Family photo
Generations! Five generations include Twila Peck, bottom right, her daughter Twila Van Leer behind her, Van Leer's daughter, Melinda Crandall, bottom left; her daughter, Crissy Manwaring, top left, and her son, Alexander Manwaring, bottom center, the hope of the future. Twila Peck died shortly after this picture was taken at the age of 104.

I was a deprived child in that I had no grandparents. Oh, I had them of course. Having ancestors is rather a requirement for getting aboard this old planet. But all of my grandparents were already dead, except for Grandpa Gagon, my mother's father.

I have just one memory of him. One day while I was playing outside our home in Salt Lake City, I saw Grandpa Gagon and his second wife, Margaret Lister Glenn, walking down our street, coming for one of their rare visits. I was struck because he was 6-foot-4, wearing a topcoat and hat, and she was about 5-foot-1. It was an interesting juxtaposition.

That's the only remembrance I have of Grandpa Gagon. I never sat on his lap, and that's a shame, because in some of her recollections, my mother described her father as a "kindly man with a three-girl lap." Plenty of room for Mom and her two sisters, Genevieve and Roseafton. This, the only grandfather I ever knew, died when I was 8.

My mother's mother, Emily Finch Gagon, had died after the birth of her sixth child at the age of 30. She and that infant girl are buried in Roosevelt. Mom was just short of 6 years old when her mother died. Much later, again in her personal writings, Mom noted how strange it was that she, with her snow-white hair and skin that had relaxed into wrinkles, still missed her beautiful young mother, who was taken from her at such a tender age.

So much for maternal grandparents. My father's story is even worse. He was an orphan by the time he was 11, giving me no opportunity at all to become acquainted with his parents, Dorr and Emily Elizabeth Matthews Peck.

Being deprived of these special associations as a child may have had something to do with my own determination to have a rich association with my grandchildren. I love them and have been blessed to be allowed to be a part of their lives.

When they were young, I tried to have good times with them. One summer I took a carload of very noisy little girls to the popular swimming complex north of Brigham City. Then we spent a night at a local motel. I figured I was giving them valuable training in the art of overnighting with friends.

An outing with the little boys followed, a night at a motel in Salt Lake City that featured a swimming pool. Thoroughly "pruned" after two or three hours in the pool, we spent the night in the motel, gearing up for the trip to Hogle Zoo the next day.

I took T.J., then 13, with me when I went to Washington, D.C., when I was invited to be a judge in the national Blue Ribbon Schools programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Two schools from each state were selected for special plaudits by the department. The national capital was twice the fun with her along.

I took Branden to the old St. Mark's Hospital where much of the work on the Utah artificial heart took place and we watched them put an experimental device in a calf to test its effectiveness. As a young man interested in engineering, it was a good experience for him, and for me, it was a great opportunity to show him off.

We had Easter egg hunts, birthday parties and Christmas cookie decorating events that left my kitchen buried under pounds of colored frostings. I think their perception was that it was calculated to see how much frosting a single cookie could hold. We made short work of more Thanksgiving turkeys than you can imagine, with a special craft time before and after the leftovers. We had good times.

Then something happened. I got old and they got married. The great-grandchildren started queueing up. No one in the family had a home big enough to hold all of us at a time. Young married couples divided holidays up between their families. There were lots of changes.

Now the great-grandchild list is as long as the grandchildren list — and counting. It's at about three dozen or so and counting.

Since I became a family history missionary, I've had cause to see these things in a different light. Although genealogy is specifically a study of one's deceased ancestors, I am very aware that I'll soon be one of those, with generations stretching out on both sides. There'll be new babies linked to me by an eternal heritage but with whom I'll never share a mortal experience. It's enough to boggle your mind.

My assignment for me for next week is get out my records and see that those three dozen or so little ones are duly recorded. It's the least I can do to merit that cherished title of grandmother.

Twila Van Leer is a former Deseret News editor and staff writer who serves as a family history missionary.