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2013-12-31 09:03 am

Sepia Saturday 209: Cars and trucks...

Not horse drawn conveyances this Saturday, but the automated kind.

Walter Nathan Brandon, Sr., Ruth Balding Brandon (my grand aunt) and Walter's son, Walter Nathan Brandon, Jr. Photo circa 1932/35.
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The tour bus "at Glen Cove on Pike's Peak" Co. My grand aunt Marion "Murnie" Balding seated back seat, closest to camera. Photo taken 12 Aug 1929.
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The Williams Grocer Co., owned by my great grandfather, Jo Desha Williams, made home deliveries. Photo taken before the business went belly-up prior to 1920.
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This is a Sepia Saturday post. Head over there for other old photos and postcards.
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2013-11-10 08:31 am
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Ruth playing in the surf at Santa Monica, July 1926

Several commenters from Sepia Saturday commented on this photo of my grand aunt, Ruth Balding. Ruth was 23 years old at the time this photo was taken of her in July 1926, at the beach in Santa Monica CA.

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One of the commenters mused that it would be neat to know what Ruth was thinking as she dabbled in the surf.

Indeed.
Of course, Ruth did not record her thoughts on the back of this photo, or any of the others in the album she kept. An album I had no idea existed until one of my cousins clued me in. She made scans of the photos and sent me a CD. We marveled over them on the phone as my cousin read me the labels from the photos in Ruth's album.

The album seemed to be a record of the travels of the Victor Balding family, primarily during the mid to late 1920s and then at the end, some travel in the 1930s, after Ruth had married and left home.

One question I had was - how did the family afford to travel? My remembrances of discussions with my grandmother focused on how tight finances were for the Baldings. Ruth and her father supported the family with their jobs. Ruth lived at her parents's home until she married in 1932 at the age of 29 - contributing her income as the bookkeeper at the Brandon Co. to the good of her family.

My theory about how they were able to travel is connected to Pop Balding's job. In 1904, Victor Balding began working for the railroad as a telegrapher. He advanced to chief telegrapher, and worked for the railroad for 38 years, until his retirement in 1942, just three years before his death.

I think it was likely that, as a perk of Victor's job, he and his family were able to travel by train either at greatly reduced fares, or perhaps, free.
Aunt Ruth has always intrigued me.

I never knew her. She committed suicide on 30 Dec 1959, when I was thirteen months old and living with my parents in Clearwater FL.

How she got to that tragic end from the woman we see above...carefree? thoughtful? pensive?...is a matter of perspective, one I searched for in a four part series of blog entries I did about Ruth in January 2012.

I don't know if I got it right.
During my childhood, the only perspective I was presented about Ruth came from abrupt endings of adult conversation coinciding with my entrance into the room, and whispers from some of those same adults when they thought we kids weren't listening, as our extended family gathered for food, televised football games and fun.

So even up to the time I started seriously researching Ruth's history to write that blog post series last year, the mental image I had of this aunt I had never met was a picture of a stern, no-nonsense woman in sensible shoes - one with a good head for business, but not much heart for people.

My mental image of Ruth fit neatly with this photo of her - undated, but surely within the period of time she was diagnosed with lymphatic leukemia (now called lymphocytic leukemia) and the time of her death.

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Of course, as family historians know, it is often helpful to look at the big picture, too.

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Ruth with her mother, brother, sister-in-law and nephew, photo taken in Ruth's mother's home.


When I saw that photo, it hit me.

There was the visual image of Ruth's difficult relationship with her family of origin, difficulties that would span decades.
I wish I knew what Ruth was thinking as she played in the surf on Santa Monica beach.

Was she glad for the break from work? From looking after her younger siblings? Did she have more spacious sleeping and living quarters on the train that carried her from home in Little Rock AR to Santa Monica? Did she look forward to adventure on this trip?

I don't know. But I hope that as Aunt Ruth got older, and things got more difficult for her, she was able to reach for her photo album and look back on her youth.

And smile.
See you on other other side, Aunt Ruth.

I have so many things to ask you.
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2013-01-08 12:21 pm

Sepia Saturday: Grandma in her bathing suit

This one has got to be one of my favorites...

I understand my grandmother made her suit herself.

She was always good with a needle.

Look at her monogram...

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Doris Geneva Balding, early 1920s



This is a Sepia Saturday post. Head over there for other wonderful images.
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2012-03-24 11:08 am

Sepia Saturday: Ruth's first car...

