Sepia Saturday: Private Life, Family Life
This week I finished Jane Smiley's great new novel Private Life. Besides being a compellingly written story, I was struck by how the life of its central character Margaret Mayfield could have been any number of my female ancestors. Moving from Missouri to California, she suppresses her own aspirations and dreams in order to be a dutiful wife.
In a recent interview, Smiley mentioned that the story was inspired in part by a distant relative she knew little about and ended up inventing her fictional character from that base. I've said more than once that some of the most fascinating family photos are of those I never met and knew little about.
Born in 1874, Lulie Ann Fleming was the youngest of the nine sisters of my great-grandmother Eva Bell whom I chronicled in this post.
Like Margaret Mayfield, she married at 27 in 1901. In that era, I am sure that her family worried that she was on the road to be an old maid. Seen here with her husband Charlie on their wedding day, I can imagine the guests whispering "I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen," as she walked down the aisles. I am always drawn to the hankie delicately placed in her lap.Although they lived in Kansas, not Missouri, Charlie and Lulie left for California sometime during World War I. I am sure that this was devastating to my great-grandmother since she had no other family there, all the other siblings still in Quebec. This shot is of Charlie on the Kansas farm sometime before their departure to California.
Taken in 1911, this shot shows four of their six children, including the youngest, Bessie, and Lulie's parents Spencer and Elizabeth visiting from Montreal. One son died as an infant, and another was on its way.
This final shot is from 1948 at Knott's Berry farm with Bessie and Lulie. Notice that nearly five decades after her wedding, she still had a hankie in her lap. Having been born in the days of horse drawn wagons as the main means of transport and much of the American west still a frontier, Lulie must have found it bemusing to pose for this re-enactment of it.
Looking at the photos of Lulie, I see so many familiar aspects of her face that remind me of the women in my family -- especially the position of the nose above the mouth. Seeing just that portion of her face, I could think it was my mother, sister, niece, aunt, grandmother and other women in the family. I can even see a bit of it in my own face.
I have never met any of Lulie's offspring, those surviving likely being fourth, fifth or sixth cousins. But I am curious where they are in California, if our paths may have crossed without us knowing it. I know that having these photos of Lulie was a great comfort to my great-grandmother who felt so alone in Kansas, and it is intriguing to look back at them and try to guess the fuller story.