Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 5, 2019
Good from bad - take 2
It has been said that when we are young, we are inclined to see things in absolutes - an event is either good or bad and decisions
are either right or wrong. But as we age and mature, what we saw as either black or white gives way to seeing things as shades of
gray - a mixture of positives and negatives. My earlier column "Good from bad" dealt with how
an X-ray after a fall revealed an undiscovered cancer.
The more I reflect, the more examples come to mind. I have written previously about the death of Jerome, my first husband, from a brain aneurysm. Our life together seemed to be just truly beginning when he was stricken. But that terrible event did lead to my meeting husband Art. Daughter Katie would not be here if that had not happened.
For that matter, Art wouldn’t have lived in Kansas had things gone to his plan. In 1971, he was on a summer break from the University of Wisconsin and visiting friends in Kansas City. Though intending to return, he decided it might be fun to see if he could get a job offer while his friends were at work. He had no intention of accepting a position as he greatly dislikes the summer heat. Becoming lost on his way to an interview, he discovered he was near a college that had advertised for someone to teach electronics. Stopping by, he learned they had money to spend and, if hired, he would design the whole program and select all the staff. Getting lost completely changed his life ... and mine.
My Stewart and Shannon relatives left Northern Ireland because mechanization of the production of cloth and the availability of cheaper textiles from the southern states in America left them with insufficient work.
Art’s relatives in Prussian Silesia left in 1856 for Milwaukee so the three sons would not have to serve in the army and fight in Europe’s seemingly endless wars. But three of the boys fought in the American Civil War. One died, another was severely injured and the third was captured. Yet had the family not emigrated, their sister Anna would never have met neighbor Christian Puls. His family had left Mecklenburg because his father’s death left no one to support the family. Anna and Christian were Art’s great-grandparents.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Art, his mother Donna and I were planning to visit the villages where his Silesian relatives had lived. But we could not find a place to stay in the former East Germany because people had not been allowed to rent rooms to strangers under the old regime. But a woman whose husband had recently died decided to offer rooms to generate income. Bärbel has now been a friend for 28 years and we stay with her son whenever we are near Berlin. We also met our 2005 exchange student, “adopted daughter” Nadja, through this connection - she being the sister of Bärbel’s daughter-in-law. Nadja’s then-boyfriend Tim has become our “adopted son.”
When she was a young woman, Donna had planned a vacation with two friends at a cottage in Northern Wisconsin. Their disappointment was intense when they discovered that loggers had cut all the trees and the cabin’s “refrigerator” was just a hole dug in the ground. They later found another cabin and, while shopping for food, Donna bumped into a man she had dated some years earlier. That chance encounter, born of disappointment, led to Tom becoming Donna’s husband and Art’s dad.
These good-from-bad situations came to mind recently due to an incident one evening while on vacation in Metz, France. I went to eat with friends seeking some authentic French food, while Art, daughter Karen and grandson Josh decided to opt for pizza at a place Art knew. He, Katie and I had first eaten there in 2017. When Art and I stopped by in 2018, to our utter amazement, Tony, our waiter and owner, remembered our previous visit. He correctly recalled what we had ordered, where we sat, that on our previous visit our daughter was with us and that we were from Kansas.
It might reasonably be assumed that we had had an extensive discussion during that earlier visit and so were somewhat memorable, but that was not the case. Our interaction with Tony had been remarkably unremarkable.
Art shared the story of Tony’s memory with Karen and Josh and was eager to see if Tony’s recollection the previous year was an exception or if he just has an exceptional memory.
While serving them, he treated the three as any other customers. Feeling the previous occurrence must have been a fluke, Art asked, “Do you remember me?”
Tony immediately replied that he recognized Art, but not the others. He added that two years before, Art had been there with his daughter and wife, but last year it was just his wife. Karen and Josh were duly impressed.
The pizza arrived and the trio settled into their meal. But part way through, with business being a little slow in the early evening, Tony sat down to survey the street in front of the restaurant. Shortly, his wife came out and joined him. Some glances were exchanged between Art and the couple and soon they came to the table. Tony explained that he had forgotten the state we were from, but his wife Jenny had reminded him it was Kansas! She remembered because her best friend was soon to move to Kansas as her friend’s husband had just accepted a job with Black and Veatch - a well-known Kansas City engineering firm.
At that point, Art asked where they were from as their speech did not have a French accent. He learned they were from Syria and had fled the fighting five years before. When asked, both said their lives were now good, but there was always a touch of sadness as their hearts remained in their homeland.
But, they added, for their daughter, who was now 18, this was the best. Once again, good had come from bad.
Left: Friend Bärbel next to Gloria in front of what had been her home in Petersdorf, Germany. It is now a bed-and-breakfast operated by her son; right: Jenny and Tony standing behind Art's grandson Josh and daughter Karen.