For many people, 2021 is another year that most of us are happy to put behind, but for me the only joy is meeting the granddaughter I never knew I had.
Last Easter I wrote in the Irish independence about how another dismal year 2020 was suddenly lifted.
Reason? A DNA test I performed in November confirmed that a young Canadian woman who was adamantly stalking me was indeed the daughter of my late brother Christopher, who tragically died. injured from a rare congenital disease at the age of 36.
Neither of us had other children so it was at least a welcome surprise.
Sadly, my niece Kateri, now 33, was just 9 years old at the time and we’ll never know if Chris knew he had a daughter.
All she had to go through were her mother’s memories of him from their brief courtship, an obituary, and a faded photograph of him that she carried in her purse to this day. now on.
Rewind to this time last year, we are waiting for the results of the DNA test which ironically arrived on Chris’ 61st birthday last January.
And it didn’t take long for us to get to know each other by phone, email and video chat and make it our mission – despite the uncertainty over Covid – to finally meet in person.
By October, the mission was completed after 10 months in exile for both of us to make sure that Covid wouldn’t derail our plans.
Fortunately, my PCR test came back negative and I was able to continue my journey back to my mother’s ancestral home in the beautiful seaside village of St Martins on Canada’s east coast in New Brunswick. , where Kateri would visit me.
It was an epic journey for both of us.
Not only did I cross the ocean to find my niece’s heart of gold, but it was a long and emotional journey for her.
But the strange intuitive connection between us that I jokingly call our ‘Braydar’ started when she caught a glimpse of me from behind as I was in the airport parking lot and she just knew it. It’s me.
And when she tapped me on the shoulder as I was putting money into the ticket machine, it was like looking at my own reflection in the mirror 30 years ago. Despite the fact that we’re more or less strangers, it was a little awkward when I took her out for breakfast before heading to St Martins, where I’ll show her the places Chris and I have visited. discovered when we spent the summer there as children.
Our family’s ancestral home, now a breakfast bar and restaurant, was temporarily closed so we couldn’t have dinner in the former living room where Chris and I used to fight versions. crooked of Chopsticks on the piano.
But hopefully we’ll get there this year.
In the days to come as we got to know each other better, I realized how difficult and painful Kateri had been trying to put together a picture of her father from his photographs and anecdotes. when I told her about the life he had that she could never share.
We were walking on the beach and I showed her the spot where Chris and I used to play “moving target” and I accidentally cracked his skull when I threw a rock at his head. .
While I know it will be painful for her, I think it was important for Kateri to see the stele in the peaceful little St Martins cemetery overlooking the same beach where the name of Chris, my mother, is engraved. and my grandparents.
In the meantime, we made the most of New Brunswick’s spectacular Indian summer and beautiful fall foliage and drove to the nearby Fundy Parkway Trail.
It’s a spectacular 30km coastal drive with sweeping views of rugged coastal cliffs that look like the Cliffs of Moher except for the trees.
Our first stop in the 2,559 hectare park was an interpretive center featuring old photographs of the former logging camp in the park on the Big Salmon River – which has returned to the wild – where my mother was born. out and where my grandfather ran the company store. . The center has photos of my grandfather’s original house, which is now a replica cook house.
After stopping at waterfalls and hiking views of the spectacular Walton Glen Gorge, we drove to the quaint seaside town of Alma.
But we weren’t just there as tourists. My grandmother, Grace Hickey – whose ancestry came to Canada from Co Kerry during the Famine – was one of the pioneers who originally settled in the now defunct Point Wolfe sawmill village.
There we had a picnic and congratulated our ancestors, who had lived there a century earlier.
In addition to enjoying the sheer beauty of driving, I wanted to give Kateri a feel for her father’s roots and our ancestors’ place in history.
I’m sure she didn’t expect to find them in the local history books when she started her exploration more than two years ago.
After introducing her to some of my extended family and putting her to work on my 200-year-old ranch – which she generously did without complaint – we flew back to Toronto and she introduced me to some of her extended family, which is no small thing. feat when her mother had 11 siblings.
It was a cute encounter and it was fun to witness where she grew up and meet some of her family members.
After six days in each other’s company and a few bottles of Chardonnay, as well as tears, laughter, jokes and stories, we’ve been together for a lifetime and can’t wait to see each other again this summer.
Even though we were strangers when we met, the only source of any tension was when we got stuck between Millennial and Boomer while driving when I insisted that GPS directions on my phone Hers took us the wrong way and she threw the phone. frustrated into the back seat of the car – just like Chris did. We laughed about it afterwards, as you do with family.
For Kateri, “the whole experience feels surreal and like I’m in a constant state of dread,” she says.
“Seeing physical fragments of parts I have been missing in my life helps me to have a better view of my legacy. Learning how deeply and deeply my family is involved in the communities they have helped develop made me feel connected to the area.
“Allison was happy and I was fascinated by our similarities and saw the similarity not only between her and me but other family photos as well.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/it-was-an-epic-journey-for-both-of-us-allison-bray-meets-newly-discovered-niece-for-first-time-41392390.html ‘It’s been an epic journey for both of us’: Allison Bray meets her newly discovered niece for the first time