Monthly Archives: May 2014

Dark Purple Lilacs

My mother’s likes and dislikes are not just memories for me – they’re imbedded in my own preferences. They go bone deep.

Maybe this is one of the ways a person lives on. Not just through memories but through the influence of their choices.

Planted near the farmhouse was a lilac of legend. It was reputed to have come from England on a ship with my great-grandfather, Joseph Biggs, my Grandma Hall’s father. He planted the first cutting in Glastonbury, Connecticut where he lived and worked and where my grandmother grew up. After my grandmother married my grandfather and moved to the farm, my great-grandfather Joseph planted a cutting from the English lilac at the back of the Hall farmhouse.

Joseph Biggs, sometime before he came to America in 1888, photo curtesy of Donna Palmer

Joseph Biggs, sometime before he came to America in 1888, photo curtesy of Donna Palmer

The lilac was a deep dark purple – a very unique bloom, and highly prized by my mother. So when we moved to our own land on Whirlwind Hill, she planted a cutting behind the garage. It thrived. It was a lovely tree. I took this photo of a branch amongst a bouquet of lighter lilacs and dogwood in 2008. You can see the darker lilacs reflected in the mirror.

Whirlwind Hill Lilacs, 2008

Whirlwind Hill Lilacs, 2008

Seven or eight years ago I pulled a lilac “sucker” from a dark purple lilac planted by a friend here in Anchorage. Because of my mother’s strong preference for this color lilac, I had to have one. The property where it was growing was being sold, the building demolished, and the tree transplanted, and I wanted to see if I could grow my own dark lilac. (The last I heard was that the transplanted tree didn’t survive.)

My husband and I have watched the baby tree every year for signs of flowers. Finally, this spring, we were excited to see buds. The friend who planted the original tree died this past winter, and it seems fitting for the tree to bloom in her honor. I’m sure my mother and my friend who both loved these English lilacs would be happy about their legacy.

Anchorage Lilac, 2014

Anchorage Lilac, 2014

On Monday:  Doing Dishes

The House that Aaron Built

First, a disclaimer: I don’t know for sure that Aaron built the farmhouse, but it is most likely that he did. So I will proceed on that assumption and on a few other speculations in this post that I state as facts.

Aaron Hall was born in 1760 in the original Hall homestead. This small house, which eventually became the kitchen and dining room of the large house had a dirt-floored cellar, a ground floor kitchen and living space, and an upstairs attic sleeping room. Aaron was the last child born to Asahel and Sarah Hall, and one of six of their twelve children who lived to adulthood. Since Aaron’s own eleven children seem to have fared better, I wonder if their long and productive lives were due in part to the house that Aaron built.

In 1781 Aaron married Elizabeth Cook, and not long after built his new house on the upward slope of Whirlwind Hill. The Federal style addition to the original home was graceful and dignified. He was a patriot, and built in a manner that would befit his stature as a veteran of the American Revolution. I have one early picture of the house the way it must have looked in the decades after it was built.

Hall Farmhouse around 1870

Hall Farmhouse around 1870

My mother, who had strong opinions about aesthetic beauty, said that the stately house was spoiled when Aaron’s heirs and their wives made practical changes to the exterior over the years. Until the early 1900’s the home had classical moldings around the doors and windows, an iconic fanlight window in the attic pediment, twelve-over-twelve paned windows on the front, and white-painted clapboards. All these details were made for show and not for comfort or easy maintenance.

Aaron’s new house had more room, but bigger rooms and more windows brought the need for more heat and more furniture. The new house would have been cold enough in winter to have an upstairs bedroom called Siberia. There was more privacy, certainly, but with a front parlor and a sitting room and multiple bedrooms there would have been enough added housework to require hired help.

By the time my grandfather Ellsworth was a teenager in 1900, the family had filled the house with comfort. My great-grandmother Lydia records in her journals the family gatherings, the evenings when neighbors came to play cards and eat cake, and the celebrations to welcome a new generation. In this photo, which is one of the last that shows the house with its white clapboards, my great-grandparents pose at the front door (a place of many family portraits) with their youngest children, my grandfather Ellsworth and his older sister Ellen. To me they look both proud and happy. Life was good for them.

