Nature or nurture? Which is the more powerful influence on a person, their genetics or the environment they grew up in? Although it is only my opinion, I do believe that I am uniquely qualified to address this subject with some believability. That being said, I also need to clarify that sometimes I’m probably a bit too entrenched in the forest to discern the trees. Being adopted at the age of six months, I grew up in a family with which I bore little or no resemblance. My adoptive mother has a bit of an overbite, so does my brother, but he is her genetic son. I have no overbite. My sister is a brunette, I am blonde, but she is another adoptee from a completely different set of biological parents. It was a rather odd assemblage of a family, but we made it work most of the time. Three children, three uniquely different sets of parents. Only one set known to us. Hence the nurture.
I didn’t grow up confused about any of it. We all knew that each of us had different biological parents. My folks didn’t keep secrets like that. Because of this easy familiarity with our differences, it just didn’t affect us all that much. Whenever there was behavior that I didn’t understand, especially in later life, I’ve been able to simply pass it off as the way that my siblings were wired. However, there is one trait that was learned by emulating my adoptive father. Dad was a visitor. His parents were visitors, too. I became
My adoptive father, like his seven siblings, grew up on family farms in Putney and Ludlow. When he was old enough, Dad moved away from farming, becoming a Vermont State Policeman and then a Motor Vehicle Inspector. Probably from age 2, and until I was 6 or 7, Dad took me to work with him on occasion. We made the rounds to various police departments and car dealerships. We even made house calls on folks who had violated some motor vehicle law, generally a misuse of license plates violation. We would also stop and visit friends and relatives. How could we possibly drive through Ludlow without stopping to see my grandparents for a few minutes? Heading to Woodstock? Stop and visit my cousin Bunny in her new apartment. Visiting the Hartford police station? Had to stop and see my Aunt Ruth and my five cousins in White River. Going out to dinner in Keene? We never failed to stop and visit Ray Martin, a man my grandparents raised along with my adoptive father. I look back on all this visiting and I can’t help but think that it was truly weird. However, Dad’s siblings would do the same thing. We never knew when a brother or sister or foster brother or sister would stop at our home in Chester just to say "Hi."
I adopted the visiting ritual quite naturally. While in high school, the guidance counselor sent me to meet Dave Calef at WKVT to learn about the career I wanted to pursue. On my way back from Brattleboro to South Royalton, I just had to stop in Springfield to visit a couple of relatives. I do recall that whenever I would visit someplace like Colorado or the West Coast I often looked up relatives, and I don’t regret a one of those visits. However, those kinds of visits just don’t work in current times. This sort of thing went on for many years, but the frequency of my visits was soon diminished by career and family.
While I did learn to call ahead and give people fair warning over time, the whole concept of dropping in for a visit seemed to pale. Today’s sensibility pretty much relegates drop in visits to rudeness, and therefore I just don’t do it very much anymore. One of the last drop in type visits I made was while in Andover, N.H., one afternoon when I stopped to visit my Aunt Doris, in her late 80s and blind at that point. It was nothing but pure magic, an absolutely delightful mid-winter afternoon visit. Two months later, she was gone. That one visit made all of them worthwhile.
Since finding my biological father, I have also realized that the nature side is incredibly powerful. We have so many similarities, and it has been a steady stream of amazing discoveries. The visiting thing? I’m not sure, and I will be asking. But for now, I’m pretty sure I inherited the visiting gene from my adoptive father, and it has proven to be a good one.
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for 20 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM every weekday morning at 8 a.m.