Genetics is a science. Like all sciences, genetics follows mathematical equations and set parameters. If you are a geneticist, you know that aside from the occasional mutation, all gene combinations are going to fit within these parameters.
Yes well, all those theories and equations work fine until you get to my mother.
You would suppose that by combining the genes of two completely different people, you would arrive at five offspring whose characteristics would have wide variations within those genes' codes. But, it doesn't always work that way. My mother, for instance, refused to have any children who didn't look just like her.
My mother had genes that were predatory. They seek out and destroy all other genes even to the second generation. And they grow stronger with age.
As I look in the mirror each day I see her face more than I see the face that I used to think was me. I look at my children and see my mother in one and "mini-me" in the other, and I realize that science held no sway over this woman. I suppose if I have to look like someone, I should be happy to look like the woman who conquered genetics.
Time continues to prove my mother right as I notice all my siblings turning into versions of her. In any case, by the time I was an adult, I was sure we only had her genes too. My father seemed to provide only a means of support as my mother sought to spread her genes to future generations.
Which led me once to ask her a strange question.
I must preface this by saying that my mother, though compassionate and fond of animals, often grew tired of pets that refused to follow her rules or whose presence was becoming annoying. I remember being about 8 or 9, standing outside on a porch every night for weeks and calling a cat who never came home only to discover that he had been taken to the ASPCA. A dog disappeared while I was at school, he had just had his third flea infestation and I guess the third time is the charm. Pets disappeared without warning. It gave my childhood that element of surprise and mystery.
But all my life, I had believed that Benny the dog had run away. He was just the kind of dog you would expect to run away, frenzied and impulsive. I believed this, that is, until a few years ago. One evening as my brother and I sat in my mother's kitchen we discussed a dog who had run into the yard a few years after Benny had disappeared. This dog taunted the owners who chased him, turning himself inside out with the joy of his apparent escape. This dog looked and acted so much like Benny that we wondered if he had wandered home to say "hello".
It was then the truth was finally brought out into the open; a confession finally forthcoming from my mother and my eldest sister. All those years before, Benny and another neighborhood dog had been involved in some incident with a neighbor's cat; an incident that ended badly for the cat. My mother had taken the dog and had him put down, never letting on to us children that he had not, in fact, just run away.
It was then, at the scene of this startling revelation that a terrible thought occurred to me. The full impact of the ease with which my mother dispensed with unwanted pets combined with her insistence that all her offspring resemble her, compelled me to turn to her and ask:
"How many children did you really have?"