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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Our inheritance

My great-grandfather's landscape design portfolio, done in his late teens.
On Friday I learned that I have a genetic mutation. My doctor gave me an assignment: to flesh out my vague family history with real names, dates, and medical diagnoses—in short, to create a pedigree for myself.

Each of us carries two separate copies of our genes. In my case, one copy started off broken. I most likely inherited it from an ancestor, and I’ve got a 50-50 chance of having passed it along to my kids. The goal is to identify relatives with similar cancers so geneticists can trace a pattern.

Fine, except I have always resisted genealogy. As with bouillabaisse, there are no guarantees about what might come up on the spoon.

My husband had the notion that my great-grandmother’s Bible was in a box on the third floor and kindly went up to fetch it. When he came back, he also carried down a folio of drawings that were in the same box.

Decades later, he scrawled a draft of a job application on the back of one of his drawings.
I may not recognize my relatives but I recognized it—a student portfolio of landscape sketches. They could have been drawn by my father in 1942, or by me in 1979, but instead they were done by my paternal great-grandfather in 1862-63.

I've been known to do a bit of landscape design myself, here at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Rochester.
I was looking for one trait but found another, shared among three people with vastly different experiences and training. “How could something like that be carried through a protein?” my skeptical husband asked.  It probably can’t, but nevertheless it was strung along two centuries of family. It’s a lovely mystery.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

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