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In the past week, I received news of the passing of my Grand-Uncle Steve. My late paternal grandfather’s youngest brother was a hard-working and jovial man. Like many of his generation, he fled Communist Eastern Europe in the mid 20th Century in search of greater freedom and prosperity. Eventually, he settled in Manitoba, met a woman and started a wonderful family. My Dad has always thought of his Uncle Steve as an older brother. Uncle Steve’s passing has hit him hard. He misses their frequent phone conversations. I got to meet Uncle Steve on two occasions. Once when he spent Christmas with us in Ottawa. And another occasion when I visited him and his large family in Winnipeg when I was doing the Green Keys Tour in the fall of 2010. That was a special visit as it was the first time I had a chance to meet many of my extended family. While our respective different ways of life probably make us see the world differently, we still have this special bond, we’re family!
But it’s more than just that. It’s also the ability to sit down and talk or write to each other. I’ve always valued my family in Manitoba because they are pretty well the only family I have that I can communicate with in my mother tongue – English. While I certainly have lots of family who are closer family-tree-wise back in Europe, I have been tormented my whole life by the fact that I cannot communicate with them and share who I am as a person since they don’t speak English and my Hungarian is extremely sub-standard. It’s hard to share with your family your hopes, dreams, and fears when your mastery of a particular language is probably at the level of a 3 or 4-year old.
And as I get older, I find it is getting more and more difficult to remember how to speak Hungarian. I’m extremely apprehensive to think about visiting my family in Europe. That makes me sad. And while I feel blessed to have my Manitoba family relatively close by and we have the ability to communicate, I can’t help but feel like I have no family. I have no siblings of my own or cousins, aunts or uncles here in Canada. What makes up for it is the fact that I have such a wonderful wife, parents, my wife’s family and great network of friends. I’m more than aware that many don’t have anything close to that. But still, there’s always been this void in my life because of the lack of family, and I can’t help but feel like the void is getting larger.
After we found out about Uncle Steve’s passing, Lisa and I went for a walk and we discussed the various aging family members we should make a point of visiting before it’s too late. When my family in Europe came up, I became very hesitant. I’m aware of the fact that language lessons before any such trip would make communication easier. But would that give me the skills necessary to share who I truly am? Is it worth the effort?