I was shocked the first day as we went to a play centre to find that nearly everyone in the room looked exactly like family pictures from all sides of the family. My children had grown up with grandparents and great grandparent's pictures on the wall and those loving eyes followed us for years from their mute positions on the wall, even though they had lived in Nantymoel, Wales. At the Play Centre, I found myself seeing a girl with the same bob cut from the Victorian era, pouting in her father's lap in real life, as if she had popped out of my picture in the living room. I found myself surrounded by people who all looked like me, like my Ex-hubby, (also a California born Welshman!) and like our families. It was an eerie sensation for me.
It took me a few days of shopping to realize that the people around me who looked the same also had the same sense of humor and adoration for word play that I was accustomed to only finding in my home and a few close friends. The Welsh do not only dabble in the occasional double entendre, but they excel at the triple and quadruple entendre more and use it for casual conversation as if it were the normal way to interact with one another. If you don't follow words quickly, here I suspect you will always be missing out on most of what is being discussed. (Let's face it I speak American English and I am lost most of the time here!) I have walked away from the store in Wales and only realized how to see what was said and meant in the car as we drove off. Over and over again.
While I have been here I have seen close families, people who see each other again and again in one week. I would love to see my parents once a week...but I am lucky if I see them once every 3 months. We spread out and move around alot more, I think, in California then they seem to here. This is indicated by how homogenous all of our accents are in California...there are subtle differences between Northern California and Southern California but after driving in the car for 7 hours we all have the same inflection on our vowels and syllables. Here in Wales, I drove from the Rhondda Valley area to Llanelli, about an hour in the car, and was told to listen to the different accent there. That tells me that here people don't move around so much....it made me think about my family who left and came to America as braver then I realized. I am staying here with family that came to America and eventually came back to Wales during the Depression. Who wouldn't come back to this?! It is stunning to be here. Why didn't my side of the family?
There seems to be an inherent love of nature here that I thought was sort of a family anomaly, but after being here I see it as a Welsh love of nature. The Welsh seem to almost be so accustomed to the lush green hills and valleys that they barely acknowledge what they intentionally seem to surround themselves with in all directions. The houses in the valleys are all within a few streets of nature whether it is green pastureland or woods or rivers, there are great swaths of nature cut into every town and village that I have visited so far. The locals seem to be almost unaware of how much they have surrounded themselves with nature all around, looking with surprise when I point out that all the little towns in this area seem to have the rows of homes clustered in little rivers down the mountainsides...rarely do they run more then 3-4 houses deep before you have access to a river or an entire mountain. They look at me quizzically and with worried expressions say, "Well, isn't it the same where you come from?" As they say that last word their voices all rise in pitch so that I feel as if I am perpetually being questioned.
I also have been floored by the wonderful politeness here. People are polite everywhere that I have been, but politeness is different here. My sister has bemoaned the fact that the world is not as polite as it used to be, but here I find that my family has a different kind of polite...Welsh politeness is what we were raised with even though we were raised in California by people who had been born in California. Those people had been raised by welsh family though and over and over I have been seeing my Aunt Winnie's gracious host behavior or Jim's gentle coaxing. There is also a way about the older generation that seems to enjoy engaging little children in conversation. I suspect that they are starting them out early with the penchant for word play,making sure they will be able to keep up as soon as they have complete sentences in their repertoire. Thoughtful humor and politeness seem to be a deeply ingrained attitude in all the places we have gone, whether it is the clerk in the grocery store or the postman walking his rounds as well as just family time after dinner in Wales. I feel as if I am reliving my dad's big family get together's at my Aunties house, all the time here...there is the same light banter all the time going on here.
Overall it is strange for me to come to visit and find such a sense of belonging. I always have thought I belonged where I grew up, and where I have lived, but now I am finding out about belonging in a different sense. Who knew that I belonged in a place I had never set foot on?