Digital Perfection

A year ago I wrote a piece called “When Cousins Marry,” the tale of two of Captain John Lovewell’s grandchildren who married and had children together with no apparent ill effects.  There were no two-headed offspring, as far as anyone knows, no mad siblings confined to the attic.  Quite the contrary, two of the couple’s grandchildren were Yale graduates, one of them the Bill Nye of his day Prof. J. T. Lovewell of Topeka, Kansas.  Another descendant of first-cousins John and Vodica Lovewell reported having a good laugh over the title I chose for that blog entry.  She had a special reason to find it funny.

Vodica Lovewell was the daughter of Nehemiah Lovewell, the son born to Captain John Lovewell eight months after the Colonial Ranger’s death at Lovewell Pond in May of 1725.  Vodica's husband John was the son of Nehemiah Lovewell's older brother John, who was born in 1718.  As though to make things more confusing for future family historians, John and Vodica Lovewell named their two boys John and Nehemiah.  This Nehemiah was the father of future Yale grads John and Joseph Taplin Lovewell.  

It was Professor J. T. Lovewell’s great-granddaughter Kathy Knight who emailed a response to “When Cousins Marry,” to let me know that her father, Harry Grigg, Jr., was born with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.

There is a TV commercial for a local birthing center airing right now in which a soothing female voice intones the message, “Ten fingers, ten toes - those are what new moms seem to count first.”  Apparently, moms do this with good reason.  Congenital abnormalities crop up in 2% of newborns, and having a few supernumerary digits, known as polydactylism, is the most common of these.  In most cases, I’m told, what amount to nubs of extra skin are routinely sutured while the infant is a guest in the hospital nursery, and the dried-up bits soon fall off without further complications.  This is what happened with Harry except for one unnecessary toe that must have had a segment of bone inside it.  When it caused him some discomfort while he was a soldier stationed in Germany, he had it surgically removed.

Harry's mother Maguerite was undoubtedly aware that the family heritage involved at least one marriage between first-cousins.  Marguerite's older sister Bertha, the author of a translation of “The Life of St. Cecilia,” filled out a D.A.R. application in 1912 in which she parenthetically inserted the word “cousins” between the names of her Lovewell great-grandparents, as if their union added weight to her petition for D.A.R. membership.  After all, doesn't Lovewell times Lovewell equal Lovewell squared?

It’s amusing to wonder if the kinship of her great-grandparents was the first thing that sprang into Marguerite Lovewell Grigg's mind on June 5, 1930, when she gazed lovingly on her newborn son, counted his appendages and came up with a strange number.  Or perhaps it was the fact that she had waited so long to have him.  Marguerite was in her mid-forties when Harry Kingsley Grigg, Jr., was born.  We used to think of mothers who wait to have children later in life as genetic accidents waiting to happen, but are they really?  Aside from having babies at a greater risk for Down syndrome, it’s now thought that they actually present a lower risk of birth defects known as major congenital malformations.

What was wrong with Harry Grigg at birth was nickel-and-dime stuff having nothing to do with distant cousins or motherhood delayed by a career in music.  Everything that was right about him made all the difference in the world.  Leaving Springfield College to join the Army during the Korean War, he completed Office Candidate School, served in the Counter Intelligence Corps in Germany, rose through the ranks in civilian life to become president of Interstate Security Inc., and was later personnel director for a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

A successful career plus a loving wife, a doting mother, a maiden aunt, and an older sister all collaborating to spoil him.  Who would trade all that for digital perfection? 

© Dale Switzer 2023