As a sommelier on Emerald Princess, I stop at dozens of tables on a nightly basis and talk to literally hundreds of people every day.
The majority of my passenger interactions are related to wine, but it’s not uncommon that conversation will evolve to other topics. Sometimes, travelers ask me what to do at the next port of call. Occasionally, one will take a personal interest and want to know where I’m from and why I chose a career at sea. And then, there are those rare times when a passenger stops you in your tracks and leads you to discover things you never knew about yourself and heritage.
During a cruise to Mexico, I was making my usual rounds through one of the dining rooms when I noticed a friendly looking older gentleman and his wife admiring my tastevin, the eye-catching, silver-cupped necklaces we sommeliers wear to evaluate wines.
After explaining the history of the tastevin and why I was wearing it, the gentleman, Mr. Babychuk, asked me where I was from. When I told him Detroit, he lit up and told me he was originally from Detroit himself. He asked me what part of the city I came from and that’s when we found out we were from the same neighborhood.
That prompted him to ask what my last name was, and when I replied “Reznich” he got quiet for a moment. Then, he looked me straight in the eye and with a soft, hopeful voice asked me, “Do you know a Danny Reznich?” When I told him that Dan Reznich was my grandfather he closed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief.
After a moment, he looked at me and said, “When I was a young man, Danny Reznich was my best friend. We played trombone in the jazz band together.”
I leaned in to hear more of this incredible story. Mr. Babychuk told me he served in World War II as a fighter pilot and my grandfather had served as a merchant marine. When he returned home from military service, he had asked around the neighborhood for my grandfather but they never reconnected.
After numerous attempts to locate my grandfather, he gave up and assumed that perhaps my grandfather had been lost during the war. But he still couldn’t forget Danny Reznich. Last year, Mr. Babychuk happened to be visiting Detroit and returned to the neighborhood and tried to find my grandfather again, still nothing.
During the cruise, I stopped to chat with Mr. Babychuk whenever I could. Growing up, he was so close to my family. I heard stories about my great -grandfather and was charmed when he confessed his early love for my great aunt Marie, my grandfather’s sister, whom he almost married.
I got to tell Mr. Babychuk something, too. With great joy, I told him his dear, old friend, my grandfather Danny Reznich, was still alive. Furthermore, I was able to reconnect them—this pair who last saw each other when they were in their early 20s only to suffer a 60-year chasm.
As my grandfather and Mr. Babychuk catch up on decades of experiences and adventures, they prove that a lifetime apart cannot undermine a true friendship. Mr. Babychuk’s and my more fleeting acquaintance proves something else.
While our conversation could have begun and ended with what wine to order, we both took that extra effort to recognize the individuality of the other person, and in doing, we unlocked a treasure trove of personal history, profound meaning and indelible human connection.
When Thai isn’t working, he loves to explore new places but he always makes a point to visit his family at home in Michigan. He also enjoys trying new restaurants, cooking, driving and watching movies.