Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 23, 2015


What makes life worth living is rarely what we spend much time thinking about. We often focus on a few big goals or dreams such as when we finish high school, when we marry, when we get that big promotion, when our first child is born. The widely-reprinted poem, "The Station," by Baptist minister Robert Hasting draws attention to this fact and closes by suggesting that the greatest satisfactions are more likely to arise during the journey.

In a similar vein, we are sometimes inclined to look forward to those big expensive items we hope to acquire - the new car, the home, an engagement ring, the big television. But I've found more often than not that it is frequently the smallest of things that touch my heart. On our trips to Europe, we've seen the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace, the Alps and many other amazing sights. Yet I've noticed when we talk about our trips, the subject is more often the people we've met or some small incident at an out-of-the-way caf´┐Ż. Somehow, these things that have no tangible value seem to be the things we treasure most.

Sometimes the reason is obvious. Husband Art tells of a married couple who lived two floors below him while he was a graduate student. Dennis didn't have much money because he was in medical school, but he had managed to buy his wife a nice diamond engagement ring. Yet while she was pleased with it, one day she mentioned that the "ring" that meant the most to her was in a small wooden box in their bedroom. It was the pop-top from a can of Coke Dennis had slipped over her finger when he asked her to marry him.

In other cases, the reason is not so obvious. The plot for "Citizen Kane," the groundbreaking 1941 movie produced and directed by Orson Welles, who also played the title character, focuses on just such an item. The movie is Welles' thinly-disguised version of the life of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, once one of the wealthiest men in America. The movie is written as a series of flashbacks, beginning with Kane uttering the single word "rosebud" just before his death. The film follows a newspaperman trying to determine the significance of that word. His assumption is that since in life this man was so rich and powerful, it must refer to something equally grand or important. In the end, he fails to find the answer.

But the viewer does. As the remnants of Kane's long life are sorted through at the film's end, among the discarded items is a boyhood sled. It bears the name Rosebud.

I recently had one of those touching moments as we returned home from our trek to Wisconsin to spend time with Art's family. It was an especially good trip as the weather cooperated and, just like the entire holiday, it was a relaxed one. Usually, as we close in on Christmas, the flurry of semester-ending activities and all the holiday preparations leave me somewhat exhausted and needing the time in Wisconsin to recover.

Not this year. This year, everything seemed to move along, if not at a casual pace, at least a nicely tempered one. While in Wisconsin, we ate delicious meals, drank wine and watched the birds at friend Jo's home in the southwest corner of the state. We also had easy conversations with Art's brother Tommy and his cousins in Appleton.

Yet the thing that brought home the role that little things can play in our lives took place at the very end. We pulled up to our house at about 10 p.m. after the almost-800 mile trip. As I usually do, I glanced around to see if all was OK. Everything that I could see in the dim light of night seemed just as we had left it.

Then I noticed the five battery-operated candles in the front windows. I only put them out at Christmas so I'm always a little surprised to see them. Each one had cost only a couple of dollars, and Art even had to repair them before they would work reliably. Still, the moment I saw them, a feeling of comfort came over me. For some reason, those inexpensive inanimate things seemed to say "Welcome home!" in a way that the familiar outline of the house and yard did not. For me, these small flickering candles were my "rosebud."

Candle reflected in window behind it.

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