Sunday, August 26th, marked 114th anniversary of my grandmother’s birth. It seems inappropriate to call it a birthday, when she has been gone since 1980. Still, I spent a few dedicated moments on that day thinking about her and what she meant to me and the rest of the family.
She was a diminutive person, barely 5 feet tall, married to a man well over 6 feet. Although she was small in stature, her heart was as big is the world. She was a woman who loves her family. Although my grandfather, who raised horses, farmed, worked as a civil engineer and a sheriff’s deputy, among other things, died over 20 years before she passed, she was still the center of the family, the anchor, and nearly all family gatherings were at her modest home in Pueblo, Colorado. Her yard was big, filled with old growth cottonwood trees, and me and my many cousins would swing from the branches like monkeys in the jungle. We would chase one another, dogs nipping at our heels, as my father and uncles slaved over the barbecue pits, and the women folk worked worked busily in the kitchen. The 1960’s were not a time as casual as we are today. Men still wore suits and hats. Women wore skirts and aprons. The young boys wore jeans and t-shirts with Keds or Pf Flyers, and the young girls still wore dresses for these gatherings.
I still picture my grandmother wearing an apron, although she always took it off whenever she left the house, and she never left the house without a hat. Her customs were very much those formed by life in rural America of the early 20th Century. She was born in Springfield, Illinois, and traveled west with her family when she was still a child. She had over 20 siblings, a large family even by the standards of that day. She was born Pansy Mertyl Pike, a name that seemed destined for a life in the Wild West. Her father was Robert Lee Pike, a Virginian, born in the antebellum South, who, like many Southerners of the time, decided to seek a life in the West. Another Pike, Zebuon Montgomery Pike, had already made his mark in what would become the state of Colorado, and although Zebulon was rumored to be an ancestor, the explorer/soldier hailed from New Jersey, and he was killed in Toronto at a relatively early age when an ammunition dump exploded. The Pike surname, however, served the family well in Colorado.
My grandmother bore 9 children. The oldest girl, Roberta, drowned in an irrigation ditch while swimming with other kids. My oldest uncle, Charlie, was an Army Ranger who survived the invasion of Italy at Anzio, where he saved his cousin’s life, then fought unscathed in the European campaign until he was killed in Germany by a sniper on December 24th 1944. My grandmother survived these heart aches and many more, including the death of my grandfather from a heart attack at the age of 58. It is good and right that I remember these things about her. She has always been an inspiration to me, and for the rest of my life I will mark August 26th as a day of remembrance.