You know that look that your eldest son gives you, the one where he’s really not happy with you, the same one that mom and our sister so fondly compare to the looks you gave them when you were his age, and the same one that I feared for so many years growing up. Well, big brother, I have some news: that look did not start with you. It started with our dear, dear grandpa. You know how I know? Because I have gone back to our roots…
Is it possible to feel so comfortable in one place, like you’d lived here your whole life, went to school here, played with your toddler friends in the sandbox here, told secrets to your best friends here, had your first kiss here, your first job, your first love, your first everything, and yet, you were only actually introduced to it moments ago? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I arrived in Ghent.
In Florence, it was a love at first sight, in Ghent, it was an instant belonging. And really, how could it not be? I’ve got endless amounts of Belgian chocolate:
and best of all, “mijn familie”:
See, Belgium is the start of my roots. My grandpa (who I so dearly loved) his parents Marie-Germaine and Alfons, were born in Belgium, but after a “scandalous” start, they emigrated to Canada in 1923, where they had four children: Anne, Clara, Albert (my grandpa) and Bertha (who we call Auntie Birdie :D). My cousin, Filip, who we are staying with, his great grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother, which makes us third cousins (I think).
I first met Filip and Griet and their daughter Lolita two years ago when they came to visit Canada and stayed at my parent’s house for a couple of nights, and I felt an instant connection. I loved that he knew so much about my grandpa’s roots, and I wanted to learn more. Mario, too, felt an instant connection with Filip. It helped that Filip comes from a country that loves cycling; finally Mario had someone to talk to when it came to the Tour de France, and Paris Roubaix and Tour of Flanders which he relished with great joy!
Both Mario and I had wanted to visit Belgium right from the start of our relationship, probably more so then for the chocolate than for the roots, but as soon as I knew I had family out here, that all changed. This trip has been about so much more than the chocolate (although, I am getting quite my fill). Our first night I met another cousin Marten, who we will also be staying with, and who has the same last name as my grandpa, and last night we met Filip’s mother Janine, who also has the same last name. Now, you may not think that’s interesting at all, but for me, other than my grandpa, I have only known one other person with that last name, my uncle. And in fact, in all of North America, there is only two people remaining with that last name, none of which have children to pass it on to. And last night, while drinking some Belgium beer, I poured over a family tree that Filip’s father put together on our clan, which is where I spotted a picture of my grandfather, who at the time was about three or four years old, holding on to his dad’s hand, scowling at the camera like you’ve never seen before. Oh but I have – from my brother and his dear son!
And today, we will be “In Bruge”