Looking Backward to Understand the Present

RearviewMirrorby Anniel8/6/16
I have been considering the generations in our family, and realized that I knew my parents and both of my grandfathers, while now I know my children and grandchildren. I, and Bear in his family, each stand in the middle of five generations we have personally known well. We get to see the genetic inheritance we and our ancestors have passed on.

Our youngest daughter, Cate, is here trying to move home permanently, while our oldest daughter, Anna, will arrive in a few hours to stay for several days and get some perspective on her life after some overwhelming surgery and health problems. Both of them have musical talents. Not from me or Bear, but who knows. Anna has perfect pitch and Cate sings. Somewhere they must have had some ancestor who passed that on.

Late last night our youngest son, David, arrived with the youngest of his three girls. His stay will be the shortest and has already caused me to readjust my thinking about both him and our granddaughter.

First off, Dave is a really really big dude, 6’5″ or so, with weight behind it. He was such a skinny kid, but not now. He also has a wonderful basso profundo voice that scares animals and little children when they first hear him rumble, so the cat hid under the bed until she recognized him. I asked if he was still singing and he hung his head and said, “Not so much.”

Then I asked a question I’ve long wondered about, “Do you speak and sing better when you are carrying more weight, or does it matter?”

His answer was interesting, “The doctor would tell me to lose fifty pounds, but I know if I lose more than about twenty-five from what I weigh now, the whole tone of my voice changes and I absolutely cannot sustain the depth and power of my singing.”

That would mean no more rattling of crockery in the cupboards.

His little daughter, called “Red” by everyone, is an interesting soul. She will turn four in just a few days and speaks very little. I understand only “Why?” Repeated endlessly, and “No”, also repeated over and over. The doctors have said she is autistic, but that has become almost a meaningless catch all diagnosis. Her mom and dad are trying to have some genetic testing done, but getting an appointment takes forever.

Last night Dave listed and showed us the following *”cluster” of physical genetic symptoms that, taken together, indicate something is going on differently with Red:

First is her bright red hair, which no one else in the family has. I had not known that red hair can be a symptom of anything before, except for witchcraft of course.

Secondly, she has epicanthic folds over her eyes. Finnish people tend to have the folds, but our family no longer does, or grows out of them very young.

Thirdly, she has something called “Railroad Track Ears”, on one ear, while the other ear fold drops straight down to her cheek. This symptom is kind of subtle and is new to me, too.

Fourthly, she has a pronounced “Simian Fold” on one palm of her hand, while the other one has a few faint marks where the more normal lines are.

Lastly, she doesn’t really speak yet.

Last night Dave was telling us how she acts at her “special needs” pre-school class, and in a dance class they’ve put her in. It seems Red has become the “leader” among the kids, making certain they go where they’re supposed to, even if she has to drag or push them there. She seems to have an innate understanding of their varying needs. If she isn’t there to help them, they are totally lost.

He told me what happens when he takes her out and they happen to see a “special needs” child. He took her to the grocery store one evening and saw an obviously high-functioning autistic boy about seven years old sitting in a shopping cart playing with an iPhone Ap, not looking up at all. Red reached over and touched him. He jerked back and glared as she (David says) asked his name. David translated, “She wants to know your name.”

The boy seemed stunned, and said, “She wants to know MY name?”

Red nodded yes. Dave said the boy got a great big grin on his face and told her his name. Then the two kids carried on a very animated conversation between themselves, which probably neither understood, but they had a great time, laughing often, and when the boy’s mother stepped over to the cart he shouted, “Mom, I have a friend. She wanted to know MY name!”

They were still waving, jabbering and laughing when they parted. One can hope they meet again.

As I watched Red last night I could see what a strong little bugger she is, and it dawned on me that she is built like my Finnish grandfather, who was only about 5’5″ tall. When he first arrived in the U.S. he traveled about as a strong man in a circus. Like him, Red is built like a little fireplug covered in muscle. She exercises her whole body continuously. I told her dad that she reminds me of those dolls we called “weebles.” Knock them over and they keep popping back up.

Now I know that Red is strong and physically tireless, but her greatest gift may be that she can identify the genetic strangers amongst us who need the most care, and she knows what will help them on their own rocky way. They also recognize and respond to her, even though she may not be “like” them.

In our present culture Red’s life affirming traits would not be recognized, and her value as a person would be suspect.

God, our Creator, has given each person on earth (including you and me) certain “gifts” that we can choose to use for good or ill. Ancient Israelites were told by God to always “choose life,” and the prophet Joshua told his people to, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. . .”

Choosing God and His ways, means Red can be such a strength and blessing to her parents, and her gifts give us all hope for her future.

