A wonderful thing happened. I recently re-established contact with a part of my family generations after a disputed will split three siblings forever. One went to Israel, another to America, and the third remained in the East End of London.
A conversation with a New Yorker meandered on to the topic of family history. My great-grandfather had been a successful importer of leather and it was he who, rather thoughtlessly, forgot to add his youngest daughter (my grandmother) to his will, having written it before she was born. More inconveniently, he passed on when she was still in her early teens as a result of a freak accident with a tram. All this would have been less problematic had it not been for the fact that their mother had succumbed three years previously to a mystery illness that involved acute flatulence (her demise was regarded as something of a mixed blessing by the bereaved, I understand).
The details of what then transpired are lost in the mists of time — however, here is the gist of it. The older brother refused to do the right thing and the other sister reluctantly went along with him. When my grandmother came of age she sued them both with the help of her uncle and custodian who chanced that he might somehow benefit from the outcome.
The action failed. Predictably, only the lawyers were successful, with most of the estate disappearing down the judicial drain. The affair left such a bitter taste that not a word passed between any of the siblings for as long as they lived.
This story was the family shame for years, serving as a warning to subsequent generations not to fight over money. (It may have been better as a recommendation to study law, but that is by the by.)
Then, when the unusual surname shared by my great-grandfather, his one son, and, as it turned out, a good friend of this fellow from New York, came up in the conversation, cogs began to turn in my American companion’s head. Two days later a phone call confirmed that his friend was my second cousin (once removed) and a descendent of my grandmother’s brother.
Emails were exchanged and we arranged to meet in London. I couldn’t help feeling that my grandma and her siblings were looking down with pride at my efforts to rebuild the family. Finally, a nasty episode would be put to rest.
I walked into the lobby of his hotel and recognised the family resemblance immediately. He shook my hand with a warm smile and it was then that I felt the pain of the years fill me up. I said something I possibly shouldn’t have.
“Where’s our money, you thieving swine?”
My cousin and I have no plans to meet again in the foreseeable future.