"It's our yankee family member!" said Margaret, a Scottish relative who I was meeting for the first time.
After Paris, I took the train back up to London and on to Luton, a small community north of the city, where my father's cousin, Scott Ilgunas, lives with his family.
Scott, an Englishman by birth but a Scotsman at heart, had visited my family in Canada when he was a young man. He'd come to visit us just after having a gun put to his ribs and his wallet stolen in NYC, so he lingered with my family longer than he'd expected so as to give himself time to psychologically adjust to the apparently lawless Western Hemisphere. Eager to return the favor, Scott invited me to spend time with him in Luton, where he'd teach me as much as he knew about the Ilgunas family tree.
His mum Margaret and his brother Gordon stopped by to say hello. They were driving up to Scotland, where they were on a mission to get meat from a Scottish butcher among other matters. Margaret struck me as a strong matriarch, with a head full of sense and a tongue that didn't mince words. She told a grandson: "If you don't have a job by the time I come back, I'm going to kick your arse from here to yonder."
Naturally, I was curious to learn about my family roots. Since both sides of my family are relatively recent immigrants to the U.S., I've had little opportunity to learn about my European roots. My Lithuanian heritage ("Ilgunas" is a Lithuanian name) is a great mystery to me. Why did my great-great-great granddad leave his home country for Scotland? What sort of work did Ilgunas's do? Were they religious? Nature-lovers? Athletes? Bookish? On my mother's side, I'd always considered myself Polish, but I didn't learn until recently that my ancestor's hometown is now within the borders of Ukraine. Scott, though, would help me at least gain an understanding of the Scottish side of the family.
(Apparently British people don't pose with their arms around each other. Ken, Margaret, Gordon, Scott, and Gary.)
Scott tells me that knowledge of our family tree goes back to Jouzas Ilgunas, who married a woman named Elzbeta. Jouzas, my great-great-great grandfather, was Lithuanian-born, and came to Scotland sometime in the 1800's for reasons unknown. (Scott hypothetizes it was due to reasons of war.) Once in Scotland, Jouzas and Elzbeta had a son, who they named "Jouzas," who may have went by "Joseph."
In the early afternoon, I walked back to the bus station, then got on a train for Penzance, on the Cornish coast in Southwestern England, before taking off north to the Lake District, then Scotland.
(Sleeping on the beach. In the dark, several people walked past me. One guy was singing "You've Lost that Loving Feeling." A young many sobbed on the phone, exclaiming, "How did that happen!? She just left me!" Another couple giggled, holding hands.)