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Village Vine: It's all in the DNA

I find the study of genetics very interesting. Learning about traits that are inherited as opposed to those caused by education – the old “nature versus nurture” – always has fascinated me.

I can trace many of my traits back to various family members. For instance, I inherited my dark hair from my dad (who got his from his dad who got his dark hair from his mother – all were “black Swedes” or Swedes born with dark hair). My brown eyes came from my mother via her mother. My kids’ blue eyes come from the fact that I am a “hybrid brown” – my dad had blue eyes – and my husband has blue eyes.

My musical talents, meager as they may be, came from my maternal grandmother’s side. My artistic talent came from both sides (my dad’s cousin Walt Wetterberg was a cartoonist and my maternal grandfather’s uncle was a stained glass artist). There are several teachers on my dad’s side, so my becoming an art teacher was in my DNA.

I am short. I used to be 5-foot-1, but I have shrunk to under 5 feet. All of the women on both sides of my family were short, 5-3 or under (my aunt Myrtle was 4-10 and my cousin Carole Ann was 4-8) with three exceptions. My dad’s sister Ruth, my cousin Gloria and my daughter Lisa all measured 5-6 – they are known as the “tall ones.”

There’s a gene for finger wagging, and I inherited it from my dad. However, there is one thing I definitely did not inherit from him: his “green thumb.” When I buy plants, I go around the nursery mumbling, “I’ll kill that. I’ll kill that, too. Oh ... impatiens. I don’t kill those!”

I love to plant things and watch them grow. My dad could grow anything. He was the “tomato king of Lake Villa!” I can grow anything as long as it is a weed or grows like one. One year, I had a lovely stand of ragweed growing back by the fence. This year, there’s goldenrod growing where it never did before. The day lilies grow nicely as long as I stay away from them. We have tons of wild violets growing in the lawn. The hydrangea bush is flourishing as long as I don’t try to prune it.

I never know where the cat nip will pop up. This year it came up front and center in front of the picture window. I’ve never had it grow so high, either. It’s at least 3 feet high. I plan to dry it and give the cats a treat all winter long. I can grow impatiens and begonias, marigolds and zinnias, but not petunias. Petunias curl up and die as soon as they see me coming close!

Years ago, my former neighbor gave me three lemon balm plants. They multiplied into what seems like a hundred plants. I know they can be made into a tea, and if you rub the leaves on your skin, they act as a mosquito repellent. But ... the stuff is taking over the area by the fence and the area on the south side of the house! It’s the kudzu of our yard! Why, oh why, can’t I kill it? I’ve done a great job ending the life of some lovely poppies and some pretty roses, but the lemon balm seems to be bent on lasting forever!

Nancy Long writes about Lake County history from her home in Gurnee.

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