Out on a limb of the family tree
They’re my relatives, but you’d never know it.I looked like an interloper at a family reunion last weekend, a genetic mutant.On my mother’s side of the family, everybody looks like somebody. Except me.Incidentally, I don’t think I bear a striking resemblance to anyone on my dad’s side, either, though I did manage to inherit the short-and-squat physique so prevalent on that branch of the tree. Nice.My mother and her siblings all look like their mother. Both the cousins who were present resemble the parent connected to that side of the family tree. And I noticed for the first time that one of my cousins sports a dimple in his chin – a feature I thought was unique to my brother. The cleft was there, too, in old black-and-white images of the grandfather I never met.As we thumbed through hefty, ornate photo albums, I scanned the sepia-toned images of stoic men and Victorian women born a century ago for some hint of myself, but found none.But there were other revelations, like why we we’re all Presbyterians. Turns out this branch of the family was of Methodist persuasion, but the Methodist church in the small Wisconsin town where my mother grew up was in poor repair and its congregation was dwindling. They joined forces with the Presbyterians next door, the parish with the better church building.Then there was the photo of my long-deceased great-aunt as I’d never seen her – a young woman with bobbed, brunet hair and a bright countenance. I remember her only as a white-haired spinster. As the story has it, she broke off an engagement because her parents needed her teaching income. She never married.There were the great-aunts I never met – siblings of my grandfather who died as little girls in an era when diseases often proved fatal. Of seven children, three didn’t reach adulthood.And, there was my great-uncle, the bank president, who lived with my great-aunt in a stately house with a full-time servant. Legend has it, he died at the poker table. He told his fellow card players he was prepared to raise the stakes and then expired with four aces in his hand. Bummer.My parents’ generation grew up during the Depression and Prohibition – hardships I couldn’t relate too any more easily than the solemn faces in the photographs, or the sour milk story.To this day, my mom hates milk. As it turns out, so do her brother and sister. They often wound up drinking sour milk because they lived without a refrigerator and the ice didn’t last in the ice box.When my cable goes out – that’s my definition of hardship.I found myself wondering who will tell these stories among the next generation. Will my cousins’ children be able to trace their connection to the long-lost faces in the photographs?At least I met some of these relatives from my grandparents’ generation, though I was a small child and my memories are fragmented and vague.My cousin’s children will have no connection to them at all. In fact, most of them will have no memory of me, as we’ve never met and possibly never will.One day, they’ll click through digital images of their mother’s cousins and wonder who I am, especially since I don’t look like anybody else.Janet Urquhart is apparently one of a kind. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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