A few weeks ago for our Throwback Thursday writing prompt, I talked about our family vacations and how every year we visited family. I discussed the road trip and prep for it, but didn’t really get into what we’re all about as family historians—the people.
We spend a huge amount of time scanning old documents and whatever we can find on our long-gone ancestors, trying to recreate their story—their persona—and preserve it for posterity. But what about those immediate family members of whom we have first-hand knowledge? Have we recorded our memories of them?
When we made our bi-annual trek to El Paso, Texas, one of my favorite people was my Grandpa Pyburn. Well, technically he wasn’t my grandpa by blood. He was married to my grandmother’s sister, Madelon. When my mom’s father became ill, they took my mom in and raised her as their own. So regardless of the lack of shared DNA, he was my grandpa. And he was awesome.
He was a mining engineer by trade, retired by the time I knew him, and as a young girl, his study in the back of the house was a magical museum of crystals, pyrite, and other cool geological formations that I never before knew existed. I marveled that he knew the names of all of them.
When I was growing up, Grandpa Pyburn was the only one who ever called me Juliana, and while I tended to go by Julie, I felt special that he always called me by my full name. He made me grow to love and appreciate my name.
He always made time for me and I especially remember our trips to the Piggly-Wiggly supermarket. Even the car ride was an adventure. He drove a Dodge and I was fascinated by the push buttons it had, rather than the gear shift on the steering column. In Texas in July, the prickly seat protectors were a must. They kept me from burning my legs on the seats, but I still didn’t care for that part of the ride.
The Piggly-Wiggly always was a treat. We didn’t have them in the Midwest, and the name always made me giggle. But the best part was the rides in the front of the store. He always had a nickel so that I could ride the horse before (and sometimes after) we did our shopping.
Grandpa Pyburn always slept on the screened in back porch in freshly pressed pajamas—unless there was a sand storm coming in. He had breathing problems from his days in the mines and he said the fresh air was good for him. In the back yard he had a koi pond that we also thought was super cool, but as he got older, he eventually had it filled in because it was getting hard to maintain.
He was active and social, even in his later years. He belonged to the Skyriders swimming pool club and going there was another highlight of our trip. It had a huge high dive that scared the heck out of me. Well, it seemed huge at the time. But in-ground pools were a novelty for us and we loved spending the day there in the pool. There was even a kiddie-size pool for my little sisters.
Grandpa Pyburn was also very active in his church. When he died, my mom found a book that listed his activities with Saint Vincent de Paul Society, where he helped coordinate programs for the needy in his community.
I remember the Canasta parties he would have with my Aunt Chula who lived with him, and other family members and friends. They would play cards at the heavy dark wood table in the dining room until late in the night, long after we had gone to sleep on the floor of his study.
No matter how busy he was, he always made time for us kids though, whether it was a kind word, a trip to the Piggly Wiggly, or a quiet afternoon watching TV in his study. Who do you have fond memories of from your childhood? How did they make you feel special? What adventures did you go on? It’s your turn. Share your stories with your family and share them with us here or on our Facebook page.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
[...] Szucs Smith: Last week I wrote about my Grandpa Pyburn. One of my most vivid memories was watching the moon landing with him in 1969. I wanted to go play [...]