Monday, August 10, 2009

Carbon copies and the odd man out

I'm always fascinated by how families can look like, or not look like, each other. Obviously, our physical features are passed to us by the combination of genes that came down to us from our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents, and everyone before. So when both my parents have dark hair, I wonder how my sister turned out a strawberry blond? Someone somewhere along the line had to have been a redhead. I actually have three redheaded cousins, although two of them got it from their father, who I am not related to. We are half Irish, so having redheads in the family is not a total surprise, although an interesting fact (to me, anyway...I'm not sure I've ever found anyone who agrees with the assertion of "interesting") is that red hair was introduced to Ireland through the Scandinavian Viking invaders, so while other people call my sister Irish, I call her the Viking in the family...

Anyway, I am a brunette, like my parents. My brothers are both blond. By hair alone, people usually aren't surprised that my sisters and brother are related. They usually call me the odd man out.

Then there's my parents. When people see me with my father, they say I look like him. When they would see me with my mother, they'd say i looked like her. The older I get, the more I think I am turning into a carbon copy of my mother. At the same time, I have a cousin on my dad's side of the family who has always looked exactly like me, except I'm half a foot taller than she is. (I call her my Mini-Me). But I'm fascinated how I can look exactly like my mom and also exactly like my paternal cousin.

When my grandmother was talking to me and my cousin the other day, she told us about a trip to Ireland that she took with my Aunt Ellen several years ago to go find the village where her father was born. They got lost in the vicinity and ended up at a business called Cronin's, which is her maiden name. The man who owned the shop, she said, was the spitting image of her father. She didn't know how they were related but it was obvious that somehow, they must be.

My cousin Keith, as he got older, was definitely turning into my dad's doppelganger. One of my favorites is my cousin Christina and our grandmother's sister Faith. There's a photo of Faith when she was about 12 years old where she looks so much like Christina that it could've easily been a photo of Christina. But three generations and a branch removed from each other, how were they identical? Christina's genes had input from my grandfather and from her mother, people Faith wasn't blood-related to, yet except for the age difference, they could've been twins. It makes me wonder who of my relatives from way back when I might look exactly like. For people like my sister, whose hair makes her the odd man out, it's actually a connection to an unknown someone from generations past. But for both her and for those, like Christina and Faith, who have family carbon copies, whether we know who we look like or not, the way we look is a tangible connection to someone and someplace we came from.

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