From the time that my youngest child had been born, my mother said that he reminded her of her older brother--the one who had been killed during World War II. There was something familiar to my mom in my son's smile and in his developing personality, and though she didn't really go so far as to wonder if her little grandson was the "reincarnation" of her brother, we certainly talked about the possibility of genetic influence.
There were lots of traits that seemed to pass down through the generations--my kids now swear that I look like my great-great grandmother, and my mom not only inherited her grandmother's auburn hair, but also her feisty temperament! Certain physical characteristics and personality traits just seemed to repeat themselves through the generations, and conversations at family reunions often revolved around how one cousin had a particular aunt's eyes, or how another had the same interests as a great uncle. When these observations were being made, it would make me think of some kind of bizarre "Mr. Potato Head"--sometimes it seemed that we were all just genetically mixed and matched, with interchangeable pieces and parts!
One day in the late 1980s, however, something happened that a genetic explanation didn't seem to cover....
My mom was at my house, reading books to my 2-1/2 year old son--something they both enjoyed and did often. After they'd finish reading one, my son would crawl off of the sofa, go over to a basket full of children's books, and choose another one for her to read to him. "Winnie the Pooh" books were his favorites at this age, and we all knew most of them by heart....
As he crawled off of the sofa to get yet another book that day, my son walked over to the bookcase instead of to the basket. Looking at the books on one of the shelves that he could reach, he chose one of the encyclopedias and carried it back over to the sofa.
With the book on his lap, he began flipping through the pages, "reading" to himself and to my mom as he sometimes did. Then he stopped on a page that had a map on it, and plunking his finger down on the page, he smiled and said, "I been there."
My mom was surprised to discover that he knew what a map was--and knew that a map could be used to indicate where something or someone was located. She started to play along with him, but then the full impact of what was happening began to register:
Her 2-1/2 year old grandson--the one who reminded her so much of her brother--had opened the book to a map of the Philippines, and he was pointing to the island of Luzon.
On March 17, 1945 during World War II, her brother had lost his life on the very island that her grandson was now pointing to....
My son smiled up at her, and again said, "I been there," then he scrambled off of the sofa to choose another book.