I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 7, 2011

They started it all

Here are my parents, back when they had no children, when they only had each other and their own families, before they made us. My mom had beautiful dark eyes and auburn hair, showing her Spanish heritage, and Daddy's eyes were blue as the sky, with light sandy hair, reflecting his Scotch/Irish ancestry. They had seven children (one died after being born prematurely, Tina Maria), but the six of us who grew to adulthood are all still here. We got together last March in Texas, honoring my brother-in-law Pete, Norma Jean's husband, who died in February. It was a good reunion, although now our extended family is so huge that it was, at times, overwhelming.

All of my siblings have grandchildren, except for my brother Buz, whose daughter Trish is married but not yet a mother. Maybe never, I'm not sure how she feels about it. And my sister Markee's kids are teenagers and not yet married. I am the only one who doesn't have any possibility of grandchildren, but still our family gatherings are enormous. The siblings, which Buz cleverly dubbed the "Sixlings" many years ago, have a few characteristics in common, and I wonder how much they are caused by the genetic makeup that stems from our parents.

Our parents were both above average in intelligence, and all of their children are, too. This is not surprising in itself, but what I really wonder about is our tendency towards attention to detail and perfectionism. Sort of a mild form of OCD, in a way. It's what makes me a good editor; I can't help but see a misspelled word or incorrect punctuation. (It doesn't mean I don't make those mistakes myself, but when I'm working I am quite good at fixing other people's work.) Norma Jean worked at hospitals building databases for medical records; P.J. absolutely LOVES any kind of spreadsheet and can build one in a jiffy. My brother Buz has worked for years as a computer whiz and if I want to know how to do something I will ask him. He will then send me very detailed step-by-step instructions.

The two siblings that I am farthest from in age, Markee and Fia, were both born after I left home and had children of my own. They are very close to each other, but I don't know them very well. Markee is an R.N. and earned several scholarships when she was growing up; and Fia, the youngest, also works for a team of doctors and can help any of us get the medical care we might need. Every single one of us is good at paying attention to detail and every one of us has excelled in his or her job. Most of us never finished college, however. I never had the chance since I started having babies at nineteen, and Norma Jean also married early and dropped out of college. Besides, in the sixties women weren't supposed to go to college unless it was to find a suitable husband. That's what I thought then, anyway.

My own particular symptom is that I count things. I cannot walk up a flight of steps without counting them, usually in sets of fours or eights. I know the number of steps of every place that I go every day, and as I walk up them, counting, it gives me some sort of satisfaction, I can't say exactly what. (The number of steps doesn't vary, but my method of counting them does.) In my exercise class, I always count the number of people in the class at the beginning and notice when someone arrives late or leaves early, adjusting the count in my head. I count the number of people on the bus. I don't know why I do this, but I do.

I don't have any problem with the uncounted jumble of books on my desk or my pencils being misaligned, but I do like straight lines. Sometimes I'll be walking and will make sure that I turn corners precisely, not making short cuts. When I make the bed, I like the lines on the quilt to be in exactly in the same place each time. Now that I'm retired, I seem to be more aware of these things, maybe because I have plenty of time to spend noticing them, or maybe I do it more often.

My siblings all have habits that I recognize as being part of me, too. Did we get this way because our genetic makeup from Mama and Daddy caused it? It's a mystery to me, but it's also quite comforting to think that our parents gave us an invisible thread, joining us to one another, that comes from them and extends on and on through the generations that follow us. It started somewhere way back with our distant ancestors and came to fruition in the unique joining of our mother and father. How cool is that?

I've just barely scratched the surface of this subject, which I'll visit again. It's Sunday morning and I've fulfilled my self-imposed task of writing this post as the sun has arisen and the early morning light spills into the room. I hear the birds now, they are awake on this beautiful August day, and my partner is beginning to stir next to me. My day awaits.


Teresa Evangeline said...

This is very, very nice, DJan. I've been thinking of my own mama and daddy this morning. What a beautiful couple they are. I can see you in both.

