Genetic Note:
Not So Simple
17 October 2018

¶ At dinner a weekend or so ago, a friend persuaded me to give 23andme a try. She thought it would be interesting to find out how Irish I am.

Needless to say, I couldn’t care less about that — except that I’d be thrilled to discover that I’m a hundred percent Nederlands, which I rather doubt. Sometimes just plain Danish would do. Anything to be Continental. But Irish is the most likely story. According to one of the few shreds of paper that I have from the Foundling Hospital, my birth mother claimed that her father was a US Navy captain, posted mostly in Central America — which led to her incarceration in some Catholic girls’ boarding school in “the South.” (What a thought, really! It makes me work hard to imagine the other three grandparents!) She also claimed that my birth father told her (in a tender moment?) that he was a divorcé from San Francisco who had already sired three children. When I consider how strongly my daughter (in every way possible for someone of the opposite sex) and my grandson (in his wits and height) resemble or at least remind me of me, it’s very hard to work backward and imagine all these people. It comes, I think, from being the product of typical Boomer irresponsibility — committed, though, by an earlier generation. What did Boomers look like before there were Boomers?

So I signed up. I signed up for the cheaper version. I won’t learn anything about likely diseases, which is just as well given the ones I’ve already got. This ought, I think, to have spared me a lengthy and rather tiresome questionnaire about my medical history. Nobody warned me about this. I had to try to remember when I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, along with nearly a million other tediosities. The questionnaire is surely geared to younger, healthier clients, who can breeze right through it. 

I admitted to having smoked a hundred cigarettes in my lifetime. (I didn’t have to say that that was well under my weekly habit for twenty years.) They didn’t ask me how long it has been since my last drag, but I can tell you: 35 years. 

Then came the spitting. There must be something I don’t know. It took at least fifteen spits to reach the “Fill to Here” level — grueling work. If I had done it in the morning, and coughed up a blob of phlegm, it might have been easier. But there were no instructions or guidelines about any of this, and I felt, throughout, that I was botching the whole thing. 

The final conundrum was how to mail the packet back to the lab. The Post Office has gotten rather shirty about depositing packages in the mailbox, so I went to the local branch, where I was told that I could have I could have dropped it in the mailbox right outside the coffee shop across the street, but, as long as I was there, I would be given a receipt. So now I just wait. 

I omit the glitchy details of setting up a password for my 23andme account.

When the results tell me that I’m as Irish as a leprechaun, I won’t be unhappy. I used to be somewhat ashamed of my alleged lineage, but now I know that the Irish write the best English, or at least set the standard. Just my luck that so few people actually speak English anymore. 

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