Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Family Inheritances

The other night, I wrote about the drive to Borrego Springs. My Grandma and Grandpa lived there the later years of their lives, and their inheritance to the family was their mobile home in the desert. They would be delighted to know that it has become the site of an informal gathering of scattered cousins every spring. Borrego is inextricably linked to thoughts of Grandma and Grandpa, and we fondly retell stories about them every year. This year, I was struck by a subtler but deeper legacy. I was struck by how much Grandma and Grandpa live on in their son and daughter. Susan favors her mother, and inherited Grandma's ebullience and love for life and people. I realized this weekend how much I see Grandma in her smile and hear Grandma in her voice. Bruce fathers his father, and inherited Grandpa's easy nature and pranky sense of humor. It's easy to see Grandpa in him. Obviously Susan and Bruce are different people from their parents, but their parents are a part of who they are. It's a wonderful thing.

It's only been in recent years that I've noticed more of these resemblances, of how much of my husband's parents are in him, and how much of my parents are in me, in lots of small and funny ways. My father is one of those rare people who actually enjoys doing tax returns -- the pleasure of knowing all the rules, putting all the figures in the right columns, and figuring out the best way to maneuver through a complicated system. Funny thing is, I completely get that, because I'm the same way. Mom doesn't understand why Dad needs to keep all those files and papers, but I do. (My husband doesn't understand my need to keep papers either.) How do such things get passed on? As a child, I was vaguely aware of Dad's organizational skills (for instance, the neat graph paper charts on the inside of his closet door to keep track of which suits had been worn when, and when they needed dry cleaning), but I never consciously said to myself "Cool chart - I want to be just like that when I grow up!" These things are in the genes, or just subconsciously absorbed.

What I wonder now is why have I just begun to notice this? Do we grow into our parents, our inherited traits only ripening with age? Perhaps we can only see the contours of the impression after the mold has been removed. Or perhaps it is only in middle age we've accrued the discernment to see what was there all along.

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