My husband, Raymond Evans Ballinger, died in July 2005 at the age of sixty-eight. He was a man of many contradictions. Raymond was born in 1938 in Mount Holly, New Jersey, where he spent his early childhood on the family’s farm. The Ballinger’s were truck farmers who supplied Campbell’s Soup and farmed with teams of horses and migrant labor. They bought their first tractor in 1931 but continued to use horses to work the farm until well after the end of World War II.
I believe that during each of our lives there is one event or one series of events that directly or indirectly shape the direction of our lives. For Raymond that event was when his mother, Clara, left her husband, Raymond (my late husband’s father) and her two young sons, ages seven and ten, and her nine-year-old daughter and one-year-old asthmatic infant while pregnant with her fifth child. My husband, affectionately called Raymie to distinguish him from his father, was the baby of the older brood, the seven-year-old who never understood how his mother could have abandoned him, her favorite son.
His life became a journey of search and exploration while attempting to understand what there was about him that would allow his mother to leave him. It was complicated by his deep- seated love of his rich and harmonious childhood on the Homestead . He had an obsessive need to understand why his mother could have hated that life so much that she decided to abandon it as well.
Raymond’s journey took him from the Homestead in New Jersey to New York City where he worked as a soap opera and stage actor, a teacher and a cabdriver, a printer and more. He left the city to farm in upstate New York and built his own video studio. He also worked as a rehab counselor, bred horses, married, divorced, and fathered two sons before returning to New York City.
I met him in 1980. Our life together mirrored his earlier one. He worked as an actor and taught acting classes. We bought a small farm in Rhinebeck in up-state New York and raised horses and planted a disproportionately large garden. He worked in his darkroom, and built and ran a summer theatre, taught acting and directed. We had a daughter and we shared his sons.
With Raymond there was always an underlying current of unrest and a need for personal resolution. Ten years prior to his death, he began researching and writing Earthbound.
Laughingly, we called it the white man’s Roots since he started with one of his earliest progenitors’ Henry Ballinger, a Quaker, who sailed up the Delaware River to help establish a colony in Burlington County around 1678. Nine generations of Evans and Ballingers farmed the Indian Springs Homestead until development and subsequent taxation consumed farmland in western New Jersey. The original family Homestead was swallowed by suburbia. The only green spot left is Indian Springs Country Club and Golf course. Today the urban sprawl of Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey is a short trip by car, but in the early 1900’s it was a healthy distance from the Homestead by horse and wagon. The world of the Ballingers was centered in the town of Marlton where the Homestead was located and the small towns nearby- Haddon Heights, Barrington, Pine Grove, Medford, Mount Holly, and Mount Laurel, all within a ten- mile radius east of the Delaware River.
The tree of a family with its New Jersey roots dating back to the seventeenth century has a great many branches. This book is principally concerned with four generations of the Ballinger family—Raymie (the author, Raymond Evans Ballinger) his father, (Dad, Raymond Ballinger), Raymie’s grandfather, (Pop) and Raymie’s great grandfather, David T. The ramifications of the family tree are somewhat complicated by the complex web of relationships with the Evans (Evens) family through multi generational intermarriage.
Earthbound is also the journey of a man trying to connect the child his mother left with the man he became. It is the story of a man living with the burden of feeling unsuccessful, unlovable and uncreative and his journey to validate the life his mother abandoned. I had heard these stories multiple times, but in editing this book, I was stunned by the commonality of the stories. Earthbound is the history of our American families throughout the twentieth century. It mirrors the changes in values and morality of this country. It is especially poignant as we struggle to understand where we have come from and where we are going. It reflects our need to renew the qualities that have made America strong.