Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 2, 2017

A surprising family

Adding the element of surprise to a family event seems to increase the fun, although it usually increases the work as well. Brother Dave, sister Gaila and I secretly invited several couples to come to our house to celebrate our parents’ 25th wedding anniversary in 1971. With all the people involved, we were worried that someone would let something slip, but the folks never caught on.

In 1976, after being in Ecuador for a year, I surprised everyone by returning for Christmas. Few knew, so the secret was easier to keep.

In more recent years, husband Art and I have instigated any number of family surprises. I smile every time I think of the time we drove 700 miles to Wisconsin for his mother Donna’s 90th birthday. She hadn’t heard us drive in and since Art’s family does not consider birthdays a big deal, she had no expectations of a visit. Through the kitchen window, we could see her sitting in her usual place at the table next to the phone. Art called on his cell phone and they chatted about this and that as they always did. Donna loved her coffee and at some point made herself a cup. Art asked her if she was enjoying her brew and she stopped stirring, wondering how he knew what she was doing. She was confused for several seconds until she happened to look out her window and saw us all laughing.

“What!” she cried. “What are you doing here?”

In December 2010, Art pulled off a double surprise. Our local youth orchestra had been invited to perform in Chicago, and he and I went to see them. Unbeknownst to me, he had arranged for our German “kids” Nadja and Tim to fly in. However, that surprise hit a bump. Bad weather in Germany meant they departed a day late, so he had to tell me why we were staying an extra day in Chicago. He hadn’t said anything to our girls Mariya and Katie either. So when we arrived home, we had Nadja and Tim get next to the tree as if they were presents. We told the girls to close their eyes and try to guess their surprise. Once they opened them, much hugging and laughing ensued. The girls agreed it was one of the best holiday surprises ever.

In February 2013, Art and I went to California to help my Uncle Stan celebrate his 90th birthday. We didn’t tell him that Dave would be coming a day or two later. Dave is a CPA and, with tax season well under way, there was no reason to believe he would come.

Art left the house on some pretense and then drove to the airport to get Dave.

Stan was flabbergasted when they walked in, but he is never lacking for a quip.

“Did you come all this way just to do my taxes?” he asked, laughing.

One Christmas surprise fizzled. Donna usually had us buy the girls gifts from her and one year they wanted CDs by the singer Pink. When she and I were in the kitchen drinking coffee, Donna asked what I had purchased for the girls and I quietly told her.

“Pink? Who the h*ll is Pink?” she asked in her always strong voice.

She didn’t realize Katie was awake and reading in the living room. Katie bolted from her chair and ran to her big sister, who was still in bed.

“I think we are getting Pink for Christmas!” she exclaimed.

Our most recent surprise was in mid-May. Mariya and I flew to Washington, D.C. for my niece Gabriela’s law school graduation. She knew we were coming, but sister Gaila and hubby Humberto, who had flown in from Bolivia, did not.

Gabriela had arranged for us to stay in one of the apartments in her complex. When we arrived, she and her boyfriend Bernie, his mother Maribel, Gabriela’s sister Larisa and boyfriend Keenan, and Gaila and Humberto were attending a graduation dinner. When they returned, Gabs told them she had to pick up a graduation gift from a neighbor.

She knocked and, when I opened the door, Gaila blinked and said, “Well, look at you!”

We hadn’t seen each other since last summer, so it was a joyful reunion indeed!

The next two days were a whirlwind. Saturday was an all-day barbecue with Bernie and Maribel preparing special grilled meats and vegetables using recipes from her native El Salvador. We met Bernie’s sister Carla and her boyfriend José and various friends who came and went.

Sunday was the big graduation day. Gabriela was among the 346 graduating receiving a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Once outside, I heard a woman joke that all she had to do was find her son in his blue graduation cap and gown - all were wearing the same caps and gowns.

Once we located Gabriela, we moved to a good picture-taking place and did what all people with Freeland genes have to do. Then we headed to Paladar - a Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar - where several of us tried various flavors of rum and ate different Latin dishes.

Hometown friend Tom, who said he would have considered going to D.C. himself were it not for his son’s eighth grade graduation, said “ ... it’s good to know the Freeland family is still arranging surprises ...”

And we’re not done yet! Art told me he has something arranged for me - but he isn’t giving any hints to anyone. He says the fewer people who know, the greater likelihood no one will spill the beans.

I must admit I usually want to know what is happening. Some of that is curiosity and the other is so I can plan ahead. But we’ve had so much fun over the years that I’ve learned to just enjoy what comes - even when the surprise is on me!

Top-left:“Did you come all this way just to do my taxes?” quips Uncle Stan to Dave while Aunt Kay looks on; top-right: Katie is ready for a clue to be placed in her hands while Nadja covers Katie's eyes; bottom: graduate Gabriela with boyfriend Bernie by her side is surrounded by family and friends, including her "surprising" Aunt Gloria, upper right, and cousin Mariya, lower left.

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