Thursday, March 18, 2010

Talents that skip generations

Ever wonder where a "natural talent" or proclivity for something comes from if the parent didn't instruct the child?  For me, it becomes fascinating when I hear of child with a particular talent that a grandparent or great uncle, etc, had but that person was never around the child as a mentor. Perhaps the relative who shared the talent was dead before the child was born. While googling for some information on this question, I came across the terms "epigenetics" and  "epigenetic inheritance".

From what I read here from the University of Utah, it means that more than DNA transfers from parent to child. It means that a parent's experiences, in the form of epigenetic tags, can be passed down to future generations. This graphic and the explanation below it come from the provided link. 
Three generations at once are exposed to the same environmental conditions (diet, toxins, hormones, etc.). In order to provide a convincing case for epigenetic inheritance, an epigenetic change must be observed in the 4th generation.

I can see where chemicals that we are exposed to can affect not only our bodies, but our fetuses and the reproductive cells of future grandchildren, but that doesn't answer my question.

I love almost all crafts, especially those involving fibers. I never witnessed my paternal grandmother embroidering, but my dad used to tell me when I was embroidering or doing any hand sewing that I reminded him of his mother. My maternal grandmother could sew, but it was her sister, a great-aunt that I never met, who was a seamstress. My mom sewed out of necessity in the early years of my parent's marriage. By the time I came along, the only thing I remember my mother ever sewing was kitchen curtains. They were simple panels with a hem and a casing for the curtain rod. Sewing was never pleasurable for her.

I learned the basics of sewing in half a semester of home economics in 8th grade. The projects were ridiculous, but taught us the barest of basics. I was intrigued though and walked to Woolworth's (mom didn't drive and wasn't there to guide my purchases) and bought a pattern and fabric to make a dress with a zipper in the back and a matching lined jacket. When I came home with this, my mother nearly fainted. It looked like I was in over my head, but I was determined. I think the only advice mom gave me was about the quirks of her sewing machine which was much older than the one I had used in school. If I still had the outfit today, I am sure I could find many faults with it, but my end result made me happy and my mom proud. She treated me to new shoes to match the dress.
(Not the dress, but this is from the same era)
Those few weeks of class in 8th grade really did not prepare me for that pattern. Who or what guided me? Were my grandmothers' and great-aunt's eyes and fingers guiding me? Neither of my grandmothers lived near me and I saw them so rarely before they died, I really don't feel that they had any influence on me.

There doesn't appear to be any scientific evidence to support proclivities to be passed down. Everything not DNA is supposedly learned behavior. I still question this.

My paternal grandparents were far from young when I was born. I never remember them traveling to where we lived. They had two children, four grandchildren and three great-grandkids in my hometown. They just could not or would not travel. My maternal grandmother was long widowed and in hindsight, probably not a very stable person. She moved from town to town, seemingly on a whim in the 1950s and '60s. One phone call from her would be in Georgia, the next would be from Alaska. The phone calls usually meant she was out of money and needed some wired to her to get to her next destination and job. Maybe my mother's fear of travel was painfully related to her mother's gypsy-like ways. I have traits of both grandmothers in me. I love to travel but I love my home too.
Do have talents or interests that connect you to an ancestor? I haven't watched the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? but I understand this happens to many people. Whatever the answer to my question is, I think we are all more connected to each other and the past, both known and unknown, than we realize.


Chatty Crone said...

I'm really not sure about the talents. My mom was so craft talented and I didn't get any - until she died - now I am trying more. I look like my grandmother the older I get!

How is that new baby of yours and wonder what talent they will get?


Kelli said...

That beautiful grandbaby really has you thinking some deep thoughts! ;) Very deep and thoughtful post, Knitty. It really is fascinating stuff. The whole nature/nurture thing has always intrigued me, too.

The Urban Chic said...

Knit, what a wonderful post. Talent did not skip my generation. I take after my mother who tried every craft imaginable and was good at everything she did. I have an oil painting and a water color picture she did, quilt,crocheted items, and many other things. Now my daughter is doing some crafting and has fallen in love with old things. She once said she would never have any of that in her house. Guess what? She wants all my old things. Life is strange sometimes. But it did skip my other sisters. They don't do too much except put make up on. I guess you could call that talent. Many Blessings from an Irish decedant-my greatgrandmother was a McFarlain. Love and hugs, Pat

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. I believe we are all conncted in some way. Sometimes in the gene pool a generation is skipped, or even two, and then someone is born with a beautiful talent and everyone wonders where it came from. I hope you have a lovely day.