When I was twelve I went to summer camp. My salient memories are of having wet sneakers the entire week, and that our cabin had one extra inhabitant – a mouse we named Herbie. I guess I had a fair time, but obviously not an outstanding one, and I was not inspired to return. This summer, several decades later, I finally decided to try camp again – this time “Welsh Camp” as I began referring to it. During the winter, I had decided to learn to speak a little Welsh and had begun some studying on my own. Then, in the spring, I read a blurb in the NWAF newsletter about WHW – Welsh Heritage Week. Among the activities listed were Welsh language classes. I investigated further and found that their goal was “to provide a fun atmosphere for learning Welsh language, etc.” It seemed to be just what I was looking for to further my study and I decided to give it a go. (Who could say no after talking to Beth Landmesser?) What a great decision!
I have always been fiercely proud of my Welsh heritage – I am first generation American on my father’s side and third generation on my mother’s side and have not found a non-Welsh ancestor in my family tree. I have made many trips to Wales and always have the feeling of being “home” when I am there. Everyone there reminds me of someone in my family and I just feel that I am among “my people” as my grandmother used to say. Upon arriving at WHW I soon realized this same feeling. It was only a matter of hours before I felt that I had connected with previously unknown family and that my own Welsh mindset was something overwhelmingly shared by everyone else there. I very quickly understood that although I had come for the language classes, I was going to get far more out of the week than just adding to my vocabulary.
I did profit greatly, however, from the language classes at WHW. They were focused yet highly enjoyable, brought my previous study to life, and certainly inspired me to continue studying. But I also found myself dancing Welsh folk dances, participating in discussions about Welsh literature, and much to my utter amazement – singing every morning in Ysgol Gan! Although I enjoy Welsh music immensely, I seem to be in that minute fraction of the WElsh population unequipped with a good singing voice. I therefore planned to just sit in the back of the room and listen, but “Gwarchod pawb!” – I was welcomed and encouraged to join right in! How marvelous it was to be in the midst of a choir (a great choir!) singing those hymns that I have so often enjoyed at home via cds.
All week long I enjoyed the talents of my fellow course participants as well as those of the course instructors. I had the privilege of hearing John Albert Evans, Rhod & Chris Jones, and Mari Morgan sing; watching Gareth Jones conduct the choir and play the piano; listening to Eirian Evans play the harp; and seeing Joan Owen-Mandry give a recitation to list just a few of the many highlights. My fellow course participants were an exceedingly talented group as well and I was entertained and moved by them every bit as much on a daily basis.
Not having previously attended an Eisteddfod, I anticipated the WHW Eisteddfod eagerly. My only concern was the although I wanted to try to participate, I couldn’t figure out what I could possibly do. It is a total credit to the wonderful nature of everyone at WHW that I even contemplated making an entry. The climate of the entire week was so safe and nurturing that I found myself putting my name on the signup sheet. My problem of what to do resolved itself in the form of John Albert Evans very graciously translating some family documents for me. Those documents related to my grandfather. Though he had died long before I was even born, and though my father had always spoken so lovingly of him, I have to admit to never really feeling a connection to my grandfather. That changed at WHW – my grandfather became “fy nhad-cu” and his spirit came alive to me. Although my reading in Welsh of an elegy (written in honor of my grandfather by his minister) was quite unpolished, it was highly emotional and personal experience for me – an experience that I would have said before the week started would be too personal to share with “strangers.” Yet these people weren’t strangers any more – they truly felt like family to me and I was happy to have them share in my tribute to fy nhad-cu.
The week seemed very personal for me on many levels. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Welsh accents of all the instructors (much more than they did listening to mine!) but I kept thinking that one instructor in particular sounded so familiar to me. After several days I discovered why – I learned that Chris Jones was from the same village in Wales as my father! No wonder she sounded just like all my relatives. In turn, I surprised (stunned?) her by showing her pictures I had of the chapel where she and Rhod had been married.
As I left Keuka College and the Finger Lakes (an area I formerly thought of as wine country, but which will henceforth be considered by me a Welsh enclave) I found myself reviewing my week spent at “Welsh camp”. Did I make any progress with the language? I think so – on the drive home I was reading the road signs as if they were Welsh. For example, I chuckled as I found myself reading an exit sign for Triphammer as “tree-ffam-mer”! Did I learn a lot? Well, I had joked with someone near the end of the week that “my memory card is full!” so I would say “ydy, wir!” Did WHW deliver on their goal of providing fun atmosphere? Are you kidding?? I joyfully sang my little Welsh heart out – in class, in a pub, in the dorm, in a Gymanfa Ganu… well, I sang everywhere! I also danced, participated in an Eisteddfod, and even joined a posse! But without a doubt, the biggest reward was the friendships I Made. I consider my Welsh family to have greatly increased in number. Finally would I be inspired this time to return to camp? Absolutely! I had dry shoes, no Herbie, and had a Welsh experience of a lifetime! To sum it up in what perhaps was my favorite word from the week – WHW was “bendigedig!”