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