The theme this week is "going out."

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My grandaunt Ruth Balding with her 1928 Essex sedan.

She was 25.




This is a Sepia Saturday post. Head over there for other really cool old photos.
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2012-02-04 10:22 am

Sepia Saturday: Teddy Balding, circa 1925

Today's theme for Sepia Saturday is dogs...

So here is Teddy, newly discovered among photos in a scrapbook compiled by my grand-aunt, Ruth Balding..

The photos appear to span a period of time from 1922 through the mid-1930s and ~gasp~ are almost all labeled.

Teddy appears in the earliest of the photos, so I'm dating this about 1925.

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Teddy, the Balding family dog, about 1925.

This is a Sepia Saturday post.

Head over there for more interesting photos.
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2012-01-31 06:13 pm
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Grandma in her bathing suit...

This one has got to be one of my favorites...

I understand my grandmother made her suit herself.

She was always good with a needle.

Look at her monogram...

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Doris Geneva Balding, early 1920s
dee_burris: (Default)
2012-01-31 06:03 pm

Balding sibling photos...

More treasures from Aunt Ruth's scrapbook...


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Russell Ellington (also known all his life as Linky) and Marvin Balding. Photo circa 1922.

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Vera Virginia, Doris Geneva (my grandmother) and Marion Chapin Balding (also known as Murnie). Photo circa 1922.

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Marvin and Vera. Photo circa 1926/27.

I am having a blast looking through these photos.

Much thanks to my California cousin for getting them scanned so the whole family can enjoy them...
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2012-01-28 09:05 am

In search of Ruth's story... Part 1

I think of them as my orphan relatives.

The ones who left no descendants - no one to tell their stories. The aunts and uncles who may or may not be remembered fondly - or at all.

As generations pass, those who knew the stories of the orphan relatives pass on also.

The stories are lost.

I'm going to try and piece together the story of my grand aunt, Ruth Lucille Balding. I'm getting some help from first cousins in California and New York, an aunt in Texas, my sister, and all the old familiar resources available to family historians.

I recognize that perspective is subjective. Ruth's siblings no doubt had their own perspectives on their family of origin, and passed those down to their descendants.

I hope I do Ruth justice in the telling of her story.
Ruth Lucille Balding was born in Little Rock, Pulaski Co., AR on 9 May 1903 to her 15 year old mother Hattie Belle Chapin, and her 29 year old father, Victor Claude Balding.

Ruth lived in Little Rock all her life.

I believe she was named for another Ruth, her mother's sister, who died when Hattie Chapin was about 5 years old. Three years after Ruth Chapin's death in 1892, Fred Chapin brought his wife Eada, and 8 year old daughter, Hattie, from Fort Scott to Little Rock.

I think her sister must have been on Hattie's mind when her first daughter was born.

Hattie and Victor had six other children after Ruth - Eugene Victor in 1905; Doris Geneva in 1907; Vera Virginia in 1910; Marion Chapin "Murnie" in 1912; Marvin Parrish in 1915; and Russell Ellington in 1917.

As was often the case in large families, Ruth became a surrogate mother to her younger siblings. She may have felt she lost her childhood, as evidenced by a conversation one of my cousins remembers being related to her by one of our relatives. Teen-aged Ruth stumbled upon her parents getting frisky, and told them to cut it out, because she wasn't going to raise any more of their children.

By 1920, Ruth was employed at the Brandon Stove Company (later The Brandon Company) as a stenographer. She was 17 years old, and with her father, provided the financial support for the family of nine in their home at 217 Dennison Street.

Until she married the owner of the Brandon Stove Company, Walter Nathan Brandon, Sr., in 1932, Ruth lived at home with her parents, contributing her income to the common good, including that of some of her teenaged and adult siblings.

But she did find some time for fun with her family...as we'll see in Part 2.

Part 3
Part 4
dee_burris: (Default)
2012-01-28 09:03 am

Ruth's Story...Part 2

With much thanks to my cousin, we have some photos from a scrapbook Ruth kept of travels of the Balding clan to several states in the United States, beginning in the roaring 20s.

Before my cousin and I spoke by phone about my plan to write this series of blogposts about Ruth, I never knew the album existed or that the Balding family had taken these vacations.

Neither had my cousins, or my sister. None of us can recollect our grandmother, who went on many of these trips, saying a word about them.

