The knock at the door was expected but who was on the other side wasn’t. “Judy, ...” I stared at the stranger standing on my doorstep. “You’re not Judy,” I said. “who are you?”
“I’m your third cousin on your Great Grandfather’s side, he was my Great Grandfather brother. I was in the country and thought I would visit relatives I’ve discovered.” The stranger’s voice had a European accent. “My name is Janik Heibert, may I come in before we both freeze out here.”
Just as I was about to close the door, Judy arrived. “Hey, wait for me, before you close that door I’m cold and looking forward to the warm fire and my hot Christmas toddy.”
“Come in and warm up.” I hung their coats in the hall closet. “I was just about to offer Mr. Hiebert one. You would like a warm drink, wouldn’t you, Mr. Hiebert?”
Mr. Hiebert said, “Yes please, it would be nice in front of a warm fireplace.”
They followed me into the living room. The fire was blazing nicely. “Judy this is my third cousin, Janik Hiebert, our Great Grandfathers were brothers.” Or so he says. “Mr. Hiebert, this is my best friend, Judy Wilson. Please sit down, I get the toddies.”
“May I help you, Alice?” Judy asked in a pleasant voice.
“Sure, we’ll be right back, with hot drinks, Mr. Hei...”
“Janik, please, Alice.”
As Judy and I went to the kitchen, I said. “Of course,--- Janik.”
In the kitchen, Judy started with the questions. “Who is he? What is he doing here? Where did he come from, with that German accent? How do you know him?” I was putting on the kettle while she rattled off the questions. “Well, who is he?”
“I don’t know.” I took the rum from the cabinet. “He arrived a second before you and introduced himself as my third cousin. I didn’t even know Granddad had a brother who lived long enough to have a family. Daddy told us his Granddad was the only family survivor of the Second World War.” We mixed the toddies as I told Judy what I knew. We carried them back to the living room.
I sat he drinks on the coffee table, handed one to Janik. Judy took hers and sat down. I took the last one and sat in my easy chair. We all seemed to be waiting for something to happen but all we talked about the weather.
When that subject was talked out, the silence could have been cut with a dull knife.
Janik had almost finished his drink when he said. “This is good, you made it yourselves?”
“Yes,” I answered. “It’s easy once you know what to put in it. Judy, Bridget, another friend, and I usually have one or two at Christmas. It has become a habit. My husband should be home soon. I looked at Judy for assurance. “Isn’t that right Judy?”
“Yes, that’s right.” Judy looked at her watch. “I wonder what is keeping Bridget? She should be here by now.”
A knock came to the door. “There she is now.”
I got up and went to the door but it wasn’t Bridget, it was a younger man who resembled a young Janik. “Hello,” he said.“Is my father, Janik Hiebert here? He said he was visiting relatives and I was to come to this address.”
He looked to be about twenty. I knew instantly who his father must be. “Yes, he’s in the living room.”
“I’m sorry, Dad is from the old country and doesn’t understand. You don’t just go barging in on a stranger, without a phone call or even a letter, first.”
I held the door open. He may as well come in too, what was one more stranger? “A friend, your dad and I are enjoying a hot toddy. Would you like one?”
“Yes, please. I am cold and would appreciate a hot drink.”
We walked into the living room just as another knock came to the door. Judy looked at me with an I hope that’s Bridget, look. I went to the door and this time it was Bridget. I took her coat and made introductions again.
I refilled the drinks and offered Bridget and Janik Jr. one. Again the silence strangled any word that came to mind.
Judy, the outspoken one of us, started asking questions. “How did you find Alice? You are from Germany, aren’t you? What is it you want from her? How long are you staying?”
Janik Sr. looked from me to Judy. “I do family research at home and found there were relatives in Canada. Yes, I’m from Germany and I want nothing from her or her friends.” He looked from Judy to Bridget then me. “I didn’t realize she would have friends tonight. I just wanted to meet her and her family.”
Janik Jr. finished his drink and put it on the coffee table. “But Dad you should have written or at least phoned before just dropping in on Alice. Maybe we should go.”
“No son, I am not ready to leave. I want to meet Alice’s family before I leave.”
“No, I have come a very long way to meet Alice and her family. I’m not ready to go.”
The three of us just sat like statues stunned, then Bridget finished her drink, excused herself as she went upstairs. She came back a few minutes later. “Alice, may I see you and Judy, in the kitchen for a minute, please. Excuse us, please, gentlemen.”
After the door was closed behind us, Bridget asked more questions.
I put up my hands. “I only know what we just heard. Sr. isn’t going anywhere until he meets my family. Janik Jr. came just before you, Bridget. He seems to be uncomfortable about what his dad is doing.” I pored us a toddy. “They look like father and son. I don’t know what to do.”
“This isn’t good.” Judy got up from the table. “We can’t leave you here alone with two strangers. I suggest we make dinner as we had planned for our girls' night. We make our usual pizza, have a pleasant meal and kick them out. You can’t let them stay, with George away until Christmas Eve.”
“Okay, I was hoping on making our pizza anyway. If they don’t like it--- too bad.”
We went back into the living room. “Another drink?” I asked and poured them toddies. “We usually make pizza on our girls nights so if you would like to stay and join us, we would be pleased to have you. We can eat here, in the living room, with coffee, and maybe one more drink. While we eat you can tell me how we are related and why you are here.”
