Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 18, 2015

Oh là là - une aventure!

The day we had been planning for was here. Twenty citizens of the small French village of Fèves, located six miles northwest of Metz, had arrived the evening before. They had come to see their sister city of Morganville.

In 1948, Morganville, a village of less than 300 people 40 miles northwest of Manhattan, had produced a pageant. The money it raised was used to help the French town recover from the devastation of World War II.

Our visitors' first stop would be at Bluemont Scenic Overlook where husband Art would give them a brief history of the city of Manhattan. Then they would travel to the World War II Memorial on the Kansas State University campus. The university provost, my department head and I would welcome them before Art pointed out university sites connected with the story.

Then it would be off to Morganville. Along the way, Morganville Mayor Brent Rundell would meet the bus and take the group into milo and soybean fields to give them an authentic Kansas experience. We'd stop at Russ Taddiken's family farm - a place easier to measure by the mile than the acre. He'd show them some of his huge farm equipment.

But all of these events were outdoors. Rain would definitely put a damper on our plans. Thunderstorms had been predicted, but they were thought to be a threat only in the afternoon. By then, we should be safely indoors - or as safely indoors as a person can be in Kansas!

The day dawned bright and sunny. The winds were calm. Temperatures were expected to reach the mid-to-high 80s. It appeared we would be spared any bad weather.

Events unfolded as planned. The French folks were fascinated by the milo and soybeans, took dozens of photos and some even gathered samples. Russ gave several people rides on the combine while Brent took others in the tractor. At the grain elevator, manager Bob Clark had everyone stand on the truck scale. We came in at a whopping 4,000-plus pounds!

In Morganville, a large French flag flew outside the community building. Upon entering, the Fèvesyotes spontaneously sang along when Anne Clark and two of her young music students played on cello and violin "En passant par la Lorraine," "Sur le Pont" and the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise." Lunch was served on tables covered with red-checked tablecloths decorated with centerpieces of sunflowers flanked by small U.S. and French flags. After lunch, Brent formally welcomed the group and Gérard Torlotting, the group's leader, presented gifts to Morganville.

Everyone had so much fun, we were about an hour late arriving at the Clay Center Community High School. Students and staff members greeted us warmly. Some of the students had learned French phrases and others performed a five-minute dramatic reading from the 1948 pageant. Art showed a DVD that gave the history of the Morganville-Fèves connection.

It was a happy crew that returned to Manhattan a bit after 5 p.m. A trip over the Tuttle Creek Dam marked the end of the afternoon activities. Dark clouds were building to the northwest and southwest, but they were of no concern because the only item remaining on the schedule was an indoor supper at a restaurant near the university.

While the television in the hotel lobby showed severe thunderstorms in the area, they appeared positioned to drift harmlessly off to the east. So there was little cause for concern when we were met with a few raindrops at the planned 7:30 departure from the hotel.

Less than a half mile later, it was raining in earnest. Bob Baldwin, our bus driver, had to set the wipers at their highest setting to see.

Another half mile and the rain was falling in sheets. The winds made the bus sway. Art suggested to Bob that since the restaurant had limited parking, he should turn into the university's nearby lot and park. We could walk the block to the restaurant when the rain abated.

But just as we made the turn, the loud crack of a lightning bolt startled us. Most of the lights in the area went out, including those at the restaurant. Those in the lot remained on, so we parked and waited as the rain poured down and small hail stones peppered the bus.

And we waited.

And then we waited some more.

Daughter Katie called from inside the restaurant. Daughter Mariya and her girlfriend Miriam were in their car in a nearby parking lot waiting, too.

After a half hour passed with no reason to believe the power would be on any time soon, it was put to the group, "How about Mexican?" The decision was unanimous. Art directed Bob out of the lot and northward.

But the water was already over the curbs. A river of run-off water gushed onto the street from a gap in the stone wall along the edge of the university. One car was stalled in the middle of the road. I was nervous. I heard several exclamations of "Oh là là" as we passed the stalled car and the water swirled around us.

Art, who knows how to maneuver a vehicle in almost any kind of weather, told Bob he knew the street and he could safely go around the stalled car. To the north, the street rose steadily and we made our way without incident through the torrential rain.

The restaurant staff appeared to be almost as happy to see us as we were to be there and we were only a little wet when we sat down to eat. Chatter at the table was lively and everyone was in good spirits.

Later, as we headed back to the hotel, it occurred to me that the storm we had earlier been concerned about had proven to be a perfect way to end their stay in Kansas. Our state has an international reputation for intense weather. How fitting they had the opportunity to experience it up close and personal. Oh là là indeed! What an adventure!

Top-left: welcome to the university campus by Provost Mason. Mason is at right in dark jacket; bottom-left: Mayor Rundell introduces the Fèvesyotes to a field of milo; top-right Fèves citizen Roger Wechtler presents Mayor Rundell with a road sign giving the distance from Morganville to her sister city; bottom-right: pageant participants meet aid recipients. l-r: Jay Mellies, formerly of Morganville; Solange and Gérard Torlotting, Fèves; Scharlotte Knitter, formerly of Morganville; Marc Davoli, Fèves; Gary Oetinger, Mary Ann McAdams and Royal Carlson, formerly of Morganville.

Left: The Fèvesyotes stop for a photo at the site where the play was performed in 1948; center: making our way to the Mexican restaurant during the deluge; right: lively chatter at the restaurant as the group waits for their meals to be served.

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