Ellen, Ellsworth, Lydia Jane, and William E. Hall, around 1905

I’ve always loved this ancestral portrait showing my grandfather as a young man, but it wasn’t until recently when I came across the photo below that I realized the extent of its influence. In the fall of 1968, just two months after our wedding, my husband and I asked a friend to take our first Christmas card photo. We were living in an old Victorian house in the middle of downtown Menlo Park, California. We had a small barn in the back yard, a little duck pond, six ducks, two chickens, and one cat. We felt like urban farmers and decided to dress the part. I don’t remember consciously posing in the style of my ancestors, but here we are, doing just that as we stand in our sunny doorway looking toward the future.

Alex and Carol Bryner, 1968

Alex and Carol Bryner, 1968

On Friday:  Dark Purple Lilacs

Decoration Day

As you can see, this is not “The House that Aaron Built,” which I had promised today. That will appear on Wednesday instead.

It’s Memorial Day, and I want to mark it. It seems important on this day to pause and remember. The custom in our family was to go to the cemetery with flowers – not just for soldiers, but for all those we held dear. I admit to being a cemetery person. I like the quiet grounds and find it peaceful to visit the resting places of my ancestors. Here in Anchorage, because I’m so far away from the place where my own mother and father are buried, I’ll go today to the local cemetery and place a small bouquet of flowers on the graves of Bill and Frances – parents of a good friend. This cemetery in the middle of town is a busy place on Memorial Day. Families picnic near their loved ones, and visitors prune vegetation and place flags and flowers at the headstones.

In the early part of the twentieth century Memorial Day was always on May 30, and it was called “Decoration Day.”

My great-grandmother Lydia Hall wrote in her 1924 journal:

Friday, May 30 – “Pleasant. This is Decoration day. Agnes took the children in town to see the parade. They were too late. Very quiet for Wallingford. The decorations were very nice. I have been sitting out of doors for an hour this morning enjoying the sunshine and warm air. It is the first time I have been out since last fall.” – Lydia Jane Hall

For her “decorations,” my mother gathered flowers from the farm or from her own garden to make a patriotic bouquet. Red and white peonies and indigo blue baptisia were her blooms of choice, and under my mother’s skillful hands, they made a striking arrangement.

janet Hall Crump with Red Peonies

janet Hall Crump with Red Peonies

One year she painted this tiny watercolor of her bouquet. It hangs in an alcove in my house and greets me in the morning when I come downstairs to breakfast. Today when I see it I’ll pause, and remember, and thank her for this good life.

"Memorial Day Bouquet," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

“Memorial Day Bouquet,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

On Wednesday:  The House that Aaron Built


Muddy River

Before the arrival of my ancestors to the hills of East Wallingford, Connecticut, a meandering river kept company with the land. It flowed through the flat acres at the bottom of the hill and continued on through Northford. The earliest deeds to the farm refer to it as Muddy River. When the land was settled and the farms built, the moist banks made rich pastureland for cows and entertaining playgrounds for children.

Muddy River, Carol Crump Bryner, Gouache

Muddy River, Carol Crump Bryner, Gouache

The river connected the two significant farms in my life. It flowed not only through the Hall farm – the farm of my mother – but also through the Newton farm in Northford, Connecticut – the farm of my father’s aunt and uncle. Until recently I hadn’t thought of the two “Muddy Rivers” of my childhood as one continuous waterway. The Newtons and the Crumps gathered at the Newton farm beside the cool stream to picnic near the little summer house and swing on the hammocks. We paddled in the shallow rocky water, caught lamprey eels, pulled leeches off our legs, and refused to enter the spider-filled outhouse. In Northford the river was still a river.

But in Wallingford, by the time I was born, the part of the river at the foot of Whirlwind Hill was gone. In 1943 the town dug a hole and flooded the land to create the MacKenzie Reservoir. I never knew the Muddy River of my mother and grandfather and his father before him. I’ve searched for photos of the way it used to look, but have found only this one of my grandmother Agnes in 1921 with her three children and some of the neighbors. In the background is the farm that belonged at that time to Grace and Walter Ives. The children and my grandmother dressed for a party and brought toy boats to float along the bank of Muddy River.

