My brother and I sat together, heads huddled over photographs of my mother’s life. Photos from when she was born, as a toddler (replete with the dead straight hair that used to drive her mother to distraction trying to curl it), through her primary school photos, her debutante, to her sitting daintily on the beach in her early twenties - no doubt watching dad surf his way to oblivion (she once got so pissed off with him staying out on the waves all day that she threatened to drive home without him). We laughed at mum’s recognisable face, you couldn’t mistake her eternal frown, brows dipped over dark eyes, a fearsome sight that spoke to her strength and resilience in life. Out of the blue my brother exclaimed “oh my God, that’s Mel!” (Mel being my sister). This pulled me up as quickly as screeching to a halt at a stop sign (with the accompanying whip lash). My whole life I had told myself, and others, the same narrative, that my brother and I had won the maternal lottery, taking after mum with our brown hair, brown eyes, and olive skin, whilst my sister had won the paternal lottery, taking more after my dad’s side of the family, with thick, black, curled hair, hazel eyes, and a naturally slim figure, petite, delicate; the epitome of the English rose. And yet, I could not deny that my brother was right, in that particular photo, there was my sister in my mum, the expression on her face, the tilt of the head, the jut of the hip.
I contrast this with a comment from a friend about 6 months ago. A group of us were sitting around the lounge room, I believe they all had a glass of wine each (me a beer sat snuggly next to my hip) and we were casually playing Cards Against Humanity, as you do, chatting about family. I decided to show them a picture of my Nan and Grandad Wright’s wedding. Nan and Grandad were standing in front of the church doors, Grandad resplendent in his Air Force uniform, and Nan, slim, slight, and elegant in her white gown, victory rolls in her hair, and the biggest bouquet of roses (I dread to think how they got this get up for Nan, it being during WWII with rations and all). I am dead proud of this photo and so I passed it around on my phone. One of my friends zoomed into the photo and did a double take - “Liz!! This is you! You look exactly like your Nan!” That stop sign approached again, with whip lash, and I sat there shocked as my life narrative took a nose dive. No no no, I didn’t look like my Nan on my dad’s side, I looked like my mum, I had the Cross (mum’s maiden name) nose and chin, the colouring of our convict ancestor who I had been named for, the curvier figure of the Elliott (Nan's maiden name) women, with boobs and hips - how could I possibly look like my Nan Wright!
Do you ever feel that we tell ourselves stories about who we are, develop narrative about who we are, that stick like superglue to the delicate structures of our sense of self? What these two events in the space of a year have told me is not to believe in our narratives quite so strictly, to not covet these narratives as though without them we would crumble and fall into an existential delirium. I have started to think bigger about who I am and where I come from, I have started to appreciate my Dad’s side of the family more, to see the resemblances between myself and my Dad. In terms of temperament I am perhaps more like my Dad than my Mum, and the amount of moles and freckles I have, dotted like constellations across my back and shoulders, down my arms and legs, and across my face are all Dad. Perhaps, just perhaps, I am the perfect mixture of both parents, just as my brother and sister are, and in that I can take comfort that I come from a rich history, from two strong families, and from a great love that’s source is as wide as the universe.