SOLVING TWO FAMILY MYSTERIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

We’ve had two family ‘mysteries’ that involved genetics and inheritance of traits. The first involved my first husband, Larry, and his blood type. He always said that his dog tag from the army (Texas and Vietnam postings in the early 1970s) listed his blood type as O – the universal donor.

Normally blood type is at most a not very interesting fact about a person, but it became an issue when my second child, Sarah, was born. I don’t know why it didn’t come up when my first child was born, but it just didn’t.

The OB-GYN who delivered Sarah came in after her birth to talk to us about our new daughter’s health. As part of her report, she mentioned that Sarah’s blood type was AB positive. I am type A and Larry suddenly realized as type O, you can’t get an AB child. Not from an A parent and an O parent. He started to get upset.

Sarah’s birth announcement

The doctor pulled me aside and furtively asked me if I wanted her to pursue the issue. She was politely asking if the child could have a father other than Larry. I told her emphatically that the child was Larry’s and asked her to please do everything she could to find the obvious error as quickly as possible.

Larry, Sarah and I all had our blood drawn for testing. It was very tense between Larry and me while we were waiting for the results. I knew that Larry was the father but he believed that he couldn’t be, so what should have been a glorious day for us turned out to be strained, at best.

Larry and Sarah when she first came home from the hospital

Thank goodness the test results came back quickly. I was confirmed as type A, Sarah was confirmed as type AB positive and Larry turned out to be AB positive too, just like his daughter. The army had made a serious error. Larry’s blood type was listed as the universal donor type instead of the universal recipient type. So if they had ever asked him to donate blood, he could have killed someone with an incompatible transfusion!

Larry was shocked that the military had made such a serious error but he was greatly relieved. In fact, both of our kids have their father’s blood type. So, marital crisis averted!

Another picture of Larry and a newborn Sarah

The other genetic mystery we had in our family was my son, David’s, left-handedness. David was an eight-week Preemie and was part of a study of Preemie development at New York Hospital. A researcher came to our house once a month during David’s first year of life and gave him a battery of behavioral and motor development tests.

He was about a month behind in most things but he was way ahead on one – favoring one hand over the other. That usually doesn’t happen till the end of the first year, but from the time David could reach for things, he strongly favored his left hand.

My mother, me and David when he was an infant

The developmental testers were surprised and so was the family since being left-handed is genetic and no one in either family was left-handed. We quizzed every family member on both sides but David still remained a mystery. Then one day, when David was about one and a half or two years old, my mother was playing with him and the topic of his left-handedness came up again.

Suddenly a light went off in my mother’s brain. “Oh my God!” she said. “I forgot that I was born left-handed!”

My favorite photo of my mom and David

In 1916, when my mother was born, being left-handed was not considered to be a good thing. It was a ‘problem’ that had to be ‘fixed’ to make the child ‘normal’ and like the majority of the population. When Mom was of school age, she was forced to use her right hand instead of her left.

This was so traumatic for her, as well as being neurologically challenging, that she developed a stutter. A ‘psychologist’ of the day told my grandmother to cure Mom’s stutter by smacking her in the face every time she stuttered. This barbaric tactic eventually worked and Mom grew up to be a right-handed adult with no stutter.

My mom as a two-year-old in 1918

But the experience so scarred her that she buried the memory. Even a year of talking about David’s inexplicable left-handedness didn’t trigger her memory. I don’t know what finally did, but now we know that David inherited something directly from his grandmother.

Another family mystery solved!

14 thoughts on “SOLVING TWO FAMILY MYSTERIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY”

  1. Very interesting. My grandson is a lefty but to my knowledge there aren’t any in the family before him. We might have to go back and research the previous generation.

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    1. It’s interesting tracking unique genetic traits in the family tree. My grandfather had two dimples. My mother got one on her right cheek and I got one on my left cheek. Both of my kids have two dimples! Full cycle on dimples!

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  2. It’s strange how being a lefty was considered so wrong. I’m right handed so I can only imagine what it was like to have to undergo “training” at such an early age for something that really doesn’t matter.

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    1. So many things were considered ‘wrong’ in past centuries. I guess anything that singled you out from the ‘norm’ was considered bad. Fitting in perfectly seemed to be a higher priority then. So glad we’ve evolved to accept differences in people on all levels.

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    1. It’s amazing how ‘barbaric’ much of life was just a generation or two back. The medical profession was brutal with kids who needed scary and painful procedures done. My mother was ripped from her mother’s arms and yelled at for crying when she had major surgery on her ear as a five or six year old. Parents weren’t allowed to sleep in the room with their child either (My grandmother did anyway!) Children were brutalized by the medical profession. My husband’s childhood dentist didn’t ‘believe’ in novocaine for kids getting cavities filled. And he was a child dentist!

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  3. Ellin we have four children and two of them are left handed. Neither Peter nor I are left handed and we don’t know anyone else in the family that is. It’s a recessive trait so it has to be there somewhere in both our families.
    Leslie

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    1. There must be some lefties hiding in your family tree somewhere. But in past generations, it either was changed or probably not talked about. Like the ‘different’ kid in the attic. Hard to believe that something so inocuous and silly as which hand you favor, could have been a big deal and a reason for torturing kids in past generations.

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      1. Obviously there must be. My grandmother had twin sisters and I think one of them might have been a leftie. It’s sad that they forced to change when that was how they were wired.

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  4. Wow about both of your children’s stories. My mom was born left-handed but was allowed to stay that way. My sister is also left-handed and so is half of my extended family. i love looking at the photos!

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    1. Your mom is lucky she was left a lefty! It’s really hard to switch hands and it almost always has bad side effects. My mother worked hard to get her handwriting to be beautiful. I can’t imagine how much effort that must have taken!

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  5. I think Garry was a bit of a lefty, but he is closer to ambidextrous and he writes with his right hand, but throws and does all other sports with his left hand — exactly like my mother. But she could write with both hands and her handwriting was the same with each hand. I’m pretty sure they made her a righty because those were the years when they did that, but I also think she was not strongly left-handed. None of we three kids are ambidextrous, though. Just my mother.

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