Agnes Hall and children on the bank of Muddy River, 1921

Agnes Hall and children on the bank of Muddy River, 1921

In 2009 the town of Wallingford drained the reservoir so it could be dredged and cleaned. For the first time I saw the path of the river, the stumps of trees that had grown next to the Muddy River School, and the footprint of the old road where, it is said, George Washington rode on his way from New Haven to Boston in 1775 and 1789. At the far south end of the reservoir an old stone wall emerged from the water. It ran through one of our fields and must have once ended at the river. My brother and I kept meaning to walk out and explore it, but time passed and before we could go the reservoir was filled, and all traces of the past were again out of sight.

Reservoir Drained, 2009

Reservoir Drained, 2009

It must have been peaceful and beautiful along the river, but the reservoir is my own personal history, and I love it. I fished there, watched birds there, and found peace sitting on the front steps of the house and looking over its quiet water.

A View of the Reservoir, Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

A View of the Reservoir, Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 1992

On  Monday:  Decoration Day

The Letter

More often than not, paperwork overwhelms my desk and makes me grumpy. Organizing financial records, bills, checks, insurance forms, airline receipts, etc., gets more complicated every year. My computer, which is supposed to make things easier, just seems to add to my confusion. Some days I long for simpler times, even though I know they were neither simple nor easy. They just left a smaller paper trail.

In 1825 my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall, Esq. wrote a letter summing up his life. The document hung in the farmhouse parlor next to his portrait, and although it was always referred to as his “letter,” it’s really more of a statement left for posterity. In it he sets down the facts of his time on this earth.

It’s easier for me and fairer to Aaron if I quote the letter instead of printing a photograph of the document, as it’s very hard to read. The misspellings and the missing punctuation are his, and I’ve added hyphens to clarify his sentence breaks.

Aaron Hall's Letter - Detail

Aaron Hall’s Letter – Detail

Wallingford, January 5th, 1825 – “I Aaron Hall son of Asahel & Sarah Hall was born November 11th 1760 and lived with my father and worked on his farm until the 25th of May 1777 which was the 17th year of my age – having a thirst for liberty with the consent of my father I inlisted a soldier for three years in the Amarican revolution during which time I indured many hardships and was in sundry battles at Germantown & Monmouth and being troubled with the rhumatis at times but not so as to prevent me from doing my duty – but since I have bin very much troubled and am at this time – after my term of service expired I returned and when I have bin abel have worked on my farm ever since – in 1781 May the 24th I was married to Elizabeth Cook by whome I had Eleven children and I believe are all alive at this time –   my wife Elizabeth died July 16th 1820 in the 58th year of her age – in December the 11th 1820 I was married to Sarah Hall with whome I have lived until this time September 12th 1826 when my wife Sarah died in the 70th year of her age – June 11th 1827 I was married to Annis Brooks

Because of this letter I could, if I wanted, become a Daughter of the American Revolution. I think several of my cousins have done this. But it wasn’t his participation in the revolution or the fact that he had eleven children that impressed me when I was young. Instead, I was amazed that he had THREE WIVES. The statements about these three women are so short, and so matter of fact, that I always pictured the three wives married to him at the same time. But in truth he was first married to Elizabeth, then to Sarah, and finally to Annis.

I’d like to know what these wives looked like and how they lived their lives – how Elizabeth managed to raise eleven children, how Sarah was courted when she was 64 years old, and how Annis met and agreed to marry 67-year-old Aaron. The paper trail for these four people is practically non-existent.

But in my photo collection, I found a tintype from the 1850’s with a label on the back written by my grandmother. The woman in the photo is the fifth of Aaron’s children, Mary Hall. She was born in 1790 and died in 1871. She never married, and, in fact, may have lived her entire life on the farm. In her portrait she looks like a precious and beloved aunt. Her cheerful expression makes me smile. She’s taken great care to dress in her finest clothing with what looks like the parlor rug wrapped around her shoulders and an oversized bow tied under her chin. It seems like this may have been her one chance to look good for the camera, and she was determined to make the best of it.

Mary Hall, 1790 - 1871

Mary Hall, 1790 – 1871

On Wednesday:  Muddy River

Violets – An Addendum

Two weeks ago I wrote here about violets and about Mary E. Hart’s painting of violets. When I visited Whirlwind Hill recently I took a drive to Durham, Connecticut to visit the old cemetery in the town center. My mother loved this drive, and we went there together often to visit the Hart graves. My great-grandmother, Lydia, was a Hart, and her family had been long-time Durham residents.

So it seemed fitting that when I found Mary’s little grave marker, the grass surrounding it was full of violets.

