Sophomore Biology

by Laura

Fast forward to Sophomore biology and Sr Althea.  Drosophila flies, Bunsen burners, double-pithing frogs… I’m sure some of you remember.  There we were, twenty-odd girls, trying to learn the basics of life, when we come to the chapter on deoxyribonucleic acid.  DNA.  Watson and Crick, the double-helix, and all that cool stuff that wouldn’t come alive to me until almost 50 years later.

So Sister gives us our class assignment:  make a chart of you, your Mom and Dad, their parents, and, if possible, their parents and track their eye colour and ethnicity.  Here in the States, because we are the “melting pot”, it’s a fun little project.  Irish-German.  Polish-Italian.  French (by way of Canada)-Norwegian-Greek.  And everyone wants something unique, like a Romanov or a Cherokee Princess.  The assignment itself was pretty simple, really.  And it looks something like this:


So I gathered the photos we had of my Mom and Dad, my Nonny and Grandpa (Mom’s side), and I talked with my Dad about his family.  I constructed my chart, wrote my paper. I learned about my Nonny being German, Prussian to her time, and that my Dad’s family came from Austria.  I learned I had two Irish Great-Grandmothers and, by-and-large, my green-hazel eyes were a good match to my Dad’s blue-hazel with my Mom’s blue.  Those nuns at St Vincent’s certainly knew what they were about, matching babies to families.

Yeah.  Well, I lived in a small Chicago suburb and everyone knew everyone else and their business.  Sr Althea pulled me aside and quietly suggested she couldn’t accept what I had turned in since, well, we all knew this isn’t my real family.  Why don’t I do a bit of research and write something about acquired characteristics.  You know, how folk who have lived together for a very long time start to copy each other, mirror their mannerisms and facial expressions and, thus, begin to look like each other.  Amazing what those women knew behind their convent walls.

“YesStr.” (make sure you run it together…Catholic kid dialect…)  What else could I say?

Well, Sr Althea set me up for life that day, because two things happened:  1) I became intrigued by genealogy and started researching and building my Family’s Tree (screw the “reality” of the relationships).  b)  I tucked away a deep, profound need to find pieces of myself in others.  To know more about my DNA.  I suppose I should be grateful to her.

So fast forward about six years, after the birth of my eldest Daughter, and I’m looking for me in her.  Same-same when her Sister was born, three years later.  Fast forward another 25 years after that, and my eldest Grandson consumes me.  Am I there?  Does he look like me? think like me? act like me?

And I find myself building my tree backwards; figuring myself out by looking at my descendants, because my ancestors are a mystery.

But I had read Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.  I knew how to crack mysteries…