As with most of our stories, this one begins at the kitchen table in the outer, outer, outer Excelsior. The year after my mother (Nurse Vivian) died, my father (Hap) came out for Thanksgiving. He hadn’t unpacked before he said, “Let’s go to Ikea.” And off we drove. “I’m buying you a kitchen table. Nurse Vivian loved your blue bungalow, but she always said that you needed a kitchen table to make it into a home.”
Thirteen years have not been kind to this wooden circle. Pine? Oak? More than a dozen rescue dogs have chewed on its legs, five babies have poured cereal on it, and many of Aidan’s tantrums involved running a fork along its surface. But Nurse Vivian’s table turned out to be exactly what she predicted: the place where Aidan eats Cheerios while Zane eats leftover pizza, where Papa balances his checkbook, where Krypto sleeps on my feet while I try to figure out Zane’s math homework and where Papa and I share a glass of wine at midnight. Qp had her puppies underneath it, with me as her midwife.
So on a Sunday a few weeks ago, the table was the place where the Fisher-Paulsons spat. Into little glass tubes.
This spitting was the idea of my Fairy God Sister (FGS). When talking about race, we never knew which boxes to check off for Aidan. No birth father was ever named, and so although we knew enough to celebrate Kwanzaa and Juneteenth with Zane, we had no idea whether we should be celebrating Cinco de Mayo or Eid with Aidan. So our FGS sent us four 23andMe kits, and, on a cozy September morning, Uncle Jon counted down, “3-2-1-SPIT!” The family that spits together, fits together.
The story goes that my great-great-grandparents Patrick and Rogan Curtis worked on a ferryboat that crossed the Irish Sea. Nine months pregnant, Rogan went into labor on that boat and delivered on the English side of the channel. The customs officials attempted to record the birth of Great-Grandmother Sadie as an Englishwoman, but Great-Great-Grandmother Rogan shouted, “Stop! If a cat has kittens in the oven, that doesn’t make them cookies.”
It took a few weeks to get results, but this week, an email declared that I had 64 percent fewer Neanderthal variants than the average customer. Was that good? I was likely to experience hair loss before I was 40, and given that I don’t remember my 40th birthday but I do remember my hair loss, that seemed fair. I was less likely to suffer hangovers than the average customer, which appears to me as an adaptive advantage of my Irish heritage.
This brings me to the nationality thing: No surprise that Papa, whose family can be traced back to the Mayflower, is more than half British/Irish. The curiosity in his genes was that despite the other side of his family claiming to be as French Canadian as Céline Dion, Papa turned up with less than 10 percent Gallic blood, dashing all of my lumberjack fantasies.
Zane’s gene pool included: 67.8 percent sub-Saharan Africa, 5.7 percent Native American and the rest European. I am delighted that 3.9 percent of his blood is Celtic so that on March 17, he can wear his “Kiss me, I’m Irish” T-shirt.
Aidan turns out to be 59 percent European, with British, French, German and Italian mixed in, with the remaining portion sub-Saharan Africa, so if we ever get to a college application, we’ll have a few options.
And me? Turned out to be more Irish than I thought: 71.2 percent, with the rest being Scandinavian. Three-quarters leprechaun, one-quarter Viking.
Always thought I was part German since Grandpa Wise, who showed up in Johnstown, Pa., a century or two ago, told no one where he came from but spoke with a Rhineland accent.
Every answer brings another mystery. We Fisher-Paulsons sat at the kitchen table, again, and went over everyone’s numbers and whether or not they could smell asparagus.
Aidan took it in stride. Zane looked overwhelmed. “What does all this mean?”
For once, I got to play Father Knows Best: “What it means is that we have more facts, but not necessarily more wisdom. We still don’t know where Grandpa Wise came from. We might know what percentage of West African blood your birth mother had, but we do not know why she walked out in the hospital. We know this: The Fisher-Paulsons came together and always will be together. We don’t know what kind of wood this table is made of. But here we are all different shades of the same family.”
The Fisher-Paulson family: Aidan, dads Kevin and Brian, and Zane
Republished with permission from the San Francisco Chronicle.