Thursday, 29 August 2013 02:25

Mending Fences

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Written by Jean François de Büren

family storytelling family heritage family photoI have been actively writing about my family history for a while now.  It has led me, among other things, to reconnect with old cousins and connect with new ones.  Through the power of email and Facebook, I am now connected with cousins that before would have taken months if not years to get in touch with.  In 2011 I received an email from one of my father's first cousins in Córdoba, Argentina, who said she would be traveling to the United States with her sister, and her first stop would be San Francisco.  These were cousins we had never met, and she finished the email by saying, "If you don't have time to see us, don't worry."  Don't worry?  Are you kidding?  This was a big deal for my dad and me.  I think we can clear our schedules for one meal!


In fairness to them, I remember seeing some family in Switzerland as a boy, who seemed actually put out that we were dropping by.  Once your 15 minutes were up: Adieu!

Myself, my dad, my brother, and my cousins met for lunch.  My French was of no use, and, thankfully, my brother who speaks Spanish was there to assist.  Without him, there would have been even more awkward silences, smiles and nodding.  Oh, my kingdom for a portable Spanish-English digital phrase book!

In truth, so much was said in the silences.  There were truly beautiful moments during that lunch.  One of my dad's Argentine cousins kept looking at his face and remarking about how much he reminded her of her brother.  She also gently held his hand and turned it over and said, "These are de Büren hands."  My cousins asked my father a couple of times, "Do you like being with us?"  While he couldn't tell them all that he was feeling, he was clearly enjoying the moment.

family storytelling family heritage genealogy family photoIn 1923, my grandfather was sent from Geneva, as a young man, to central California to learn how to run a large agricultural operation so he could go to the Pampas and take over the family ranch in Argentina.  He only returned to South America as an older man.

His youngest brother, Carlos, was sent to Argentina at 17 and had to run the ranch for 5 years by himself.  Afterwards, he wanted nothing to do with Switzerland, and was seemingly indifferent to his heritage.  As I shared photos and information with my cousins about their own family, some of which they were hearing for the first time, there was a pain beneath their interest.

As one of our cousins looked out towards the San Francisco skyline and the bay from our restaurant, she remarked half-joking, "Why couldn't my father have come to San Francisco and your father have returned to the ranch."

I certainly hope that the lunch with my Argentine cousins is the first of many.  The road ahead for me is clear: learn Spanish, pronto!

Have you had an experience meeting a long, lost relative?  What did you learn about your family from them?

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Last modified on Wednesday, 04 September 2013 11:23

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