It was the scariest sentence ever uttered by the woman who brought me into this world. Five simple words that gave me a complex and caused me to scrutinize my facial features out of fear that history would repeat itself:
“I look like my mother.”
It all began on a Sunday morning in which my mother stood before the full-length mirror in the hall closet teasing her hair into the shape of a brown football helmet just prior to making the pronouncement that caused me to fear my genetic future. It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it. A look of horror crossed her face and her tone became so terrifying it convinced me that this was not only a fate worse than death, but that I should spend the next hour in Mass praying for a biological intervention. Are you there, God? It’s me, Julie. Please let my father’s DNA dominate my chromosomes. Thank you.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of beautiful women on my mother’s side of the family, but apparently my grandmother wasn’t one of them. I have an aunt who boasts a petite frame and platinum blond hair, cousins who could pass as super models and extended relatives who had classic 1940’s pin up features before age and gravity got the best of them. However, my grandmother who died when I was seven was small, sickly and sported shocks of snow white hair. It’s the kind of thing that can freak a kid out, and not the kind of family tradition one wants to carry on.
In the brief time that I was around my maternal grandmother, I never saw her in real clothes. She always had on a housecoat and pajamas. Her hair was never styled. Her posture was hunched. Her fingers were stained with nicotine and once, while playing on the floor near where the grown-ups were sitting, I got a peek at her toes poking out from her slippers. Not only was the second toe significantly longer than the first, but also they were purple for crying out loud. Purple! Every four-year-old on the planet knows that’s just gross!
Though my mother still had her brown hair and only faint wrinkles at the time of her statement, I understood why she was so panicked. If she was already seeing the similarities then I knew we were both doomed! She was the daughter of the crypt keeper headed for a life of bad circulation and chronic illness while I was an innocent victim drowning in the gene pool. From that day forward, if anyone commented on my resemblance to my mother, I was quick to point out that I looked more like my dad. I seriously hoped that if I said it enough, it would turn out to be true.
In actuality, I am a pretty good mix of both of my parents, something I later learned that I have in common with my mother (who knew?) After my mom died in 2008, I discovered a bunch of old pictures of my grandmother I had never seen before. Prior to the orange fingers and purple toe era, my grandmother was quite average looking and possessed features consistent with a blue-collar woman living in a rural farming community. She may not have been a beauty queen, but her looks were nothing to be ashamed of either.
I never told my mother how her comment affected me as a child, not even after she apologized to Boy Wonder when he inherited her hairline and bone structure after his birth. Maybe I should have. After all, people are sensitive about the way they look. Words can hurt, off-the-cuff comments can make a big impact and little pitchers have big ears.
Chances are they inherited them from you.