Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 10, 2021

Unlearning old tricks

After discovering something new, husband Art often says, "You spend your whole life learning ... and then you die!" There is a grain of truth in that. A proverb says, "When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground."

Yet not all learned things are equally important or remain valuable. Looking both ways when crossing the street holds its relevance, but my childhood home phone number? Parkway 6-3055 remains with me, although the phone was disconnected long ago.

Some of what we learn actually becomes a liability as time passes. Art's parents married just as the Depression was starting and his mom quickly learned to be frugal. Just as the economy was rebounding, World War II began with its shortages and rationing. Near its end, Art, the second of their two children, was born.

Those years of being careful with money meant that as a widow, despite being financially comfortable, she lived by the same habits. She lamented the state of her old kitchen countertops and Art repeatedly tried to convince her to have them replaced. But she always balked, saying she was too old to ever get the use out of them compared to the cost. So one time when she was visiting us, Art made arrangements with his cousin, who does home improvements, to replace them. When she returned home, she was amazed by her transformed kitchen and said, "Why didn't we do this earlier?"

Looking at things in a new way and unlearning some of what is in our mental library has popped up repeatedly recently. Visiting daughter Katie's and husband Matt's new home over Thanksgiving gave me a chance to look at some kitchen gadgets I have never considered buying. Art quizzed Matt about alternate ways they use their computers.

After returning home, siblings Dave, Gaila and I had our first in-person visit in two and a half years. Our library of past experiences allowed us to instantly converge on a restaurant choice, having learned in the past the food there was good and it had a good place to talk. However, the purpose of getting together was not strictly social. For the past 20 years, we have collectively been the owners of the family farm. Our sentimental attachment had made it difficult to sell, so we have been renting it.

Still, over time, the constant hassle of dealing long distance with finding renters for the house and arranging for the related upkeep, prompted us to separate it from the farm land and sell it. Yet that old home had been the focal point of our attachment. With its sale, our sentiments waned, making it time to move on. We decided to sell the land as well.

Another "times have changed" matter involved my sister. For years, Gaila was the librarian at the American School in La Paz, Bolivia, while her husband Humberto worked as a lawyer. Their time was split each year, most of it being spent in Bolivia, while summers were in the United States - mainly in Kansas. But their grown daughters - one a lawyer in the East and one a city planner working for a municipality in the West - live in the United States. Like the farm for us, Bolivia will remain the girls' sentimental home, but their actual homes are elsewhere. Gaila and Humberto, whose habits were once so well-tuned to the lives they had, are now trying to figure out what to do. One of Humberto's brothers recognized this as well, telling him "What are you doing here? Go where your family is."

Events such as these often force us to change and sometimes the situation is better than before. Art's uncle, while ill, confided one day that "dealing with cancer is no fun, but at least it gives me a good excuse not to attend every one of my grandkids' activities!"

But seeing change coming frequently allows us to adjust more gracefully. A few mornings back, Art said he wanted to chat with me when I had the time. It seemed like the opening to something important, so I made the time right then. But all he wanted to do was underline that some things we had taken as givens should be re-thought. He pointed to the many years of large gatherings we hosted at Thanksgiving. Quite a few of those who attended were older and have since died. My brother's children are now of the age that he joins one of them and their children for the holiday. This means we no longer have a need for so much china and extra tables - and more importantly, we can regain the space needed to store them!

Christmas last year involved a bit of relearning as well. During the Depression, Art's grandfather sold Christmas trees and continued all through Art's growing-up years, meaning a live tree was a must for our home. Art was never happy with those found at local stores as they were cut early and became very dry by Dec. 25, leading us to cut our own at a nearby tree farm.

But recent dry spells during the Kansas spring caused our last source to shut down. So, last year, the unthinkable happened ... we bought an artificial tree. Art said he thought it would bother him a lot, but it hasn't. Both last year and this one, he spent hours arranging the lights as he always has and says not dealing with watering has been a bonus.

All these situations involving change made me think of the expression "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." It highlights the importance of remaining mentally flexible as the years roll by. A new trick we all need is an ability to not hang on to old ideas past their expiration date.

The siblings together after 2.5 years! (l-r) Gloria, Marilyn - brother Dave's girlfriend, Dave, Art, Gaila and Gaila's hubby Humberto.

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