Mary E. Hart's grave stone with violets, May 2014

Mary E. Hart’s grave stone with violets, May 2014

On Monday:  The Letter

Out on the Sidewalk

My farm ancestors believed that bedding, rugs, laundry, the very old, and the very young needed to be “aired out” regularly. When I was a baby living in the farmhouse, my mother put me outside on the walk in my carriage for at least a half hour a day. Once, when my mother and father left me in my grandparents’ care for a weekend, my mother wrote a detailed note about what and when to feed me and specific times for napping, bed, and bath. This list, titled “Usual Routine,” instructed my grandmother to feed me liver soup and prunes, and included these lines.

“8:00 or 8:30 – Arise – put in high chair and give 6 drops of oil in Teasp with orange juice – give rest of orange juice in cup. Put outdoors if nice.”

Carol out on the sidewalk, 1946

Carol out on the sidewalk, 1946

For the old ones living in the farmhouse, spring weather meant finally being out in the sunshine and feeling truly warm. My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hall, welcomed this time of year. In a May journal entry she says it’s the “first day I‘ve been out of the house since the fall.” The front of the house faced south, so it was pleasant and bright in spring and summer. She would have been able to see the barn across the street, people coming and going up and down Whirlwind Hill Road, and the children playing on the lawn.

Sunday, May 8, 1921 – “This is a fine day and it is Mother’s Day. Mothers, children, and grand-children been to see us bringing flowers. Mrs. Biggs here and went home this afternoon. Henry, Ellen, Jane, John, Hattie, Edgar. Wilbur and Edyth’s boy (William E. Hall) whom we think is fine & Emily Crooks. Agnes, & Lydia & Francis went to Sunday school. I have been out with William sitting on the walk. Agnes took our picture.”

This photo could have been taken on the day she talks about. Maybe young William took it of his grandmother Lydia, his Aunt Agnes, and his three cousins, Janet, Lydia, and Francis.

Lydia Jane Hall with Agnes Hall, and the three children - Janet, Lydia, and Francis

Lydia Jane Hall with Agnes Hall, and the three children – Janet, Lydia, and Francis

My favorite picture of Lydia Jane out in the sun is this one from the early 1900’s. She and her husband William sit in front of the open parlor window, enjoying each other’s company.  They’ve brought the parlor chairs outside onto the lawn so they can sit and chat and welcome the Sunday afternoon company.

Lydis and William Hall, around 1900

Lydis and William Hall, around 1900

On Friday:  Violets – An Addendum

Two Aarons

There were two Aarons on the farm when I was growing up, a living one and an ancestor. The living Aaron, my mother’s younger brother, was 19 years old when I was born and seemed more of a cousin than an uncle. My mother taught me to spell “Aaron” by reciting – “Big A, Little a, R-O-N.” This may have been my first spelling word.

Although named after the stately and historically significant Aaron Hall, Esquire, my Uncle Aaron was happy-go-lucky and full of fun. He and my mother shared an infectious sense of humor, and loved a good joke. In this photo from Thanksgiving, 1977, they’ve dissolved into giggles, my uncle trying to keep the turkey in his mouth with his napkin, and my mother laughing until the tears ran down her cheeks.

Thanksgiving 1977, Aaron Hall, Janet Hall Crump, Austin Norton, Carol Bryner, Paul Bryner

Thanksgiving 1977, Aaron P. Hall, Janet Hall Crump, Austin Norton, Carol Bryner, Paul Bryner

My Uncle Aaron died in 2005. He never attained the level of seriousness or accomplishment of his namesake ancestor, but he enhanced my childhood with his joy for life and his love for his family. And he kept the ancestral Aaron alive for us through this name association.

A portrait of Aaron Hall, Esquire, hung in the parlor of the farmhouse. This is where I remember seeing it. My brother remembers it hanging in the living room. It’s possible we’re both right, since my grandmother liked to move the furniture and pictures around every few years. It now belongs to my cousin Patti, Aaron P. Hall’s daughter.

Aaron Hall, Esq, 1760 - 1839

Aaron Hall, Esq, 1760 – 1839

The inscription on the back of the portrait says:

“This picture presented to Wm E Hall by his cousin Elizabeth Upham Jan 11, 1902. Aaron Hall son of Asahel Hall born Nov 11, 1760. Died Sept 29th 1839. Served in the revolutionary war and participated in the battles of Germantown and Monmouth.”

