Am I part of my grandparents?


When I was at sixth form, our natural science teacher was exceptionally creative and also continuously challenging us teens. One project was to trace our genetic background. Of course paper was meant to exam DNA, biological (meaning visual) similarities, but in the end to challenge us to think, are we creatures from our parents, do grandparents have anything to do with our existence etc. Honestly I do not recall much from my high school times, but this particular paper I remember, still, after ooops, almost 30 years.

I started with basics – when my parents were born and where, where their parents and grandparents were born and when. I drew a birth tree with too many twigs. It was fun, at the time there was no Internet nor web-based registers, but fortunately both my parents and grandparents had good memory and also my granny (father’s side) had The Family Bible, all birthdays and deaths were registered on it. Being 16 years old, most of us probably were not too keen to accomplish the project, but somehow to me, it was very fascinating.

After I had traced names, birthdays and places of births, I started to detect any similarities of looks. I do not have the paper any more, and cannot exactly remember all the details, but at least something. I thought, whether the shape of my eyes, ears, forehead, cheeks, chin, fingers, toes, legs, feet, mouth etc. were at least near to what parents had or my grandparents (three of them still alive). And all those recessive and dominant DNA spirals. For instance we had learned that brown eyes are dominant to blue ones. My mother has brown eyes and hair. Dad has blue eyes, brown hair. Me: blue eyes, blond. I also researched many photos to find any similarities. And also I interviewed my parents, mainly my dad (due to I was living in the same town and house and phone calls were expensive from one town to another, landline – you know). What I finally managed to create was to draw family tree from 1870-80’s to mid-1980s, and where my grand- or great-grandparents were from. Other part of study (it was hand written on squared paper) included my little drawings of shapes of our noses, eyes, mouths – in general all those most distinctive features run in our kin line(s). I described detailed any kinds of shapes and parts of human body I could ever figure out.

What my teacher commented: only thing I can remember is that he said it was my luck and fortune to have grandparents from four different parts of Finland (one of them actually from Old Karelia, nowadays part of Russia), and the best thing ever for human kind was, when wheel was invented. It enabled to bike next village to find a spouse and mix genes! And I also remember teacher said that the base of my intelligence is from that DNA-mixture. Now I really would like to have that paper to look at it. Since then years flew by, I lost my grandparents eventually (on years 1990, 1995 and 2013). Our family members, actually both sides live long, at least female.

I am pretty sure I had none psychological or social aspects in my paper. When you are sweet or not so sweet sixteen, you evidently need to accept visible similarities with your family, but of course social aspects are something you can never, ever acknowledge at that age, right?

Now I am middle aged, living abroad. I have not my own offspring to continue my genes, am married though. I have always liked to cook and bake, and at elementary school from 3rd to 6th grade I also chose technical handiwork instead of common textile. Thanks to my dad and his spouse, I was able to bake, cook at home, and even make my own bookshelf, when I was seventeen. But I also sewed my own clothes and some cozy decorations, like pillows,  for a couple of years. Sewing got its final, when we had fire at the house, but it is another story.Oat bread

Funnily lately I have started to bake more, also cook more, and what is astonishing, I have wanted to learn, how to knit socks. Due to my technical handiwork I didn’t learn to knit socks, when I was 11 years old like my (female) school mates. Fortunately we had some textile handicrafts before 3rd grade, and also my mom taught me at home. And I remember that my aunt also taught me crocheting. Unfortunately she was left-handed, I am right-handed. Crocheting seemed extremely difficult, before we realized teaching and learning were opposite. But loads of laughter (I was maybe 7 at the time).

Start of sock

Last spring I created my own bread starters: first sourdough, then rye. I have baked many variations of Finnish rye bread. Month ago I thought I could try to make Karelian pastry (karjalanpiirakka), and felt quite proud to manage. Actually they are very easy to bake, but I have always had sort of spooky fear and also huge respect for my great-granny, who was absolutely superb to make them. Why I am writing now about my baking and knitting? Because I have lately thought lots of my Grannies, when starting to do something new. My Granny from father’s side was almost blind, and she couldn’t sleep well. So during long, dark nightly hours she knitted socks. How amazing it was. I can hear the sound of needles, so steady, so quick, so soothing. And Granny told stories about our family, mainly of her own life. One story I really loved was, how she met my Grandpa. Granny was already over 24 years old, at the time it meant officially and legally spinster (referring to tax payments). She had started to work at the age of five (she was born 1906), and had lived her whole there in her birth cottage. Grandpa was wanderer, going here and there, asking temporary work and slice of bread. How they met etc., is not relevant, but that is, how my Granny always described about the destiny they had together. Granny had refused many proposals, but then “One day there was a man, who just blocked off the road, and I couldn’t go around”. Saying suffers from translation, my Granny had pleasant, calm voice and she spoke genuine Savo language (one of Finnish dialects).

Finnish rye bread
                        Finnish rye bread

I also have scanned approximately 2000 photos (my Mom’s and my own) last year, more to come. I am delighted to remember many moments with my Grannies – usually it is something what Granny was doing, I was participating, maybe harassing, observing. Most memories are from early childhood, before school I was able to spend more time at Grandmothers’. Beside action moments I have started to remember, what Grannies told me, us, how they described the world before and then, what kinds of opinions they had in general. It is  wor(l)dlessly fantastic!

And of course now I would (could) write different kind of paper of my genes. Do I resemble my parents or grandparents or great-grandparents? My aunt (father’s side) always said and clammed her hands together “you look exactly like our auntie X”, my great-aunt. And so many from my mother’s side say I look exactly like my mother’s sister(s). Social and psychological aspects, that is more trickier. It is very common a child thinking to be changeling. Not quite sure, whether I thought it as a child. As teen, yes. But since my teens almost everyone, who has met my parents, have commented you must changeling. Whatever it tells, cannot know.