It may be in our genes



Karen Helsel

My mother was a pretty good sport, but my brother and I would often roll our eyes at things she said or did. We were kids, after all.

On a trip down the Hood Canal, she would ooh and aahh at almost every rhododendron bush or madronna tree she saw.

She was a meticulous housekeeper. Before she came to visit me, I would clean my stove, refrigerator and all the closets. She would notice dust and dirt.

And although she could not swim, but could only float on her back, she loved to go to the exercise classes at her local pool. Some of her best friends were there, and it was a place of “community” for her.

I realize I am becoming more and more like my mother, except for the housekeeping. I delight in the amazing colors of rhododendrons, and I was thrilled to see a couple madronna trees on my drive across town. This week I also joined a water exercise group!

A benefit of my new health insurance is something called Silver Sneakers. This program provides membership to health clubs as well as other fitness venues. About 10 minutes from my home is a recreation center with exercise classes for arthritic patients. It is a great workout and very refreshing, and it costs me nothing.

Because it is summer, this huge pool is sectioned off to accommodate swimming lessons for little ones (there were more than 20 in one group yesterday), swim team practices, lanes available for lap swims and the section for us old folks.

Because I am new, I am not as familiar with the exercises, so I need to be close enough to hear the leader. Others in the group have been there awhile. They will glance over at the instructor when she calls out a change, and quickly return to their conversations.

Even though I have not joined in so far, I unceremoniously eavesdrop on conversations. This week I heard about homes that were being vandalized, an unfinished woodworking project, surgeries, illnesses and more. There are no deep discussions about religion or politics - at least I haven’t heard one yet. When a person is absent for a while, they are welcomed back with vigor, shouts and cheers.

I am not certain my mother was my role model when I was growing up. I don’t remember particularly wanting to be like her.

But I realize we learn so much just by watching those around us, and some traits may truly be genetic. I’ve already warned my daughter.

‑ A former resident of Sunnyside, Karen Helsel now lives in Bothell. She is a certified mental health counselor, and can be reached at


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