Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 17, 2024

What an adventure

In the 1982 film, "The World According to Garp," Robin Williams as Garp says to his wife:

It's really nice you know? To look back and see the arc of your life. It's all connected. How you got from there to here. To see the line, you know? It really has been an adventure.

While the movie is a comedy, like all humor, at the core there is a grain of truth. What follows is just one example. It reveals a direct connection between husband Art's boyhood visit to his aunt Dorothy Vaughan's home in Wisconsin to George Edwards Hall in a small village in Wales more than six decades later.

One day when he was 13, Art's family visited the home in Manawa, Wisconsin shared by Dorothy and her father - Art's grandfather. A question arose about some family matter that prompted Dorothy to produce a scrapbook. Art had never seen it and she explained she had intended to give it to her parents on their 50th wedding anniversary, but grandma Vaughan had died a few months before their 50th and so, it remained unfinished.

Art was most fascinated by a scrap of paper in an envelope attached to one of the book's pages. It had "Llansilin ... near Oswestry" written on it. The handwriting was that of his great-grandfather Tom, identifying the place in Wales where he had been born.

Years passed and occasionally thoughts of that evening came to Art's mind, but only in passing.

In 1980 while he was visiting his parents, the scrapbook again appeared. His parents had acquired it after the deaths of his aunt and grandfather. Now his parents were downsizing and the scrapbook was slated to be discarded unless Art rescued it - which he did.

After going through its contents carefully, he visited the National Archives branch near his home in Kansas City to fill in some of the blank spots his dad couldn’t.

In 1983, Art's colleague Bill at the university where they both taught invited him along on a trip that included a stop in Wales. Art thought it would be a great opportunity to see the place where Tom had been born. Art wrote a letter to Vicar Christopher Carter of the Llansilin church asking about any family records. Carter sent photos of the remnants of the home where Tom had been born and of the house his family lived in later. It allowed Art to visit the very places his ancestors had called home.

During that trip, Art met local Jan Passey and a friendship emerged - one that now spans 41 years. When Art and I married, Jan and her family were brought into our relationship. He calls her the sister he never had and she calls him the brother she never had.

These connections have caused us to return repeatedly to this beautiful area and explore its many attractions. One of these is the Pontcysyllte - pronounced Pont-keh-sith-teh - Aqueduct. It was completed in 1805 to allow the transport of goods in narrow boats across the valley 126 feet below. Now a World Heritage Site, this world's tallest aqueduct is a must-see whenever a companion joins us on one of our trips.

In 2023, Art's grandson Josh was with us. During the stop at the aqueduct, we happened to meet Joel and his dog Ralph. While Joel helps a local with the sale of narrow boats, he is also an emergency medical technician as well as doing rescue missions for people who get trapped underground while exploring caves and mines.

But if that isn't enough, he also sings bass in the Froncysyllte "Fron" Choir, a group of forty-plus men who carry on the tradition of all-male Welsh choirs. Joel suggested we drop by when the group was rehearsing, an offer we accepted.

I wrote about that experience in a column last year, and we promised ourselves that the next time we were in the area, we would visit again.

Often when you remember something fondly, a re-do results in a bit of disappointment. But there was no need to worry on that account this time! We quickly notched two rehearsals, and choir members began to kid Art that he would soon be drafted to sing.

Before the next rehearsal, we were joined by Art's cousin Kris. Her music choices have leaned toward country in recent times, but when Art sent her a link to a selection of the choir's music, she wrote back that listening to the men sent chills down her spine and she would like to join us on our next visit.

And so, we included her on our next rehearsal trip ... and the next and the next ...

So how does George Edwards Hall fit in? On May 10, the Fron performed at the local village hall with the children's choir from the nearby Acrefair primary school. It was a benefit concert to raise funds to purchase a defibrillator for the school.

Garp was right. What an adventure, this becoming "groupies" of a Welsh choir, all because of a scrap of paper from a man who has now been dead for better than 125 years.

Top-left and immediately below: Tom Vaughan's note; Vicar Carter; Art's daughter Karen in front of the remnants of the home where Tom was born. Top-center-left: Gloria on the aqueduct. Top-center-right: Art with Jan's granddaughter Courtney, Joel, Jan and Ralph. Top-right: above, the two choirs performing together while below, choir member Simon gives Kris a "good-bye" smooch before her departure for home. Bottom: Fron choir during rehearsal paused to snap a photo with their visitors. Art has his arms about Allan Smith, left, and Ron Wilkinson. Gloria and Kris sit between Den Williams, left, and Sam Hughes. Director Leigh Mason stands behind Art.

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