“Why do you still care?” I was recently asked when I submitted a listing of publications bearing my byline. “If you don’t attend Reds games right now, how can you follow? Why?”
The answer has to do with the uncanny way in which one of my college classmates has produced a daughter whose hair and lower chin exactly mimics her mother’s. She is a steady live feed of 1995 in 2022.
It is the time of year in which not the past twelve months, but my entire life, comes to stare me in the face. The current vogue for photo-printed Christmas cards (not to mention social media posts serving as Christmas cards) means that I often find myself staring at two versions of my friends at once– the way they are now, and the ways in which their children repeat their features and faces.
Every single one of my best friend’s eight children has her smile. Every single one. She imprints strongly in person, so kind and loving is she, and so it stands to reason that the people she made bear her stamp. Watching the offspring of my grade school, high school, and college classmates grow from their hiding places under maternity clothes to full-fledged adults means that I now open my mail and Facebook account on a daily basis to see my own past grinning up at me. The grade school nemeses, the youngest cousin with the wide eyes, the fringe of bangs on a toddler– they’re all there.
Perhaps I pay more attention to this than most because I am childless and am married to an identical twin whose womb-mate has produced six spinoffs. The rare all-family photo reveals my husband in various stages of growth– “The genes are strong,” Josh The Pilot says, proudly pointing to the way the eldest boy’s hair grows, as well as the teeny notch in our newborn nephew’s inner left year, a feature his own father did not manifest. No matter what comes to pass with us, at least 50% of his DNA will move forward into the human population.
But sometimes the genes swerve in directions we don’t expect. I accepted early on that I would never catch up to my big sister in terms of height; she had a three-year jump on me, which is an entire geologic era in child-time, and so I rarely fretted over my perpetual shortness. Then I figured that I would begin to look like her once I was on the other side of The Great Hormonal Awkwardness. But one day when I was home from college and we stood side by side at Mass, I noticed that my sister was still taller, and I no more resembled her than when we clomped out the house in handed-down pumps and sheets wrapped around us for evening gowns.
The thing remained a mystery until I began sorting through my father’s family photos and saw just about every single facial feature I don’t like about myself gazing back at me from a picture of my grandmother. Welp.
It was further explained when I ran into a family member unexpectedly and for a split second saw in her face and posture the distinct outlines of her mother, a thing I thought best to keep to myself. Changes were happening in ways I wasn’t at all expecting; while I was fondly watching their children grow, I somehow missed that my contemporaries were developing into middle-aged people who asked for steam cleaners for Christmas and were delighted if they got one.
I suppose that’s how many of us are still clinging to the Reds after all this time and disappointment and direct insult. We look at the uniform and see the Great 8 lineup, the team that sprang from the bottom of the division to a wire-to-wire championship, and a scrappy collection of middle-ballers who could surely win this single playoff game over the Mets to propel into greater things. My grandfather saw the emblem that greeted him after a streetcar ride to Crosley Field. I suppose my nephews, now well past the age of standing in line on their tiptoes for autographs at Reds Fest partially because That’s What Everybody Does, are now embarking on their first pangs of sports nostalgia.
These children smiling up from the cards stacked beneath our tree are not their parents, but a product of them. They are a continuation, a direct line to who we once were. They are a percentage of our DNA moving forward into the human population.
We see ourselves in them. And so we follow, even if we do not attend.
The genes are strong.