Carnival of Genealogy: A Day at the Beach (Redondo Beach, CA, 1929)

by Memoir Mentor on May 21, 2011

My maternal grandparents and four of their children immigrated to the United States from Lanarkshire, Scotland, in 1922. My grandfather, William Miller, was a coal miner, the son and grandson of coal miners. Times were hard in Scotland in the early 1920s, with frequent mining strikes chipping away at my grandfather’s efforts to make a living.

A relative in Pennsylvania coaxed my grandparents to try their luck in the States. They settled in Eastern Pennsylvania for a while, where my grandfather worked in the anthracite coal mines and my grandmother, Bella, had two more children, my mother the youngest.

Before the decade was over, the Millers found their way to Southern California. They settled in Redondo Beach in what is called the South Bay. By then the Depression had hit, and it hit my grandparents especially hard. My grandfather died at 48, a casualty of a life filled with financial stress and grim, back-breaking labor in the mines. He left my grandmother a young widow with six children to rear during the Depression.

Like children everywhere, and especially children in the Depression era, my mother and her siblings managed to find ways to entertain themselves with little. As it turned out, Redondo Beach in those days was like living down the street from Disneyland, with one of California’s prettiest beaches and an amusement park just a stone’s throw from the shore. There, young people had their pick from an array of attractions–carnival rides and games, a movie theatre, the world’s largest salt-water plunge, and the Mandarin Ballroom, where Big Band-era musicians performed every weekend.

My mother says she loved growing up in Redondo Beach. She spent most of her childhood summers swimming in the ocean and the plunge. As a teenager she worked as an usher in the theatre and danced with her high school sweetheart, later to become my father, at the Mandarin Ballroom.

The photo above captures five of the Miller children posed on the beach in an assortment of makeshift beach attire. My mother stands in the lower right, her dress tucked into her panties to keep it from getting wet. They look like they’re having a great day at the seashore, their thoughts a thousand miles away from the troubles that burdened their parents.

About a decade ago, my mother and a couple of her sisters were browsing through a photo album and came across this photograph. “We sure looked like a bunch of goof-balls, didn’t we?” one said. “Yeah, real ragamuffins,” agreed another. “Look at our flat chests. It was the style then to play down our chests. Remember how we bound them in later years?” chimed in a third.

As it turned out, the “Miller Girls,” for that’s what they were called, grew up to be quite the lookers, known for their good figures—especially their great legs. But this photo was taken before they blossomed into beauties, before their lives would change forever when their father died. On this day they’re caught in a moment in time, as carefree as any kids at the beach.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nancy Peralta May 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Great Blog! Liked the story and the humor. Love the picture. They look like they
are having a fun time. I’m sure glad your Miller’s found their way to California.

2 Sally Ramer May 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm

What a lovely, intriguing, nostalgic piece, Dawn. You seemed to take your own advice to us by using a photo to trigger a memoir story. It’s such a tribute to your mother, and to your brave grandmother for raising six children alone after the sad early passing of your grandfather. How lucky they were to live in such a vibrant seaside town, though, where fun was to be had for a mimimum of spending money.

3 Jasia June 4, 2011 at 3:17 am

Great picture, wonderful story! I really enjoyed the story of your mother’s youth at Redondo Beach. The Depression meant hard times for everyone but how tragic that your grandmother had to deal with 6 small children on her own. I can see how Redondo Beach would have been a real treat for youngsters. Thanks so much for sharing!

4 Nancy June 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm

They do look like they were enjoying themselves when the photo was taken! What challenges they faced with the Depression and the death of their father. I enjoyed the way your wrote this post. Thanks for sharing.

5 kristin June 4, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Such a nice photograph and the story of the family told in a small space but covering so much.

6 Carol June 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Fabulous photo and story. Enjoyed reading this post.

7 Memoir Mentor June 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate all your work with the Carnival of Genealogy. What a great opportunity you offer for all of us to share our genealogy writings. All the best to you,

8 Memoir Mentor June 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

Thanks, Nancy. I appreciate you taking time to read this post.


9 Memoir Mentor June 7, 2011 at 11:34 am

They have quite a story. A wrote a small history of the family about 15 years ago. That project was the catalyst that got me into teaching personal history writing. I’ve been teaching ever since. Thanks for your kind comments.


10 Memoir Mentor June 7, 2011 at 11:35 am

You’re very kind, Carol. Thanks for stopping by.


11 Memoir Mentor June 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

Thanks, Sally. Photos bring back so many memories, don’t they. There’s a story behind every one of them. I may give the class an assignment like that this fall to get them writing.

12 Memoir Mentor June 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

Thanks, Nancy. You’re always so nice to comment. I appreciate your friendship.


13 Cynthia Shenette June 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm

What a wonderful photo and story. Your story is sad but so evocative of the time and place and not without hope. These days we are so busy running here and there. Your story is a reminder of the joy that can be found in the simple things in life.

14 Memoir Mentor June 22, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Mmmmm. What a lovely synopses of what I was trying to say. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for your insightful comment.


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