O, Uncle Bill! I have found you! And now,
I’m going to call you!
The second e-mail from Uncle Bill’s wife,
Jess, contained their telephone number. I had known this number since
Don Cameron had sent it to me almost three months earlier. But I had had
no intention of invading my uncle’s privacy without a good, solid cue.
Now that they had sent their number themselves, I didn’t need to psyche
myself up to make The Call. The only thing I had to me mindful of, were
the time zone differences; their time was five hours ahead of ours.
A letter and two very cordial e-mail
exchanges with photographs, had transformed our addresses to each other
from “Mr. Peter” to “Bill and Jess”, and from “Mr. Nungak” to “Zebedee”.
There was already a “This is family” air about our very first
communications, and this was psychologically very important to me. The
direct approach had worked, but needed to be followed up with voice
communication. There is no substitute for the inflection of the human
When I made The Call, a woman answered at
the other end. “Is this the Peter home?” I asked, as I introduced
myself. The person at the other end introduced herself as Jess Peter,
wife of my uncle, William James Peter. We then proceeded to have an
amazingly normal conversation, free of any awkward stumbling, or
self-conscious stiffness. I learned many new facts for the first time,
and absorbed these while managing not to sound over-eager for more.
My grandfather had died from injuries
sustained in a road accident. He had been cremated on what would have
been his 71st birthday. He and his wife had had two other
children who did not survive infancy. Hence, my uncle was their only
child. William Mackenzie Peter had had three younger sisters: Winifred,
whom I had discovered in Aberdeen; Alice, whose married surname had been
Cook, and Marjory, who had never married and died childless.
Sometime after the death of his wife, my
grandfather had disposed of all his household effects, so there weren’t
any keepsakes. During our conversation, I learned that two of my
grandfather’s sisters had each had one son. These would be aniksaks
(male first cousins) of my mother. Uncle Bill and his wife were
childless, although his wife had a 45-year-old son from a previous
Taking this all in, I had the urge to
imitate Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, and say: “Tranquility
Base here. The Eagle has landed!”