I used to count everything in some version of sixes. I always Had to make my bed, perfectly, fold my towels and line them up on the closet shelves perfectly. Somewhere along the way, I knew it was controlling me and so I purposefully forced myself to stop making my bed, it was not easy, and not feel the towels had to be perfect. Now, I still make my bed, but I don't feel compelled to have it perfect. Almost, though. And the towels are close, but no cigar. Most of the time. :) It sounds like it brings you comfort. And there's nothing wrong with that. We all have things that do that for us.

For the record; I know when I'm punctuating incorrectly. It's a choice I made some time ago. :)

Have a beautiful Sunday.

Linda said...

Interesting to think about. Our son is a carbon copy of my dad. He spent a lot of time with my dad when he was three. Could he have watched my dad and picked up his mannerisms, like tapping the bottom of the pepper shaker, and his walking gate, I swear his walking gait is identical to my dad's. The list of shared mannerisms goes on and on. I've always thought it had to be more than the time he spent with dad when he was three.

Linda Myers said...

My sister and I have the same facial profile. We're both smart. We both talk with our hands. The older we get the more similarities we see.

When we were growing up it was a different story. I was the "smart" one. She was the "creative" one. It took decades for us to get past this. Even now that my sister starts nursing school in two weeks at age 56, one of her goals is to get a higher GPA in her undergrad than I did (back in 1970). I laughed and said, "Go for it!". It's new for her to think of herself as smart. I, however, will never be creative.

Rita said...

That is so cool that you all have that thread tying you all together as sixlings. :)

I have OCD tendencies myself. They don't necessarily transfer over at all into spelling and punctuation, tho. I started abbreviating "tho" and "thru" many years ago from writing by hand to myself in journals--LOL! It occasionally bothers me when I do it online, but not enough to change and be proper, I guess. I am an organizer and used to be much more compulsive than I am today. I have made a concerted effort, like Teresa, to break myself. I will live if the rugs aren't aligned perfectly with the tile squares, or the towels hung just so, or all my cans are grouped, lined, and faced (I used to work in a grocery store)--but I am STILL called a fanatic--so imagine what I used to be like--ROFL!!

But I do know how having these detail tendencies can be a real advantage in the workplace. I also loved to multi-task and used to have an excellent memory. Ahhh! Those were the days! ;)

Great photo of your folks--young and in love! Have fun counting, lady! Whatever floats your boat, right? yes-go for it! :):)

Trish said...

Fascinating post. And love all the details about how detail-oriented the family is. Perhaps this penchant is what draws you to skydiving.

Megan took her 3rd skydive today.

Rubye Jack said...

It is so interesting in a mysterious way how traits, ways of thinking and seeing things, or mannerisms flow down through the generations. My mother used to have a habit of rubbing her feet together in the evenings when she was relaxed. I watched my brother the other night doing the exact same thing, and of course, I do it also.

It's kind of sad how in the 60's we "knew" we were supposed to get married and have kids. That was our ultimate goal as girls. I too dropped out of college when I got married, but later went back. I think college was only secondary to marriage in the minds of our parents.

Gigi said...

What a beautiful picture of your parents! This was a most interesting post - for two reasons. The first being that I think a lot of us have traits with a smidge of OCD in them; it's comforting to us. And two, I just remembered this morning how amazed my mother was that I didn't quit working when I got married; to her mind, that was what you did. You got married, you stayed home and took care of the house, husband and eventually, the kids. My way of living was completely foreign to her.

Anonymous said...

I love the title of Sixlings. I always wanted to be part of a big family but even with a step family, we never got highter than 3 at one time.
I must have some OCD but I sure can't think of any. I think the main thing I got from my Dad was his thirst for knowledge. I would have made a good professional student.
Arkansas Patti

Sally Wessely said...

I think family characteristics can be make for a fascinating study. I also wonder if we watched a certain behavior and then picked it up, or is the behavior, such as a tendency toward OCD, inherited.

Your mom and dad were a very handsome couple.

red said...

You're right that you've only scratched the surface. How much is genetic and how much is environment is always the question. You recognize an amazing number of habits that you have. Many people have these behaviours and don't recognize it. I am totally opposite and take the world in generalities. Makes one think about how others operate.

