1 of 3
Family photo
Twila Gagon in 1926 as a missionary in the Western States Mission.

They've done it again. The folks at the Family History Department bend over backward to help people who are writing their family histories. Now for 2017, they've come up with #52Stories, a week-by-week prompt that asks questions to spark ideas for your history.

Themes somewhat follow the things that tend to happen in the month in question. For January, for instance, the echoes of New Year's resolutions put the focus on goals and how you fuel your most important achievements.

So I'm confessing up front that I am skipping January, at least for the purposes of this column. I don't want to write about myself in a public forum. I'll save it for my history. So I fudged. I thumbed through the topics until I hit May, which puts the spotlight on how much we know about our mothers.

Now, there's a topic I can write about. Writing about my parents and siblings, some of the most important people in my life, is definitely one of the things I have on my list to include in my personal history, so I can in good conscience write it here and transfer it wholesale. The old "killing two birds with one stone" approach.

When the Peck kids get together, there is always consensus on one point: Our mother, Twila Gagon Peck, had the most profound impact on our lives. We feel she had more to do with who we are today than any other person who touched our lives. That she lived until she was 104, when I had enjoyed 77 years of her company, is one of the great blessings of my life.

Mother read to us, the whole one and a half bushels of little Pecks (four Pecks make a bushel) gathered on her lap or around her legs while she made us acquainted with hundreds of literary characters.

We were very poor. (It's always very popular to have been poor. We just grow to hate it in the present.) When I was really small, we had one children's book that included stories about a little boy named Dicky Bird. Mom read the stories over and over and over. One night she said she had a new Dicky Bird story. Alas, in her final version, Dicky Bird got pneumonia and died.

Even as adults, we were treated to Mom's vast store of literary tidbits. She could recite poetry, not the bitsy four-line things I memorize, but the full text of "Thanatopsis" and segments from the "Idylls of the King," from Salt Lake City to California and back.

When we traveled on our annual sibling get-togethers, she started contests writing doggerel or limericks that live in infamy in our family. On one of the outings, she had my sister Leanne and I put on garbage bags stuffed with newspapers, don white gloves and the three of us performed the California Raisins' ditty that was popular at the time.

Mother wasn't wonderful because she was free from challenges; she was wonderful because she faced her challenges faithfully and with grace, accepting them as part of the experience of living. I don't recall being aware of the many troubles she faced because she always made things good for us. I simply never knew how bad things were at times. On one occasion, she used her last cup of sugar to make peanut brittle for us.

Challenges, in fact, started early for Mom. When she was 6, her mother died giving birth to her fifth child. Mom wrote years later about seeing the bloody sheets and also seeing her mother laid out on chairs before the funeral. Shortly thereafter, her father left his four children parceled out among relatives while he served a three-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Scotland.

Mom missed her "beautiful young mother" and wrote decades later how strange it would be for her, with her white hair and wrinkles, to meet her mother again when her own long life was over.

She loved her dad. She wrote of him that he had a "three-girl" lap, a spot each for her and her two sisters. Her brother, Leo, was too old for that sort of stuff. When my grandpa returned from his mission, he married a woman he had met in Scotland and Mom accepted nine half-siblings just like she always accepted everyone.

The family lived in the mining towns in southern Utah County and the Juab County area. She loved climbing the hills and going to the mine where Grandpa was superintendent to take him his lunch.

OK, time and space, those two perennial bugaboos of journalists, won't let me finish this story. I'll probably add 20 more pages before it's ready for my history, but it's a start. You get the idea. Look into #52Stories and see how it jogs your memory. You can find the details for each month by going to FamilySearch.org and proceeding to the blog.

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