The photos provide a rare glimpse of our Balding family taking pleasure in travel, and in each other's company.
One question I had was - how did the family afford to travel? My remembrances of discussions with my grandmother focused on how tight finances were for the Baldings. Ruth and her father supported the family with their jobs.

My theory about how they were able to travel is connected to Pop Balding's job. In 1904, Victor Balding began working for the railroad as a telegrapher. He advanced to chief telegrapher, and worked for the railroad for 38 years, until his retirement in 1942, just three years before his death.

I think it was likely that, as a perk of Victor's job, he and his family were able to travel by train either at greatly reduced fares, or perhaps, free.

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Ruth, 1922. Photo was captioned, "Sweet 19."

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Ruth (r) and her friend, Anita (l). Photo, 1922

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Doris Geneva Balding. Photo circa 1923-1924.

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Russell Ellington (Linky) and Marvin Parrish Balding. Photo circa 1923.

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Hattie Chapin Balding.

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Hattie playing in the ocean,. Photo circa 1925.

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Harassing the wildlife. Photo circa early 1920s

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Sombreros on Russell (Linky), Murnie and Vera.

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Ruth, Santa Monica CA, July 1926




Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
dee_burris: (Default)
2012-01-28 09:00 am

Ruth's story...Part 4

The end of Ruth's life is, unfortunately, the part for which the greatest amount of information survives, both in terms of family anecdotes and written documentation.

For years, all I knew of Aunt Ruth was what I as a young child had taken from snippets of adult conversation I overheard. In my mind's eye, I pictured a stern, no-nonsense woman in sensible shoes - one with a good head for business, but not much heart for people.

This photo, taken not long before her death in 1959, seemed to support that vision.

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However, that's not what the evidence - sketchy as it may be - shows.
After her husband's death in 1948, Ruth's role in the Brandon Company changed, but she remained a vital part of the business until her death.

The 1949 Polk's Directory for Little Rock.North Little Rock shows the principals of the business as as Walter N Brandon (this was Walter Jr., Ruth's step-son) President, Mary P Brandon, Vice President (Walter Jr.'s wife) and Ruth B Brandon, Sec/Treasurer.
Two letters found among my grandmother's personal effects after her death in 1998 painted vastly different pictures of Ruth Balding.

The first was a letter from one of Ruth's sisters to another in 1957, relating the first sister's disgust with Ruth's behavior on a recent visit to her sister's home. In it, the sister said (among other things), "You've let her get by with everything just because of that disease she has and she's making herself obnoxious to everybody." She closed the letter with, "If you repeat any of this, I'll deny it."

The disease Ruth had was called lymphatic leukemia in the 1950s. Today, it is called lymphocytic leukemia, and given the amount of time between the 1957 letter and her death on 30 Dec 1959, I think it's possible she had chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Ruth executed a will on 12 March 1956, almost 18 months before the letter referenced above. Whether she decided to make a will because she found out she had incurable cancer (as it was considered then), or simply because she felt it was time, I don't know. Today, median survival of patients with this form of leukemia is 8–10 years, compared with 5–6 years in series reported in the 1970s.

In her will, Ruth directed that the stock she owned in the Brandon Company be sold, with her step-son, Walter N Brandon, Jr., having the first option to buy it. She also directed that her home, automobile and personal effects be sold, and with the proceeds from the sale of the stock, all net proceeds were to be divided - with one third going to her mother, and the remaining two-thirds divided equally among her siblings.

At her death, Ruth would continue to provide for the welfare of her family.
The second letter was from Ruth to the sister who authored the 1957 letter, and was written five months before her death, in July 1959.

I had the distinct impression as I read the letter that somehow Ruth found out that at least two of her sisters were talking about her behind her back, and one of them had a major axe to grind.

In the letter, Ruth related a story to her sister about one of their brothers who, in 1948 (the year Walter Brandon died and Ruth became a fairly wealthy widow), had borrowed several thousand dollars from Ruth - interest free - to start his own business. As of the date of Ruth's letter, her brother had yet to repay a penny to her, although his business was thriving, and he had purchased two new cars and a boat. He also borrowed money from their mother for his business, and Ruth had insisted that her brother pay their mother interest on that loan, due to Hattie Balding being on a fixed income.

I wondered why this letter was in my grandmother's personal effects at the time of her death. It was not addressed to her. It had been forwarded by the sister who received it to one of their brothers almost one month after Ruth's funeral in 1960.

