Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 6, 2013

Weekend in Shangri-La

Our Thursday flights from Manhattan, Kan. to Rochester, N. Y. went off without a hitch. It was late afternoon by the time we had acquired our rental car and headed down Interstate 390 to State Highway 20 and then headed east.

Our plan to visit New York had its roots in a trip last February to Los Angeles. We had gone to help my Uncle Stan celebrate his 90th birthday. One evening at dinner, my cousin Jeff's daughter Jackie shared with us that she was getting married Aug. 31. Unlike some families, the Freelands have not been very prolific, so such events are not so common. Later that same evening, husband Art put into words what I had been thinking - it would be fun to attend, despite it being the worst time of the year for me - right after the fall term begins.

Neither Art nor I had ever been to the Finger Lakes region of New York. But since they are at the same latitude as Art's native Wisconsin, much of the landscape seemed remarkably similar. However, it was also apparent that it had been settled by the white man much earlier. The straight-line roads and square fields of the Midwest were noticeably absent. The architecture of the buildings gave a feeling that we had stepped through a time warp and had somehow lost 150 or more years.

While we were expecting differences, I don't think either of us was quite ready for what was to come. The wedding was to be in Aurora, a village that Internet research indicated wasn't much more than a handful of streets branching from New York highway 90. Still, there were clues that it was not just another hamlet. It was home to Wells College, where Jackie had received her undergraduate degree and where she now works as an admissions counselor. The fact that Henry Wells, the founder and a principal of Wells Fargo and American Express, had called Aurora home was another. Most of it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But we were still surprised when we arrived. The village appeared to be taken directly from some story book and placed carefully between the eastern shore of picturesque Cayuga Lake and a high ridge farther to the east. Every lawn was carefully manicured and not a speck of litter could be found anywhere. Noticeably absent were many of the institutions that serve the nitty-gritty aspects of everyday life such as filling stations and large grocery stores.

The Aurora Inn, an 1830 Federal-style structure, was the only hotel in the village. It was fully booked when Art checked, but it's unlikely we would have stayed there even if lodging had been available. The purpose of the trip was not to relax in luxurious surroundings, so the Comfort Inn in nearby Cortland served our needs quite well. The price tag for our five-night stay was smaller than a single night at the Aurora Inn.

We were back in Aurora on Friday to look things over when we saw Jeff, wife Vicki and son Jeffrey on the main street. We joined them at the Fargo, a small pub, and passed the few hours before the rehearsal catching up on family news. Jeffrey's wife Liz and their daughters Isabella and Liliana joined us after they were finished getting their nails done.

The wedding was to be in a meadow below the Pumpkin Hill Bistro where the reception would follow. An area had been cut short as a lawn in the middle of flowering wild grasses so tall that when we were seated, it seemed as if we were as far from civilization as was possible.

Friday night, we retired to the groom's aunt and uncle's home on the shore of the lake. A barbecue of chicken and freshly roasted corn on the cob was a perfect setting to spend time with some of husand-to-be Mike and Jackie's friends.

Wells had been a women's school until 2005 and Jackie had originally chosen it because she had observed in high school how much her female friends came out of their shells when men were absent. Her women friends we met that evening certainly appeared to be much more confident and career-oriented as a group than many other young women I've met. Several commented how graduate school seemed so easy to them compared to women who had graduated from other schools.

Saturday arrived with iffy-looking weather. Art and I traveled the circumference of Cayuga Lake, sometimes encountering rain and at other points bright sunshine with high humidity. We arrived back in Aurora about an hour before the 4 p.m. ceremony. After a bite to eat at the Fargo, we drove up the hill into the cemetery where Art changed from camouflage shorts and sport shirt to black pants and sports coat.

When we arrived at the bistro, the seven groomsmen were mostly dressed, friends helping them adjust their bow ties. A short time later, the bridal party and mother-of-the-bride Deb were delivered in an old-fashioned trolley.

Jackie and Mike appeared to be the most composed of all those directly involved. Father-of-the-bride Jeff and some of the others were emotional, but the readings and other portions of the ceremony were completed as if the whole affair were less of a ceremony and more of a coming together of friends and family.

After eating and watching a bit of dancing, we headed back to our room. The rain had stayed away and there had been just enough clouds to keep high temperatures at bay. The setting had been beautiful and simple, yet elegant. There was an easy air of friendliness and closeness between the 100 or so who attended, unlike some weddings where people never seem to leave the comfort of the group they know. The next morning, immediate family and a few of the wedding party had breakfast together at the Aurora Inn before we went our separate ways.

The plane that would return us to reality left late Tuesday afternoon, so we decided to add one more seemingly-appropriate stop in the morning. Neither of us had ever been to Niagara Falls and despite the setting being heavily commercialized, seeing it and the trip that followed along the southern edge of Lake Ontario made for a perfect finish. The entire trip reminded me a bit of James Hilton's book "Lost Horizon" - it had been a weekend in Shangri-La.

Left: What is a wedding without a cute flower girl being guided by a handsome ring bearer?; middle: Cousin Jeff escorting Jackie to her groom; right: After the ceremony, Mike and Jackie kiss on the entrance balcony of the admissions building where Jackie works.

Left: Jackie and Mike share a laugh - one of the most important things that help bind any couple together; right: it was a cloudy day at Niagara Falls, but we still enjoyed the view.

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