Growing up in southern California means spending a lot of time being driven around. It means sitting at four-way stops a lot, hanging for the opportunity to make a right turn. Every so often, while sitting for an eternity at a stop as a flood of cars moved past, my dad would say, “Here comes everybody and their brother!” The absurdity of this comment! Doesn’t ‘everybody’ include the brothers? Why are brothers singled out? I was waiting to make a turn the other day and I said, “here comes everybody.” A batch of cars passed and another appeared, and my son said, “and now here comes the brothers.” I guess I‘d been saying this too.

Every family has these sayings, collected from odd moments. Stupid jokes no one found funny until they are repeated and lose meaning, or ridiculous movie dialogue that stuck in someone’s ear. At the beach or a pool, my father would call out, “don’t get your feet wet!”, whenever my brother and I would make our way toward the water. We were obedient enough to pause before dismissing it, momentum ruined.

I asked my dad once where he gotten that particular joke from: he told me his dad. In one of the few moments as a teen when I unselfishly paid attention to the relatives outside my immediate family, I asked my grandfather from where he’d gotten it. He said from his dad. Four generations of a silly joke.

This is the nature of cultural heritability. If such small things as silly sayings can cross multiple generations, imagine the totality of what we pass on, in kindness, strength, and love.

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