* * *
*I won’t even try to explain, but Google (which should be taken with a grain of salt, especially in medical matters) has descriptions of all things in Red’s “cluster.” Taken singly, OK, but together, that’s a different story. Google says her conditions are almost all part of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but neither Dave nor his wife drink so that lets that out. David thinks Red may be a “Mosaic” of some sort. Mosaicism is also on Google. • (857 views)

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17 Responses to Looking Backward to Understand the Present

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    An interesting story, and obvious Red is quite capable in her own strange way. Note that people who start out odd can become more normal. My mother said that I was slow to speak — but when I finally did, I spoke grammatically correct English, as if I’d been making sure I would get it right. (Of course, some would wonder about my normality even today.) You might find Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark, a book about autistic children that’s on the Bookshelf at my suggestion, worth reading.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


    Here is ST’s featured charity site.


    Does Red look like any of the Fragile X kids on this site?

    As for “autism”, that diagnosis is virtually meaningless unless a person has had pretty extensive testing and that testing is not biological. A trained psychologist should administer such a test.

    • Anniel says:


      I checked out Fragile X again. No, that doesn’t fit our girl. She may have a slot all of her own. Wouldn’t surprise me if she did.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “The doctor would tell me to lose fifty pounds, but I know if I lose more than about twenty-five from what I weigh now, the whole tone of my voice changes and I absolutely cannot sustain the depth and power of my singing.”

    I can’t help but wonder if Dave is making excuses. I was a lyric tenor and at about 150lbs had the voice to sing through a church organ with stops fully out.

    One’s vocal power comes from the diaphragm and the resonance comes from the nasal cavity. The vocal cords have to do with control and pitch. I’ll bet that if Dave lost some of that weight, his diaphragm would have less work to do and he would get all the power he wanted.

    • Anniel says:

      One interesting person who had this same problem with weight was Mario Lanza. He was making a movie and needed to be more “svelte” for the role, so he lost the weight and could no longer sing. As I recall, they finished the movie with his kind of puny voice. He could not adequately perform the songs until he had gained 40 lbs. and the soundtrack for the singing was then dubbed in.

      Dave has been down quite a bit in weight and lost his power. The reason I asked him about it is I had noticed a big difference in his voice since the last time he had been here.

      Was the Lanza movie “The Student Prince”? Something like that,but I just don’t remember.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        My mother loved Mario Lanza. I think one of his problems was that his weight fluctuated hugely over time. I believe he took drugs to lose it quickly. In the end, it got him.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Speaking of weight-vs-tonal quality, I remember listening to Rich Little (for whatever reason) phoning in years ago to a Seattle talk radio show. I think he was promoting his show. The radio host, Wayne Cody, was well known for being a very large man. His nickname was “the Mound of Sound,” as in Puget Sound.

      Long story short, Rich politely intimated that he knew that Cody (who probably had never met or knew anything about) was a big man by the sound of his voice. I can certainly believe that weight — one way or the other — can effect tonal quality. But was Pavarotti great because he was big or did his success allow him to afford all that rich pasta from the nicest restaurants?

      Here’s a younger and a bit thinner Pavarotti sining La Boheme. Here he is in 1986. Here he is in 1994 singing Nessun Dorma (a very nice piece). Obviously there’s a greatness there that defies weight. And old recordings aren’t as good as newer ones. But damned if it doesn’t sound as if he simply, like a bottle of good wine, got better with age. Breaks my heart to say it, but that wasn’t true of Sinatra, for instance — at least round-abouts the age of 50 or so.

      • Anniel says:

        When We first discovered Dave could sing we made certain he got lessons, but at the time he was shy and didn’t want to practice where anyone could hear him. And there were only two good voice teachers in town, both women. One, a well known soprano, would have visiting male vocalists give him a few lessons, but they were usually tenors, once in awhile a baritone, and not much help with such a deep bass, and Dave can go up into the baritone range, but it’s not natural to him.

        To get him to open up I used to remind him that he wasn’t singing to the people in the house, but to the people across the street. Today he hates the microphone.

        It wasn’t until he moved away from home that he got some good male instructors, but even most of them didn’t know what to do with a bass.

        When he first moved to Seattle he joined a large group of older men he met who sang barbershop acapella. When they did it for fun the guys would stand behind him, put their arms around his diaphragm to help him learn, and, as one told him,”I like the feel of your timbre.” Then they hired a manager, who put an end to the fun and began charging for their concerts. So he quit that.

        Further lessons cost money, and time away from family. Life is full of trade offs. Sigh.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    …but her greatest gift may be that she can identify the genetic strangers amongst us who need the most care, and she knows what will help them on their own rocky way.

    Perhaps that’s why we hit if off pretty good when David stopped by a few weeks ago. I got the impression that Eliza (“Red”) is a perfectly normal, social, and sweet child who just doesn’t (yet) say a lot, although she did speak to me a little which surprised her father some.

    Annie, you explain some of her challenges, which I’m sure are real, but all I saw was a precious little girl normal in every way including her love for Tootsie Pops (orange, of course). I think she has nothing that a little time, affection, and regular reading to her won’t fix, if she needs fixing.

    David sent me a couple pictures with me and the kids and I’d love to post them but would have to get David’s permission first.

    The middle child, Lucy, was obviously in that same phase I remember my nephews going through when “Why?” and never-ending questions was their mode of being. Curiosity is good, but it can get a little taxing. But that’s generally a phase….and I think these little tykes are smarter than they let on. I felt like I was being tested…and I probably was. I hoped I passed the test.

