Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 16, 2017

Mom’s Chicago cowboy!

Mom met Stan at a retired teachers’ association meeting. They had a lot in common. Both grew up during the Depression, both were teachers, both had three children, both enjoyed family history and both were care givers at the end of their spouses’ lives.

Stan used a rather unique approach for Mom to get to know him better - he gave her a CD of his memoirs. Mom handed it to husband Art and said, “Check him out.”

Art learned Stan was born in Chicago, had a Ph.D., for years had worked at the university and was in charge of its Agricultural Experiment Station, and had even spent some time in Africa. Art told Mom she should go ahead, because how can one not like a guy who spent some of his Navy days translating “Anchors Aweigh” into Latin - and then singing it in Latin as well!

Soon, Mom and Stan were seeing a fair amount of each other. They enjoyed grocery shopping, attending local plays and “senior” dances, and helping each other with house projects.

They made a cute couple and one that often made others in the family smile. In Mom and Dad’s marriage, Dad was quite content to let Mom run the show. But with Stan, he was in charge. And while they occasionally butted heads, Mom seemed almost relieved to be able to sit back and be fussed over. It was funny because when we kids were around, she was the Mom we knew, issuing orders and expecting immediate results. Then Stan would arrive to see his Glorious Damsel, as he’d call her, and she’d turn into putty.

At Mom’s request, Stan made miniature replicas of the Freeland barn and the Mostrom chicken house and outhouse. He fastened them to her back deck railing to remind her of her days living on Kansas farms.

We had bought Mom a computer some years back, but I think it was hard for her to take direction from those younger than she was and so never learned to use it. But once Stan, who was gentle, but "wouldn’t take no" for an answer, was in the picture, she learned. Soon she was e-mailing, Facebooking and writing her memoirs. She even wrote a book about the one-room schools of her native Morris County, Kansas.

Stan kept her laughing too. He once told the story about how his wife Jeanne was home alone doing the laundry. She decided to include her night gown, pulling it off and throwing it in the machine. Her son's football helmet was nearby, which was supposed to be in his room. So she put it on her head because she needed both hands free to carry the basket of dried clothes upstairs. Halfway to her destination, Stan unexpectedly walked through the door with a colleague. As she quickly scurried away, the colleague turned to Stan and said, “I want to play on her team!”

Older people can be taken advantage of by smooth-talking clerks or customer representatives, but Mom had nothing to fear when Stan was around as he was sharp as a tack. Stan did consider a two-dollar tip to be pretty extravagant, so often when we went out to eat together, one of us would quietly return to the table and add a few more dollars.

Like many older people, Stan had a number of health issues. For that generation, doctor visits are usually rather passive affairs. The patient states a complaint and the remainder of the time is spent with the doctor asking questions and the patient answering. With Stan, he was the one asking questions and the doctor was answering them. When he accompanied Mom to the doctor, it was much the same. A new doctor always seemed initially a bit surprised, but Stan’s knowledge also made them respectful.

After Mom’s death, I made a point of visiting Stan. At first, it was difficult because his grief at Mom’s passing amplified my own. But then, it became comforting because we could reminisce about Mom and laugh about her quirks. We’d pass the time talking about current events and books he was reading.

On Jan. 24, I received a call from Stan’s son Brent. Stan was in the hospital and wasn’t expected to live long - an infection had damaged his heart. During my last visit, he had mentioned he was reading three books and one was about how our society needs to improve how death and dying are dealt with.

I didn’t get the message immediately as I was in class. After listening, I called Art to meet me at the hospital.

When we arrived, Stan was a bit groggy, but lucid. Brent had been calling family members so Stan could tell them “goodbye.”

When Stan saw Art, Stan asked, “Well, are we going to sing?”

Art laughed and sang a few bars of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” a Vaughn Monroe hit from the early ‘50s. One day the two of them had sat on Mom’s deck and sang the whole song. It seemed appropriate because in cool weather Stan always wore a neckerchief and a cowboy hat.

“Well, I guess I’m off on a new adventure!” Stan told everyone.

It was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t eaten all day. So I gave Stan a kiss, squeezed his hands and told him we’d be back in a bit.

Art, daughter Mariya and I had barely sat down to eat our McDonald’s meal when Brent called. Stan had slipped away.

On Father’s Day weekend, Stan’s family will have a memorial service and a grave-side ceremony to bid him adieu.

Stan brought a lot of joy to Mom’s life and for that I’ll be forever grateful. He was a smart, funny, sometimes-cantankerous guy who added some great memories to our family album. After all, how can you not like a Chicago-born cowboy who could sing “Anchors Aweigh” in Latin?

Left: Mom and Stan at a"seniors" dance; right: Stan and his cowboy hat ready to leave Mom's home on a cool day.

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