August 18, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

What’s running down the family tree?

We like to say that certain characteristics run in families.

Of course, some families run harder than others, leaking genetic anomalies down several generations. These may include health problems, hairiness, frantic personalities or whatever. It’s a fascinating subject.

One unwitting result of adoptions in former years illustrates the health aspects of genetic inheritance. When babies were placed for adoption with sealed birth records, they were ignorant of possible genetic problems to watch for and treat later in adult life. Whether we approve of “open” adoption or not, it’s a good idea to know the medical history of one’s forebears.

When we do know a person’s genealogy, we’re apt to draw conclusions about his or her looks. Listen to the speculation, especially among the aunties and grannies, when a new baby is present.

“He smiles just like his dad,” they’ll say, or “Those eyes are Grandma Smith’s for sure.” (On the other hand, most of the men I know never have a clue about such matters.)

One of God’s many wonders is the fact that no matter how many children we may have, they are all different.

Still, comparison of family traits seems a valid pastime to me because I’ve observed the composition of a large sample—my dad’s family—for years. His dad was a small, slender man who moved quickly, while his mom was a large, round-faced lady who took her time.

Together, they had 11 children. Six of them moved, and looked like Grandpa, and five looked like Grandma.

However, more of them had Grandma’s kind, tolerant personality than Grandpa’s strict, impatient one. It seems that both objective and subjective traits continue to reappear on the limbs of a family tree.

When children grow older, they also see family resemblances among themselves. Our daughter once said of one of her brothers, “He’s Grandpa Winnen all over again.”

I was surprised, but when I thought about it, darned if she wasn’t right. Like our son, Great-Grandpa Winnen was creative, kind, much loved by everyone, and a free spirit. The 9-to-5 workday would not have been his bag—even if it had existed back then.

Hmm. One more delightful aspect of God’s good creation.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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