Do you ever look at old photographs of a person or place and see how they change over time? It's good to have old photographs nearby to get you in the mood of an era and sometimes to better understand a character's psyche. I have only three photographs of my great aunt Anna, a character in Yours in a Hurry, but they perfectly reflect the passages in her life.
Not for school, but for life we learn.
Anna taught in small Ohio villages for two years after obtaining a teaching certificate. At the end of each year a small souvenir booklet was published with poems and adages, the names of the children and the school board members, and a photograph of the teacher. One of Anna's booklets is at the left. Many of the pupils and board members had surnames of our relations: Sanford, Detwiler, Parsell, Terry. It's a teacher stereotype of the times, but Anna looks a bit plain.
Around 1909 Anna moved to California. The house in which she lived sat on property which is now part of the USC campus. The family was never clear as to why or exactly when she moved, but the May 18, 1911 Los Angeles Examiner reported she was in real estate. Her photo in the article (right) shows that she was more sophisticated in her new surroundings. We don’t know how her transformation occurred, but in the novel, her new found cousin in Hollywood, Ida Wilcox Beveridge, helps her.
We know more about post-traumatic stress syndrome now, but our characters in the early 1900’s referred to Anna's symptoms as mere melancholy. A photograph tells a sadder story. Anna was married in mid-1909, and within a year was divorced and had a child. Research on the child would indicate that it was placed in adoption. One year later on May 17, the same date as the baby’s birth, Anna witnessed the death of her older brother Addison in a violent airplane crash, the eighth such accident in the United States.
That fall she went home to Ohio for possibly the last time. The photo of her and the remaining siblings illustrates her condition. She’s seated in the front. Purl, on leave from the army, is in his uniform. The other sisters are in white frocks and smiling. Anna is in a dark dress, looking older than her age. She looks toward the camera with a blank face.
People have asked me what happened to her in the years after her depression. That’s another story, but it has a happier ending.
You can read about other characters mentioned above in earlier blogs at www.ann-otto.com/blog.
Next time: Tamara Eaton’s new historical novel