Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 3, 2022

The "Energizer Bunny"

I would generally describe my Freeland family as low key. But not aunt Kay! With her dazzling smile, red hair and boundless energy, she is an exception.

Although she's left the red hair behind, her birthday two weeks ago was typical. While being the guest of honor, she also made it happen. Her niece Mary Kay said Kay started inviting people in March. And while several celebrated her "actual" birthday on May 20, 50 people gathered for the big bash the following day. It included a fashion show.

Oh, and did I mention it was birthday number 100?

She needed help hearing from a microphone and headphones, but Mary Kay said she spoke with every person and those chats were the high point for everyone.

Husband Art and I attended in spirit as we were with our daughters and spouses in Wales since late May was the only time we could be together.

But we wanted to get Kay something special and a lemon meringue pie immediately popped into our heads. The last time we took her to a favorite restaurant, she made short work of a huge slice - not one of those usual wimpy restaurant-size pieces - and later polished off another we bought for her to take home.

On our suggestion, Mary Kay made her a pie and she relished it. Mary Kay also volunteered to be our personal shopper, so siblings Dave, Gaila and I bought the birthday girl a storage cart, T-shirts, popcorn, and peanut brittle.

Our daughter Mariya designed a poster with fun facts about 1922. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles were completed. There was no television, but Will Rogers was a popular radio comedian. People danced the Charleston and listened to "Toot Toot Tootsie Good-Bye." Women celebrated two years of being able to vote, and bobbed hair and shorter dresses were all the rage. It was the start of the free-spirited Roaring Twenties.

And Kay's personality certainly matches that vibrant age. She exudes a positive energy and her smile lights up a room. Kay and I talk every week or so and she animatedly shares what's happening in her life and quizzes me about what's happening in ours.

She and Stan - dad's youngest brother - never had children, but they certainly "spoiled" us nieces and nephews and our kids - showering us with gifts and, most of all, being "present" in our lives.

Brother Dave says she was the ultimate hostess whenever we Kansas kids visited California. "She always had a lot for us to do and places to go. Seemed like the 'Energizer Bunny' most of the time."

Even as a kid, it was a challenge to keep up with her. The day's agenda might include Knott's Berry Farm in the morning and a show at the Hollywood Bowl that evening.

Gaila calls Kay the "fun" aunt. "She and Uncle Stan were the ones who took us everywhere in the L.A. area - Knott's Berry Farm, Disneyland, downtown L.A., the Hollywood Bowl ... . Their trips to Kansas were also very special as she would play with us on the farm with our Barbies ..."

And although a city girl, Kay snapped green beans and shucked corn from the garden and turned the crank to make homemade ice cream with the rest of us.

She has been the catalyst in organizing friend-and-family get-togethers for as long as I can remember. Her 2007 shindig in California resulted in 17 members from our Edgar Freeland side flying in from multiple locations to enjoy sightseeing and family time.

She organized a 2011 Alaskan cruise, where Mom, Dave, wife Linda, Gaila, husband Humberto, and their daughters Gabriela and Larisa joined Kay and Stan. Larisa shared one incident.

Our trip to Alaska was so fun. She and Stan had been on the cruise before so they knew ... all the fun activities the ship had available. We went to a Bingo night and I remember sitting next to Aunt Kay and Uncle Dave. Uncle Dave kept telling me how our likelihood of winning was decreasing with each number drawn and Aunt Kay was helping me fill my board, excitedly telling me I could still win. ...!

Art and I scrambled to keep up with Kay on her 90th birthday. She was literally 50 steps ahead of us when we walked through Descanso Gardens, admiring the trees and flowers. In 2013, she pulled off a surprise 90th celebration for Stan. He had no clue until the surprise was sprung, despite it being attended by dozens of relatives and friends.

When Kay was a youngster of 93, Gaila and I were content to reminisce and look through family photos when we visited, but Kay insisted Stan take us to visit nearby sites so we wouldn't get bored. During a visit four years ago, Gaila followed as Kay zipped down the aisles of a grocery store.

Gabriela and Larisa enjoyed playing the piano with her. When Kay recently moved to her new place, the first thing she did was sit down and play the piano.

Kay and Stan traveled well into their 80s. National parks were favorites, but they also went to Washington, D.C. and other locations for reunions of Stan's World War buddies. They traveled to Europe several times and also ventured to Gaila and Humberto's home in Bolivia.

Dave and Gaila cited Kay's faith in God as a powerful, positive force in her life, and following close behind has been connecting with loved ones.

Gabriela describes Kay to a "T":

She loves us and takes all of us in as her own. She keeps up with everyone, she remembers everyone's names and asks about their families and life. She loves to hear about what others are doing and to learn from their stories.

Aunt Kay, the 100-year-old "Energizer Bunny" - a spark of joy in all our lives.

Top (l-r): Kay and her three brothers as children; as a young woman; Kay three years ago waiting patiently for me to capture the image so she can get to her slice of lemon meringue pie; Mary Kay's "birthday pie:" Kay sampling the birthday pie.
Bottom (l-r): Kay, Mary Kay and Mary Kay's dog Bentley, who Kay is quite fond of; getting the party underway; my cousin Jeff's son Jeffrey chatting with Kay and another party attendee.

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