My aunt was able to provide the explanation for that. Apparently my grandmother had advocated unsuccessfully for her brother (the subject of Ruth's letter to her sister in 1959), the executor of Ruth's estate, to forego taking the 6% of Ruth's estate as her executor, since he still owed the estate the entire debt described in the 1959 letter. Their mother's share of the estate would be reduced by his administrator's fee.

According to my aunt, my grandmother was the lone voice crying in the wilderness. Her brother was unmoved, and the rest of her siblings refused to back her up.

The family photo from which I cropped the picture of Ruth above now seemed to make more sense.

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I had often looked at that photo and felt that Ruth was quite separated from her family. In fact, she seemed to me to be poised for flight in her very sensible shoes.
Not long before her death, Ruth fired her housekeeper.

But she couldn't get rid of her. The woman wouldn't leave Ruth's home. Not only that, but the former housekeeper threatened Ruth.

Ruth called one of her nephews to see if he would come over and make the woman leave. He did, by telling her she had two choices - to leave under her own steam or with police escort.

Afterward, Ruth was still fearful of the threat. She retrieved a revolver owned by her late husband, and asked her nephew to load it for her.

On 18 December 1959, Ruth went to see her personal physician. What they discussed is unknown, but I think it is reasonable to believe her illness would have been part of that discussion. That was the last time her doctor saw her alive. From my sister's recollection of conversations with our grandmother (Ruth's younger sister), Ruth was in extreme pain due to her illness for quite some time before her death.

Shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 December 1959, Ruth Balding Brandon climbed the stairs to her bedroom in her home on South Battery Street, tied herself into her rocking chair, and shot herself in the left chest. Her nephew felt incredible guilt.

Ruth was the first born of her siblings, and the first to die. She was 56 years, 7 months, and 22 days old.

She was buried in the Balding family plot in Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock on 1 January 1960.

From the sermon preached at her funeral, I note the following:

...We thank Thee for her strong sense of duty, her strength of will
and the fidelity with which she performed the tasks of life.
We thank Thee that in the world of business she lost nothing
of her high ideals and made no compromise of her womanly character...
We thank Thee for the heart of compassion that was within her
and which overflowed with countless deeds of generous love and
thoughtfulness. We thank Thee that these qualities of character
were not intermittent or transitory but the expression of a
steadfast purpose, followed through a lifetime.


I wish I had known her.
I'll meet you on the other side, Aunt Ruth.

Feel free to leave virtual flowers at Ruth's Find a Grave memorial, by clicking here.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
dee_burris: (Default)
2011-11-19 06:58 pm

Sepia Saturday: Baldings, circa 1958

Sadly, none of these folks are still living, with the possible exception of the unidentified one.



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Left to right: Ruth Lucille (Balding) Brandon, Eugene Victor Balding, son Larry Eugene Balding, wife Lucille Balding, unidentified, Hattie Belle (Chapin) Balding
dee_burris: (Default)
2011-08-05 07:38 pm

"No Larry, we're not putting Grampa out with the trash"

Twenty years ago (or maybe a tad more), before I started tracking my ancestors in any serious way, I got a phone call from my second cousin.

He was one of my Balding cousins, the only son of one of my grandmother's brothers.

His father died in 1980, and his mom couldn't live by herself any more. Larry was packing up her house to move her to Tulsa where he lived and could keep an eye on her.

The call was to let me know he had finished the packing and there were some leftovers in the house - bits of furniture and memorabilia, and he wondered if my sisters and I might want some of it.

I said sure, and we made a date for the next afternoon. I called my sisters to let them know.
I can't even remember now if my sisters accompanied me.

But I will never forget what I saw when I pulled into my aunt's driveway.

This portrait, leaning against the garbage cans on the curb.

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Fred Chapin, 1858-1938


I grabbed it up as I went in the carport door. I gave it to Larry when I went in.

He looked at me. I told him I found it out by the trash. That's Grampa Chapin.

What he said just floored me.

Dee, that frame isn't worth anything. That's why it's out with the trash.

I may not know much about the monetary value of old portrait frames, but there's one thing I did know.

At that time, that portrait was 100 years old.

So...no Larry, we're not putting Grampa out with the trash.
Grampa Fred Chapin's portrait has hung in whatever humble abode I have occupied ever since then.

