit Paris? The Galapagos Islands? Like Mount Rushmore, another place we've often spoken about seeing, but somehow never made it happen. I've even suggested our cottage in Northern Wisconsin as she has never been there. The possibilities are almost endless.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about what I might like to write about my little sister turning 60. It's not as if I'm that much older than she is - 16 months - but still ... 60 is a milestone birthday.

Being so close in age can lead to competition or to an unusual closeness. We seem to fall into the latter category and so we have shared many things over the years. When she turned 50, I wrote about some of those things: chicken pox, clothing, kittens, dolls, 4-H, family trips to Colorado, California and Louisiana, attending Kansas State University, Latin American adventures, raising two daughters each, and losing people we loved.

In the years since my 2005 column, "50 years of memories," our then-teenaged daughters have become 20-somethings. Oldest daughter Mariya, 28, received her undergraduate degree in art and her master's in English and is working with K-State First, a program designed to help new students adjust to life at the university. Youngest daughter Katie, 22, is a senior in music education and will graduate from K-State next December. Oldest niece Gabriela, 26, is weathering the rigors of law school in Washington, D.C. while her sister Larisa will graduate from the University of Kansas in May. All four have significant others.

During those same 10 years, brother Dave and his wife Linda have become grandparents to five, making Gaila and I "GREAT" - aunts. I always emphasize the "great" when I sign cards or letters to the kids, following the lead of my Aunt Edith, who did the same when our children were born. While it was sort of a joke, implying we are great, I'm starting to think it could be an indication of our shock as in, "Hey, where have all those years gone?"

Gaila and I took a few family trips together in that decade as well. In 2005, we traveled to Sweden with Mom, Gabriela and Larisa. We also joined our immediate families and the rest of our Freeland clan on a trip to California in 2007.

In 2011, Gaila and her gang and our Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay from California came to Kansas to celebrate Christmas with us. And just this past March, they traveled here again to help us with Mom's 90th birthday bash.

Still, I am a bit disquieted in regard to the future. First there were those years together growing up on the farm. Then our college careers followed on parallel paths. Next came getting married and then parenthood. And although she made her home in far-away Bolivia, having been there several times over the years combined with Gaila returning to Kansas every summer and some times in between, meant we continued our shared lives. So I feel we have enjoyed six decades together to a greater degree than many sisters who have lived much closer. But in the coming years, all four girls may come to call different places home, inevitably pulling us in different directions. And added to that is the effect of the passing of the older generation. Those events such as their birthdays or visits that naturally drew us together will disappear.

But, regardless of what the future may hold, I'm not complaining. Yes, I wish we could be together again for to celebrate her 60th birthday on Jan. 11, but I feel we have been blessed far more than most. Some people don't have siblings or they are not close to the ones they have. Others have circumstances that have only rarely allowed them to be together. So we'll be satisfied with a Skype conversation, knowing that summer is not far off when we will see each other again.

Gaila, left, and Gloria during Gaila's visit to Manhattan last year.

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