Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 26, 2015

Luxembourg to London to Llangollen

Husband Art enjoys springing surprises on people. Last week, he pulled off a triple-header on youngest daughter Katie and me.

We first learned something was up while visiting with friends in Feves, France. In a discussion about what we would be doing during our month-long vacation, Art mentioned that anything we really wanted to do had to be planned to avoid June 14 through June 22. Katie tried repeatedly to get him to reveal what he had on tap. One approach was to say she needed to know what to bring along to wear, but he told her what she had been wearing was fine. She also wanted to know who else knew about the surprise. He said that while some knew about it, most didn't know what it was. He told us it had been his experience that the fewer people who knew, the better chance it would remain a secret.

On June 13, he let us know we would be flying the next day.

I thought we might be going to Nuremberg because friend Barbel's birthday was coming up that week. Art had also mentioned how he was missing the Alps.

Wrong! On the way to the Luxembourg airport, he told us that since we'd find out when we got our boarding passes, he might as well tell us we were flying to London.

Earlier in the year, we had talked about how much we enjoyed the place we had stayed in France last year and our place near the Welsh border in 2012. Art eventually volunteered that we would indeed be staying with Brian again and that our friend Jan was expecting us. Art first met Jan in 1983, and we try to see her every chance we can.

Katie was nervous as we boarded. "That plane has propellers. I've never flown in a plane with propellers," she said, looking at Art and sort of half smiling. "Tell me it's safe." Art laughed and assured her it was.

As we were about to take off, the pilot said, "The weather here is warm and sunny and in London" - there was a long pause and then - "well, it's not!"

We picked up a car at the London City Airport and then Katie navigated Art the 200 miles to Oswestry, where we stopped in the only store open on a Sunday evening for groceries. Then it was off to Brian's farm a couple of miles west of the city. He had told Art he had a birthday party to go to that evening, so he'd just leave the door unlocked. Everything was as we remembered, and we wasted no time settling in.

But there was more to come! Brian "popped in" the next morning to chat. Partway through the conversation, he asked, "So, another will be joining you?"

Art paused, and Katie and I looked at each other.

"Uh-oh! I let the cat out of the bag, didn't I?" Brian said.

"I might as well tell you that Tim will be joining us tomorrow," Art said, grinning.

We hadn't seen our "adopted German son" since last September when he flew home to work on his master's program and complete an internship at the airport in Frankfurt.

"And you may as well know that isn't all," Art added. "Friday we will be attending a special event Jan has organized. It is a barbecue to raise money for cancer research and there will be music."

The rest of Monday was spent driving through the beautiful green countryside of Wales and shopping in the neighboring village of Llangollen. In the evening, we went to Jan's home and caught up on family news.

Tuesday, we were off to Birmingham to retrieve Tim from that airport. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent wandering Wales and the border region, eating fish and chips, shopping in Oswestry's town market, visiting a woolen mill, riding an old steam train originally used to haul slate from the local mines, and just having a good time.

While I had some idea of what Friday evening would be like, the kids were surprised. Tim thought it would be an evening of classical music. But several years ago, Jan had befriended Pete Allen, who some believe is the finest clarinet player in all of Europe. And Pete's forte is Dixieland Jazz.

Art had listened to YouTube recordings of Pete several years earlier. Art and his family were friends with Bob Scobey, a noted figure in the field in the 1950s, and they used to travel to Bob's club in Chicago to hear him and his band play. So Art had been trying to find a time when one of our trips would coincide with a location where Pete was playing. This was the year! Pete and his six-musician band were the entertainment.

We arrived at the Oswestry Cricket Club a bit before 7:30 and immediately entered the food line. We then retired to a tent outside and joined a couple at one of the tables. At about 8 p.m., Pete and the band began playing some of the old standards - "Bill Bailey," "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Basin Street Blues," "Careless Love," "Baby Face" and many more. We were tapping our feet and clapping to the music the whole time.

It was a little after 11 p.m. when the last set was over. Art spoke with several of the band members, including Pete and guitar/banjo player Dave Moorwood, whose idol had been Bob Scobey. Clancy Hayes, who sang with Bob and played the banjo, had been one of Pete's idols, so they connected immediately.

So it was a happy crew that headed to our place in the beautiful Welsh border lands. Art's triple-header surprise had been a big success.

Top-left: Pete Allen sets his clarinet aside to provide a vocal; top-right: the view to the southeast from Brian's cottage; bottom-left: Katie takes a "selfie" with Tim, Gloria and Art during a pause in the narrow-gauge rail trip along the edge of Llyn (lake) Padarn in Wales; bottom-right: a farewell meal at friend Jan's home. l-r: Jan, grandson Sam, daughter Leanne, son-in-law Steve, granddaughter Courtney, Katie, Art and Jan's friend Gordon.

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