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.
One of the commenters mused that it would be neat to know what Ruth was thinking as she dabbled in the surf.
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.
Of course, as family historians know, it is often helpful to look at the big picture, too.
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.
See you on other other side, Aunt Ruth.
I have so many things to ask you.
This is an encore presentation of this entry for Sepia Saturday. Head over there for a look at more interesting sepia photographs and post cards.