Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 8, 2023

Mission accomplie

It had been four years since our last visit to Metz, France, and husband Art and I had looked forward to returning. I was eager to see how my French had progressed after studying with the application Duolingo for three years. Surely I would be able to carry on at least basic conversations.

Alas, that proved to be a bit optimistic. I could understand much of what people said, but had trouble responding. Luckily, many of the people we know speak English.

The motivation for our July trip was to visit friends we had made while bringing our 10-year book project to completion. "An Opportunity to Be Better" describes how Morganville, Kansas adopted Fèves, France to help it recover from the effects of World War II, and the subsequent connections between the two villages.

My column "Labor of love" explained the process of writing, editing and publishing the English edition, completed in November 2020. “Dueling with Duo" dealt with the challenges of creating the French edition, finished in fall 2022.

This year, with no particular agenda, we could just celebrate with the people who had helped us.

One evening, husband Art, daughter Katie and hubby Matt, and I had supper with Liane Lagrange and her family. Liane, now 79, was one of the two girls pictured on the book's cover. Ed Utley and his Morganville-born wife Billie had visited Fèves in 1949. Ed had taken the photo, but the girls were not identified. Our friend Gérard Torlotting was able to identify them. One, Gabrielle, had died a few years before.

The other, Liane, lives in a village next to Metz and is a virtual "Energizer Bunny." She has her own health-food business and organizes area military anniversary celebrations. We wanted Katie and Matt to meet her and her family, as Katie did the book design and layout, sang the French national anthem at our 2014 reception in Fèves, and had been with us on previous research excursions.

Another "date" was a pizza supper with Gérard, wife Solange and their grandson Paul. Gérard was our number-one resource in answering questions about the history of the area as well as the go-getter who organized the publishing of the book in French. Even on this visit, he pulled photos from drawers and made photocopies for us so we could follow up on individual family histories if we want.

We also dined with three of our four translators - Francis Pracht, Céline Wadoux, and Virginie Goulaieff. The fourth, Christine Torlotting, was in Paris.

Francis, who is fluent in several languages, was our go-to guy for on-the-spot translating throughout our previous trips. He and wife Christiane hosted multiple parties in their home.

The chance event that brought Céline to the translation team makes me smile. Liane doesn't speak English, so we had been communicating with her via e-mail through her daughter Virginie. While arranging a face-to-face meeting during our 2019 visit, Art mentioned we would be attending a concert in the Metz cathedral that evening.

As the concert was about to begin, a woman appeared before us, animatedly speaking French. We assumed she had confused us with someone else. Then we heard the word "Kansas" - not a word likely to roll off the lips of a typical French person. The proverbial lightbulb went on. It was Liane! We jumped up and hugged her. But with the concert beginning, we scrambled to our seats with the intention of connecting after.

Quite by accident, Céline, who had come to write a concert review for an English-language publication, had previously seen Liane scanning the crowd looking for us and asked if she could help. So when the concert was over, Liane asked Céline to translate for us. Art, seeing how fluent she was in English, asked if she would be willing to help us with the book. She agreed. We later discovered she teaches English in the local high school.

Since Liane and husband Pierre's home is small, her daughter Virginie and her husband - also named Pierre - were gracious hosts on several occasions.

Virginie, much like her mother, has an abundance of energy. If I were to stay in France for any length of time, she'd have me speaking French like a native as she insists I speak it with her as much as possible.

She joined Art and me for a concert in the Robert Schuman gardens, just a few minutes' drive from our "home" in Metz. Schuman, a Luxembourg-born French statesman, is considered one of the founding fathers of the European Union.

Virginie thought a local radio station might be interested in the Morganville-Fèves story. She arranged for broadcaster Thierry Georges to interview us while she helped translate. Art discussed the historical aspects of the story, while I filled in with how the most recent connections were made. Just as we did in our book, Thierry referenced "The Wizard of Oz" - a story most French are familiar with - and how the Morganville-Fèves story had once been as well-known as the one about Dorothy and Toto.

On our last day before leaving, we gave a copy of the book to the AS.CO.ME.MO. museum. It's dedicated to the daily lives of the people of Lorraine during World War II. Pascal Fritsch, one of the museum docents, said he really appreciated the book because few villages in that part of France were adopted by U.S. towns, making the relationship special.

At the end of the day, we drove to Virginie's and Pierre's to bid them "adieu." While chatting outside their home, hot-air balloons began arriving from the southwest, passing overheat to the northeast. We hadn't seen any the day we visited the festival at Chambley, 30 miles away. But now they had appeared, perhaps to remind us that, like Dorothy and Toto, it was time for us to return to our home in Kansas.

We arrived on a mission almost 10 years ago, and made friends along the way. Now we can say "mission accomplie," but those friendships will endure.

Left-top: Supper at the Lagrange home. Art, Matt, Virginie, Liane, Gloria, Katie, Virginie's hubby Pierre and Liane's hubby Pierre. Middle-top: Supper with the translators. Francis, Gloria, Art, Céline, Virginie's and Pierre's daughter Claire, Pierre and Virginie. Right-top: Supper with Solange and Gérard. Left-bottom: Thierry Georges interviews Art while Virginie watches. Middle-bottom: Book presentation at the AS.CO.ME.MO. museum. Roger, Francis, Pascal, Art and Gloria. Right-middle: Village greenery spells town's name - Fèves. Bottom-right: hot-air balloons arrive from Chambley.

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