Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 28, 2021

"The Merry, Merry Month of May"

Each holiday after all the presents had been unwrapped, hubby Art's mom Donna would invariably proclaim, "This is the best Christmas so far!" While it's possible our Wisconsin celebrations were ones of unceasing betterment, my hunch is that Donna's evaluation had something to do with the joy she experienced each year overshadowing her recollection of the past.

That hunch is based on my own reaction to spring. Everywhere I look, the world is bursting with life and color. From our deck, I marvel at how the tree leaves seemingly have unfurled overnight. The Flint Hills in the distance are carpeted in multiple shades of green, interspersed with wild flowers. While the tulips have faded, our purple irises and hot-pink peonies are at their peak. It seems appropriate, then, that the month of May was named in honor of Maia, the Greek goddess of the earth and guardian of nature.

May is also a festive time, with Mother's Day, graduations, birthdays, retirement parties, and Memorial Day sprinkled from beginning to end.

All these things make me inclined every year to follow Donna's example and declare this one to be "the best May so far." But this year it is more than just a feeling brought on by being overwhelmed by spring's plenty. One aspect is that I have received a double dose of the season. After experiencing April in my home state, we spent the early part of May in Wisconsin. Because it's farther north, Wisconsin experiences spring a bit later than Kansas, so I enjoyed the white and pink flowering crab trees, gardens with tulips, and sweet smell of lilacs over again.

The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this year has allowed us to slowly emerge from our self-imposed isolation, mask-wearing, and social-distancing required to keep ourselves and our communities safe during the pandemic. Visiting daughter Mariya and her wife Miriam through the pandemic had been fun, but required considerable preparation to keep us all healthy. Being able to get together more frequently - and without masks - is a treat.

Early in May, Art and I also saw daughter Katie and hubby Matt for the first time in more than a year, making Mother's Day special. We helped them unpack boxes and get their kitchen, bathrooms, and other areas of their new home set up. When we arrived, I hugged Katie tightly for a long time. While Art and Matt tended to mechanical and electronic projects, I was more than happy to help Katie unwrap dishes, cleaning supplies, clothing, food items and toilet paper to be distributed throughout their place. It's funny how what normally would be considered chores can be welcome events.

We also had the opportunity to visit with Art's cousins Jeff and Kris as well as their spouses Lorraine and Jim. That was also nice, as we usually only see them during the Christmas holiday, but we weren't able to do that in 2020. It also involved eating at a restaurant - something that had once seemed so ordinary, but now feels like a night on the town.

Getting a fitting gift for someone's birthday also is satisfying. Aunt Kay's 99th birthday was last week. When we were in California two years ago, we took her out to eat several times. Each time, she ordered a piece of lemon meringue pie. So for her milestone 99th, I arranged to have a whole pie delivered to her from the restaurant. She has mentioned the pie in every conversation since!

Commencement ceremonies are also a staple of May. Ben, the son of friends Dave and Susan, received his college degree, and Christopher, the son of friends Tom and Nedy, graduated from high school.

This May, I was involved in a graduation of my own. Colleagues in my department at Kansas State University hosted a retirement picnic for me and fellow journalism and mass communications faculty members Deb and Lou. I had actually retired in May 2020 and Lou followed soon after in the summer. The plan had been for us to be honored with a reception last year, but it was cancelled. Since Deb retired this month, we had a sort of triple-graduation-into-retirement. It was the first time we had all been together for more than a year, and it was a joyous time of reconnecting, laughing, and sharing stories. I was especially glad Carol Oukrop, my professor at K-State in the 1970s and my department colleague later on, was able to attend. Her son said they had planned to take off for his home in Austin that day, but she told him she wanted to delay it so she could be at the picnic.

As I reflected on this time of the year I enjoy so much, the phrase "the merry merry month of May" came to mind. That prompted some searching and led me to the song written by Stephen Foster.

We roamed the fields and river sides,
When we are young and gay;
We chased the bees and plucked the flowers,
In the merry, merry month of may.

Our voices echo�d through the glen,
With blithe and joyful ring;
We built our huts of mossy stones,
And we dabbled in the hillside spring

Oh, yes, with ever changing sports,
We whiled the hours away;
The skies were bright,
Our hearts were light,
In the merry, merry month of may

We joyed to meet and griev�d to part,
We sigh'd when night came on;
We went to rest with longing heart,
For the comming of the bright day dawn.

The year was 1862 and the Civil War was raging, with no end in sight. If Foster was so moved by the arrival of spring that he could write such hopeful words during one of our nation's darkest times, perhaps no one will think I'm silly for thinking "this is the best May so far."

Top: the tulips were in fine shape (left) in Wisconsin as were the flowering crab apple trees. Bottom-left: helping Katie unpack and set up Matt's and her new home. Bottom-center: the three retirees (l-r) Deb, Gloria and Lou holding the boxes containing their retirement bracelets. Bottom-right: aunt Kay does love her lemon meringue pie!

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