Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nature vs. Nurture: Hand-me-downs Happen

Nature vs. Nurture: Hand-me-downs Happen

I have never been considered a scientist. Just ask Mr. Peek from Bryant High School. One topic though has always intrigued me. How do family traits get passed down from one generation to another, and just exactly what kinds of things are coded in our DNA?

 Physical characteristics are easiest to track. Some families have extremely strong resemblances.  Our newest grandson was almost an exact copy of his brother when he was tiny. I’m convinced I could walk down any street in Saline County and randomly guess a person’s last name, or their mother’s maiden name. So far, my husband has successfully curtailed this experiment.

Other things are quite obviously learned. Just watch a four year old boy, like our grandson, walking behind his Daddy. He will practice and practice until he gets every movement and nuance down perfectly. Even the make-believe games our eight year old plays mimic his parents’ careers and hobbies. Play leads to interest, which leads to following in foot-steps.

But when a child behaves like a relative he has had little or no contact with?  Just how does that happen? Our almost three year-old grand-daughter has a way of looking at her brother with exactly the same “bless his little heart” facial expression of her great-grandmother. As we were leaving a restaurant recently, I looked back to see her clutching her coat, and walking with the same halting gait. Positively spooky.

My middle son inherited his blue eyes, hair color and complexion from my father. Though they didn’t spend any time together until my son was grown, he also has the same sense of humor, the kind that with little or no effort keeps everyone around them in stitches. Even the way he laughs is eerily similar.

We may even have an example of traits being repeated by marriage.

It takes a special man to play a trombone. The instrument is a little awkward to hold and makes a very unique noise, especially until one learns to play properly. Those who choose it usually have long arms, a good sense of humor, and a certain amount of natural leadership ability. Remember: 76 trombones LED the big parade. My father played the trombone in high school. When I found my future husband, he too was a trombone player. My daughter also married one.

          The activities one chooses in life can be influenced by the values learned in his or her family. You might hear someone say “Our people have always done that.” My father-in- law was a very active worker in the local group of believers. He concerned himself with the nuts and bolts of keeping things going, paying the bills, scheduling speakers. While researching his family tree, I found that his ancestors were among the founding families of another fellowship. “Brother Carlisle volunteered to procure new songbooks.” His son, my husband, performs exactly the same sort of valuable service today. Our son (who by the way also played the trombone) is now planning a Men’s retreat for his congregation.

          My mother, like her mother before her, is very committed to recording the happenings of each day on her calendar. Looking back, we can discover the high and low temperatures, significant news events, family birthdays, and who happened to call or come to visit on any particular day. This tendency skipped a generation, as most of my writing is done for pure enjoyment. But, my daughter carries on in a more updated fashion. She has not one, but two blog sites where she posts pictures, relates the events in her life, and even gives cooking tips.

          So where does all this rambling lead? It gives me hope for the future. Somehow, I know that the McLeod/Carlisle descendants will always be folks I would recognize, someone that others will enjoy being around. It takes a lot of love and prayers to raise a family. But a little bit of unexplainable inheritance doesn’t hurt either.

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