Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 6, 2015
Two days before husband Art's Dad died, Tom asked Art's Mom to come to the living room from her usual place at the kitchen table. He wanted the two of them to reflect on their life together. Whether his request was precipitated by some feeling the end was near or it was just a coincidence is not known. Certainly he knew that with his 80th year approaching, the way ahead was shorter than that already traveled.
I have been thinking about this because younger daughter Katie has been pondering what to do with her life. While some folks her age hope to snag a job that pays the bills so they can kick back and enjoy being on their own, she has always been the type to prefer a plan - a road map that she can consult to make certain she stays on the right path.
However, she also knows that few of us really follow any road map. Even those who do often encounter major detours. As a journalism student, I saw myself working for some large newspaper, digging out exciting stories. But my interest in Latin America led me to a two-year Peace Corps journey to Ecuador. I then blended both interests by accepting a job at a newspaper in Costa Rica.
In last week's column, I mentioned how I met Jerome, who was doing his own Peace Corps stint. We married and decided it was time to start taking this whole life thing a bit more seriously. More education was part of the plan.
I finished my master's degree first and took what I thought would be a temporary job teaching journalism and supervising advertising students at the campus newspaper at Kansas State University. Jerome was teaching English classes while working on his master's degree. We thought once he was done, we might move to the East Coast because there was a technical writing program in New York that interested him.
Those plans went out the window when he died from a stroke at age 31. For that matter, there was no "our plan" any more. I went from anticipating our future to just surviving, at times not sure if I even wanted to. Many times I told myself that I had to go on for our daughter who was growing inside me.
That temporary job certainly didn't feel like a career. It was just something to fill the empty hours. But slowly, it became a source of satisfaction. Then Mariya was born. I had never been around children much. Despite motherhood being a demanding job, it was extremely enjoyable.
A year later, I met Art. Soon a new plan began to take shape.
His life had also been one of detours. He always imagined himself working for some large corporation as an engineer, but the opportunity to make money teaching while still an undergraduate led him to that profession in his home state of Wisconsin. Perusing the newspaper while visiting a friend in Kansas City, he noted a teacher was needed to start a new electronics program at a local college. He went in for an interview just for something to do while his friend was working. But he liked what he saw, was offered the job and accepted, becoming a Kansan in the process.
A few years later, he was invited to start a new program at K-State, an offer he took. Then an opportunity arose to be the chief engineer at an electronics company. That was what he was doing when we met, introduced by my neighbor who also happened to be Art's friend.
Art started his own business the same year I had Katie.
In 1920, Robert Frost wrote his poem "The Road Not taken." It begins with the line, "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." It's a metaphor for what happens in life - we move along trying to stay on the path and then one day we are presented with a choice. The person in Frost's poem does his best to look down the diverging routes in an attempt to discern which is the better one for him. Though different, the better one cannot be determined. But a decision must be made, so he takes one and moves forward.
I never could have predicted how my life would turn out and Art says the same about his. When Art's Mom told him about that day with his Dad, she said they concluded they had a good life together, but were amazed how it had unfolded.
Katie shares many traits with Art's Mom. One of them is a beautiful singing voice. Donna was offered a job singing in New York, but her mother developed multiple sclerosis so Donna returned home to take care of her younger siblings. Singing at a cousin's wedding led her to meet Tom, the man so many years later she sat and reminisced with.
Asked if she ever regretted missing out on a singing career, Donna answered, "No. It would have been an interesting life, but so was this one." Then she added, "If I was young again, I think I'd go into business. That always interested me."
Donna, like Katie, liked to have the path ahead settled. Yet she knew that wasn't always possible. After momentarily griping upon encountering a detour, she always ended up embracing it. Katie will be a fully-trained music teacher when she graduates in late 2015, but she isn't sure that occupation will fill enough of her need to help others.
That's OK. Donna thought she'd be a singer, but enjoyed being a housewife. Tom thought he'd marry an Irish girl he'd dated for years and then Donna came to his hometown. I was going to be a reporter, but found I enjoyed teaching. Art never expected to live in Kansas.
But things have worked out well. Our road maps kept us from wandering aimlessly, but some of the detours have been the best parts of the journey.