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A longwinded answer to another comment by JoAnn.

I have not been to Wales, though many of my relatives have made it back. To me, Wales was always a small house in Torrance and the wealth of experience associated with it. Many of my relatives have made it back. What they got from those trips has been sometimes dubious. My father, when he retired around 1970 — he was the Superintendent of a school district, or Head Master as my grandmother insisted — was given a trip to Wales by the PTA, a rather lavish gift, all things considered. He managed to take in Paris, London, and finish up with a round of golf at St. Andrews. He took with him a clunky cassette tape recorder from Radio Shack and brought back interviews from along the way. In Aberdare, he interviewed his cousins and second cousins. One of them told a typically long story about the morning he was on his way to work and an accident occurred right in front of him on the street. A policeman, who was not far away, heard the noise and rushed to the scene. He directed my cousin by many removes to stand right there and wait for the investigating officer. So, you see, he had no choice but to obey. As a result, and here follows the year, the month, the date, the day of the week, small reports on the weather and the commotion surrounding him, he was late for work. It spoiled his perfect record, but what could he do? At this point my father would hastily snap off the machine and say, "On his tombstone they'll write, HERE LIES RHYSE WILLIAMS / HE WAS ONLY LATE ONCE."

Aberdare is a short distance, perhaps a century or two, north west of Cardiff in the far south. Jan Morris comes from the northernmost part. Still, a Welshman is a Welshman. I was a member of the American Welsh Society for a few years, mainly so I could drive my grandmother to meetings and participate in tea and stories of the old country. The Great War, death, illness and poverty prevailed, but always in well rounded stories, vast quantities of detail, and long pauses shared by all where tears tended to well up and people fiddled with things — lost brothers and fathers and uncles mostly. And to sing songs and cheat at Whist. My grandmother thought that cheating was the second rule after hide your cards. I ended up with bruises on my shins, but I also learned something about the fine art of gestures in the midst of distracting conversation. Of all my relatives, I miss her the most.

My grandfather was a socialist and an atheist with a third grade education, but an autodidact to end all autodidacts. He was 5'3" tall and knew everything. The best picture we have of him — my aunt has it somewhere — is lying back in bed with a book held to the light in one hand. He turned the pages with his thumb. He took me to the Spit and Argue club in Long Beach one Sunday afternoon. People took turns standing on a box defending various points of view. All the way home he grumbled about their stupidity. He was a founding member of the Longshoremen Union and had cauliflower ears from all the fight's he'd been in. The people who knew him said that if he'd only been taller, he might have been content not to know so much or to back up what he knew with his fists. Of course, they generally took the union for granted. He was a baker by trade, the skill he brought to America, his way out of the mines. It was a small bakery in Harbor City that provided the wherewithal to raise a family. He died on my thirteenth birthday, in his sleep, on a trip home to Wales.

I have not read Jan Morris. Nor have I read How Green Was My Valley. Of course, everyone else has. Dylan Thomas came from just up the coast in Swansea. I can still recite many of his poems. Under Milkwood is a monument.
Alone until she dies, Bessie Bighead, hired help, born in the workhouse, smelling of the cowshed, snores bass and gruff on a couch of straw in a loft in Salt Lake Farm and picks a posy of daisies in Sunday Meadow to put on the grave of Gomer Owen who kissed her once by the pig-sty when she wasn't looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.
The thing about Wales that most people don't understand, especially those captivated by its beauty, is that Welsh immigrants brought Wales in their heart when they came. It has many fine things to recommend it. But they came to be free from it. They came to escape the dismal lack of opportunity, the second classness of it all. They weren't dispersed into a diaspora. The old country they longed for existed almost as much at the dinner table as it did on a map. And the Wales they escaped seemed not to miss them in the least. It's a difficult equation, but the Wales I remember, and the reason I avoid books about it, is a Wales of old, very proper, warm-hearted oddballs, and the world is all the less for their absence.
 
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