Familial Laughter


This past weekend, I went to Wisconsin for a wedding shower, staying with my aunt and uncle.  Meeting Autumn for the first time was a flurry as I dropped the carseat into their entryway and headed back to my vehicle to retrieve all of the stuff.  My aunt peered into the face of her “griece,” as she calls her (great-nice).  Autumn began belly laughing, and didn’t stop.  She continued laughing and laughing as we settled into their home.  My aunt decided that it must be the laughter of recognition: looking into the face of family and knowing there is shared DNA.

Later that evening at dinner, I commented that I thought Autumn looked like my grandfather.  I have often thought this, particularly when she smiles.  It is such a distant relationship, and for Theo and Quentin I’ve never explored the wider family resemblances beyond myself, Ger, and sometimes my brother.  My aunt looked at me skeptically, so I pulled out a side-by-side photo of my grandfather when he was in his 20s, and Autumn.  My aunt looked even more skeptical comparing the lean, chiseled face of my grandfather in his Army uniform to the round-cheeked, dimpled baby, but I said “Look at the chin.”  There it was.  Autumn has a chin that neither Ger nor I possess, and not one that I see in either of my parents or Ger’s family.  A very slight cleft chin, a distinct characteristic.  Looking at my grandfather’s picture, he had the slight cleft chin also.  The shape of the jaw, leading to the chin, was also present in my daughter.

I remember the first time I was holding Autumn and thought I saw my grandfather in her features.  It wasn’t a moment of examining her and wondering “Now, where did that chin come from?”  It leapt out at me from her smiling face, like recognizing a long-lost friend.  My grandfather passed away in 2011 and we scattered his ashes beneath a sheltering oak on my aunt and uncle’s land.  I have been back to that tree, years later, to scatter the ashes of Nelle and Iris.  I have felt like my grandfather, Nelle, and Iris rest together in the coulee, and now it was like looking into the face of my grandfather in my rainbow baby, his way of saying “Here I am.  I am with all of your daughters.”

The next day, we visited my grandmother.  She is 97 years old and recently moved to a memory care unit.  She was just waking from a nap and after announcing the presence of my aunt, my sister, myself, and Autumn, her response was “Give me the baby!”  When Autumn looked into my grandmother’s happy, wrinkled face, she gave the same belly laugh that she had given my aunt.  The oldest member of our family and the youngest member regarded each other with mutual delight.  Again, I felt strongly that it was Autumn’s way of recognizing that shared commonality of family.  And if my grandfather is coursing through her veins in more than just the cleft chin, he was probably ecstatic to see his wife of over 60 years again.

I wanted to visit the tree that weekend, to see its starkness in winter as opposed to the lushness of the other seasons.  But snow and ice made the steep path treacherous.  I want to take Autumn to the place where we brought her sisters before her, but it will need to wait until our next visit in spring.