Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 3, 2021

Treasured times

A number of years ago, Bill, a friend of husband Art, mentioned he and his wife Barb were planning a "big trip" for the coming summer. The decision was prompted by their oldest child's graduation from high school in the spring and his leaving for college the following fall. While no one could know what the future might bring, it was certain these events would be a turning point, not just for their son, but for the whole family. Their relationships would be forever changed. The five-week trip across parts of Europe and the United Kingdom would provide life-long memories that would also separate what was before from what would be.

We decided to do the same when that time arrived for us, but with two minor changes. One was to take daughters Mariya and Katie on an earlier, shorter trip - a sort of dry run to see what sort of travelers they were. The other was to plan it for the end of Mariya's junior year in case she was involved in some "gateway-to-college" activities during the summer following her graduation. Our family trip took place in 2003 - exactly 20 years after Bill's and Barb's.

But even when their family trip was still in the planning stage, Bill was looking to the future. His plan involved retiring at age 55, followed by moving to New Mexico, near where Barb's family lived. Bill loved the area and after years of teaching at K-State, he thought it would be fun to offer workshops for people interested in hobbies he had pursued and was proficient at.

As 55 approached, Bill decided to work two additional years to more fully feather his retirement nest. But that wasn't to be. He died from brain cancer during his 57th year.

Our enduring interest in family history - whether our families' or someone else's - provides a constant reminder that our time is limited. Bill's early death and the loss of our own family members and friends over the years have served to underline this reality. So we try to look for opportunities to share family time.

We have been fortunate in this regard. Until 2018, our daughters lived here in Manhattan and we could get together for holidays or shared meals any day the feeling moved us. But that ended when Katie's husband Matt took a job in, of all places, New Mexico. Regardless how we chose to traverse the distance, a day going and another returning were needed. Everyone being together did not happen as work schedules never provided adequate time.

This past spring, Katie and Matt moved again, but this time to Wisconsin. We were excited because we would be able to combine trips to our cottage in the state's North Woods with visiting them. But from Kansas, the distance is such that two days of travel is still needed and getting everyone together didn't seem likely.

But Art came up with another Thanksgiving surprise. I say "another" as the first was in 1992 - the year Katie was born. She joined the family two days before Thanksgiving. We were discharged from the hospital just before noon on Thanksgiving day.

While I was excited to be coming home with our new bundle of joy, I was also feeling a bit blue. Our usual holiday travel was inadvisable, so there would be none of the usual meeting of family and friends or partaking of traditional Thanksgiving foods.

So I was surprised when I was greeted by the familiar scents of the season when I stepped into our home. Art had prepared a full holiday meal, complete with turkey and all the trimmings. Over the next few days, friends and relatives stopped by to meet our newest family member and to whittle away at what remained of Art's 25-pound bird.

His Thanksgiving efforts turned into a tradition. Our large dining room table was made even larger by the addition of both leaves. One year, two smaller tables were also required to seat everyone.

But as the years have passed, deaths and other changes trimmed the number we have been able to share our good fortune with. Last year, just four of us - Art, Mariya, her wife Miriam, and I - gathered around our table.

This year was Art's 30th effort and his surprise involved asking Katie and Matt if they would be willing to host us in their new home while Art again made the meal. We would bring Mariya and Miriam along, allowing us four to be together again with the bonus of having their spouses - people we really love being around - with us as well.

On the Wednesday before, we pointed the car northeast and set off with a turkey in a cooler and a few other items, including Miriam's chocoflan - a fantastic combination of flan and chocolate cake. We spent most of Thanksgiving day chatting, while Art slowly thawed the big bird. A from-scratch pie involved Katie making the crust while Matt made the filling from pumpkins he had baked.

Friday was our big day. While the oven was busy cooking the main course, Katie baked homemade salted honey rolls and Matt roasted vegetables in their counter-top oven. It all came together just before 5 p.m. and most of the time after was filled with compliments on the food and complaints about feeling too full.

Much of Saturday was spent on Madison's Capitol Square, visiting small specialty shops selling books, clothing, art prints and ... surprise ... cheese!

The next morning, when Mariya, Miriam, Art and I hugged Katie and Matt and their dog Willow "good-bye" before our long return trip home, it was with the good feeling of having shared a special time together. It may not have been in the same league as weeks spread across some foreign land, but it was with the knowledge that such times will now be rare and so each will be treasured.

Top-left: Barb and Bill with daughter Marie and Bill Jr. taking a break in England in 1983; top-middle: the "Kansas crew" on the way to Wisconsin. Gloria, Miriam, Mariya and Art; top-right: the "scratch" pumpkin pie sits behind the chocoflan next to bakers Miriam and Katie; bottom-left: Katie with her fresh-from-the-oven rolls; bottom-right: Mariya, Miriam, Gloria, Art, Matt and Katie ready to evaluate the efforts of the cooks.

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