three branches

My Mother was shocked when I told her I always feared falling in love with a blood relative.  When you grow up knowing little about your ancestry, you find yourself questioning the the big things like, where do I come from, but there a lot of other little details your heart and mind grasp at.


I grew up having a relationship with my Mother's birth-Mother's family, as well as her/my family who raised her.  My family tree had three branches, despite the taboos my Mother and her family had to relive as I acknowledged that third branch a generation later.  “You will always be my Grandparents” I assured my Grandmother and Grandfather, “I'm just lucky, I have a whole other family too”.  It came up in school assignments and every time someone asked “What are you”?, which came up a lot where  I lived in Long Island.  “I am Italian-by-proxy,” I'd  answer; the short explanation was always very clumsy and it's a bit like when someone asks you how you are, they only want to hear “Good/Great/Fine/Awesome”.


I grew up in the same town as my Mother, along with her 8 siblings.  Many of my Grammar school teachers also taught my Mom, I even attended high school concurrently with one of my Uncles.  I don't specify, when I talk about my family, who is a blood-relative, because for most of my childhood I didn't really know the difference and those designations have little value to me.  My Grandfather once told me I looked a lot like my Mother's birth-mother.  My Grandparent's met her shortly before she passed;  he recalled her hair was auburn and curly like mine, and like me, she was also vertically challenged.  Not a lot to imagine, but those details stuck with me.


As I have learned more about my maternal family, and only recently really saw the first clear photo of my Mother's birth-Mother, it's shocking to take in those still images.  “So…that's where your dimples come and  from” and “her eyes sparkle like yours.” said my Mom as we looked at the photos.  She was 24 when she died.  I am 31 now, my Mother is 52.  One can't help but do the math; there is a sorrow and tenderness to think about her, I love the two Grandmothers I've known, and she is also my Grandmother, even though I never got to hug her or hear her voice.


My Maternal GrandmotherMy Maternal Grandmother


I wouldn't change a thing about my family, but to die so young of skin cancer seems patently absurd and just a more than a little unfair…if only it hadn't been the 50's, if only chemotherapy was what it was today… but then I wouldn't have that third branch on my family tree, I wouldn't be Italian-by-proxy,  I wouldn't have the family I do…but, I might have known her.  My Mother and her Brother might have grown up with their birth-parents, but a lot of “what ifs” never do a person much good.


I've always looked to my Father's family for personal resemblance.  After my Father's Mother, my beloved Grandmother passed away, a box of photos fell into my possession.  I found one of a Great-Aunt where I saw the first most obvious personal resemblance.  I knew I had my Dad's family's stature and build.  His family's gene-pool is strong and family reunions are almost eerie in the way I always see my Father in his Uncles and my Brother's face in his Second Cousins, my Aunt in my Grandmother, but maybe because I've only had one side to look to, I look so closely.



And what of my Mother's birth father?  Well, less and less of that story remains a mystery.  I may never know how a man could leave his dying wife and his children, but I  have found the names of his second and third wife.  Many of the stories they told us about my birth-Grandfather turned out to be fiction.  I believed his ancestry was Native American until this year, even dressing the part in Girl Scouts, celebrating what turned to be a fictional heritage.  It's hard not to fantasize the less than savory bits might also not be true.  We may never know, but I choose to believe the truth always lies somewhere in between.


Family is not something I've ever felt I've missed out on, and so because of that, I don't initiate getting in touch with long-lost relatives, I'm not searching for family so much as part of my history.  I don't feel as though I've ever gone without a smidgen of love or family, but I've always wanted to know, with some certainty where I “come from”.  I started to ask  questions when I was around 12 years old which I later found out was around the same age my Mother was when she started to ask her own Mom, only she found out her birth-Parents were long gone and not her Grandparents, as in my case.  I am always just a bit overwhelmed when I think of how if it affects me as it does, how it must have been for my Mom growing up.


Family is complicated.  I admire my Mother for her gratitude for all that she has, but I know it has not been easy, she is a hero in every sense of the word.  In entering the labyrinth of researching one's ancestry, you can find out paper facts, but facts alone don't fill in the blanks or subtleties of lives lived.  I realize because of the gaps I've always felt needed filling, I probably dig harder than most might, but I do it for my Mom, and for her Mom and all the ancestors who's faces I never got to kiss and who's stories I've never had a chance to learn.

  • iKrissi

    I had no idea your family was so interesting! Of course the topic of adoption is one close to my heart (my son, mother-in-law, three cousins, and two great-aunts were adopted, too) and I often wonder myself about some of the things you've talked about. More specifically about how much of my son is genetic – I once believed nurture meant more than nature, but now I firmly feel nature is 90% of who we are and the 10% left for “nurture” is how we learn (are taught?) to be who we really are.

    My family is complicated, too – I consider my “family” to be people who I've known almost half my life who live in California… and not the people who've known me my entire life who live in Colorado. I believe we can “make up” our families as we go through life because I can't make my closest friends “less than” the dictionary definition of what it means to be kin.