MIRRORED IMAGES – Marilyn Armstrong

DNA is a funny thing. It doesn’t kick in all at the same time. That’s why, as a toddler, you can be the spitting image of dad, but by the time you’re 30, you look like a clone of your maternal grandmother. When you are old, you look in the mirror and say … “Mom??” Because she died years ago, yet there she is. Alive. In you.

We carry the physical imprint of our ancestors. It’s obvious and visible.

Less evident are the emotional footprints left in our psyches. Positive and negative, our parents and many others change us, leave bits of themselves behind for us to absorb. Good and ill. Relationships and marriages we should have skipped. Friends who were there for us in our darkest hours and those who weren’t. The doctor who took our case when we had no money or insurance. The one who botched the surgery and left us hanging out to die. It’s all there, imprinted in the way we see the world and react to it.

We are such untidy packages, made up of bits and pieces. Funny and sad, honest and untruthful. Self-pitying and brave. Lazy, yet determined. No one is of a single piece. No one is all good, all bad, all anything except all human.

Me? Today’s me is much changed from the young, idealist who planned to fix the world. Now I know I won’t fix it. I try to make a few little tweaks here and there, but the big bad world needs to look at younger souls to get the job done. Assuming the job can be done and assuming anyone has the power and will to give it a go.

I sound shockingly like my mother. My opinions, my way of expressing them. I thought she was so cynical, so lacking in faith. She made me crazy and I loved her anyway … and now, I am her.

The plain-spoken way she had of saying what she meant without bothering to pretty it up or disguise it with polite protestations. And the tenacity. Like a dog with a bone, she never let go and neither do I. Whatever it is, I worry it to death. It gets me into trouble. With everyone.

Yet I wouldn’t change it. It is my most useful and least pleasant character trait. It’s abrasive and annoying, but it’s the thing I appreciate most in me and which has best served me professionally (less so personally).

SeidenFamily 1963

The whole famdamily. I’m the one with rolled up jeans.

My fuse is too short (dad), but usually under control (mom), except when it isn’t (dad). My humor rarely fails me (mom) and being able to see the funny side of disaster is a saving grace in a life fraught with crises. Arthritis makes it hard for me to do much (I think I have an entire family tree to thank for that piece of DNA). The cancer is plain scary (mom, brother, grandma, grandpa) and the heart disease (dad, you just never stop giving do you?) is an unpleasant surprise. I didn’t get a really healthy package to work with. I can’t seem to fix things as fast as they break down.

Intellectual curiosity? Definitely mom. Passion for books? Mom again. Ability to tell a funny story? Okay dad, you get a point on that one. All those jokes you told over the years … gads, I’m still telling some of them. They were hoary 50 years ago, no less now. And dad, thanks for this great line. I still use it:


“It isn’t what you don’t know that’ll get you. It’s what you do know that’s wrong.” — Albert Friedman, terrible father, great salesman.


For everyone who gave me a piece of themselves to carry along this strange path called life, I give a hearty: “Thanks. I think.”

19 thoughts on “MIRRORED IMAGES – Marilyn Armstrong

  1. Well, that finally explains what’s happening to me. A loved one, like your/my parents, dies and you feel remorseful and wish they were still around. Then genetics kicks in and you start to see them in the mirror. Depending on what your relationship was, this could be a good thing.., or.., the other one? Kinda scary in either case.

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  2. Interesting. At the latest in the series of my family’s ‘try to get together and be what we SHOULD, but it turns out that we’re what we always ARE” gatherings, I was again reminded of the bits and pieces that make up each of us. I liked your words. Maybe I’ll pass ’em along the next time I have a non-conversation with some of my kin. I don’t know that they’ll listen though.

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  3. “Today’s me” has also changed. I was looking at my daughter thinking similar things last night. She’s different and the same. I also have a short fuse and a sense of humor to keep me from beating up on myself for losing my temper.

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    • I get very irritated with people who REFUSE to change. We are supposed to change. Everything changes, even that stupid stubborn uncle we all have. If you don’t change, you’re stuck in your own mud!

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  4. Wow Marilyn what an awesome post. We all have little pieces of them our ancestors I think. We recently did DNA testing my mom, sister and brother and found out we all have different DNA some the same but I mostly shared DNA with my Pa. So interesting to me. I love all the photos and can for sure see the similarities through out your photos! So amazing to me! 🙂

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