I had a very interesting text conversation with my nephew today.

It's his 24th birthday and I texted him to wish him a happy one. We kidded back and forth about where his envelope full of cash was, and I told him I'd remember him in my will.

What he said just floored me.

When I die, he wants this portrait of his great-grandmother, Doris Geneva Balding, Fred Chapin's granddaughter.

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Doris Geneva Balding Williams, 1907-1998


I think Grampa may have a new home...



This is a Sepia Saturday post.
dee_burris: (Default)
2011-07-30 02:03 pm

The places they called home...

I finally took my camera and went in search of four homes where my Baldings, Chapins, and Williamses lived in Little Rock.

The first one - the address listed on the World War I draft registration card of my great grandfather, Victor Claude Balding - was at 223 Rice Street. He signed his draft registration card on 12 Sep 1918.

The house is still there - although I'm sure it looks a bit different today than it did 93 years ago.

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Next, I went in search of the houses at 213 and 217 Dennison.

They are next door to each other.

My maternal grandparents, Joe Duffie Williams and Doris Geneva Balding, lived at 213. I found them at that address in city directories from 1940 to 1949.

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A whole bunch of people lived at 217 for many years - including my grandother's parents and siblings, as well as her maternal grandmother, Eada Belle (Parrish) Chapin after the death of Fred Chapin right after Christmas in 1938.

According to Polk's Little Rock/North Little Rock City Directories, Fred and Eada lived at 913 North Valmar, and Eada was listed at that address in the 1939 City Directory. (I'll have to make another photo journaling trip to see if that one is still standing.)

But by 1940, Eada made her home with her daughter, Hattie Belle and son-in-law, Victor, at 217 Dennison.

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In 1940, the house at 217 Dennison must have been full to overflowing, with Victor and Hattie Balding, Hattie's mother, Eada Chapin, and adult children, Ellington (Linky), daughter Marion (Murney), Marvin and Vera. All the children were employed except Linky, who was the youngest.
Across town, my grandfather's parents, Jo Desha Williams and Maxie Leah Meek, lived at 2310 South Ringo Street.

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That was the home to which my grandfather, Joe Duffie Williams, took his bride Doris after they married on Halloween in 1926. They were still there when the census was taken in 1930.
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2011-01-02 09:50 pm

Matrilineal Monday: Hattie Belle Chapin, 1887-1976

Whatever could they have been thinking - Fred and Eada Belle - when they let their only daughter marry at the tender age of 14?

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Hattie Belle Chapin, around the time of her marriage in 1901


Hattie Belle Chapin married Victor Claude Balding in Little Rock, AR on 25 Sep 1901. She was 14. He was 27.

She called him Mr. Balding - all her life.

They were my maternal great grandparents.


Their kids called her Mama and him, Pop. The grandkids called them Mema and Pop.

We great grandkids called her Mema, and not too many of us ever met Pop. He died in 1945, just a month after her mother's death.

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Victor and Hattie Balding, undated photo


Everyone who knew them said they were head over heels in love with each other.

And Pop's Hattie Belle never let the romance end. She remained a widow until her death in 1976.


Life was hard for the Baldings. Pop worked for the railroad as a telegrapher. There were many mouths to feed.

By the time Hattie was 20, she had three children (my grandmother was the youngest at the time). By 1917, their family was complete, with seven children in all.

My grandmother talked about how the home was run. Every evening when it was almost time for Pop to come home, her mother would go to the kitchen, put on her apron and begin to get supper ready.

Even though times were hard, Victor and Hattie were aware that they were harder still for others. Every holiday, Pop would bring home various and sundry people who had nowhere else to go. Everyone made room at the table.

Pop coached a boys' baseball team when his own sons were young. Mema made their uniforms, and those of their teammates.


Mema loved family gatherings. She seemed content to show up and take her place as a matriarch. And she was good to pose for photos.

She is on the far left in this one, taken in my grandmother's backyard in 1967.

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Shortly after that photo was taken, Mema's mental faculties started to decline. At first, it was just a little forgetfulness.

But soon, the forgetfulness became apparent, even to her great grandchildren. I remember going to see her. I'd go into the den to talk to her, and I'd have to introduce myself. If I left the room, and came back, we had to start all over again.

My name didn't seem to register with her any more. So I started saying I was Doris' granddaughter.

She beamed at me. That made sense.

We carried on.


