Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 1, 2021

Low expectations

Whenever a Friday coincides with some "big" day - Christmas, Fourth of July, an anniversary a birthday, or, like today, New Years's Day - I have a feeling I should write something profound.

But what if I am not in a profound mood? What if my mind wanders instead to that 1975 episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" - the one where WJM's Chuckles the Clown dies. He meets his demise from fatal injuries when an elephant "shells" him when he was dressed as a peanut. Mary's character is horrified that her colleagues spend the time leading up to the funeral making jokes about the oddball circumstances of Chuckle's passing. But then, at the service, the minister reminds them of Chuckles' signature phrase - "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants" - and suddenly Mary is beset by uncontrollable mirth.

Sure, it should have been a serious time, but, as the candy bar jingle goes, "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don�t!"

Expectations and circumstances can sometimes diverge dramatically. The bar is often pretty high on both sides when your fianc� first meets your folks. If all goes well and time passes, the bar drops, but everyone still feels the need to act at a somewhat higher level. But circumstances stepped in when new husband Art and I were at my parents' home. Mom bent over to take something from a lower bookshelf, generating pressure on a vessel closed by a somewhat faulty valve. What happened next was what Art�s dad would have described as, "she bent over to pet the cat and shot the canary!"

Mom was mortified.

The recent hubbub about the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn had prompted me to ask friends Kay and Susan what their impression was of the "Christmas Star." Kay said expectations had apparently been too elevated for Susan, leading to disappointment. So Art kidded her:

So it came to pass that a bright star arose in the sky, bidding all who saw it to head to Judea. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar journeyed together, eventually arriving in the land of the WildCat Creek people.

"Did you see the great star and would you like to join us in our journey?" one asked.

Susan responded, �I saw it, but was underwhelmed. You go ahead. I'll just stay here and play with my dreidel."

Ah, yes! Another high expectation situation where it was not met. But it was quite entertaining just as the first had been.

Yet low expectations sometime end in satisfaction. I was expecting a completely socially-distanced Christmas, so was startled when the doorbell rang on Christmas Eve. When I opened the door, I was greeted with a large - I mean five feet high and equal in width - green bag with seasonal greetings in white sprinkled across it. In the middle was a huge red bow. For a moment, I stood there confused. Then I pulled the bag up and saw daughter Mariya and her wife Miriam inside. While they came bearing gifts, THEY were the real gift. They had quarantined for two weeks and so, were able to join us for a true "old fashioned" Christmas - meaning like last year's.

In truth, that whole expectation thing can be tricky. If we have high expectations, we can be easily disappointed. Art had an aunt and uncle whose marriage was not made in heaven. "She wanted perfection and he was not perfect" was how Art described it. The flip side is expressed by my South American friends who often repeated the saying, "Expect nothing of people and you are never disappointed."

Over our years together, Art has often said that he has debated whether to tell me about some upcoming event he is sure I will like. This is because he knows my enjoyment can be enhanced by anticipation. But it can also be diminished if I fret about whether the details will fall in place.

This season of gift-giving also runs into this elusive cost/benefit aspect of expectations. Who hasn't given a young child some toy the giver was really excited about only to discover that the youngster finds the unwrapping and playing with the box more intriguing than the gift? The giver can easily be deflated, while the recipient is pleased.

A variation occurred this past summer. I bought a toy for our cat Minnie. It was a little mouse-like figure inside a plastic ball. She gave it a couple of bats and was done with it. I was disappointed. She was much happier playing with an ice cube she plucked from a drink glass set on the floor. Then Art decided to cut the ball away, leaving just the mouse. Suddenly, Minnie was in cat heaven!

You have properly concluded by now this is not a �highfalutin� column of profound thoughts. But I hope it met some of your, well, you know, expectations. If not, this may help:

In 1990, Art and I were visiting Austria with Art's mother Donna, who was then 80. We had driven high into the Alps until the road came to an end. It was cool - literally - to be surrounded by snow when just minutes before we had been in the warm green countryside. Art and I got out of the car to wander in the snow a bit, but Donna declined the opportunity.

We quickly became cold and returned to the car. As Art climbed into the driver's seat, his nose was hit with a familiar odor. Art turned and looked at his mother. She nonchalantly remarked, "You returned sooner than I expected."

Left: I welcome daughter Mariya, center, and her wife Miriam into our home after "discovering" the two as a "gift" on our porch. They were hidden under a green and white bag, part of which is at the far left; right: Minnie removing an ice cube from a drink glass to use as a toy. Near the front is the toy I gave her that she ignored until Art liberated the "mouse" inside the ball.

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