Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Falling from the family tree "redux"

So today my Dad tells me I can take a bit of a break from the whole family tree updating thing while he awaits some information from the more far-flung branches.

The thing is, I don't want to take a break. I'm actually enjoying myself.

I've got a computer program that makes it all pretty easy, an interest in history in general and a vague fascination with all these people I've never met, or only met once or twice as a child.

We're not an especially tight-knit family, and my parents live out in the middle of nowhere, so I sort of think I should have the same vague indifference toward this whole thing that I have toward a lot of my life.

Instead, the OCD or whatever has kicked in, and I'm all excited. Plus, I'm just anal retentive enough to be bothered by some of the more tactful changes people are suggesting (such as doing away with short-lived marriages that produced no children). I mean, I understand those are painful memories and not really relevant - it would be like putting Michelle, my ex-fiancee, on - but the completist in me just twitches. I want this to be perfect. And by perfect, I mean perfectly accurate, too.

Funniest thing of all is, I'm adopted. I'm not related to any of these people. At least not by blood. And with all that recent talk about the 30th anniversary of the Babylift and the kids going back to Vietnam, plus an article I saw the other day about a tour company sending orphans to their home countries as adults, I guess it would be easy to think that the ties to this family wouldn't be as strong as some kind of deep-seated, primordial bond to my blood and genes and true ancestry.

And there's absolutely none.

This is my family, the one in Pennsylvania, and has been from the day I was given to my mother and father as a baby. And as I watch the various lines and boxes unfold on the computer, listing my parents, their parents, and THEIR parents - the brave souls who traveled to this country when they were old enough to know the risks - I can't help but think of environment vs. heredity, as implausible as that may sound.

I know what I inherited from my biological mother and father - dark skin, thick hair, broad shoulders, bad knees, a touch of high blood pressure, an iffy complexion, the fundamental inability to grow a decent goatee (no matter how hard I try) and so forth.

But what I inherited from my real Mom and Dad is something else entirely, something harder to see in the mirror - a touch of my Mom's kindness toward others, a bit of my Dad's intimidating presence and even more of his sense of humor, a little of his eloquence and more than a little of her feistiness, his love of books and baseball, her love of tennis, the love of theater and art they share.

And working on this family tree, I think I've found the most precious inheritance of all: A love of family. Sure, some of them are flawed and some of them are crazy, a few are surly and some antisocial. Everybody's human. But they're my family. And despite the divorces, and the lost-communication question marks and the fact that I haven't seen some of them in years and haven't missed them, when I see those names and words and lines, I see the ties that bind. I see the people I love.

I see Grandma in Florida, making briscuit and matzoh ball soup. I see Grandpa asleep in that chair by the window, head back, mouth open. I see Uncle Mark, with Grandpa's ears and Grandma's hair. I see Dad, the opposite, with Grandpa's build and hair, but Grandma's face.

And I don't need DNA to see that's the man I want to be.

That little box on the chart, that's me. It could have been someone else. It could have been on someone else's chart. But it's not. It's right there, son of Gerald and Elizabeth, grandson of Jack and Claire and Sam and Zibia.

And not a day goes by that I don't thank God or whatever powers there may be for that.

That's why I want that tree to be done, to be perfect, to be beautiful. Because I love my family, I love where they came from, I love that I can call their history my own. It didn't have to be that way, but it is. That tree's my blessing.

And that's what I want my tiny paper chart to show, how much it means to me.

Reunion, the program I'm using, getting its second plug in a week (so if you're reading this, Leister Productions, I want graft!)
A Babylift site, which cover the orphans' return trip
Nature vs. Nuture, About.com style
"Apocalypse Now," whose re-release made the word "redux" cool

I know, I said I was counting the last post as my post for today. I lied. We'll both get over it. So for a bonus link, here's a quiz on the movie "Commando," which featured the quasi-memorable Schwarzenegger line, "Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? ... I lied."

(I got an 8/10, with the average being 6/10. And I'm mad I missed two. I love that movie.)