The first time I went to Australia was in July 1966 to meet my father’s family.
Last Thursday I came back for the second time – to rediscover the family I had lost touch with for 47 years.
And to meet relatives I didn’t know existed.
It was the culmination of a long journey which had taken me through years and miles and ended last week.
My dad – John Joseph Anthony Marcus Marius Said – was born in 1911 as the eldest in a family of 10 children (John, Teresa, Joe, Lawrence, Arthur, Edwin, Hugh, Hilda, Harold and Guy,). They were all raised in Port Said, Egypt, where their father worked on the Suez Canal until they were forced to leave in the 1940s and, at that time, all the family (except my dad and his brother, Lorry) moved to Australia.
They kept in touch through writing and occasional visits (including ours in 1966) but the distance separated the family further and daddy lost contact with them all. He died in1994, leaving us with no contact information and no way of finding the rest of the siblings.
On and off, over the past 20 years, I’ve tried to find them. I wrote letters to people in Australia with the same last name (which is Maltese and very common in those parts). I joined Australian LinkedIn groups, searched online and checked out Aussie websites.
Until, on September 11, 2011, I received a text from my brother, Jonathan, telling me to read my email immediately.
His message read: ‘’Guess what? I found us a cousin!!’’
After seeing daddy’s birth certificate, Jonathan learned that our grandmother’s maiden name was Fenech, searched online and found Caroline Said Lawrence. Lorry’s daughter.Our first cousin.
From there the web started to spread. My mum made contact with Danny in Sydney then we found Lewis in Kent (where we spent time last Christmas and heard all about the genealogy he was compiling). We discovered we had dozen upon dozens of family members living in Australia.
Then, last April, Danny came to Vietnam with his wife, Kim, and children, Nicola and Christian. We met in a hotel lobby in Ho Chi Minh City and it was love at first sight. Not only was he (and the entire foursome) an extraordinary bunch of people.
They were family.
Danny regaled me with stories, photos, memories and tales of family history. He told me who was who and how many Saids were living in Australia. He brought my family back to life through his words. And I discovered I was no longer part of a small family (Jonathan, mummy and me along with Katy’s kids: Emma, Samantha and Otto) – I was part of a family of more than a hundred.
And so it was that, on February 13, 2013, I sat on a plane with Skip , flying across the ocean to Australia to meet up with Jonathan and Helen to rediscover a world I thought I’d lost forever.
Suspended in flight in the middle of the night, I drew back the window shade, and looked out into an ebony sky filled with more stars than I’ve ever seen. And I thought of my dad. What it would mean to him to know that Jonathan and I were travelling across the world to reconnect with him again.
Once arriving in Australia, the introductions began. A group lunch, Chinese dinner and time with Danny and Kim who showed me photos and tried to explain the tangled web of Saids.
Of all the siblings, only three remain. Uncle Edwin (88), Auntie Hilda (84) and Uncle Harold (82). Sadly, Uncle Guy (Danny’s father and the youngest brother) died only a few months ago, robbing us of the opportunity to meet him.
And, on February 16, we all met for a Said family reunion. We packed a room with more than 60 people – the oldest being Uncle Edwin at 88 and the youngest being his great grand-daughter, Eve, at nine months old.
There were cousins who remembered me from my visit 47 years ago (“We took you to the zoo” said Auntie Lillian, Harold’s wife; “We have a photo of you when we played together,” said several of the older cousins).
There was Brian (my half brother) who lives in South Africa, his ex-wife, Wendy, who was a dear friend when I was growing up in Durban and their son, Craig, who was 14 when I last saw him.
There were cousins and second cousins and cousins first and second removed. There were incredible stories from the older folk whose memories are still crystal clear about my dad (who organised a band but played no instruments and who, along with all the brothers, was debonair, charming and handsome). Many of us are Facebook friends now and many of us will keep in touch long after this trip.
And the award for the best comment goes to Auntie Hilda who, when she saw me, grabbed me and pulled me close.
“I remember you so well,” she exclaimed, then held me at arm’s length. “You have lost weight”.
(Bearing in mind that the last time she saw me I was six, this gave pause for thought…)
And, as I said in my speech that night to my newly discovered family, there are four men in my life I want to acknowledge.
First is my brother, Jonathan, for exploring and finding these family connections.
Second is Skip who has constantly supported me in travelling across the world and connecting with everyone.
Third is Danny who, upon meeting him and his family in Vietnam, embraced me into his life and made me realise what a very cool chap he is and how I wanted to meet other relatives like him.
And fourth is a man named John Joseph Anthony Marcus Marius Said. My father. Whose memory burns bright and whose influence is felt very stongly among everyone who loves and admires him.
When we were driving back to Danny’s home on Saturday night after the reunion, the sky was turning grey and the evening was drawing in.
I glanced through the window and saw something that caught my eye. There, in front of the car was a rainbow. Brilliant muted colours of light stretching across the sky.
And I felt it was a sign from daddy. After 47 years of being apart, his family was finally together again.