February 9, 2021

The Bales Family at Home
Stephen (seated), son Howard, daughter Anna Lou, wife Julia and daughter Sarah Lee


Why did a small town family in the first half of the twentieth century decide to have a family portrait made?  This is the only family portrait we have of the Bales.  They are posing in front of their home on Jackson Street in Athens, perhaps about 1920. I wonder why they carried a small rug outside to go under Stephen’s chair—and why only the father is seated.  

Julia was a younger sister of my maternal grandmother Evalee. Most of the Ensminger women had an underbite—with their lower teeth extending outward farther than their upper front teeth. This gave them a look of great determination! She was a few years older than her husband Steve, who was a mail carrier.  Mother remembered him delivering mail in a horse and buggy.  He died at 55, and I think this portrait was made not long before.  He may have had a stroke—and something about his left arm and his being seated suggests that.

Their daughter Anna Lee (standing behind little brother Howard) married young and had a daughter and four sons.  She died at just 35, leaving her five little ones aged one to twelve. Both Sarah Lee and Howard married, but neither had children.  They were always dedicated to helping care for their niece and nephews.

I always associated the photo postcard of the mail buggy with Steve Bales, but it probably isn’t him.  There’s a woman inside the buggy, with the two little girls and the man standing beside the horse.  Home delivery of mail to farm families (known as Rural Free Delivery—address R.F.D. with a route number) became widespread around 1902. This postcard did not have a postage stamp on it and may have been hand delivered.  It is addressed in pencil to Master Georgie Lee Cate, Athens, Tennessee—that was Uncle Jack, Mother’s younger brother. Part of the short message is illegible, but it reads from Viola to Georgie Lee. Come to see…  Viola was Anna Lou’s eldest child and only daughter and Uncle Jack was her mother’s cousin. Maybe the family just bought these photo postcards to remember Steve Bales, local mail carrier.  I like to think he sometimes took his children and Aunt Julia for rides in his mail buggy along his delivery route through the country!

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