My mum recently sent us a little book she'd printed of photos from the course of her life. She had been going through attic files of photos, and had discovered many that we haven't seen or remembered for years.
There were many powerful photos in this book, but right now I need to post this wonderful shot from the opening page. This must have been just shortly after she and her parents came to the USA. I believe that my grandfather must have taken this photo, because he was always a talented and sensitive photographer. I love everything about this shot - the composition, the dress just a little too short for her growing frame, the wonderful thick braids with their ribbons, the bare, girlish ankles, the walk. My mother has always had so much more of the Dutch than the French in her, even though she is genetically equal parts of each. She came out Dutch in looks, coloring, figure and temperament. It's interesting.
That fascination with genetics that I think we all harbor gains an extra facet for those of us who parent adoptive children whose genetics we will likely never know. I feel for our daughter, that she will never be able to make these comparisons. I know it will cause her pain and angst at some point in her life. She may never understand that this genetic cocktail is a mystery to all of us. She will probably always regret that she doesn't know her own. She may even believe that this kind of family knowledge would have been the magic key that would open up the vast mystery of her own self-knowledge. And that is a very real and tragic concern.
Still, I have to wonder, do any of us - even those with a comprehensive family history - ever entirely know and understand ourselves? I am dubious. I love having little pieces of family history, but I also know that family history is subjective and interpretive. When I try to record a comprehensive version of my own, I quickly realize that every member of the family tells a different story, a slightly (and sometimes greatly) but appreciatively different version.
So, do any of us ever really know ourselves, our relatives, our history, our cultural heritage, and what it means? What do you think?