(Photograph: Uncle Peppy, my father's brother.)
As Dad's life began winding down, it was more important to me than ever to find out all I could about him. Though there had been countless stories told, perhaps I'd missed something. One thing I wondered about for years was the relationship he and his brother, Joe, (Uncle Peppy), had and why we didn't see his family. There had been speculation that an old rift had torn the family apart. Though I saw my uncle several times, and always enjoyed his visits, his children were always strangely absent. Why?
One of Dad's favorite stories was that his brother bought him a Lone Ranger watch when he was a little kid. Uncle Peppy (Joe) was considerably older and not around while my father was a youngster. But somehow he knew that his little brother loved that radio show, and the greatest gift Dad ever received was that watch. Then through the years when I was a child, Uncle Peppy would stop by and my father just beamed when he was around. They resembled one another and talked non-stop.
The only time I saw my father cry was the day he found out that his brother Joe passed away in early 2000. I didn't know how to console him, so I gave him space and let him grieve in his way. Though our family was never affectionate, we all knew how much we loved one another. Sometimes even in silence.
I began to think about my uncle's family. Why hadn't we been close with them? Uncle Peppy's visits were always fun and pleasant. But my cousins, well, that was a different story. Why didn't they come on these trips with him. And more importantly, where were they now? Would I be able to find them? Would they even want contact with my family?
I remembered the married last name of Uncle Peppy's daughter and I found her oldest daughter on Facebook. She would not know me, but I carefully reached out, conveying how important it was for me to contact this side of the family. We wrote emails back and forth for a while. I told my father about hearing from her and he was absolutely thrilled that I'd found someone from their family.
Unfortunately Dad became very sick about that time and passed away shortly after. I'd promised him that I would continue reaching out to find if any of the others might be interested in hearing from a cousin they had probably not seen since the 1960's.
To my surprise, the oldest son, Ron, wrote back to me. I couldn't have been happier to hear from this cousin I barely remembered. But would he be as happy as I was? Or would old family differences get in the way? I soon found out. Our emails were engaging and when we spoke by phone we had a lot to chat about. We shared photographs back and forth. I met some of his children through Facebook as well.
This past Saturday, something wonderful happened. I met my cousin Ron! He came for a visit to my home. He was an amazing, intelligent, warm man. I couldn't stop staring at him because he reminded me so much of our grandfather. His voice was similar to his dad's, and I could see "Mattia," our last name, written all over him. We enjoyed several hours of great conversation. We learned things about our families and past that helped put some of the puzzle pieces back together. Oh how I wished I could call my father and tell him all of this...
When you've lost someone you adored, as much as I did with my dad, you look for anyone and anything that reminds you of them. When you find it, you embrace it or them, with everything inside you. Not alone any longer, there is family and though you never knew them, you do now and you forgive any past hurt or divisions that kept you apart. You go forward with the knowledge that there are more of you... pieces of your past that connect you to those you loved and you go on so much better than before.
Here's to our visit, cousin Ron! I will never forget it, and I truly look forward to reconnecting many more times!
All my love,
Me and cousin Ron!
My brother Rick got to meet our cousin too!