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I recently had an experience which made me think about the mysterious workings of genetics. I saw the twin of someone I knew for the first time and they could not have been more different from each other if they had been deliberately genetically altered by some science fiction mad scientist. I would never have even matched them up as siblings, much less twins.
On the other end of the spectrum is my daughter’s fiancé and his two sisters, who are so similar in looks that it wouldn’t be much of a reach to think they were triplets. They are all very good looking, with light golden hair and blue eyes, and ridiculously identical. His sisters, particularly the youngest, look exactly like Disney princesses, lithe, slim and graceful with swan-like necks, creamy complexions, and perfect noses. To top it off, the youngest is as sweet and gentle as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I tell my daughter that I always picture her in the forest gathering flowers and making friends with the animals, as they perch on her shoulders and leap into her outstretched palms. It is uncanny. As if that were not enough, they have an absolutely adorable dog that looks like every adorable dog in every Disney movie ever made. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he suddenly started talking.
My future son-in-law’s genetic background is solidly English straight back to the early 1700’s when his ancestors settled in Nova Scotia, which goes a long way to explain the golden hair and blue eyes and the similarity in looks. My children, on the other hand, are a mishmash of various genetic material and look it. They also look only marginally like each other. My oldest son, Jamie, was born looking as if he had spent the previous 9 months at Club Med. His skin was dark gold and perfect and he didn’t have a mark on him. All the Native American genes kind of dumped in Jamie (there is one in each generation) and the mix with his other bloodlines made for a very handsome and ambiguously exotic looking person. Over the years Jamie has been mistaken for a member of all sorts of ethnic groups, but rarely for the one that dominates his genetic background, which is Scottish. Native Americans recognize him of course, but other people from other groups have thought that he was either one of them, or one of “them”, depending upon their feelings about whatever group they want to stick him in. People have rattled away in languages to him that he often does not recognize and definitely can’t speak. People have thought that he was Greek, Latin, Arabic, Semitic, Hispanic, Polynesian, and various combinations thereof. I had an Egyptian swear to me that he looked like the reincarnation of some ancient pharaoh, which, when we looked at the drawings on the wall of said pharaoh's Egyptian tomb, was oddly absolutely true. It doesn’t matter that I named him James Anderson McRorie, as Scottish a name as you can have, no one ever imagines him hanging around the Highlands playing bagpipes.
As you can imagine, Jamie has difficulties when he travels by air; he is inevitably chosen to be searched and questioned more arduously than most people. He always accepts this erroneous profiling with good grace and often finds their struggles to identify him amusing. Jamie says that despite his identification and name, they seem to think that he may have hit some red haired, blue eyed, freckled guy wearing a kilt over the head and stolen his identity. He says he can almost hear them thinking, “Is he a Native activist, an Arab terrorist, a Columbian drug lord, a Basque separatist, a Polynesian pineapple smuggler??? The list goes on. If you don’t think there is any racial profiling going on, be Jamie for a week. He agreed with me that it was absolutely vital to his safety that he never, ever grow a long, unkempt beard. He isn’t stupid. Jamie is married to a girl of Irish bloodlines who is about as Celtic looking as possible, with blue eyes, very pale skin, and dark auburn hair. If they have kids it could go either way genetically since Jamie has more Scotch/Irish blood than anything. On the other hand, my fair, blue eyed daughter and her blond, blue eyed husband could have a kid who looks like Jamie. Its all a roll of the genetic dice after all, and depending on whether or not you have some kind of unalterable, unrealistic, and superficial expectations, you may roll the dice and discover that you come up with snake eyes - or some other eyes that surprise you just as much.
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