While I was sunbathing today, enjoying the typical Sunday afternoon lull in outdoor activities which generally keep my neighbours rather noisy at all times of day and night, I replayed something in my head that my mother told me yesterday.
It was her birthday last week, and her brother (i.e. my uncle) called. After expressing his best wishes and going through some of the usual, polite (genuine to a certain extent) exchange of news about family members, state of gardens and houses etc., he suddenly asked her whether I or my sister had recently been in touch with his youngest daughter, our cousin.
Now, this cousin of ours is in her early forties, has three children ranging from early to late teens and early twenties, and lives in Arizona; none of us have ever been there to visit, nor has she been over here in Germany again ever since leaving with her husband, who, as part of the army, was transferred back to the US after the first Gulf War.
Our only communication with her consisted in one or two letters soon after she had left (we did not have email at that time yet) and the odd piece of news we would hear about her through my uncle and aunt.
My mother knew that neither of us had been in touch with C., and told her brother so, asking why he wanted to know.
Thing is, he told her, that she has disappeared. Vanished. Become invisible. Gone off the planet.
C.'s husband has been given to gambling and drinking for years, and caused her and the children much grief in the past. There were, apparently, times when things were looking up for them, but my uncle said that recently E. had taken once again a turn for the worse and got into serious trouble due to his gambling debts (and who knows what else).
As she, being his wife, would naturally be held accountable for his debts along with him, we now assume that they have left the state and have gone into hiding somewhere.
My uncle says she has not replied to his emails for several weeks now, and the phone is dead (probably disconnected because they did not pay their bills).
We have no clue about the family's whereabouts and hope they are going to get back on their feet, and that the silence is voluntarily from their side and nothing worse has happened to them.
There is an unexpected twist to this matter:
My uncle lives in a very old house in a small village in the area that in Germany is known as Hohenlohe. This house once belonged to a baron, and since my uncle bought it, he became interested in the history of the place and of the family that used to own it and much of the surrounding land.
The other day, there was a summer fête at the village, and my uncle had been watching the comings and goings of villagers and visitors from his garden.
Late in the evening, someone rang his doorbell.
He had not been expecting anyone and was surprised to find two men at his door, one of them maybe in his 70s, the other one a good 20 years younger.
They apologized for intruding on him like this and explained that the older man was born in this very house, had come visiting with his son for the village fête and, curious about who lived in it now, had persuaded him to go up to the house with him.
This alone is not such a strange thing to happen, I guess.
But, once my uncle invited them both in and showed them the house and the modifications and renovations he had made, and he asked the older man where he lived now, it turned out that he lives in a trailer park in Bullhead City, AZ - the last known address for my cousin and her family!
The man did not know the family personally, but he promised to try and find out about them when he is back there, and stay in touch with my uncle.
I like a good story, but this is much more. Real people, people I know and who are part of my family, are involved. Still, I feel strangely detached, maybe precisely because it is such a story-like set-up.
Will we ever hear from my cousin again, I wonder?