Isherwood: It’s in the Genes
By Justin Isherwood
I am doing it at this very moment, the specimen. It was an Xmas present from my brother. The 23andMe DNA kit was one of the more popular gifts this past Christmas season. I am finally getting around to “filling the cup.” Never mind it’s not a cup but a nifty little mailing tube with a deliberate set of markers for the amount of spit to be so devoted.
Ancestry DNA says they have 4 million customers in their data base. By their figures DNA sampling is running at about the same pace as marriage in the U.S. At a rate of a million every three months, also about as fast as babies are born in this same U.S. of A.
It is with a little hesitation I do this sample thing because like all families of the common ilk there are some black holes in our ancestry. To the end like all decent people I knew my ancestors, my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, filled with stories of where and who we came from. What I don’t know are the people the family doesn’t talk about. Who didn’t “make the grade” so to speak. It seems the very business of families to learn some stories unpublished. To admit as an English major I rather yearn for the telling of these stories, some which may be fanciful, some decidedly awkward, some are probable lies but great and glorious and cinematic lies. Exactly the kind a professional English major can appreciate.
Ray Hager, the former biology teacher at PJ Jacobs, worked summers at our farm grading potatoes. As explains why in my sophomore class I did not get Mister Hager as a biology teacher, instead Miss Lewis who was way better to look at than Ray Hager. Besides working in the same potato shed and throwing potatoes at each other and being sure I sat upstream at the dinner table from Ray Hager so as to get my fair share of the scalloped potatoes and green beans. My mama was a scalloped potato zealot.
According to Professor Hager, we distantly related, he and we related to a certain Davy Crocket, if more correctly Col. David Crockett, Indian fighter (known to be a bigot), explorer (to suggest lost), polygamist (to suggest necessity). And of course hero of the Alamo (only to suggest Mexico had a pretty good claim to that Spanish mission including the state of Texas and that putting a bullet in the head of cousin Davy was a patriotic cause or not, depending on your point of reference). At this juncture as a high school kid I believed in Col. Crockett as Walt Disney portrayed him with Fess Parker, Fess Elisha Parker Jr., a Texas farmboy who retained a rolling Texas accent as the original Col. Crockett could not have owned being of Tennessee/Kentucky origin. Besides a tall boy at 6’6” an unlikely specimen to have survived long at the Alamo, smooth bore or not.
There is also a new family rumor of relativity to John Brown, the John Brown of Harper’s Ferry. A guy I think I would have shot to death myself to spare the nation, never mind how much Henry David Thoreau praised him.
I have long espoused in the Fletcher end of my jeans is some splatter of American Indian blood, explaining why our daughter was born with a Mongolian spot that mysteriously disappeared as a Mongolian spot is supposed to do. There was an uncle once who said he knew of the occasion where the Indian bloodline intermixed with the Scot kind as probably needed some dilution at this point anyway, Calvinism being the tight bra strap it was. It happened he said at a Christmas party held on the Wisconsin frontier involving John Baptiste DuBay and lots of alcohol, when our great great great was an inn-house keeper himself as was Msr. DuBay and they decided to do Christmas as only the frontier knew how to do it. I believe this same reference to what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
There exists a bit of a tease whether more of my family came from Scotland or England. I don’t believe the spit sample will solve this as the races are identical in terms of DNA, though that is not how the Scots feel about it. Family lore suggests we have a touch of the French but not enough to cause me to take a mistress, if I have thought of it, this in accord to what a little French blood will do.
Personally I’m hoping for Neanderthal, the odds as I understand are that Northern Europeans run 2% Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalis). Should that prove true I will feel better about my ancestors. That some far ancestor took pity on what was about to be an extinct species and performed the most obvious saving act that human beings and nature know how to do, share the family tree.