IT reads like the storyline for a movie:
Couple travel half-way around the world to a remote Spanish village on a quest to find the centuries-old house and birthplace of generations of the wife's ancestors.
With the help of an intrepid local, they overcome various obstacles to locate the house, oblivious to the fact that it is to be demolished that very morning. With a stroke of unbelievable timing, the couple arrive with only minutes to spare.
The demolition crew stops work and the heavy machinery grinds to a temporary halt. The house has a brief stay of execution while the couple pick their way through the dilapidated building, salvaging mementos and taking photos before the demolition proceeds, taking with it, centuries of family history.
It might sound like fiction, but two broken tiles, an ancient hand-chiselled door knocker and a couple of old bottles that I souvenired from the demolition site that day prove otherwise. The chunk of family history that disappeared when the wrecking ball fell was mine.
Heartbreaking as it was, I can only wonder at the incredible timing and whatever forces were behind it, that allowed me that brief, but precious experience.
Whether it was fate, good luck, divine intervention, being in the right place at the right time or simply one of those things that was just meant to be, I am truly grateful.
Those mementoes are now all that remain of the house in the sleepy village of Llagostera, 100 kilometres north of Barcelona, where my grandfather Pedro Morato was born in 1893 the same stone building where Pedro's father, his grandfather and unknown previous generations of our family were born.
Pedro fled Spain for Australia with his young Belgian wife and two small children, one of them my mother, in 1936 as the rumblings of Civil War grew increasingly loud.
In his adopted country, he went on to become a successful sugarcane farmer in north Queensland.
For years I had heard the family stories and seen my mother's grainy black-and-white photos of her early years in Spain.
A stopover in Barcelona in May during a trip to Europe with my husband Brian gave me the opportunity to trace my Spanish heritage and see the ancestral home for myself.
With limited time and even more limited public transport options to Llagostera, we decided to hire a taxi.
Our driver, Ramon, was in his late 50s and came to us on the recommendation of a cousin in Barcelona.
A casualty of the Spanish economic slump, Ramon had invested in a taxi after being laid off from his sales position. What he lacked in English he made up for in enthusiasm, taking on our mission as his own. With the speedo hovering around 155km/h along the freeway out of Barcelona, he seemed anxious to get us there. Perhaps he had a premonition of the need for urgency.
Ramon had no trouble locating the address but as we began taking photos of the house, a young man emerged and after an animated conversation between he and Ramon in Catalan, the Spanish dialect, we learned that the street numbers had changed. This was not my grandfather's house.
Eager to help, the young man consulted his father-in-law two doors down, a long-term resident of the street. We were in luck.
He knew the house and its previous owner, my mother's cousin, Catalina.
It was just down the street, barely 100 metres away, he said.
In the same breath, he told Ramon that we should hurry. We were stunned to learn that a demolition crew was at that moment busy removing tiles from the roof in preparation for demolition.
With Ramon explaining the reason for our visit, the workmen graciously allowed us onto the site, waiting patiently as we walked through the condemned house, photographing it inside and out and salvaging those treasured mementos.
As we walked away full of regret, the workmen waved respectfully and returned to their job.
Our emotions were running high, but our day of surprises was not yet over.
On the spur of the moment we decided to make contact with Catalina who lived in a nearby village.
With directions from the father-in-law, Ramon was back behind the wheel and off to Catalina's house. But when no one answered her door, we thought our luck had run out. On the point of giving up and heading back to Barcelona, Ramon approached a neighbour with our story.
Who should she spot ambling along the street towards us but a man she believed to be Catalina's son who just happened to be visiting from Brazil.
An incredulous Pere was indeed her son. His mother, a sprightly 84-year-old, was working on the tractor on her hazelnut farm and would be home for lunch in an hour, he said. What was another hour when you have come halfway around the world?
Catalina duly arrived home and welcomed us like the long-lost cousins we were.
Back in Barcelona, we could only reflect that the outcome of the day's events could have been so very different.
A few hours later, without the services of Ramon to explain our quest, without the resident emerging from the first house to tell us of our mistake, without Catalina's neighbour spotting her son on the street ...
At the end of the day, it must have been meant to be.