How different this eighteenth century Aaron Hall was from the Aaron I knew. The curly-haired boy who grew up to become my uncle fought in no wars and farmed no land of his own, although he lived just across the lane from the farmhouse and was always on call as an extra set of hands. He lived in different times, and they shaped him just as his ancestor’s times shaped his long-ago life. More about Aaron Hall, Esq. next week.

Aaron P. Hall, around 1931

Aaron P. Hall, around 1931

On Wednesday:  Out on the Sidewalk


May Window

From the farmhouse windows Lydia could see the orchards of apple trees and watch the activity on Whirlwind Hill, the road that ran between the house and the barn.

There are two quotes for this May window. In the nine years between 1912 and 1921 her life had changed. In 1913 her youngest child, my grandfather Ellsworth, married my grandmother, Agnes Biggs, and by 1921 they had three children. Lydia’s husband William died in 1920.

"May Window," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“May Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Sunday, May 19, 1912 – “Fine morning. Apple blossoms are out and everything looks tender and fresh. Autos are flying by. Boys on wheels. Surrey load of young people, auto trucks with lot of people in all going east for an outing. How changed the times when team after team used to go by with people going to church.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Monday, May 9, 1921 – “Nice day. High winds in afternoon and some warmer. The trees have been loaded with apple blossoms and nearly all gone. Soon time to spray them again. The peonies, the shrub peonies, are out in full bloom. The birds are all here nesting, singing songs. Grass looking fine and heavy. Men busy preparing the ground for planting. The farm never looked more promising to me.” – Lydia Jane Hall

See also:  April Window

On Monday:  Two Aarons


I’ve always liked the custom of passing down family names, even though my own mother named me after the Christmas songs being sung at the hospital when I was born.

The Hall family followed a rhythm of repetition when they named their children. The first three generations included four Johns, and one Jonathan, the Jonathan being a brother to one of the Johns. And there were three Marys, three Elizabeths, and two Sarahs.

In the fourth generation Asahel Hall and his wife Sarah Goldsmith gave birth to twelve children. Many of them “died young,” and in those days, because child mortality was so common, it was customary to name a surviving child after a brother or sister who had already died. So Asahel and Sarah bore two Aarons, three Asahels, and two Sarahs. The surviving Aaron (Aaron Hall, Esq), lived for seventy-two years, giving birth to his own sons Aaron and Asahel and his own daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Here and there an odd name crops up. Asahel (itself a bit odd) and Sarah had a Mehitabel and Aaron an Electa.

My great-great-grandfather, Salmon Hall, had a younger brother Billious Kirtland Hall. He seems to have been named after a Dr. Billious Kirtland whose family plot is next to the Halls in the Wallingford Cemetery. I’m still trying to find out more about this family connection. The name Billious was never used again, as far as I know, but one of my mother’s favorite cousins as well as my brother shared the name Kirtland.

Salmon (pronounced Sal-mon) may have been a version of Solomon. Biblical names were popular. This photo, probably taken around 1860, may be my great-great-grandfather. My grandmother wrote on the back “Possibly Salmon Hall.” But recently my cousin Patti sent me photos of two portraits that used to hang in the farm living room. She refers to them as “The Eggheads,” and they may be Salmon and his wife Cornelia. It’s always nice to have a face to go along with a name, but for now I have one name and two faces that don’t appear to belong to the same person.

Possibly Salmon Hall

Possibly Salmon Hall

Also Possibly Salmon Hall

Also Possibly Salmon Hall

The last name of mysterious origin is Whirlwind Hill. I always thought it was named after the Wallingford Tornado of 1878, but in his book, “History of Wallingford, Connecticut,” Charles Davis says, “Whirlwind is that high land east of the late residence of Luther Hall, and west from Pistapaug Pond.”

Since Davis wrote his book in 1870, our hill couldn’t have been named after the 1878 whirlwind. I read somewhere that it had once been called “Wild Mare’s Hill,” but can’t seem to find that reference again. If anyone has any ideas or clues to the source of the name “Whirlwind Hill,” I’d love to hear about it. For now I’ll just let it conjure thoughts of wild winds, blowing trees, and houses flying over hill and dale.

At the top of Whirlwind Hill, May 2014

At the top of Whirlwind Hill, May 2014

On Friday: May Window