Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 31, 2015

Taking precedence over presidents

Sister Gaila and I had talked for years about taking a summer trip to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone Park or to the Black Hills of South Dakota to see the Crazy Horse sculpture and Mount Rushmore with its gigantic heads of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. This past spring, I decided this would be the year. So as the time for Gaila's visit grew near, I started plotting routes and making an itinerary.

Then one day, I began reflecting on how husband Art and I went to California for Aunt Kay's 90th birthday in 2012 and Uncle Stan's in 2013. But Gaila hadn't been there since our Freeland family reunion in 2007. When I asked her what she thought, she didn't hesitate. When we let Stan and Kay know what we were thinking, both said they were honored we would spend time with them instead of with the presidents at Mount Rushmore, although Stan cautioned, "I hope you won't be disappointed in your choice."

Art immediately went online and got us plane tickets from Manhattan, Kansas to Ontario, California. We'd arrive on a Tuesday morning and stay until Saturday afternoon. In anticipation, Gaila and I began singing "California, here we come ..."

We didn't have any agenda for the trip, other than enjoying our time together. So the day we arrived was spent at Stan and Kay's home. Gaila and I took an hour nap in the afternoon, recharging our batteries from having to awaken at 4 a.m. for our early-morning flight. Stan grilled steaks for supper and we chatted about this and that, reminisced about family members and capped it off with root beer floats. Stan again said he hoped we wouldn't be disappointed with our choice.

On Wednesday, Stan drove us to Rancho Palos Verdes, where Uncle Bob, Dad's other brother, and Aunt Hazel had built a house in the 1950s. For a time, their home was one of only a handful in the area. But now Palos Verdes is considered an exclusive suburb of Los Angeles, and homes fill the hillsides. The couple who bought Bob and Hazel's place had it torn down and a new one built. Kim graciously showed us their beautiful home with its spacious living areas, a game room, a gorgeous kitchen and a backyard complete with a large patio, a pool and a pool house. Still, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad. Some of my fondest childhood memories are wrapped up in Bob and Hazel's home and their back yard.

From there, we traveled along the Pacific Coast Highway to Trump - as in Donald Trump - National Golf Club. Stan and Kay had eaten at the club house and they recommended we stop for a late lunch. Afterward, Gaila and I walked on one of the trails to get closer to the ocean. Fuschia-colored bougainvilleas surrounded the club house and grew wild on the hills. We also stopped at Wayfarer's Chapel, the site of hundreds of weddings over the years. Kay told Stan they should celebrate their anniversary there someday. On Oct. 3, they will have been married 68 years!

In the evening, we ate corn on the cob and lots of fruit. Later, we again had root beer floats.

The next day, Stan drove us to Laguna Beach via several different freeways. As a Kansas gal who doesn't care much to drive and is used to quiet country roads, driving in high-speed traffic with six lanes on each side is NOT my idea of fun. But once we got there, I relaxed. We ate at Las Brisas, enjoying the seafood. After lunch, Gaila and I wandered down to the beach to walk barefoot in the white sand, watch the waves come in and check out the tide pools. On the way back to Stan and Kay's place, we stopped at a farmer's market and bought fresh corn, tomatoes, a mango and other goodies. That night was similar to the others - lots of talking capped with root beer floats and Stan wondering if we were disappointed in our choice.

We had talked about going to Disneyland on our last day, a place we had visited any number of times during earlier visits to California. This was the park's 60th birthday, but when we realized the anniversary of its opening was that very day, we changed our minds. Although we have had many great days at the place billed as "the happiest place on earth," the thought of paying $100 per person, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of strangers while sweating bullets dampened our enthusiasm.

So instead, Stan took Gaila and me to a Hindu temple, about 30 minutes from their home. The exterior, constructed of red sandstone, and the interior, made of white marble, were covered with beautiful intricate carvings.

In the afternoon, we went to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. It was fascinating to read again about Nixon's influence on foreign and domestic policy from the 1950s through the 1970s and to learn more about the Watergate scandal and his eventual resignation. The home where he was born in 1913 is part of the property and it still stands where it was originally built.

Our last night mirrored the first three - we relaxed, laughed, chatted, reminisced and had root beer floats. Of course, Stan hoped we hadn't been disappointed.

Looking back, our trip was a great combination of many things - sister time, seafood, steak, spectacular sights, and skipping down memory lane. And the best part? Spending time with Stan and Kay. We never doubted for an instant that they should take precedence over the presidents.

Left: Although California has its problems with fires and drought, there is no denying that it has some beautiful scenery, such as this area along Laguna Beach; top-right: the four of us enjoying a supper at The Whole Enchilada restaurant; bottom-right: Stan holding some of his World War II memorabilia from his time in the 5th Air Force.

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