Whenever I sit down at a table with strangers – like you do when you’re taking a cruise – I ask everyone where they’re from. It’s an ice breaker that sometimes can trigger friendship.
If I happen to know someone from their town, I can’t help it, but I ask them if they know that person, too. That drives my husband, Alvan, crazy. He tells me he’s dying from embarrassment when I do that. “Millions of people live in that city,” he’ll mutter. “Why would you ask such a question?”
Here’s why. One time it paid off.
Alvan and I were on the cruise ship, Grand Princess, on a cruising the Caribbean. We’d sat down for breakfast and, as was my custom, I asked everyone at the table where they were from.
When one of the ladies there replied Montreal, I ignored Alvan’s entreaties. I couldn’t help it, I mentioned I had some long-lost relatives in Montreal and I asked her if she ever met Lillian Light. Alvan started to nudge me to stop. But the look on her face said it all. Her cheeks reddened and her jaw dropped. “Yes,” she replied. “Lillian Light was my aunt.”
Lillian Light was my father’s cousin. Every year she would travel from her home in Montreal to visit my grandmother – her aunt – in Queens, New York. Grandma lived in Laurelton and we lived in the next town over, Cambria Heights.
I was just a kid at the time, but I remember Lillian’s annual visits. She was a pleasure to be around and was always nice to me, taking the time to get to know me.
On that cruise, Pearl Levy and her husband, Mort, unlocked for me a whole side of my family history that I had lost. She shared with us the updates over the last few decades with my extended family in Montreal and Toronto, while I filled her in on the New York side of the family.
We enjoyed the rest of the cruise, spending as much time as we could together. But things didn’t end there.
Much like Lillian used to visit New York City once a year, now the Levys along with four other couples, also relatives of mine from Canada, come to visit me.
Alvan and I live in Miramar, Florida. My Canadian relatives happen to spend part of each winter in Florida. They’re snowbirds. For the last three years, since that Caribbean cruise, we’ve gotten together and gotten to know each other as contemporaries, friends and extended family.
It’s been fun to see what we have in common. An artistic streak runs through both sides of the family, as my father was a jeweler. Pearl is a sculptor and there are a few fine painters in the group.
Connecting with long-lost family has been a wonderful addition to my life, and I have Princess Cruises, the memorable Lillian Light, and my own inquisitive nature to thank for it.
Roberta and Alvan live in Miramar, Florida, where they both work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. They enjoy their Elite Captain’s Circle status and love to cruise!