Last spring we had a Hall family reunion. We came from all over the country to gather on a Saturday in May at the Crump barn on Whirlwind Hill.
On my first day back east before the event I took my favorite walk around the Whirlwind Hill block. The three mile circle starts at the end of our driveway, winds around the reservoir, passes the swampy and woodsy stretch of Scard Road, straightens out and turns to the right on Branford Road, then turns right again to navigate the roller coaster that is Whirlwind Hill. Names of former and present neighbors, some still on their farms or in their houses, come to mind as I pass by – Hale, Riotte. Keogh, Scard, Barnes, Bartholomew, Cella, Foster, Mahan, Kranyak, Pyskaty, Farnam, Parks, Williams, Hall, Ives, and Guidone. Near the end of the walk, on the last downhill stretch, I reach the site of the Hall farmhouse that burned in 1971. Since then, the remains of the house have been taken away, but the foundation endures – a dirt-floored, stone-lined hole invisible from the road because of the trees and weeds and bushes that grow where the house used to stand.
My feelings about this spot are bittersweet. I’m sad that the house is gone and that trees grow where the walls should be. But I’m happy that the foundation is still there for me to look at. Looking at it is not easy, however, because I’m afraid of ticks – the little ones that you can hardly see and that give you Lyme disease. I had to steel myself to make my way through the brushy growth to reach the edge of the cellar hole. I stayed only long enough to take a few photos and spent a long time afterward brushing imaginary bugs off my legs and arms and head.
For the reunion on May 4, I sketched a very rough family tree putting our great-grandparents William Ellsworth and Lydia Jane Hall at the top. My cousin Nancy and I made nametags that were color coded to indicate the Hall brothers and sisters who were grandparents to the cousins in my generation. At some point during the day people started adding to the tree – family members whose names I hadn’t known, or didn’t remember, and names of the newer generations, many of whom I was meeting for the first time.
The poster board filled up, and by the end of the day it had begun to look like the old foundation. A small stone here, a larger one there, all joined by the mortar of family. I suppose this is a tenuous comparison, but it pleased me to think of the strength of family ties this way.
We had a glorious day – sunny and warm and infused with the joyful cheer that comes when families gather to celebrate the past and build memories for the next generations.
On Friday: Violets