One day when my grandmother and mother took me to see her, something strange happened.

We were sitting and having a nice chat when all of a sudden, Mema got up and left the room.

My grandmother found her in her bedroom, getting ready to curl her long hair and put it back up again. She used one of those skinny little metal curling irons that heated up in its own electrified holder. And real hairpins.

I followed my grandmother in. She asked Mema what she was doing.

I have to get ready. Mr. Balding will be home soon. He likes for his women to look pretty.

It was one of the only times I had seen my grandmother at a loss for words. She helped Mema curl her hair and put it back up again.

Mema headed for the kitchen. Pots and pans started clattering. She was going to make supper.

Grandma tried to stop her - to explain that Mr. Balding wasn't coming home.

Mema shushed her. Couldn't she hear the baby was crying? She needed to tend to the baby and get supper ready before Mr. Balding came home...

My grandma turned away from me, but not before I saw the tears in her eyes.


The decline was rapid toward the end. She was diagnosed with Altzheimers, and the family found a female companion to live in with her.

Mema lived in a world decades past. We humored her.

Her doctor said she was not aware that she had developed breast cancer, and at her age and overall medical condition, there was no point in surgical intervention. He would make sure she stayed comfortable.

Hattie Belle Chapin Balding died on 18 Jan 1976.

And finally re-joined Mr. Balding.
dee_burris: (Default)
2010-12-02 10:14 pm

Doris Geneva (Balding) Williams

Born on 9 Jul 1907, in Pulaski County, AR to Victor Claude and Hattie Belle (Chapin) Balding, the third of seven children, she lived in Little Rock all her life. She died here on 18 Jan 1998, and refused to go until her last grandchild arrived by plane from New York.

She was my maternal grandmother.


Grandma Dee, we called her.

She loved making things with her hands. She began to sew as a young girl, and added gardening to her crafting. She had a green thumb that just didn't quit, although as she aged and hired a gardener to do the heavy lifting, she had to content herself with following him around, and in later years, sitting on the terrace or a chair in the front driveway, giving instruction in the way only she could.


Grandma married Jo Duffie Williams on Halloween in 1926. They eloped.

That's why it was so funny to find this among her papers after her death. It's the *official* Marriage Service of the Presbyterian Church.

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Look closely. They eloped.

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That's why Rev Hay Watson Smith penned the word not into the text...were not united by me in the bonds of marriage...

I had to laugh.

That juxtaposition of what you were supposed to do as opposed to what you wanted to do was so like her, and made her so unique.


Grandma was a young bride during the Great Depression. Those years shaped her financial world view for the rest of her life. She was an economist in every sense of the word. But when she cut loose with some money, she bought quality.

She and my grandfather lived in a small rental home not far from her parents while they saved money to build their home in central Little Rock. They moved into it in 1949, when my mother, their youngest child, was 12.

They built it for cash. It never had a mortgage on it as long as my grandmother lived there. When my grandfather died, he left her financially secure, and she enlisted the help of her banker to stay that way.

When I was grown, and moved back to Arkansas, I'd go to see her.

Arkansas summers can be brutal. Grandma would rise in the morning, get her bath and dress and go downstairs where she stayed for the rest of the day, with the windows open. She rarely ran the air conditioning until the summer drought crashed into the brutal and unrelenting heat of August. She kept the windows open and fans going.

I teased her about that - she could well afford to run her AC. "How do you think," she would ask me indignantly, "that we made it through the Great Depression?"

She said the same thing about the paper towels. I'd go into the kitchen and see a paper towel spread out to dry on the counter next to the sink. When I reminded her paper towels were about 79 cents a roll, she'd roll her eyes and tell me there was nothing wrong with that one, she had dried her hands on it. It wasn't soiled, it was damp.

It was perfectly suitable for continued use.


Grandma had more than her fair share of health problems all her life. She had tuberculosis when my mother was about 4 years old, and spent time in the TB sanitorium at Booneville in Logan County. Once she told me the smell of cooked cabbage reminded her of Booneville for the rest of her life.

Later, she had a thyroidectomy. As was the custom in the 1950s and 60s, she had a complete hysterectomy.

It wasn't until after my grandfather died in 1970 that she began to have heart problems. Before she died, she had two major heart surgeries - by-passes each time.

Those took a lot out of her, but I never heard her complain about them, or the radical mastectomies she had exactly one year apart when she was in her 70s.

