Thursday, April 26, 2012

In Which Sven Meets His First Cousin

Once upon a time, in the fairly distant past, a little boy accompanied his mother to the local cemetery. They paused before his grandfather’s grave, as they usually did on All Saints Day, to offer their respects. The little boy, who had recently learned to read Swedish, happened to notice that his grandfather had died two years before his mother’s birth, according to the grave marker.

“How can that be?” he asked. “It says Grandfather died before you were born.”

The mother broke into tears. “Don’t ever ask me that question again,” she said.

The little boy screwed up his mouth and never did.

His younger brother, however, had never made such a promise and, once adult, decided to investigate. When he returned to Varmland from his home in Lidingo, outside Stockholm, it was easy to ask old aunties for details. They told him that there had been rumors, and most people believed the father of Maria’s fourth child, Anna, was the town merchant, whose name was Bresky. Why? The Bresky family celebrated Jewish holidays and always invited Anna to join them. Maria had been a widow at the time. What’s more, Anna’s dark good looks hinted at a genealogical chart that included more exotic branches than just Hakkarinens, recent immigrants from Finland.

By now you have probably figured out the little boy was Sven. Even as an adult, he felt an obligation to keep his promise. When I asked about Anna’s family, Sven told me his brother had always wondered whether they might be related to Tomas Bresky, a famous Swedish journalist, but that no, they had never gotten in touch, and perhaps there was nothing to the rumors.

Since Sven isn’t like anyone I have met in his family, I figured he must have inherited from his mother’s father side and wanted to know more. I Googled Tomas Bresky and up popped a photo. Tomas looks very much like Sven’s brother, who died in 2000 from pancreatic cancer, so much so that there was no doubt in my mind. Here was Sven’s long-lost cousin!

I pestered my husband until he made contact. Anna had told him an unusual story about Tomas’s uncle that Sven shared with the retired journalist when they met in Sweden last summer. But, Sven did not manage to say that he thought they were related, still feeling reluctant to break his promise and reveal Anna’s secret. Tomas was curious to know how Sven could possibly have heard the unusual family story ...

The impasse did not reach resolution until last week, when Tomas and his wife Gunilla, below, wearing their new Cape Cod caps, finally were able to visit. The two men are happy to have found each other, albeit later in life. Tomas tells us Sven resembles their grandfather. What’s more, Tomas’s father was also named Sven. How touching that Anna would have named her first-born after a man who was, in fact, her secret younger half-brother!