Family trees are interesting. They stretch and grow with their multiple limbs; branches bud from blood relations, from marriage, even from choice. Some are small, only stretching out over a limited time; others are large, spanning multiple generations. Frequently these limbs are produced from a completely new breed of tree; as if you took two (or more) different types, spliced them together, and created an entirely new species that never before existed. More often than not, they are complicated structures; the branches twisting in awkward directions, with twigs sprouting off this way and that.
What’s even more intriguing about familial trees is often the fruit that falls from them. By ‘fruit’ I’m referring to the traits we inherit from being a part of these intricate creations. What grains of wood flow through our veins as we sprout into our own little seedlings? What colors of leaves do we produce? For me, it was interesting enough to learn about myself as I developed along my own path in life; but I find it even more interesting to compare myself as I look back and learn about the other branches of my tree, and the other offspring that came from it.
Certainly, there is always a visual comparison. For example on one side of my family, there is a striking physical resemblance running through many of our generations (my father’s side, specifically). I would hazard a guess that if you put a large number of us in a room with several hundred other strangers, an unconnected observer could pick out the family pairings pretty darn quickly without much effort – we really do look that much alike, even several generations removed.
Then there’s the ‘behavior’ comparison; I sometimes wonder if this is genetic, as well. For example, I have my father’s temper; that quick-lit Irish ire that is easy to rile, and hard to quell. But my grandfather had it, too, and from what I hear (though I haven’t witnessed it first-hand, so I border on conjecture here) my uncles also exhibit it. Not only do we have it, we struggle with it in a way that makes it a little unique in our family. It makes me wonder – hearing that it trickles through the generations – is it learned, inherited, or both? Did the apple fall into the next tree, or did we pick it up and carry it because we saw it lying there? Maybe a little of both is true. I think sometimes these things are inherent in our DNA and sometimes they are learned (such as the wicked knack for guilt conjuring that my maternal grandmother always had, my mother carries with her, and I have conveniently picked up as well – that, most certainly, seems to be an observed skill much more than innate).
I find the DNA comparison often carries with it questions of a more clinical nature, such as the uncertainty of potential disease issues in a family. In my father’s lineage, there seem to be frequent incidents of cancer, though they present themselves inconsistently – breast, prostate, ovarian, skin – none seem to repeat themselves, but many branches seem to be afflicted. It makes me wonder if it just hides amongst all of us like a sleeping beast and morphs to suit itself when it feels like showing its fangs. It’s even found me already, in what was fortunately an early identified and quickly removed form of melanoma; I often hope that I’ve already faced down my own monster and I won’t encounter another in my lifetime, but who can ever be sure? I surmise that is why my family has always been so vigilant by proactively checking for things that we are wary of – you just don’t know what fruit you will get, or if it will perchance be rotten.
But sometimes the fruit you get is just the opposite; it is exquisite in its ripeness and richness. It’s often not even genetic in nature; in fact, it is frequently more nurture-based. It’s the kind of fruit that bears the seeds of character, helping to shape us into the beings we become as we grow, reaching towards the sky and sun.
Branches, twigs, leaves and limbs; each one unique, each one important. They all create the distinctive flora from which our family trees grow, from which we grow. Exceptional in their challenges and their gifts, we would not be who we are without them.