I was about six years old when I traveled to Arkansas with my family to see my father’s parents. During that visit my grandmother took us on daily visits to meet all of her favorite neighbors and then one day announced that we were going to take a little day trip to see her sister Kate. While my mother’s family was filled with aunts and uncles and cousins I had not met many people from my father’s relations so it was exciting to learn that he had an aunt of whom he was apparently quite fond. I would eventually discover that my father’s extended family was large and complex and filled with wonderful stories and histories. On that day it was just exciting to know that there was more to his background than only his parents and two sisters.
Aunt Katie was a beautiful lady whose hair had turned a lovely snowy white. She had a sweet and sincere smile and her hugs were warm and snuggly. She and my grandmother and mother and father talked with great joy as though they had a great deal of catching up to do. I was amazed that they all seemed to know each other so well since I had never before even heard of this sweet great aunt of mine. I sat in awe of their conversation and realized there was more to who I was than I really knew.
As the day grew shorter my grandfather announced that we needed to end our revelry if we were to get back to his house before sundown. We hurriedly took pictures of our gathering, shared more hugs and kisses and made promises to return sooner rather than later. At that moment Aunt Katie took my face in her hands and announced with a kind of pride that I definitely looked just like my grandmother when she was just a girl. My mother bristled a bit protesting that everyone agreed that I looked most like her family. Aunt Katie and my grandmother laughed without disrespect and insisted that I was definitely my father’s child. “I’ve seen those features before,” Aunt Katie declared.
I remember feeling confused because I was a child and in my mind I only looked like myself, not some adult, especially one who was my grandmother. She was in her late seventies and bore a face filled with wrinkles. How could I possibly look like her? My father was a man with a hairline that had already begun to recede even though he was barely in his thirties. As for my mother, she had jet black hair and was incredibly beautiful in an exotic kind of way. I was just a child who did not seem like anyone but myself. At least that is how I saw it.
The feud regarding which parent I was most like continues to this day. While I am indeed unique I see more snatches of my grandmother and my father in my countenance than my mother. One of my brothers is the very image of my dad and over the years complete strangers have noticed how much the two of us resemble one another. His son and my eldest grandson could be brothers. There is more than a passing similarity between us that we share with our father which makes me think that Aunt Katie may have seen something in me that was quite real.
As I grow older I see flashes of my grandmother when I gaze into the mirror. My eyes are like hers and so are the contours of my face. My grandfather often remarked that I reminded him of his beloved wife. I sometimes think that our similarities go even deeper than the physical. I have always felt a spiritual kinship with my grandmother. I seem to remember so many lessons that I learned from her. I feel her presence deep down in my soul.
My mother’s family still sees much of her in me and I suppose that I picked up mannerisms and expressions from her over time but she was very different. While I am generally quiet and plain she was the kind of woman who lit up a room whenever she entered. She had a charisma that made her unforgettable. Her smile bedazzled and her eyes twinkled. She was daring where I was reticent. My brown hair was mousy next to her shiny black locks. My features were less striking. I adored her and her beauty and knew that mine was different in spite of her protests that I looked more like her family than my father’s kin. In photographs of her clan at reunions I appear out of place next to my dozens of cousins. It is as though I was the adopted child from another genetic line entirely.
I am indeed my father’s child. I sport his seriousness on my face and in my demeanor. I prefer sitting at the edges of a crowd. I enjoy just being a spectator. I like the anonymity of my features and my personality. I am pretty in an unassuming way. I’m not the woman who would be chosen out of a crowd like my mother might have been but that is actually a benefit to me. I have never liked having a spotlight shone on me. I’m most comfortable when I am able to fade into the scene.
I suppose that if truth were to be told each of us is unique but still bearing a host of genetic factors that color our eyes and determine the nuances of our appearance and even our health. I am indeed an amalgam of both my mother and father but somehow his DNA seems to be the more dominant of the two. As for who I am as a person I give full credit to my mother who raised me after my father died so early in my life. She allowed and encouraged me to follow my own star and that is who I really am. She gave me the wonderful gift of liking myself just as I am and now again I see her in every inch of me, winking and smiling like the delightful sprite that she was.