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 my dad's Argentine cousins kept looking at his face and remarking about how much he reminded her of one of her brothers. 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.
There were bittersweet moments as well, that stemmed from acrimony during my grandfather's generation. As one of our cousins looked out towards the San Francisco skyline and the bay from our restaurant in Tiburon, she remarked half-joking, "why couldn't my father (Carlos) have come to San Francisco and your father (Henri) have returned to the ranch."
The pain that Carlos felt being sent back to Argentina and having to take of the ranch was clear in the stories my cousins told. Afterwards, Carlos wanted nothing to do with Switzerland and was seemingly indifferent to his heritage. As I shared photos with my cousins and information about their own family, some of which they were hearing for the first time, there was a pain beneath their interest.
My cousin asked me pointedly, "why do you care so much about the family history." My answer was simply "I always have."
I feel more acutely than ever that I am simply an instrument for this information. I don't expect others to have the same love and passion for this subject, but I feel that my ability to share family stories with my cousins will provide some answers and in certain cases a necessary healing.
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!