Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 23, 2016

A birthday gift to myself

It's easy to get caught up in daily activities, and sometimes weeks, months and even years go by before we see people who mean so much to us. Texting, WhatsApp, Skype and emailing make it easy to let people know we're thinking of them. And hand-written notes can be treasures among the bills and junk mail that normally crowd our mailboxes.

But nothing beats a nice face-to-face conversation.

So when I knew I'd be in Wichita for a three-day conference earlier this month, I contacted two long-time girlfriends who live there to see if we could get together.

I rode with another friend, who was also attending. The two and a half hour journey from Manhattan to Wichita passed quickly as we chatted about work, our families and the upcoming conference.

Carol dropped me off at Deb's house at a little after 5 p.m. This proved to be good timing as a thunderstorm struck only 15 minutes later. Snug inside her cozy home, we spent hours catching up. After the rain, she showed me the new landscaping in her back yard and took me to her basement workshop, where she makes holiday items for her online business. Deb had met her husband Chuck before Deb and I were roommates in college. So it was three old friends who sat down to the homemade pork loin roast supper that evening. Smiley Faces have always been a symbol of Deb's and my friendship, so it made me laugh when she brought out sugar cookies made into Smiley Faces with chocolate icing.

Deb and I met our sophomore year at Kansas State University when each took a chance on a "potluck" roommate. We lived together two more years - one more in the residence hall and one in an apartment. And 44 years later, we're still friends. We text almost every day. Deb sent me daily notes and packages 30 years ago after my first husband died. After Mom's death earlier this year, Deb consoled me with inspirational quotes via text and WhatsApp messages. Often our messages are nothing more than asking how our days are going. But whether inspirational or ordinary, they mean a lot.

Joyce, my other Wichita girl friend, is married to Bruce, a hometown friend I've known for more than 60 years. Joyce and I met my junior year of high school when Mom changed teaching jobs, bringing our family back to my hometown. It was an awkward time to be starting at a different school, but Joyce and her family always made me feel at home. We became fast friends and were roommates our freshman year at K-State, learning the ropes of being college students together. The following year, she moved to New Zealand, but we maintained our friendship. Husband Art and I even visited her there in 1998.

Joyce had asked what I wanted to do when we got together. I had mentioned I'd like to visit her parents. So when she and Bruce picked me up at the conference hotel, we drove across town to her folks' home. We were all there more than two hours, sharing stories about high school days, catching up on news about various relatives and discussing the pros and cons of various technological gadgets. What a joy it was to spend time with people I have been so close to for more than 45 years.

After, Joyce, Bruce and I had coffee and continued talking in their home just a few blocks away. Too quickly, it was time for me to return to the conference.

Still, I was thankful for those nice easy conversations with old friends. It seemed as natural as if we'd visited only the day before.

But my girlfriend time wasn't over. A few days later, I had dinner with Nina, my friend from graduate school days, and followed the dinner with ice cream the next day. Then I had lunch with friends Susan and Kay.

Sister Gaila, who has been my closest girlfriend since her birth just 16 months after mine, has lived in Bolivia since 1983. She, too, has girlfriends who have sustained her during good times and bad.

We had a group of gringas [Americans] married to Bolivians. I don't quite know how it began or when. Just when a bunch of us had babies. We were called MAS - either for mejores amigas siempre (best friends always) OR muchas amigas sexy (many sexy friends)! ... It began with tea in the afternoon. Little by little, it got bigger and then the women started to leave to go back to the States. We used to meet every Friday, but now it is once a month ... When mom was here one year, we had tea in the bedroom of Antonella, because she was bedridden with her pregnancy. We are still very good friends with those who have left. Now most of the kids have graduated from college!

Studies have found that social ties lower blood pressure and cholesterol, counter stress and produce a calming effect. A recent article in "Family Circle" magazine mentioned that September is International Women's Friendship Month. It was started by Kappa Delta sorority and its purpose is to "acknowledge the importance of friendship among women."

I can attest to that importance. Visiting with my girlfriends made me happy. With my birthday having just passed, I consider these reunions to be the best birthday gift I could have given myself.

Top-left: Deb surprises me with Smiley-Face cookies for dessert; top-right: Friends Bruce and Joyce; bottom: sister Gaila, bottom right, and Mom, above Gaila, visit with Gaila's Bolvian gal pals.

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