Linda Reeder said...

I see more similarities in my daughter and me than in my mother and me, but maybe that's just easier to see emotionally. We both tend toward some OCD quirks, but I am much worse in having to have things just so. Perfectionism can be a blessing and a burden.
I have four living siblings, and we sort of fall into two camps. One of my brothers and I are most alike, while the other three have more similarities.

Sandi said...

I loved the thinking behind this post, the invisible thread connecting family, especially siblings, woven in a way that holds family together, yet allows for movement and uniqueness. You made me think about my sibs and growing up, and grateful that we are still close also.
I've tried to train my family to fold towels correctly :) and they attempt it, but I still have to slip in and refold them so they look proper on the shelf!

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

This was fascinating, and I love the photo of your parents. We see some of Peter's traits in his daughter and in her son (not quite so much in our granddaughter). At the same time, I know I am helping shape the grandkids too, just not genetically.

CiCi said...

Your family invisible thread is interesting. I have one brother and we are not very close in miles and in knowing each other. I laugh at the way you walk the corner and the little things you notice about yourself. You are okay in my book any way you are.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I find the similarities in family lineage very interesting. I can see traits in myself reflected in my two daughters, and similarly my step-son and step-daughter's traits from their mom and dad. Recently I even posted a photograph of my great grandfather in a top hat. The resemblance was striking... and a bit unnerving to learn he died in an insane asylum. Oh well, not ALL traits have to be passed along.

Anonymous said...

Hi DJan. For some reason, I forgot to check this site on Sunday -- something I never did before. Just saw your site name on my Favorites list, and clicked on it. As they say, better late than never.

As I age, I become less of a perfectionist. Things no longer have to be just so. However, I hate clutter and so does David. We find ourselves throwing things out a lot to keep our home looking neat. Is that an OCD trait? lol

Stella Jones said...

Very insightful D-Jan. I always love hearing about your family, since I don't have one of my own. It is very interesting to me to hear about your brothers and sisters and how alike you all are. I would love to have had a brother and a sister. It would be fascinating to compare my own behaviour with theirs. Sadly that will never be, just as you say you will never be a grandma. However, I can share your siblings by reading your posts and you can share my grandson. I'm trying to share him as much as possible!
OCD, perhaps we all have it a bit. I don't think I do really. I am one of those odd people who likes the pictures to hang crooked on the wall - love abstract paintings, odd numbers and I never plant flowers in a row. If my flowers are in a row, then someone else planted them! Odd isn't it. I look forward to hearing more on this subject in the future.

Anonymous said...

Does something like "excessive compulsive disorder" make counting one of its compulsions? I am supposed to have excessive compulsive disorder but my kids said it not a real doctor. I just seem to need the newest of things I am interested in using. Once upon a time it was fountain pens. Before that it was cars and I had to get a new one each year - when we were first married. Having kids finally put a stop to that.It was hard to put shoes on five kids all at the same time.

My biggest problem is that when I see something - could be anything - my oxygen tank, for example, my mind then goes off on a kind of imagined nightmare showing the tank falling over, breaking off the neck and the tank shoots through the walls of the house like a rocket.

Once I was dreaming I was kicking my wife out of bed and did. I woke up about the same time her butt hit the floor. She had been asleep. And I thought, instantly, I maybe dropped her on her head but she said she was OK but wanted to know why? I apologized...

And promised I would never do it again.

Friko said...

This is very interesting but I think 'a mild form of OCD' describes it well.
I call myself tidy, but my need for exactitude has lessened over the years. I am really quite glad that I seem to have relaxed my habits.

I find your face very similar to that of your mother, she really was a pretty woman.

Donna B. said...

Interesting to think about destiny...had they each met and married someone else, you would not be here. I am so grateful they fell in love and made you.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Just a little OCD I would say. What happens if you don't count the steps..what if you sing a song out loud instead? Does it feel different to you?
Well you can edit my blog any day of the week..I am always using incorrect grammar and punctuation?*&) :)