I have always believed that our genetic material carries more than just the physical characteristics of our ancestors. I know that my father’s oratory ability passed to me from the times I listened to his speeches and sermons, and my mother’s cooking ability from the times 1 watched and assisted her in the kitchen. But how do I account for the skills and talents I inherited from my grandparents who died either before I was born or while I was still a child?
I can cook a sponge cake and make it rise the way my grandmother did, although I never enjoyed her tutoring in this art. I can make near-perfect chocolate Easter eggs using my paternal grandfather’s molds, although he and I never got the chance to make these Easter treats together. I feel that these little gifts they have left me slightly compensate for their early departures from my life.
I inherited my strangest and most amusing talent from my maternal grandfather, Poppa Dowell (pictured at right with the author’s maternal grandmother). He had an uncanny ability to find money in the street. Whether it was a few cents or a few dollars, nothing escaped his keen eyesight. I remember amazing my friends with the same strange talent when I was a child. My best friend recalls seeing me rummage in the grass for a few seconds and then triumphantly produce a hidden coin.
A few years ago, I accompanied my mother to buy seeds for the vegetable garden. As we walked along, my “coin radar” signaled to something on the ground. It was a $2 coin, which just happened to be the price of the seeds we were buying. As my Poppa Dowell was a keen gardener, I joked with my mum that he had “left” the coin for us to buy the seeds. From this was born the tradition of my poppa’s leaving coins for me to find. I regularly would pick up coins in the street and thank Pop for the present. 1 remember once complaining to my mum that Poppa was making it difficult to pick up the coins he had recently left in the middle of the road. Sure enough, the next coin was left conveniently on the sidewalk.
Not long ago, my mother and I took a trip to Sydney, Australia, to compete in a fun run/walk. We had planned for Dad to join us and felt guilty when he was too ill to go. The few days together were fun, and my mum was thrilled that she completed the event she had trained so hard for. But in the back of our minds, we worried about my dad. One morning, while sitting at a cafe, my mother commented softly, “Poppa Dowell mustn’t know we are in Sydney; he hasn’t left any coins.” With those words, I knew that our funny little ritual, and the belief that her father was there with us, actually would have made her feel better.
In August, I moved my life from nice, safe, familiar Melbourne, Australia, to unknown, unfamiliar Chiba, Japan. Feelings of doubt and worry about having made the right decision flooded my head. But on the first day in my new city, as I left the government office after registering for residence, a shiny, glorious 100-yen coin was lying right in my path. Thanks, Poppa Dowell. Your timing was perfect.
Chiba City, Japan
Wanted: Dead or Alive
My maternal grandmother’s brother had a great sense of humor and loved to tease. During World War I, he was living in another state and decided to go home to Texas. He had a friend send my grandmother a telegram stating that her brother had died, and his body would arrive in Texas by train. The whole family awaited the body’s arrival at the train station. When the train stopped at the station, my great-uncle walked off the train, alive and well! He just wanted to make sure someone would meet him.
Nelda J. Smith