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A family to call my own

My Polish family reunion was nothing like I thought it would be. It as so much more.

Thirty members of the family I didn't know I had, gathered at 1 pm at the local cemetery in the small farming village of my grandfather.

Together we went to visit the graves of our grandparents and parents. In Poland, in lieu of flowers you place lanterns, each with a lit candle.

Next stop was the village church. We marvelled at the alter piece inspired, legend has it, by the face of my great-grandfather. Then we ventured into the bowels of the church and, crouching low, we explored the secrets of the crypt.

By 3 pm, just before we tucked into a traditional never-ending feast of Polish delicacies, the  keeper of our family history challenged us to a game of Zebrowski Family Trivial Pursuit. "Where was grandfather Ignacy stationed in Moscow?"  Answer - at the Kremlin, as one of the Tsar's guards.  

The wine was flowing. Someone produced a bottle of home-made plum vodka. We toasted each other, and hugged each other, and wept on each other's shoulders.

We watched the film I'd made about my search for my birth father, Stanislaw Zebrowski, the reason for my visit to Poland and the catalyst for the reunion.

By 5 pm a drum kit had been set up, an accordion produced, and we were dancing polkas.

And still the food kept coming. And still the drinks kept flowing. We danced, and talked, and laughed until 9pm. What a party we had.

I thought I would be overwhelmed. I worried I would be a curiosity, the stranger from Canada who might be a forgotten footnote in Zebrowski family history.

Instead, I felt totally at home with these wonderful, big-hearted characters who held me when I got teary, and propped up my hesitant Polish when I struggled for a word.

I don't know much about family reunions. For most of my 77 years I've felt I didn't have a family. My father disappeared from my life when I was four, and for the rest of her life my mother refused to talk about him. 

Love, the sort that glues families together, was not a big part of my upbringing. But here, in a foreign land, in the company of people, some of whom I had known for a few days, most of whom I was meeting for the first time, I felt totally loved.

Time after time, my family put it's big, collective arms around me. The message was simple: "You are one of us. You are family."

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