“Portraits,” Ensign, Aug. 1984, 53


    One day while searching for some painting utensils in Mom and Dad’s garage, I discovered some photos of two rather stuffy looking people. Dad informed me that they were his parents. He insisted that I take the photos, as they would surely be torn and damaged in the clutter.

    I agreed to take the pictures home, thinking perhaps they would fit nicely on a wall in our bedroom. Somehow I had never been able to find just the right pictures for that space. I purchased two inexpensive frames and hung the two old photographs. To my pleasure, they looked just right.

    Something about the pictures bothered me, however, and I would stare at them sometimes and wonder just what it was that seemed to draw me to them. I began questioning Dad about his parents. What kind of people were they? Where did they come from? Dad told me Grandfather Billiet and his younger brother had immigrated to America from Belgium in 1880 and put down roots as farmers in a small settlement of Belgian immigrants in Illinois. There my grandfather met and married Serena Doubler.

    After a particularly trying day, I would go into the bedroom and gaze at those photographs, wondering how my grandmother managed with thirteen children! The pictures became a part of me, and I began to study them more and more. Dad always said he remembered his mother as the sweetest, gentlest woman in the world, and I began to feel a closeness to her that was difficult to explain.

    During this time I became interested in genealogy and began searching for our family records. I searched for about ten years without success. But in 1980 my prayers were answered, and I found my grandparents’ birth, death, and marriage records. I was so excited! Even my father, now terminally ill, became interested, though he was not a member of the Church. My father’s illness was a great blow to me, as we shared a special relationship. My husband, Gary, and I went to the House of the Lord to perform the baptisms, temple endowments, and sealings for Grandfather Antonius and Grandmother Serena. The marriage ceremony was a wonderful, spiritual experience as we knelt and joined hands at the altar.

    After the ceremony, my husband took me out to dinner. While we were waiting to be served, I looked out the restaurant window and saw a glimpse of what appeared to be my grandmother. She was dressed in a lovely floor-length white gown and appeared to be about twenty-five years old. She was smiling. Her hair was dark brown and pulled up in a bouffant style. As I looked closer, I could see she wasn’t alone. A little girl of about eight years was with her and was also dressed in white. She was seated, and my grandmother stood behind her and brushed her hair as if in preparation for a special occasion. The little girl’s ankles were crossed and she wore white, ankle-length stockings. She had long, dark curls. Her feet were swinging back and forth in excitement. I did not recognize the little girl, although she resembled my eight-year-old daughter, Ericka. I turned away, and when I looked again, the vision was gone.

    This experience stayed with me, and I wondered who this little girl could be. After much prayer I reasoned that it must be another daughter for us, though we had not expected to have more children. I felt this little girl was a special blessing my grandmother did not want us to miss. I felt too that it wouldn’t be long before her last son, my father, would pass from us and return home to her.

    On December 21, 1980, I gave birth to a darling baby girl, Lauren Serena. We were happy Dad was still living when she was born and that he was able to hold her in his hospital bed. He passed away the following March, but I have always felt it was an added blessing that he could see our little girl and that I could share this experience with him.

    • Toni Billiet Aggers, mother of five, serves as typist for the patriarch of her Glendora, California, stake.