    Anyway, it really made my day to meet part of your family. David didn’t let on at all that he sang. I would have had him belt out something. He seems an intelligent, sincere, kind, and patient man…a necessity for someone with three daughters. Oy vey. Wait until they become teenagers.

    • Anniel says:

      Red’s differences are interesting and charming to us. But some of her problems are dangerous. She has no concept of the danger of walking out into a busy street for instance.

      Dave says another of her problems has to do with dismantling things. She might get up in the middle of the night, pick the locks and head out before anyone else wakes up, so they had to put alarms on the doors. Bear finally sent them one of those chips to wear so they can quickly locate her with their phone.

      One time when they were visiting here she got both locks on our front door open went out into the snow barefoot, no coat, nothing. It was about 15 below. Her Uncle happened to drive in and spot her going out into the road. She was so angry at him for spoiling her fun.

      She is a regular Houdini and we decided she could make a living as a safe cracker.

      • Anniel says:


        This will interest you about Red. She has bonded with both of her aunties, particularly Anna, who has become really good with children. Anna has been slowing both Red’s and her own speech down and no one, not even Dave, has been “translating” for Red. I can understand her much better and her improvement has been amazing. Grandpa Bear has been teasing her and last night he called her “Bug.” “I not a bug,” she said. “Sure you are,” he answered. Then she very clearly said, “No grappa, I’m a human.”

        Dave’s mouth dropped and he gasped, “What did you say?” “Daddy, I said I’m a human.” Everyone almost cried. A little while later we heard her jabbering as she sat in front of the wall and we thought she was talking to herself, but in turned out she was talking to her shadow, her “other self”.

        The kids all left a few minutes ago to pick berries and Bear handed Red a bottle of water. “What do you say?” Asked Dave. “Oh, thank you Papa.”

        Now if we can get her to sit still when we try to read to her. That’s a real trial of patience.

        I realize that I forgot to mention the genetics from the other side of each family your kids marry into. I’m not certain if even “arranged” marriages would help there. I’m convinced that you move to a foreign country when you marry, no matter how “matched” you think you are.

        BTW Dave says you can use the photos. But he might not warble for you.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Well, one can’t gauge much in a 30 minute visit, but “Red” impressed me as someone who will talk when she has something to say and when she is sure people will listen. Maybe it’s a little overwhelming for her to have two older sisters. Maybe her mother smothers her (just guessing…I’m sure she’s a doll). Or maybe she’s just “Red” and not “broken” but just developing differently. Certainly your son was the doting and patient father, He’s go that down pat. And as for reading, well, many kids won’t sit still for that these days. Maybe acting out books in the form of small plays is the way to go.

          Here’s a photo of Me, Lucy, and Red looking for some plums on the plum trees. It was absolutely loaded last year but I think it was David who finally spotted one near the top and quite out of reach. The Tootsie Pop had to suffice. And strawberries. And flowers. Chicks always love flowers. Gotta love that about them.

          We need to get podcasts from both David and Mr. Kung. Both apparently can sing. We just need to un-shy them a bit I suppose.

          And here’s Lucy and me. Is that a cute little girl or what? She was an absolute delight.

  5. Rosalys says:

    Annie, your granddaughter sounds perfectly delightful! And if there is anything “wrong” with her (as if there weren’t something wrong with all of us!) there seems to be plenty right to compensate.

    I’ve heard of several children who spoke late, but eventually, speak they did. One of them my brother. Apparently he said nothing for the first three years of his life, until one morning at the breakfast table, coming forth with a complete sentence!

    • Timothy Lane says:

      As noted above, that’s basically what my mother said of me. And I certainly learned to communicate.

    • Anniel says:

      I think we come in all varieties. Trying to establish a “one size fits all MUST do something by a certain age” is just wrong. Those people who don’t fit the mold get lost too often. God gives the least amongst us gifts and purpose. You, me, everyone.

  6. Anniel says:

    We’ve been discussing the “I’m a human” remark. We were surprised at the vocabulary jump first of all. How many barely 4 year olds would even know the word at all? But we were even more surprised that Red could properly identify HERSELF as human. Now there’s a leap for a child.

    Dave reminded us that Red has been in intensive speech therapy for over a year now, and even the therapists were getting frustrated at trying to get her going. When she returns to school I suspect they’ll be shocked at her progress, both at her language acquisition and her understanding.

    She’s going to be another Timothy, a communicator par excellence.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m just an old-fashioned country doctor, Annie. Speech therapy I’m sure is fine. But I think something “clicks” in a child when they finally have something to say and somebody willing to listen. Glad to hear she’s making progress.

      Ron’s foster child, JJ, is also making nice progress. He’s a late-talker due to trauma from drug-addled parents. He still has issues. And he’s still getting therapy of some type. But the only real therapy he needs is a stable home with decent parents…which he now has. He has an uncle too who is mostly willing to indulge him.

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