Londoner Robin Bayley and his grandmother tracked their family secret all the way to Mexico
By Robin Bayley
My grandma was a wonderful storyteller. My favourite stories were the ones about her father’s adventures in the U.S. and Mexico. She told of wild jungle journeys, bandits and buried treasure. For all their excitement however, I sensed something missing in these tales: an ending.
They left such an indelible impression on me that in my late 20s I decided to follow in my great-grandfather’s footsteps to see what he had left behind.
After several months, when my grandma was 89, I gave her the shock of her life when I called to say that her father had left a secret family — now numbering over 300 — in a small village in western Mexico. To her, my discovery meant only one thing: that her father had been unfaithful to her mother. She didn’t believe it. “My father wasn’t like that,” she said.
A month later, when I returned home, she was still in shock. “You get to 89 and you think you know it all.…” Our roles then reversed; I was now telling her stories. Her disbelief turned to reluctant acceptance and eventually to pride. Then, just after her 90th birthday, she asked me to take her to meet her Mexican family.
We were greeted with a mariachi fanfare and hundreds of Mexican relatives, their faces bathed in tears. For them it was the spiritual homecoming of their English forebear. For my grandma, she had managed to do what her father had never been able to do: to bring the two sides of his family together. She had also had a trip that she later told me was the highlight of her life. For me, I am in awe of her. It’s one thing to create dreams with stories; it’s quite another to make them come true.
Robin Bayley’s quest is chronicled in his book The Mango Orchard. Click here for more information.
Video: Robin Bayley talks about his family story on the British television program Inside Out.
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