Saturday, October 16, 2010
Mommy and me
(Last Friday was my mother's 74th birthday, and the occasion reminded me of this post I wrote a couple of years ago. Although, as usual, I'm blathering on about me here, I'm also paying tribute to her.)
I caught a glimpse of my mother in a department store mirror the other day. There she was—her loose, energetic walk, her vaguely blissful expression, the distinctive tilt of her head.
It was me, of course.
Middle-aged women are supposed to be horrified when they see themselves morphing into their mothers, but I can’t say I mind it much. My mother is an attractive person. She’s in her seventies now, and she’s still lively and curious. She goes dancing every weekend with her boyfriend, who’s a bit younger than her. He’s got a few dozen acres of land out in the sticks, where the two of them have separate houses but a shared existence. They enjoy a menagerie of dogs, goats and chickens, and while neither of them has a lot of money, they’re happy and do as they please. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I could do a lot worse than to end up like my mother.
Still, it was a shock to see her looking back at me in the mirror, because I’ve always been so certain that I’m nothing like my mother. Physically, we’re built on completely different models. We have the same dark eyes—and, alas, the same freckles—but there the resemblance ends. From my soft facial features to my long skinny feet, I am unmistakably my father’s child. Neither of us is a bombshell, but my mother has always been very attractive to men. Even now they follow her around like puppies. I have never had that problem, although actual puppies do seem to find me alluring.
In personality and temperament, we might as well be different species. My mother is charming, caring, a people pleaser who loves attention. She’s no doormat, but she’s prone to hero worship. I am a bookish introvert, soft-hearted but basically selfish, and (my father’s influence again) I’ve got an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide. My mother is a natural mediator, whereas I am opinionated and argumentative. One of her favorite sayings is, “There’s always a happy medium.” You would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to say that.
Still, there’s obviously some powerful genetic inheritance from her that is beginning to show itself as I age. It’s strange to be reminded that characteristics we think of as profoundly our own—even ones as seemingly individual as a facial expression—are built into our DNA; stranger still to think that they can be wired to hide themselves for decades, emerging when the organism hits just the right level of decay. Not that I’m complaining. As genetic time bombs go, a quirky walk beats the hell out of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Like I said, I’ll be happy to have an old age like my mother’s—and who knows? I may yet find out what it’s like to have men follow me around like puppies.
Peggy Shippen (wife of Benedict Arnold) and Daughter, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1790-1830). Image from Wikimedia Commons. There's an interesting old article about Arnold and Shippen here