As an anthropologist, I am keenly aware that there are at least two different kinds of inheritance: biological and cultural.

I inherited my strawberry-blond hair and blue eyes from my WASP-y ancestors who came from Scandinavia and Great Britain. My younger son inherited these same traits from me, along with my allergy to penicillin (poor guy). I understand how genetic traits are passed on, even ones that are polygenic – those that result from many genes.

My parents both had blue eyes and my paternal grandmother Matilda, whom I never met, had red hair. I look at the black-and-white photographs of her from the early 1900s and try to imagine the color of her skin and the reddish tones of her hair.

Cultural inheritance is a different matter altogether. Inheriting money or possessions can be life-altering, as it was for me. But at what cost? I am the sole surviving member of my birth family. The life I have now was literally made possible by the deaths of my parents and my only (unmarried) sibling before me. This left me with no natal family but resulted in my inheriting money and material objects from them.

The irony is that gifts I once gave to them have now all been “given” back to me, so I “inherited” things that I had previously given away. Full circle. Things given come back. I would give anything to see these family members again, to hear their voices, to wrap my arms around them, and to have them know my now-grown-up children and my three grandchildren.

I also inherited life lessons and wisdom from both parents. My mother told me to marry a gentle man. Not a gentleman, but a gentle man. Fortunately, I did.

She also taught me to wait to share life lessons with my own children until they were “at” the right stage of life. My dad, a gentle man, would diffuse tension during family quarrels by asking “Aren’t all arguments stupid?” I inherited wisdom about aging from both of my parents. My dad would groan when doing sit-ups on the floor while watching TV, and he would say, “Dinah, don’t ever get old.” I am trying. And I remember that my mom said she would never go back in time in her own life because she liked every age she had ever been, adding with a sly grin, “It beats the alternative!”

Fortunately, both of my parents died while they still had keen minds – another gift to me. I thank them for this part of my inheritance every day. I am grateful now, in 2020, that they were spared the cruel fate and suffering caused by the coronavirus. And I am grateful every day for the life lessons they taught me. That is the best part of my inheritance from them.

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