Walter Cusyk has a first cousin in Soissons, France. They met for the first time in 1946 when Virginie Smola-Muffrais was just 14 years old; Cusyk was 23. They met again, but the reunion came 60 years later.
Last month, East Syracuse residents Walter and his wife Jean packed up their car and hit the road toward Rochester. Walter's cousin would be in Fairport, awaiting his arrival at a family reunion. It was a heartwarming occasion for both.
"When we first got there, we hugged and kissed cheek to cheek on the side," Walter said, smiling. "We learned something new -- that it's customary to kiss each other twice on each cheek. Not really kiss, but cheek to cheek."
The Cusyk's niece Joanne Coker, of Fairport, took an interest in genealogy some time ago and found her relatives through the Internet. It was Coker's steady 10-year communication with Smola-Muffrais and her visits to France that led the French-speaking family to come to America for the first time this year. They would have traveled sooner, but poor health kept Smola-Muffrais from venturing too far.
"Her daughter Isabella told her she better get there [to America], because it may be the last time she'd get a chance to meet the family," Jean said.
Isabella, who is fluent in French and English, acted as translator for Virginie and Walter, although the two were able to pull off a couple hours of talk with minimal help. Walter remembered some Polish from his earlier days.
"I was amazed at the fact that I could talk as much Polish as I had," he said explaining it had been years since he last spoken the language. His cousin was just as thrilled.
"She was very excited because she was worried about what kind of conversation we'd have," he said.