MY LIFE - Is humming genetic?

MY LIFE - Is humming genetic?

Rhea is on vacation this week. The following column was originally published in December, 2009.

Genetics is a strange and complex thing, made up in part of dominant and recessive genes that pass all sorts of traits along through family lines. There are genetically determined things like curly hair, blue eyes, and stature, big things and small, important things and other things that fall into the category of mere curiosity. Take left-handedness, for example.

My husband's maternal grandmother was said to be so left-handed that the only thing she did with her right hand was to shake hands and make the sign of the cross, and even those looked awkward when she did them.

I have no idea how many of her eight children may have been left-handed, or how their children fared, but my mother-in-law, a righty, had two children, one right-handed (my husband), and one left-handed. The left-handed one had two children, one right-handed and one left-handed. The right-handed one had four children, only one of whom was left-handed.

So when my left-handed daughter and her left-handed husband had children, I couldn't wait to see how that whole genetics thing would play out. Alas, both boys are right handed. Go figure.

Now I'm wondering if there's such a thing as a humming gene.

Growing up, I only saw my grandmother once or twice a year, but one thing that always fascinated me was her humming. She constantly hummed tuneless little songs under her breath as she bustled about the kitchen doing chores or whatever.

A few years ago, I noticed my sister Bev doing the same thing, making the same unidentifiable, tuneless humming sounds my grandmother had done.

"Do you know that you're humming?" I asked one day. "Mim used to do the same thing."

"I know," she replied. "I don't even realize I'm doing it."

She said she sometimes gets strange looks when she's out in public shopping. She even caught herself doing it a few weeks ago as we were walking into church for my Aunt Edna's funeral. Not really loud or anything, but you can definitely hear it if you're anywhere in her immediate vicinity.

Then her grandson Chris started doing it.

Chris is a very bright, funny 2-year-old, and Bev baby-sits him four days a week, so he spends a lot of time with her. The first time she heard him humming, she thought he was just gently poking fun at her because he did it, then he looked at her, and started laughing. Lately, however, he hums when he wakes up from his nap. He lies there in bed quietly humming to himself, and when someone opens the bedroom door, he announces, "I'm singing."

Copy cat or genetic influence? It's hard to tell.

Now my granddaughter Shelby has kicked it up a notch. Shelby doesn't just hum. Shelby sings.

I was down at my daughter Barbara's in New York for an overnight last month. That's when I first noticed it. When Shelby came home from school, the house was filled with the sound of singing. Her friend Emily was with her and they both sang. They sang through their homework, they sang while just hanging out. They even sang at the table, sometimes in harmony.

But it's not just duets, Shelby also sings when she's alone. She sings when she walks, she sings while she does chores. She sings in the Broadway Choir at school and will be doing a solo in their upcoming production of "Footloose." She seems to sing all the time.

Is it genetic? Is there such a thing as a humming gene? I don't think anyone really knows for sure, but be that as it may, it's definitely not the worst thing that can be passed along in a family.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.