A Life In The Balance

She is destined to be a problem child.  The poised wrists, the dainty profile with tiny pierced ears that coil like shells, the crossed ankles – serene and lady-like inside leather buttoned boots – create a spoiled pose that needed no encouragement from parent or photographer.

Playground Poise

A dress with scalloped petticoats, the triad of birds nesting within the brooch at her collar, the knitted socks, patterned with waves as frothy as her skirts…all are the results of a child’s pleadings, and the parents’ desire to please their girl.

She is balanced on a swing, childhood’s favorite vehicle – a means of transport into the clear, empty air.  Before adulthood insists on a goals and guilt…a child insists on a journey into the unknown, and will look towards the sky for their anonymous voyage.  But Faber Photographers were not ones to consider a metaphor.  

This photograph was taken in the early 1900’s, when subjects no longer stared into a camera’s lens in stilted terror.  In less than 10 years she will be standing inside the doorway of her home with her mother, nodding to guests who have come to pay tribute to her newly acquired womanhood.  Her hair will be twisted high, exposing her neck and the silky skin of her shoulders:  it will never curl down her back in childish abundance again.  Once she becomes a young woman delegated to lace dresses, waltzes and corsets to set her spine and ribs into an acceptable anguish, she will have forgotten her swing, her oceanic socks and shiny boots. 

 And should she hear that the studio where she once held onto childhood’s intimacy so tightly was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, will she care?  Or will it be too late:  and all memories vanished and beyond the pain of regret?  

Then, in ten years more, she will be married.  How will the world have changed?  All of Europe will be pale and weak, her blood soaking into the fields and rivers of Belgium, France and Italy. After the Somme,Verdun, the nine battles on the Isonzo river, Delville Wood – names that carry a weight of despair – she can do nothing but kneel in the mud and wait for the blessings of silence and defeat.

America will enter the war in 1917.  In every city across the nation, young men will bid their families farewell…will this child become one of the weeping ladies standing on the train platform, brave in her delicate misery?  Will she see her husband again – or will he fall in one of the terrible American battles:  Argonne-Meuse, Belleau Wood, Cantigny?

This little girl has much to look forward to, and much to fear.  Her joys hang in the balance, between a sheltered, golden world and a world rooting in war’s debris like a dog searching for food.  She looks down from her swing in childish judgement, her life in the balance – but perhaps she doesn’t believe in metaphor, either.

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6 responses to “A Life In The Balance

  1. You’re writing is infused with such richness. I’m still in awe.

  2. This reminds me of when I found a photograph of my grandmother when she was a little girl. She had such a innocent, plaintive look on her face: I suppose she had no idea she would end up on a steamer someday, headed for a foreign country to marry a man she knew only through an old photograph. (And frankly, I can’t imagine it myself—there was a 20-year difference between her and my grandfather.)

    But it’s probably best we can’t see into the future. How many of us would willingly go through hard times to grow into what we are now?

  3. How lovely – your posts are so unique!

  4. Sparks – ‘Infused’ makes me think of blackberry scented vodka. Could anything be sweeter?

    Hangaku Gozen – Looking into the future has never held any appeal for me. I have always tried to see into the past. Always.

    fatcat – I – and this spoiled little girl – both thank you!

  5. What a fancy little thing she is, and her hair the curls, wonder what they used on her hair, I have natural curls and they tend to frizz without product on them, hers are defined and shiny! Think she came from a wealthy family with all the little special touches? Oh and you said you have always tried to see the past in one of your comments, reminds me of the movie I just saw, have you seen it? “Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen flick? If not you must see it!

  6. gorgeous use of language in these musings; I like how you did this, focusing on a child’s photograph and projecting her into the maelstrom of early 20th century history

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