Friday, July 9, 2010

All Ears

In Some Airport Somewhere, 2006

All this talk recently about history has gotten me to thinking about the way our lives reflect the cumulative genetic baggage of those who came before us.

Take names, for example. You don’t have to plumb too far back in the Bonney family tree to start finding generations of men with biblical names like Abner and Joachim. I don’t know where all the Ferdinand Bonneys started out. The roots of Ferdinand are Germanic and Germans were known to have emigrated to Northeast England. So maybe that’s it. My paternal great grandfather’s name was Jake, from Joachim, and several generations of us have Fred in our name, an updated interpretation of Ferdinand.

When you get to looking for visual evidence of our roots, there’s no denying physical resemblances. Although we did not know them and never saw pictures of them until we were well into our own middle ages, my sister and I were startled to find that she is an uncanny reflection of our paternal grandmother and I am a reflection of our maternal grandfather.

Perhaps that’s not so bad. My sister shares our grandmother’s youthful beauty. I have so far avoided most of the chronic mood afflictions of our grandfather. But dealing with them is arguably better than having to deal with the infamous ears of my Bonney ancestors.

In the late 1930s, there were three generations of Bonney men in the Wesleymen Choir at Norfolk Epworth Methodist Church at the same time. In pictures of the Wesleymen from that period the Bonneys are easy to pick out because their ears stick out perpendicular to their heads.

Don’t believe me? Check out my great grandfather and grandfather:

Jake & Minnie Bonney (great grandparents)

W. Fred Bonney, Sr. (grandfather)

I am of the first generation of our branch of the Bonney family not to have ears that stick out perpendicular to the sides of my head. My father and uncle didn’t completely escape the ear curse, but were able to mitigate their protuberant ears over time by hiding them behind hair, an option considered unfashionable in prior generations.

I’m sure people in olden days were just as vain about their appearance as we are today. My grandfather was quite the dandy, a valuable trait for someone who would over time court three wives. But if old photographs are any indication, people were a little more idiosyncratic in their appearance back then—the population was still rife with people whose ethnic visual characteristics hadn’t been homogenized yet in America—and were probably a little more forgiving about things like large ears that stick out at a 90-degree angle from the side of the head. Today, those kinds of ears would set up a child for a lifetime of ridicule and, probably, self esteem therapy.

As for me, I’m just happy to have hair.


  1. That's hilarious--you really did escape that. Hahaaaaa! Some people really do have ears that stick right out there, don't they? At least it makes them memorable! Just be glad you didn't get my dad's nose...(some of us have other things than ears to deal with.)

  2. Love your post. Genes are pretty cool to consider, aren't they? How we end up is kind of a Russian roulette of the gene pool. You are lucky you didn't get the ears -- they appear to be a dominant trait. My next post is going to be about family genetics -- an old (humor) poem I stumbled upon recently when going through my files and found two I wrote in a poetry workshop. I posted the first one yesterday, and the second is my take on the family gene pool. Happy coincidence!

  3. Hahaha. I understand your happines.
    Great post.

  4. Ears sticking out can now be solved by simple procedures. The only difference now is that we have a lot of options on how we can handle our physical features. Those two old photos right there are indications of how your grandparents can standout in any crowd.