four-leaf gene

I have very few memories of my biological father from my early childhood. In fact, I have four: the first (and favorite) is walking in the woods together and him showing me a wintergreen plant and giving me a leaf to bite. The second is standing next to my mother in the driveway as he backed his green truck out to leave for work; he paused with the window down to wink at me and hand Mom some cash with instructions to buy my brothers and me Happy Meals for lunch (a big deal for a farm kid). Another memory is just a glimpse: him standing in his green work clothes and cap at his work bench in the shed, working quietly on something I couldn’t see. The last memory I have is a man with rough hands singing “You are My Sunshine” as I fell asleep.

He disappeared for some complicated (and unsatisfactory) reasons when I was three or four. I reconnected with him at age 16 when he  reached out upon being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. I visited him in the nursing home about two weeks before he died. He was restrained to the bed to keep him from trying to chase the cows he could see had gotten loose, or the deer that were bothering his orchard. I can’t remember if I was brave enough to hug or touch him in any way. In the moments of lucidity, he knew who I was and was very happy I was there. He said repeatedly that I looked like him, and although I didn’t see that myself I was shocked to observe how many mannerisms and expressions we shared. Mostly little things like scrunching up our noses when speaking.

Another trait that I get from him, so my mom tells me, is a knack for finding four-leaf clovers. Apparently he used to walk through fields and come back with handfuls of them; I can do the same. Usually I find them without looking for them specifically–just catching flashes of them out of the corner of my eye. However, the process of intentionally searching has its pleasures too. I inevitably think about my father whenever I find one; it makes him feel like a part of my life. In a way this ability is his most tangible legacy to me.

Recently I decided that I wouldn’t pick the four-leaf clovers I found anymore, but instead let them go on to pass the gene that produced them on to another generation of clover. This spring I decided to start photographing the clovers I find (when I have a camera handy). So far I have taken 38 photographs, but some of these have multiple four-leaf clovers in them. I also found two five-leaf clovers.

Not sure if there’s an art project in here beyond the clover documentation. For now it’s just for fun. More on this as (if ) thoughts develop.


5 thoughts on “four-leaf gene

  1. Thanks for posting. What a great read. Random thought: so the four leaf clovers are a mutation? What a funny skill for your Dad to pass to you. I like it. Amy

    1. Yes, from what I understand, four-leafedness is a mutation that lies dormant in many clover until the soil/light/water conditions are right and then the aleele that conceals/restrains the mutant gene gets overruled and a four-leaf clover is born. I gather than botanists in Georgia have recently identified the four-leaf gene as well as other genes that result in pretty colors. So four-leaf clover may soon be the new “it” plant for decorative gardens. Given clover’s long standing lowly weed status, I’m thinking my father would have found that funny.

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