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A day of joy, tinged with pain

Another day in Warsaw, a meeting with new relatives and, most importantly, new clues about what happened in Northern Ontario when I was 4-years-old and my mother abandoned my father for his friend.

I call them clues, but they may simply be a different perspective. My mother told me she ran away from my father Stanislaw Zebrowski because he was prone to drunken, violent outbursts. And she said she never knew what became of Stanislaw after she left him for fellow Pole Frank Uzarowski.

Yesterday I met my first cousin, Kazimiera, my father’s niece. Kazimiera said her uncle was a kind and gentle soul, not given to violence. She never met my father, but was told this by other family members. "My mother talked a lot about Stanislaw because they were peers, they were of a similar age. He was a very balanced man, very calm," she told me.

Neither of us can claim to know the absolute truth of what happened. Neither of us saw first hand how the relationship between my mother Maria and Stanislaw played out in the months after we arrived in Timmins in 1952 from a refugee camp in Germany.

Besides the assertion that Stanislaw was a gentle man, Kazimiera provided one new clue. It was disturbing, and had to do with a false report of my father’s death and how the news reached his family. 

After my mother left him, Stanislaw stopped writing to his family in Poland. They tried, without success, to trace him through the Polish Red Cross. Then, in the late 1960s, they were told he was dead.

But Stanislaw wasn't dead. He didn't die until 1978. I have his death certificate. I got a copy two years ago, after I found his unmarked grave in an Ontario cemetery.

So who would have reason, ten years previously, to tell the Zebrowski family that their son was dead? Did the information originate in Canada? And who was the go-between who shared the false information with Stanislaw's family?

Today, more than 60 years later, the memory still rankles Kazimiera. "Everybody in our village knew we were looking for Stanislaw. One day, some person gave our family information that Stanislaw was dead." 

But Stanislaw was alive, and would live for another 10 years.

Will I ever find the truth of what happened, and why? Probably not. The key characters in this family drama are dead. My last hope of real evidence may come next week when I meet relatives who may have kept letters between my father and his family. 

Both Kazimiera and I shed tears as we spoke of the impact of those events so many years ago.

But there were opportunities to laugh, too. Kazimiera and her daughter Bozena (pictured at top of post) arranged for a private tour of the Island Palace in Lazienki Park. it was the playground of former Polish King Stanislaw August. The palace contains the king's private theatre, still in regular use today. 

Our guide led us through a door and we were backstage, looking out at the opulent auditorium. I grabbed Kazimiera's hand and we ran out to centre stage like children and bowed deeply to our (imaginary) standing ovation.

Finally, at 81 and 77 years of age, my cousin and I let the past go, the years slipped away, and we played together.

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