The earlier blogs in this story have dealt with an unusual discovery and fate. This blog tells how two strangers became family walking in their ancestors footsteps.
With the crazy phone calls to our relatives over, we walked down the path toward the cemetery. I stopped and asked, “Umm, you’re not afraid of the dead, are you?” “I’m Irish” with a slight smirk was his reply. Brendan was preoccupied with the headstones and suddenly unable to speak. Now I thought, uh oh, maybe this wasn’t a good idea. When he said, “the names are the same.” Followed by, “we have matching headstones in our church cemetery, not a few of the stones but all of them.” His pace quickened as he shouted each name out loud. At that moment, I learned if there is a GH together in an Irish surname, the G is silent and it makes an Ha sound. Also that my family had been mispronouncing our family name for my entire life.
His excitement was contagious and we agreed that it was possible that the people in his small town in Ireland had emigrated to mine in America. He looked at me and said, “I can hear them telling me it, so when I get back to Ireland…” So engrossed in the conversation, we almost missed his great uncle’s gravestone. Brendan took a couple of paces and lovingly touched the stone. Finally, the mission was over, he had found his father’s uncle. Immediately, he knelt down and wrapped his arm around the monument and smiled and asked “Can you take my picture?” I had been coming to the cemetery since I was a little girl, and never had anyone asked me to take a photo, nor had I ever been in a photo with a headstone. After we left the cemetery, neither of those statements were true any longer.
Out of the cemetery we walked, made a quick right and continued down the road. At the first intersection, I said “let’s take this street on the right.” He followed while he informed me of his plan to research the relationship between the two cemeteries and possibly write a book. “A left at the next block and the second house on the left will be your uncle’s house,” I said randomly. Again, he was filled with awe that we had traveled the same path his uncle must have every time he went to church. Brendan stared at the home but didn’t want me to knock or ask if we could look inside. I found it odd, he never took a photograph of the house because he took many at the cemetery, until he said, “You’re not allowed to do that in Ireland without permission.”
Next stop on our schedule was the police station, I wanted Brendan to see where his uncle had worked for 30 years. In the station, sitting behind the glass partition was the desk sergeant on duty whom I recognized from our school days. My heart began to pound when I revealed that the sergeant was also the great grandson of Brendan’s uncles partner in the police department. Can you guess what I thought, “What are the chances?”
When I whispered to the sergeant the identity of man with the Irish brogue, he called for someone to cover his desk. Introduced himself and proceeded to tell Brendan a few stories that he was told growing up about the partner’s antics. The station got busy and he needed to return to duty, but they shook hands with Brendan beaming from ear to ear in the photograph. Outside he confided his disappointment, he had hoped to return to Ireland with wild stories of his police officer uncles’ escapes.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I know my father would have loved today.” he said and I felt a pang of sadness for him. Not knowing how to respond, I said, “Let’s get something to eat.” Once seated, his answer to a waitress about drinks caused the entire place to buzz. I felt like I was going to scream, if one more person asked, “Are you from Ireland?” Brendan loved the attention and felt a little like a celebrity.
Once the meal arrived, we ate and wondered if our ancestors were with us the entire time. No longer were words needed between us and I knew this one day had changed both of us forever. Before tea, he gave me a small token of his appreciation, a beautiful Certificate of Irish Heritage framed with both my great grandfather’s names inscribed. I was extremely touched by his thoughtfulness and generosity.
I had also thought ahead and bought a present for him. It was a hard cover book with photos of my great grandfather, his sister and their children. Touched by the gesture, he removed his father’s photograph from his wallet and compared all for a family resemblance. When I removed another item, he said with a hint of embarrassment, “I brought you one thing and here you give me two.” “Just open it,” I replied. As he unwrapped the paper, there sat two photographs, the first was his great uncle in a dressed blue police uniform. I could see the pride in his eyes, but it was the second picture which caused a stir that I didn’t fully comprehend.
“Oh my goodness?” he said quietly at first and repeated it over louder and louder. “Do you know what this means.” I truly did not get the significance and said to him, “Not really. But in the photograph is your uncle in uniform next to John F. Kennedy during his 1960 Senatorial Campaign in the town parade.”
He looked me straight in the eye and announced, “I am going to be famous when I show this in Ireland.” I asked, “Why would you be famous?” He replied, “Are you kidding me? Because my uncle protected the first Irish American President of the United States of America, and I have the picture to prove it.” Next in unison said, “What are the chances?”