I remember being a child in sub-zero Christmases in Minnesota – my little brother and me hiding in our bedroom while the adults – grandparents and mother – fetched 'Santa's gifts' from the attic and spread them beneath the tree. It was easy to feel excitement, gratitude – first to the Santa we once believed made a personal visit and later to adults who made our Christmas wishes come true.
Even now, as an elder, I remember those thrilling seasons of opening wrapped presents and the magic of decorated Christmas trees that lit up our lives in the cold north. And at the same time, I've found my focus shifted. This Christmas I'm thinking about different kinds of gifts we receive – ones we inherit from birth families but still have to open to fully appreciate. Let me explain.
When I was in my late 50s, I discovered a natural ability to sculpt with clay. I'd tried to paint and dabbled with other artistic endeavors but wasn't really successful or engaged in the process. But sculpting in clay and casting in bronze just lit up my life. I enjoyed my time, accepted some failures, and persevered – knowing I'd only get better. I remembered that my grandfather, who worked for the Chicago Northwestern Railroad his entire life, would sit in his easy chair and draw little portraits in pencil for me. It wasn't a hobby or an artistic discipline for him – responsibilities in his little house prevented such self-indulgence – but he was a born artist. And I believe my own, newly discovered talent was a gift from his lineage.
I broadened my thoughts about family inheritance, unraveling the thread in my own. I have a daughter with a beautiful singing voice, another who teaches art and shows her work, a son who is a master glass blower and runs a center for working artists. And, looking back on my own working life, I was an actress, a vocalist and a journalist and writer for decades. Though I never recognized those endeavors as talents or gifts, I now know they are something special that runs through my family – likely for generations.
I researched the validity of talents being passed along through generations – was it strictly practice or genetically inherited? Had I asked this question 40 years ago, there would have been no definitive answer. But today, not only has genetic science expanded its understanding of the influence of genes, that information is literally at the tip of our fingers with a good-old Google search.
Brainiac brain scientists have been delving deeply into the topic of genetics. First, to look at influences regarding heritable diseases and developing some life-saving medications and measures and then to verify if or if not, talents also reside in our genes. It turns out they do.
My kindergarten version: We all have 46 chromosomes with sections we call genes. Each has strands of genetic information that determine our features – like hair and eye color, susceptibility to certain diseases, allergies, and, yes, special abilities such as an affinity for music, or art, or sports, among other human traits.
For example, researchers have identified chromosomes (oops, another explainer – these babies are inside our cells and form our genes) that relate to musical abilities. A location (loci) on a specific gene (Chromosome 4, for those of you demanding more detail) appears to be dedicated to music – singing and music perception. Chromosome 8q gets credit for perfect pitch, 12q enables music memory, 17q provides music memory, and (get this) choir participation.
The same is true for other traits, talents, physical appearances, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Of course, just being a vessel of genes that drive the development of individuals doesn't mean they'll ever emerge or be fully realized. Practice is a necessary component in any artistic achievement – without it, the talent remains dormant. And, yes, people without the associated genes can also excel in the arts or any creative endeavor.
But the science of genetics has expanded to the point that parents can get a genetic map of their children to help guide their education and interests. Undoubtedly this microscopic reading of potentials may also be used for less positive motivations – kind of a science fiction mind exploitation for evil intent (yet another human potential).
For those of us too ancient to have suspected we inherited certain abilities, well, we missed that boat. I thought my interest in the arts was no more than playing – wasting time on a rainy day. The same was true for music, with the exception of learning to play an instrument. However, being a viola player seldom leads to a paying gig – my mistake! I didn't realize that writing as a news reporter was tapping Chromosome 16q – I thought it was a low-paying, fun job. And, most importantly, I had no idea I could awaken some long-dormant ability to become a sculptor, now, at age 76, wanting 20 more years to joyfully manifest a gift from my grandfather, Frank Darby.
I wonder, what about you – what's sleeping on a gene? What might you have inherited along the line of ancestors and passed to your own children? It's a joyful revelation to think most of us have talents to discover at any age.
Thanks as always for staying with me – I know that this time of year, many of us are on overload. But you are enjoying the season, wherever you are. Be well, stay safe, find someone to hug!
This week's opportunity to download a FREE Cozy MYSTERY novel is only a click away! My very highly rated cozy mystery book "The Song of Jackass Creek" is among the selections. It's a great season to cozy up with a book - and free is even better!