Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 6, 2009

Duck and flounder

Husband Art and I traveled to Mobile, Alabama in late September. I was attending a national newspaper convention, and he came along so we could connect with some distant family members we'd never met before.

Mobile seemed like a different world. The weather in Kansas had become cooler and fall-like, but Alabama was experiencing hot, muggy days. Our trees were beginning to "rain" leaves, while their live oaks were "dripping" Spanish moss. My brain had been pondering a clothing switch to sweatshirts, and menus of comforting sustenance such as soups and casseroles. But Mobile citizens were comfortably lounging at outdoor restaurants enjoying fresh red snapper, flounder, crab cakes, crab bisque, fried crab claws, fried green tomatoes, corn fritters, fried okra and hush puppies. And of course we had to sample it all. It's a wonder I didn't gain 20 pounds!

As a land-locked Kansas girl, large bodies of water fascinate me, and Mobile Bay was no exception. It provided me with ample opportunities to wander white sand beaches as large ships came and went, and pelicans, gulls and herons flew overhead or perched on piers.

When all these things were mixed with a successful conference, well, what more could I have asked for?

But I got it anyway. By far my favorite part of the trip was meeting Greg, Art's third-cousin-once-removed, and his wife Tonya. The two were eager to show us downtown Mobile, where Greg has a law office just a couple of blocks from their home, and Cathedral Square, where they were married about a year ago in an outdoor ceremony. We went to Spot-o-Tea, Felix's and the River Shack, some of their favorite restaurants.

They also took us to Dauphin Island, south of the city in the bay. Around the turn of the last century, Greg's great-grandfather Frank was stationed at Fort Gaines on the eastern tip of the island. As we walked the small cemetery near the fort, Greg and Tonya pointed out the gravestones of his great-grandparents and other relatives. I was impressed that they seemed genuinely interested in family history, even saying that they'd like to host a Vaughan reunion within the next few years.

But we never would have connected with them if it hadn't been for Greg's mother. Art's great-grandfather Tom Vaughan and his brothers emigrated from Wales to the United States during the Gold Rush of 1849. Brother William took a job in a woolen mill in Little Falls, New York, but Art had been able to find little about what had become of his children. So several years ago, he posted a query on a genealogical Web site for the area to see if anyone could help. A month or two later, he received a response from America Vaughan, who knew that William was the great-grandfather of her husband, Theodore "Ted" Roosevelt Vaughan II, and the great-great grandfather of son Greg.

Even after we returned to Kansas, the good time we experienced in Mobile continued as e-mails - some with a few of Greg and Tonya's wedding photos - flew back and forth. And along the way, we discovered yet another unexpected connection. My late husband Jerome had requested that we have a duck-shaped cake at our wedding because a duck pond in San José, Costa Rica, where we met, became one of our favorite spots. Although our mothers questioned the request, the cake was made.

While going through more of Greg and Tonya's wedding photos on the photographer's Web site, we noticed several where they were posed behind a table with a strangely-shaped cake. It was reddish brown and sort of circular. Art wondered if it was a giant steak, but thought that seemed more fitting for a Kansan than an Alabaman. I wasn't sure what it was.

When Art asked, Tonya informed him it was a flounder-shaped cake. Greg loves to fish and they go out into the bay as often as they can on his boat. Tonya said she had done most of the wedding planning, but the only thing Greg wanted was a flounder cake. "Since that was his only request, how could I have said 'no,' right?" she said. ". . . But it wasn't just any flounder cake, a red velvet one . . . very yummy!"

I smiled when I read her e-mail. I'm sure that flounder will be among the things people remember about their wedding day - just as Jerome's and my duck became the talk of ours. And, when I think of Mobile, I'll think of Greg and Tonya, their interest in family history and flounder.

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