She even managed to joke about that. She called herself the titless wonder.


One Saturday morning, I was putzing around the cottage when she called.

Are you doing anything special today?

Not particularly, why? Do you need me to take you somewhere?

Well, yes. I'd like to go to Barbara Graves Intimate Fashions.

Now, I was intrigued. What did my 87 year-old grandmother need from a lingerie shop?

Titties.

She explained.

Her breast prostheses were heavy and hot. But more than that, these are 20 year old titties, they are too perky, and they look ridiculous on an 80 year old body. I need something with some sag in it.

The socks she had been rolling up to put in her bra when she went out in public weren't cutting it, and the Barbara Graves saleswoman said she could fix her right up.

So off we went. After we purchased her new titties, we went to her favorite place for lunch.

Wendy's. She always had the same thing, with a Frosty for dessert.

And then surreptiously raked all the unused condiment packets off the table into her purse before we left.

How do you think we made it through the Great Depression?


After she died, my sisters, cousins and I gathered at her home to divide the household furnishings and personal contents not covered by her will, and pack the house up for sale.

We divided up the rooms and got to work.

I had her bedroom, one of three on the second floor. We had devised a loose system of organization, and it was working well for me until I opened the bottom drawer of one of her bureaus.

Stacked neatly inside were probably at least a dozen Russell Stover candy boxes. At first, I thought they were probably empties she couldn't bear to part with (remember the Great Depression...), but when I picked a couple of them up, they were heavy.

Holy shit, I thought...how much chocolate could one old woman eat? I took the top off.

And discovered her music cassette tapes. Each box contained a different genre of music.

All these years, we had wracked our brains on her birthday and Christmas, trying to figure out what to get the woman who had everything.

And she was storing her music tapes in Russell Stover candy boxes.


One category of "things" that started stacking up real fast in those three days was papers. All kinds of papers. We designated a place in the den to locate those. Stuff like battered shoeboxes and dog-eared, coffee stained manila envelopes full of papers, some handwritten and some typed on what you can tell was one of the original manual typewriters. Loose photos, wedding invitations, baptismal announcements, and obituaries and funeral notices. Newspaper articles, touting the feats and accomplishments of various ones of my forebears. None with the name of the newspaper or the date, though - we were not so famous as to rate headlines where that information might have survived the shears.

Other than for historic purposes, we collectively did not figure anyone would have interest in the warranty and operating instructions for the first electric percolator Papa bought for Grandma, and which had long since bit the dust.

It was easy to cull through all that - but not quick. At times, there'd be four or five of us, sitting cross legged on the floor in the den, looking through all that and we would find ourselves reading those instructions - out loud, to each other.

And at the end, we consolidated quite a bit of it.

I don't remember who first asked, "So what are we going to do with this stuff?"

All heads swiveled in my direction.

I adopted my best rendition of the left-eyebrow-arched-oh-no-you-don't look, and said, "I don't think so."

The cottage has the least amount of space of any of our dwellings. And I am not the oldest grandchild, I am third. Why me?

The out of state cousins immediately began to talk about shipping costs. They had all flown in for the funeral and the week after, and had no way to wag packing boxes back with them on the plane(s) - at least not without considerable expense.

Everyone turned and looked at me.

So I got all of that - and the family photo album and dictionary.

Yeah, a family dictionary. (We couldn't find a family Bible, but it didn't tear any of us up.) But we had a family dictionary - a Webster's unabridged with a ribbon marker from decades ago that sat on a little lectern in the den. Papa kept it there along with a little magnifying glass. A kid had to stand on a stool so Papa could show her the dictionary.

And there was a lot of family information in all those papers.

And so began my journey into my family's past.

I believe Grandma would approve.


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Doris B Williams in her garden, 1972


See you on the other side, Grandma.
dee_burris: (Default)
2010-12-01 05:20 pm

Photo Entry: August 1967

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Doris (Balding) Williams, 1907-1998 and her sister, Vera (Balding)King, 1910-1999
dee_burris: (Default)
2010-12-01 05:16 pm

Photo Entry: August 1967

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Left to right: Hattie (Chapin) Balding, Jo Carleton "Buddy" Williams, Sue (Keene) Williams, Russell Ellington "Linky" Balding, Judith Ann (Williams) Burris Neumann, Jo Duffie Williams, Lucille Balding.

Sadly, only one of those folks is still alive.