Janik Sr. looked at Jr. then at me. “You make your own pizza? I thought most Canadians ordered pizza from a Pizza place.”
That convinced me Sr. wasn’t Canadian. “Most people do but some like us, like to make their own. We like playing with the dough and putting on it what we want.”
They nodded a positive reply.
“That sounds good. Is there anything I can do to help?” Jr. sounded a little unsure of himself. “I like to cook when I get the chance.”
“No, thank you anyway, just sit and enjoy the fire. We will make the pizza. While it is cooking, we will be back to join you for another drink.”
In the kitchen, Bridget went to the laptop computer. “Hey Google.” She waited while the listening icon came up. “Tell me about a Janik Hiebert and son of the same name.”
She waited then a list of Janik Hiebert's came up. “A very common German name. Now what do we do?” She turned the computer off. “No use checking everyone of then with so many.” She got the flour from the cupboard. “Maybe if we had a middle name that might help.”
“Sorry, I have no idea what it would be. ”I have a request.” I got the cheese and garlic ready, uncertain of how to ask. “Please don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone with them. I’m sure they’re who they say they are but I still don’t want to be alone with them.”
“Of course, we wouldn’t leave you.” Judy was kneading dough.
Bridget agreed as she got vegetables from the fridge and started chopping them. I put the coffee on before we went into the living room as the pizza cooked. It would be ready with the pizza.
We ate in front of the fireplace and sparkling Christmas tree covered with colored lights. The conversation was mostly about how we made the pizza. I did get one question though. “Janik, what was your Great Grandfather’s name and where did he grow up? I don’t remember Dad speaking of a great-great uncle.”
“Great Grandad’s name was Samuel Janik Hiebert. I’m named after him. He lived a long exciting life after the war.” He took a drink of his coffee. “I’m not exactly sure where but in Germany somewhere.”
“I’ll do the dishes, Alice,” Judy said as she rose from the recliner where she had eaten.
“I’ll help.” Bridget followed Judy into the kitchen.
“Thanks, girls,” I said, don’t be long, please.
“What about your life?” Janik Sr. asked. “Where did you grow up. What do you know about your Great Grandfather’s life?”
“I grew up in the Kootenays,” I didn’t know how much to tell them. “my grandparents came from Saskatchewan, they left during the depression, leaving everything but the family behind.” I finished my coffee. “They never talked much about Great Grandfather. I don’t know much about him. I’ve been married for two years. We are ...” I stopped. “are still on our honeymoon stage.”
“Alice, come here a minute, please” Judy called. “We can’t find the tea towel. You must have moved it.”
“No, I di...” I got up. “Excuse me, I washed the tea towel and didn’t put out a clean one.”
I walked into the kitchen. “Thanks, I was getting in deeper than I wanted. I don’t know how much they know or don’t know.”
“We’ve been listening. They seem to be wanting information from you about your family. I would call the police.”
“Why? What would I say? Two men are sitting in my living room saying they are my third and fourth cousin. My friends say I should call you to ...”
Bridget put the tea towel on the rack and sat at the table. “Okay, not the police but maybe George. He might know what to do.”
“No, I’m not worrying George about something he can do anything about. He’s in Toronto on business.”
“Okay, what do we do?” Judy sat down beside Bridget. “Bill is babysitting Andrew and he expects me home before 9 so I can put Andrew to bed. He doesn’t like going to bed until Mom kisses him good night.”
Bridget asked. “What does he do if you’re out later? Does he wait for you to come home?”
“No, I kiss him before we go out, then he knows the babysitter is putting him to bed.”
Bridget leaned over, “well smart kid. How old is he now anyway?”
“Okay, enough.” I saw where this was going and wanted it stopped before it got heated. “It is Eight o’clock. Bridget call Blake ask him to phone back for all of us to come. He has an emergency he needs help with.” I felt proud of myself for coming up with a way to get my so-called cousins out of my house.
The kitchen door opened. “Alice, Janik Jr. asked. “is there anything I can to do help? I know we’re unexpected and you won’t want us spending the night with you alone.” He came in and stood in front of me. “Alice, I know how this must look to you, but we are who Dad says we are. We are not robbers or thieves, nor are we going to hurt you or your friends” He looked at the three of us. “Dad has done a lot of family research and says he has the proof we are related.”
“Janik, I am sorry, this is just so strange. I never knew Great Grandfather had a brother who lived after the war. I understood Great Granddad was the only one to survive. I looked from him to my friends. “My husband would be upset if he, no, when I tell him about this if I let you stay. It is okay that my friends are with us now. But they have to go home soon.”
Judy and Bridget nodded agreeing with me.
“I know of a good hotel close by and I’ m sure George would like to meet you and for you to spend Christmas with us. He will be home tomorrow, Christmas Eve, late in the afternoon, so you could come back tomorrow and we can talk and get to know each other better.”
“Alice, that sounds wonderful. I’m sure I can convince my Dad to wait until after Christmas to go home. We would like very much to meet your husband and family.”
At eight-thirty, Judy, Bridget, Janik Sr. and Jr. left together. The girls were going to show them the hotel for the night.
Janik Sr. and Jr. came back the next afternoon. Met George, his sister, her husband and son and George’s brother. Alice’s sister and fiance arrived just before dinner with her and Alice’s brother. Alice and George made room for everyone to spend a wonderful Christmas Eve, day and enjoy Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. A Christmas family reunion filled with love and family.