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President Monson recalls influence of family on his life

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

President Thomas S. Monson chats with wife Frances after speaking at the closing ceremonies of the Women's conference at the BYU Marriott Center.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Thomas Spencer Monson was born Aug. 21, 1927, in Salt Lake City, the first son and second child of George Spencer Monson and Gladys Condie Monson.

His paternal grandfather, Nels Monson, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Torham, Sweden, before emigrating to Utah. His paternal grandmother, Maria Mace, sailed for America with her parents from Bradford, England. Their families met at sea, and the two eventually were married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. Three days later, Nels Monson left for Sweden to serve a three-year mission with headquarters in Stockholm.

President Monson's mother's parents, Thomas Sharp Condie and Margaret Ellen Watson, came from pioneer families in the old 6th Ward of the Salt Lake Pioneer Stake. Their ancestors were from Scotland and were among the early settlers of the Salt Lake Valley.

President Monson's boyhood home was at the corner of 500 South and 200 West, and he attended kindergarten at the old Grant School. Extended family was the cornerstone of his young life, which included exposure to the Bluefront Grocery store owned by his mother and her family.

He grew up with "a sense of appreciation and love for our relatives because all of us lived together," he wrote in a privately published memoir. His grandfather had purchased the property and erected his own home as well as a duplex where President Monson's Uncle John and Aunt Margaret lived, and where his own family occupied the east side of the building.

"On that corner lived my mother and her three sisters. I felt totally at ease in any of their homes, never feeling the need to knock at the door. Always I was welcome," he wrote.

He was baptized Sept. 21, 1935, in the baptistry on Temple Square, and religious activities centered around the old 7th Ward building west of West Temple on the north side of 500 South.

As a child, he remembered, "I would occasionally drag my feet going to Sunday School. I liked to watch the birds in the trees. ... Mother applied some psychology which at the time worked, but in retrospect, was a bit severe. She would point up to the top row of bricks on our duplex and say, 'Now Tommy, if you don't go to Sunday School, one of those bricks might fall off and hit you in the head. You don't want that, do you?'

"Not wanting that experience to occur, I would then make my way to Sunday School."

President Monson's fascination with birds continued to grow, and at age 10, he was named president of the junior Audobon Club at Grant School. He later joined the drum and bugle corps in his area for a short time, trying to play the bugle, but finding it difficult to master. He never learned to play and moved on to other pursuits.

He wrote of a childhood filled with evening games in the neighborhood, including "kick the can" and "run, sheepy, run." He loved books, and would walk three times a week to the Chapman branch library in west Salt Lake, where he found a world opened to him beyond his own neighborhood.

Summers were spent with extended family during long vacations at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, where he slept on a screened porch and took in the sounds of the woods. He learned there a lifelong love of fishing, and with plenty of company to share the time, they hiked, went swimming, played softball, shot arrows and had mud fights. He wrote later that "those were happy years, dream-filled years and are remembered with nostalgia and a few tears."

At other times in the year, he remembered his parents were "busy in bridge clubs and social activities."

As a boy, his home was always cold in the winter, and he would retrieve the morning newspaper and read the headlines — the first phase in a love of newspapering that would continue throughout his life.

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