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By Larry Gaum
The maritimers are wonderful people. They have a kind nature about them, are very polite and especially easy going. Make them mad however and you have a tough character to deal with. I'm proud to say that I'm a Cape Bretoner and I remind everyone I meet of this important fact wherever I go.
Recently, I gave a seminar to my fellow maritime colleagues in Sydney, the city of my birth. It was sponsored by the local dental societies and it was wonderful to see so many old familiar and many new faces. As we greeted each other I felt right at home and sensed the camaraderie and friendship as I enjoyed the salty Island air that engulfed me once again after a 25-year absence from the place of my precious youth.
My seminar went very well and I felt good that I was able to impart some old surgical tricks of the trade to those that enjoyed performing oral surgery in their practices. We truly enjoyed each other's company and I witnessed a trust and friendship that I missed over the many years that I was away living in other parts of the world. The importance of being part of an East Coast Cape Breton community was quite evident and the pride of this relationship amongst my colleagues was quite visible. I immediately related to it and it was as if I had never left.
Do we all have that same feeling about where we were born and raised? Does everyone have that love and pride and remembrance as to where they spent their younger days growing up? Is it in all of us I wonder? The answer to these questions was soon to come.
I had a few hours to spare before I caught my flight back to Toronto so I decided to perform a good deed or "Mitzvah" as it is referred to in the Jewish language. I drove to the old Jewish cemetery to visit the resting places of those that had departed. I saw both relatives and friends I knew and loved as I grew up from a young boy to manhood.
I saw my paternal and maternal grandparents resting places that sat silently and still. I stood in front of my uncle Benny, my father's only brother who died at 59 years old. At the time of his passing, I thought he was old and had lived a full life. It shook and startled me as I now stood in the cold, crisp maritime air, just how young he really was. From the early 1900s, the Gaum family was well represented in this small island, being involved in business, the professions, politics and the arts. They lived and worked in every nook and cranny of this beautiful land. But now, as I walked up and down the many aisles of black and white marble, the space my family members now occupy is limited to this small and quiet piece of property. Did they at one time still consider themselves to be part of another place and time? Where and what did they think, dream and long for as they lived their lives here in a small city on the east coast of Canada. Most were from Eastern Europe like my grandparents, originating from countries such as Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Did they speak with pride about their little village or town? Did they still refer to it as their home so many miles away as I do when I speak fondly and lovingly about my Cape Breton roots and my small birthplace of Sydney. A cousin of mine who lived in Boston for more years than he lived in Sydney would answer the following when he was asked where he lived: "I live in Boston, but my home is in Sydney, Cape Breton."
And then I saw it.
And then the answer to my questions came to me so loud and so clear.
In a small corner of the cemetery stood an old, weather beaten and worn headstone. It stood alone and apart from the others as if it had been placed there many years before. It had a stately appearance although the carved letters on its face were worn and difficult to read. I drew closer and crouched down, kneeling on the grass in front of the stone. There were only three small lines placed on this moss-covered piece of marble and I began to decipher slowly.
No mention of what he did, or what he was. No reference to his life or what his accomplishments were. Nothing about what he thought or desired, except:
"I'm from Bialystok, my city in Poland. I was born there and it has always been close to my heart. I lived my life here in Cape Breton but I loved my Bialystok. That's where my home and my heart is."
As I boarded the plane back to Toronto, I cried as I whispered to no one but myself:
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