Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 27, 2017

A great funeral - as in “fun”-eral

Husband Art likes to surprise me. When we were first married, this bothered me some as I like to be in control. But after so many good experiences, I pretty much go with the flow now. So, when several weeks ago he asked if I would be up for “an adventure” - his term for a road-trip surprise - I did a quick check of my calendar and then said, “Yes!” When I pressed him for how long the trip would be and what to wear, all I received were bare-bones answers. He said I should wear what I would to go to a movie.

We left Friday and first headed east and then north. I asked if we were going to our friend Jo’s home in southwestern Wisconsin. He confirmed that we were and asked me to call her to let her know we probably would not be there until about 8 p.m.

Although the drive spanned 11 hours, the time seemed to slip by quickly, owing to light traffic mixed with beautiful views of harvested fields, and trees adorned in their autumn colors. As a bonus, when we turned onto her gravel road nestled between two steep wooded ridges, the headlights revealed a beautiful 12-point buck.

Jo had the garage door open and Art drove in. After some hugs and catching up, we sat down to a very comforting supper of spaghetti, salad, hot bread and wine.

It is always a treat to just spend time with Jo. We have very similar tastes. While she grew up in the city, her grandparents’ Iowa farm seems to have planted that same love of the rural life in her that I have from being raised on a Kansas farm.

Still, I had a hunch that our visiting with Jo was not the extent of the surprise. It wasn’t long before Jo spilled the beans. The annual lutefisk supper would be served the next day at a church not far away. We had attended last year and had enjoyed the experience thoroughly. I cannot say I am a big fan of the Scandinavian delicacy, which I find to be a bit like fish-flavored Jell-O. Still, there is something special about being with people who enthusiastically celebrate the connection to their ancestral homelands. While this congregation is honoring the Norwegians who settled in southwestern Wisconsin, we often attend a similar supper in early December near our home. It is prompted by the Swedes that settled north-central Kansas.

While Art seems to be developing a real taste for the main course, Jo is like I am and not a fan of the fish. But we like the meatballs, tortilla-like lefse, mashed potatoes and other side dishes.

When we arrived at the church Saturday, the dining hall was full and we had to wait about an hour. Then we were seated at a round table with five others. Jo learned from the man at her right that the man next to him was 88 and looks forward to the event every year. But his son, who was next to him, mentioned the fish was not his cup-o-tea. To my left was a man and wife who have attended baseball games in every professional baseball stadium in the country.

Our servers were mostly exchange students in nearby schools. Jo had her eye on a young Italian fellow with curly black hair. I had fun chatting with two others who were Latinos. One was from Cuba and another was from Ecuador, where I spent two years in Peace Corps.

But there was more to come that evening! Russ, a now-retired, nationally-recognized high school science teacher, decided to throw himself a birthday party he called a “fun”-eral. He and his wife paid for the food and drink and anyone in the area was welcome. The community center was alive with people when we arrived about 7:30 p.m. It would be accurate to say many people were feeling no pain. Jo introduced us to some of her friends and neighbors. I spent some time talking with John, who writes a column for a local paper, about the challenges of coming up with a new topic every week.

Later, while attempting to relate who was married to whom, Jo referred to one woman as “the one showing you her boobs as she bent over the table.” Art looked at her and then replied, “Damn ... I missed that!”

While there were a few youngsters - meaning people under 30 - most people were about our age as was the band made up of locals. Most of the songs were from when I was young. Quite a few people were out on the dance floor. At one point, I asked Art if he was having a good time and he said it was fun watching so many people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond acting as if they were teenagers again.

The next day we headed south to Potosi, a village of a few hundred, that has a brewery that dates back to the middle of the 19th century. We wandered through a nice art gallery and some local shops and ate at the brewery restaurant before calling it a day. Just before heading back, we stopped at an observation point on a narrow slip of land that juts out into the Mississippi River. The clouds were low and it seemed as if it might rain any moment. The noise of the Canadian geese pausing nearby on their long migration trip south drove home the sensation of the season changing.

Monday’s journey back to our home in Kansas was long, yet it didn’t seem that way. My mind kept revisiting the hours we had spent talking with Jo, our time at the Norwegian supper, Russ’ birthday bash, and our visit to the quaint little town on the Mississippi River. The whole weekend could have been properly called a “fun”-eral.

Top: folks dancing at the "fun"-eral. Russ is on the bandstand at the far right; bottom: looking northwest from the Potosi Recreational Area toward the Mississippi River.

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