Vean Woodbrey, 69, is restoring a vintage carousel for his many grandchildren… (John M. Glionna / Los Angeles…)
Sometimes, as a reporter, you witness a telling moment only to find there’s no place for the anecdote in your story.
That’s what happened during my recent interview with Vean Woodbrey, an ailing 69-year-old Utah great-grandfather who is working to complete a carnival carousel for his children and the community before his health gives way.
I was captivated by Vean on a number of levels: Along with the selfless dedication of his project, there was also the prodigious size of his family: He and his wife, Tonya, have raised 16 kids. They have 62 grandkids and eight great-grandchildren, with more on the way.
I asked him whether his wife ever balked at having so many children. Did she want to stop at, say, a dozen?
No, he said, she wanted more.
He said that as his family grew, he couldn’t always seize upon one child’s name when he needed it. But the kids understood. As Dad stood there momentarily dumbfounded, they would say “Roll call!” knowing he was sorting his mind until he matched name to face. It soon became an inside family joke.
So, I asked Vean whether he could recite the names of all his kids, who range in age from 24 to 50.
“You’re putting me on the spot,” he said, staring off into space, going through the roll call. “I’ll try to do it in the order they were born.”
So he started, quickly at first. “Diana, Tani, Vickie,” naming the first three girls. Then he began losing speed. “Vean. Kimberly, Kelly, Penny. Christopher. Robert and, um, Scott.”
He stopped. “How many’s that?”
Ten, Vean. Six more to go.
Then, “Kandi, Kevin, Tracy -- I’m trying to keep them in order -- Kristie, Brian. Did I say Robert?”
Yes, you did.
“I know there’s one more.… For some reason ... I know ‘em when I see ‘em.”
Later I interviewed Tonya and mentioned Vean’s memory glitch. She looked as though he’d committed some husbandly crime. She knows all the names of the kids and the grandkids and great-grandkids.
As we were talking, Vean walked into the other room. Suddenly, he erupted.
“Cody!” he shouted. “How could I forget Cody? He’s gonna kill me.”
Seeing the look on Tonya’s face, I realized that she might beat her son to it.