A graceful meditation on the often unsuspected family legacies ``that somehow make up the landscape that identifies who one might be.'' Hampsten (English/University of North Dakota) was especially pleased when, after the death of her mother (Elizabeth Lockwood) in 1979, her father handed her a hatbox of letters Lockwood had written to her own parents. The letters--begun in 1928, while Lockwood was a student at Wellesley--provided a record of the woman's life after college: her early married years as the wife of a foreign-service officer; the births of her four children; and life on ``Double A,'' a ranch Hampsten's parents had bought in Arizona. Hampsten read the letters not only ``to enjoy again Mother's wit, her kindness, her pride in [her] children and the interesting life she had led, but to try to fathom better what the letters meant to her, and what part writing them had in a life of hers separate from children.'' In time, Hampsten's quest to know her mother better became a search to learn more about herself and her grandparents--a search that she examines here through a series of essays. The first lovingly describes her childhood on the ranch- -a hard, lonely life for her mother, used to the more stimulating existence of a diplomat's wife, but an idyllic one for a young girl. The final essay is a frank examination of Hampsten's often awkward relationship with her own daughter. In between, she describes, with the past always a touchstone, her grandparents, childhood, education, travels, marriage, and children--all along recognizing those strands of looks, gestures, and habits that link the generations. A vivid evocation of place as well as period distinguishes this low-key but bittersweet and affecting memoir of the ``signatures that bind us together in a family.''