Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 8, 2015

Opening and closing doors

One Friday in March of 1986, husband Art met friends Dorothy and Laurel to go to supper. The year had not started well. Art knew when he had been home at Christmas that his father was failing. But because they were particularly close, it still hit him hard when his mother called in late February to let him know Tom had died.

This was long before I had met Art, and Dorothy was on a mission to find him a woman. Art said her candidate that evening was a gal in her office whose husband had just run off ... with a stripper! Art thanked Dorothy, but said he'd pass.

Upping the ante, Dorothy replied, "Well, if you aren't interested in her, how about a woman who is pregnant whose husband just died?"

Art told her he hadn't thought she could top the previous candidate, but she had! Still, knowing Dorothy wasn't the type to make things up, he asked who the woman was.

I was that woman. Jerome and I owned the house next to Dorothy and Laurel. Right before Christmas the previous year, Jerome completed his master's degree and we found out I was pregnant with our first child. Life was looking good!

Then, the day after Christmas, he had a stroke and never regained consciousness. He died in February - the same month Art's father died.

That story made an impression on Art. He thought no matter how bad you think you might have it, someone has it worse.

A few days later, he shared his thoughts with a friend who ran a flower shop. He was startled to learn that Connie knew me. At that time, I was in charge of advertising for the university's Student Publications and she was one of our clients. He sent me some salmon-colored roses, along with a note. The note said: "From an empathetic admirer. Ask Dorothy."

At the time, Art was working as the chief engineer for a small firm. The company was growing and that meant he was working most of the day managing people and doing the designs in the early mornings, evenings and weekends when others were gone. He found the work rewarding, but the routine tiring.

One night 16 months later, he had just completed a design and felt in the mood to get away from the job ... perhaps go to a movie or just talk to someone about something other than work. But all his friends his age were married, so he began to think it would be nice to have a "safe" friend. By that, he meant someone who was single and would enjoy going out, but was not looking for anything more.

He thought I might fill the bill. He reasoned that while he liked youngsters, many men see a child as an "inconvenience" in a dating situation. His work largely filled his life as he imagined my work and a baby would fill mine. Perhaps I, like him, would enjoy the occasional break.

But there was a problem - we had never met. About all he knew about me was what Dorothy had told him - "Gloria's a wonderful person." Maybe she had said that because she felt sorry for me. Still, Connie had said nice things about me too.

A few days later, Art mentioned to his friend Bill that he was thinking of asking me out. As they were talking, Bill's wife joined them. I knew Barb and she, too, gave me a "good grade."

Barb also mentioned I had written a column for the school newspaper about dealing with grief. Art said that addressed another concern he had. While no one who truly loves someone is ever going to be "over" losing that person, some might still be deeply depressed or perhaps want someone to cling to. He wasn't looking for that role.

Art located the article in the school's archives. He later told me I had "passed with flying colors." As a bonus, my picture accompanied the article so now he knew what I looked like.

Work kept him busy for several weeks until a Saturday evening in early August. He sometimes made booklets in the course of his work, so he decided to make me an invitation in the form of a booklet. He took a calendar that featured the Ziggy cartoon character, reduced several of the images and replaced Ziggy's words with his own, including that I could ask Dorothy about him. The last page was a tear-off self-addressed postcard with items I could check off such as: "No and my boyfriend does not appreciate this sort of letter" and "No, I am only interested in men that drive expensive sports cars."

He figured he would either get a positive response immediately or not hear at all. So when days went by, he thought it was the latter. What he didn't know was I had enlisted my sister's help to find out something about him. But we hadn't had much luck. So, I finally sent the card, accepting the offer.

That date was supposed to be supper and a movie, but we stayed at the restaurant talking until they made us leave at the 11 p.m. closing time - the only customers still there. We married the following summer.

The house Jerome and I had bought has now housed Art's business for years, and daughters Mariya and Katie have taken turns living in the apartment above it since 2004. But during these many years since our marriage, we have bumped into Dorothy only occasionally. One of those times was last week when she mentioned she was moving. Laurel died a few years ago and she recently retired. Tired of the upkeep a house requires, she decided to move into an apartment. Her sister and husband recently moved back to Manhattan and purchased a place just down the street from her new home. So while we hate to lose a good neighbor, it is good she is regaining a sister.

As is often the case, the closing of some doors in life makes way for the opening of others.

Top-left: March of 1986 with the flowers Art sent. My mother's photo was none-too-centered, but it seems to show how I felt - as if part of me was missing; top-center: one of the Ziggy cards Art sent; top-right: the return postcard with my response. Just the two of us went out; bottom-left: l-r: Dorothy, Laurel, Art and me in 1991. I assume the photographer just caught Laurel at the wrong time as I don't believe he was that bored; bottom-right: a recent photo of Dorothy from the announcement of her retirement.

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