Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 24, 2020

"Jammin' with the fam!"

It felt almost like a normal family get-together. We talked about the weather, the Kansas City Chiefs and what we've been doing the past few weeks. We were goofy, got serious at times and laughed quite a bit. But we were only together in the sense of being in 12 adjacent screen sections on our laptops or tablets.

It was a larger version of a meeting I had about a month ago using the internet teleconferencing application Zoom with daughters Mariya and Katie. That day, we discussed items we had heard on the news, exchanged recipes and talked about their pets.

But this one was the brainchild of nephew Michael. He thought it would be nice to have a reunion where we'd meet virtually on April 13 - the day of his mother's 71st birthday. Linda died Aug. 5 of last year, and Michael wanted to surprise his dad - my brother Dave - with a special time to remember her.

When I sent friend Bryce a "screen capture" of our reunion, he commented that we probably had a better turnout than if we had all been free to travel. And that was certainly true because it would have taken a lot of plane trips to bring us all together under one roof. Four of us "Zoomed in" from Manhattan, Kansas, while 13 connected from nearby Salina, Kansas. Others joined from Albuquerque, New Mexico (one); the Dallas, Texas area (five); Washington, D.C. (one); Bozeman, Montana (two); and La Paz, Bolivia (two).

We greeted each person with somewhat awkward waves and "how are ya's?,� but soon we settled in and the conversation started flowing.

Dave's daughter-in-law Rachel mentioned how she used to have the house to herself for eight or nine hours a day and now she's had to adapt to husband Paul and three school-age kids around all the time.

Their son Chase showed off one of his early birthday gifts - a Kansas City Chiefs sweatshirt-blanket - which he promptly pulled over his head.

Several joked with sister Gaila's husband Humberto about his beard, saying he could portray a hero in a Western movie, although husband Art suggested another possibility was a "Narco" - someone involved in narcotics.

Daughter Mariya kept prompting chuckles and discussions by changing the background for her screen to various movie or TV scenes - making it look like she was hanging out with various cast members of "Star Wars," "Bob�s Burgers" and "Matrix."

Someone mentioned watching episodes of "Tiger King," a Neflix series about a zoo owner in "a true murder-for-hire story from the underworld of big cat breeding." I was clueless about it, except for a spoof I saw on Stephen Colbert's late-night show. While others in the family mentioned seeing it, daughter Katie said one episode was enough for husband Matt and so now she was watching it alone.

After a time, Michael asked if any of us would like to share our memories of Linda.

Chase said one of his favorite memories was opening Christmas gifts at his grandparents' home.

His sister Erynn said she always liked to go to Linda's pre-school to read the books and play with the Beanie Babies.

Linda's sister Alana said her son Ryan was at Linda's pre-school when he was 3 and 4, and she remembers Linda saying, "I'm going to make that boy sit still if I have to glue him to that chair!"

Alana's husband Larry remembered a long-ago trip to the Grand Canyon with Alana, Linda and their parents and how sad Linda seemed to be. It was before Dave and Linda married and also before Larry and Alana did. Dave was in National Guard basic training in Louisiana at the time and Linda was pining away for him.

I mentioned how much I always enjoyed Dave and Linda coming to our place for Thanksgiving and how she would always bring her brownies and her version of a "pink fluffy fruit salad" that was one of Art's favorites. I also talked about all of us being on the farm and how worried she was that Paul and Michael might "shoot their eyes out" when they were using a BB gun on some old tin cans.

Ryan recalled a particular parade the family was watching and how Linda gave him an extra-long hug. "It was casual, but extra long, and I just remember that hug."

After about an hour, Michael said our Zoom session was about to end, so we all waved, blew kisses and "left" the meeting.

I found out a couple of days later that the six cousins continued after the rest of us had left.

Two nights after that, the four girl cousins - Mariya, Katie and Gaila's girls Gabriela and Larisa - had their own Zoom get-together. Mariya said they talked about home and garden TV shows, working remotely, rich people buying or building super-expensive summer or winter homes, pets, going outside with masks on, and many other topics. Mariya later posted a screen capture of their conversation on Instagram. She titled it "Jammin� with the fam!"

Several years ago, Mariya, Art and I were in Copenhagen while Katie had stayed in Manhattan to complete a summer course and we used the Skype program to connect. This past Sunday, we spoke with our "adopted German son" Tim in Berlin using the phone application WhatsApp. We chatted for 50 minutes about their somewhat anxious return trip from Southeast Asia as the COVID-19 lockdown started canceling flights one after another.

I confess to having once been a bit too dismissive about �socializing� using technology, but now I'm thankful for it. "Jammin' with the fam!" has been fun and has kept us connected in this time of social distancing.

Left: a screen capture of the April 13 virtual reunion. The yellow border around the lower right picture identifies the person speaking - in this case, daughter Katie; right: the four cousins "jammin'." Clockwise from upper left: Larisa, Mariya, Katie and Gabriela.

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