A father, clutching a small satchel. Behind him a very pregnant woman, holding the hand of a small child. Surrounded by sand. Trying to escape Iraq.

The newspaper photo held me, took me back to 1947, two generations ago, when a young man, his pregnant wife, their little son and soon-to-be-second-son made a life-threatening bid for freedom. Simultaneously, unknown to them, the brother of this man was plucked from his family and disappeared. Forever. And the family, now mother and two sons, battled their way through the front of the war in a bid for freedom.

Everything old is new again, says the song. And it’s true.

Today I want to celebrate the end of the story of refugees who were torn from their university classrooms, their homes, their dinner tables, their lifestyles as the Allied Forces of the Second World War gave way to the horror of Soviet Communism that killed the educated, the militia, persecuted faith and people in the Baltic states of Europe.

The young man and his pregnant wife and young son escaped to a Swedish refugee camp. There the second son was born. They found jobs, housed themselves with several other families in one apartment, saving for passage to Canada. And in 1949, they arrived at Pier 21 in Halifax, and made their way ultimately to Ontario. No university classrooms waited for these professors; without accreditation or language, they took to the land.

And for years the young man wondered about his brother, the man who was ‘removed’ to Siberia. He wondered about the brother’s wife, and about his baby sons. Did they make it? And to where? And they lived their lives, without the luxury of the connectedness that family brings. No grandparents for these young boys. No aunties or uncles or cousins. Lots of taunting about accents and odd clothes and poverty. And about being DP’s.

With today’s research abilities, the wonder of typing a surname into an internet search block, the query to the old country where freedom has brought about rebuilding and memories, and the man is led to Chicago, Illinois. And like the miracle it has become, the name surfaces. And there they are! Mother is dead. Father seen never again. Young boys are now men, still close to each other with wives and lives and careers. And an uncle in Ontario. Another adult man who bears their name. Who knew their father.

Fast forward, if you will, to last Saturday when the Chicago nephews and their wives made the trek to Barrie, to hug their uncle and the two boys of their uncle. Imagine, four men, very close in age, very close in temperament, with similar voices, and wonderful excitement as they celebrate the sharing of their name, and their cousin-hood. Cousins! Relations! The years fade away as they listen, spellbound, to their uncle tell of his escape, and his worry about his brother and his brother’s family. They share stories of the beginnings of their new lives, of the deaths of the mothers of both sets of boys.

And on Saturday afternoon, around a table filled with friends from the ‘old country’ and friends from the ‘new country’ voices rise, loud, clear, with tears and with heart, to celebrate the birthday of this remarkable young man who has said goodbye to his wife, but never had the chance to say anything to his brother or his brother’s wife. This remarkable man whose quiet spirit hides a determination of steel. This remarkable man who, after all of it, is greeted by two new men, his nephews... the sons of his long-dead brother. Found at last.

From such sadness is sown the seed of joy, reaped 65 years later.

It matters not that the song’s words were unclear to some of us. What matters is that a journey from Chicago has repaired a soul, and united a family. What matters is that a once-young man, now blowing out 90 candles on his birthday cake, can receive such laughter with wonderful humour and good grace.

Happy Birthday, Nick. And thank you, Bruno and Maija, Alex and Lucija, for driving the hours and bringing your joy to our home.

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