Monthly Archives: June 2014

Cornelia and The Sea

My great-great-grandmother Cornelia Andrews Hall was a stern woman. At least that’s the way I always pictured her. A portrait that used to hang in the living room of the farmhouse is said to be of her. She has a serious and tired countenance, and she wears a brooch containing a lock of an ancestor’s hair.

Possibly Cornelia Andrews Hall, around 1860

Possibly Cornelia Andrews Hall, around 1860

Five years before she died she tried to evict my great-grandfather William E. Hall from the farm. Her husband Salmon had been dead for thirteen years, and it would be five more years before her own death.  William wrote a comment on the eviction notice that says “Thirteen years of pleasure – five years of hell.” Something went amiss between Cornelia and her son William to cause this rift. I’ve never been able to find out what it was or if my great-grandparents actually had to leave the farm for awhile. It’s another mystery waiting to be solved.

Until last fall I didn’t know much else about Cornelia. But after my cousin Ellen sent me a photo of Cornelia’s childhood home in Sheffield, Massachusetts, and I was doing research about that homestead, I stumbled upon a letter Cornelia had written home to her family in the third month of her marriage to my great-great-grandfather, Salmon Hall:

Wallingford, August 12, 1832

Dear Parents,

It has been three months since I left you. I enjoy good health and am perfectly contented with my new situation, and much pleased with my new neighbor. I should like to have brother Dwight with me. He would find enough here to amuse him. He could pick whortle berries and go to school, drive my cow and feed my chickens. Last Monday we went to the sea. We had a very pleasant time and I enjoyed myself very much. We sailed to Kids Island and took a pleasant walk. I went in the water over my head. Mr. Hall gave me my choice to go to Sheffield or the sea. I hope my friends will not forget me. We have long waited for a line from you but have not received any. Mr. Hall says he shall not write anymore unless you write to us. I hope you will come and visit us this fall. I shall expect a visit from grandpa and grandma this season and I hope they will not disappoint me. Give my love to all inquiring friends and tell them I have not seen one homesick moment yet. Tell Brothers and Sister to write to me.

Good evening parents –  This is from your daughter C.T. Hall  &  S. Hall

Her home in Sheffield was a stately-looking place. A photo of it hangs in my cousins’ cottage in Madison, Connecticut, but until last fall I didn’t realize it was the Andrews Homestead. The fact that she chose not to go back home for her outing, but to have an adventure at the sea gives me a younger and more lively picture of her.

Andrews Homestead, Sheffield, Massachusetts

Andrews Homestead, Sheffield, Massachusetts

Nearly one hundred years after Cornelia wrote this letter, her granddaughter, Ellen Hall Norton, bought a cottage near Circle Beach in Madison, Connecticut. A copy of the above photograph of the Andrews Homestead hangs on the cottage’s living room wall. Later this summer I’ll write about the cottage – a place loved and often visited by our family. I’m glad that Cornelia “chose the sea,” and glad that my aunt Ellen did the same. My aunts and uncles and cousins have generously shared their cottage with me, and I’ve enjoyed painting the views into and out of its windows and doors. When Cornelia went to the sea for an outing it must have been a welcome respite from the busy life of the farm. Our family on the farm always kept a close connection to the sea – a connection I try to continue through my paintings.

"Sleeping Porch Windows," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 2010

“Sleeping Porch Windows,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 2010

On Wednesday:  July Window

Three Notches

The southern Connecticut towns of Wallingford and Durham are separated by the Totoket Mountains. My great-grandfather William E. Hall grew up on the Wallingford side, and my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Hart on the Durham side. At some point before they married in 1863, one of them must have crossed the Totokets by a now unused road and met the other.

My brother has the dried skin from an impressively large rattlesnake killed by an ancestor on one of these trips over the mountain. In a horse and buggy the journey was long and arduous. These days the drive from Whirlwind Hill to Durham Town Center takes about fifteen minutes.

The section of the mountain range that fascinates me is called “Three Notches.” In a letter written in 1944 to his future wife Betty, my uncle Austin tells her about his home and the things he loves:

“When I was a kid I used to be crazy to go out to Mother’s home [his mother was my great-aunt Ellen, my grandfather Ellsworth’s sister] and help them hay and milk. I would ride my bicycle out there every Saturday just to get in the way and watch. That must be a satisfying way of life, farming I mean…There is a range of hills beyond the farm which we love to climb for a picnic lunch…Our favorite spot on the range is called “Three Notches,” and on the highest notch, Mother’s dad [my great-grandfather William E. Hall] has his name chipped into the rock. That’s the highest point of land in Wallingford and you can see for miles around, Long Island Sound on one side and Hartford, the capitol on the other.” – Austin Hart Norton

After my cousin Margy shared this letter with me this spring, I became obsessed with the “Three Notches.” I love a mystery, and for me these mountains always seemed off-limits and mysterious. My mother warned me about unsavory people in that area, and signs around Paug Pond at the foot of the mountains still say “Danger – Quicksand.”

So when I came east this April, my brother and I began looking at maps and reading histories and going to the library to find out more about the routes taken across these mountains by George Washington in 1775 and 1789 and by our grandparents and great-grandparents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of the Notches on this trip, and we’ve only begun to discover the old routes and roads, but when we learn more I’ll give a full report. How I will ever be able to find that stone with my great-grandfather’s name chipped into it, I have no idea, but I’m determined to try.

"The Three Notches,"  Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

“The Three Notches,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

On Monday:  Cornelia and the Sea

The Front Door

A front door is all about expectations. It’s the place where a house greets its visitors and lets them know what might be inside. I’m timid when I approach a front door. I’m never sure whether my knock or my doorbell ring will delight or disturb. I like clear instructions and am happy when I see a sign telling me what to do. Signs that advise, “Do not ring bell – sleeping baby,” or “Knock loudly,” are always helpful. My mother was even more timid than I, usually saying as we drove up to a house “Oh, I don’t think they’re home!”

When Aaron built the farmhouse on Whirlwind Hill he must have wanted people to know that the inhabitants were doing well. The front door was classical and elegant – the surrounding molding simple and substantial – the stone step ancient and enduring. It’s no wonder so many family portraits were taken in this south-facing spot. My parents posed here before they were married.

Janet and Charlie Crump, 1942

Janet and Charlie Crump, 1942

And three years later they posed me in a pair of overalls standing against the threshold.

Carol at the front door, 1946

Carol at the front door, 1946

But despite its welcoming beauty, I rarely used the front door. The kitchen door was always unlocked, and it was there I usually entered. When I walked into the kitchen I expected a hugging welcome from my grandmother and maybe a donut or a cookie. There was life and activity in the kitchen, and I wanted to be a part of it.

I do believe in the importance of a well-kept and impressive front door, and in having expectations to guide the day. I’m bothered by a mediocre entryway, and I’m unsatisfied by a day where I wonder aimlessly. A door is a focus and a way in, and this lovely door marking the entryway to the farmhouse beckoned generations of my family inside to gather together in warmth and comfort.

"Front Door," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and pencil, 2013

“Front Door,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and pencil, 2013

On Wednesday:  Three Notches

Speckled Beauties

In spring and summer, when my grandfather needed a break from the cows, he went fishing. His mother, Lydia Jane Hall, recorded some of his outings in her journals.

Saturday, May 24, 1913 – “Cloudy and Rainy. Ellsworth, John, and Edgar gone to Paug Pond fishing. Had extremely good luck – caught several large pickerel, the largest weighing over three pounds – enough fish for a dinner for three families. Never brought home so many before.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, June 24, 1914 – “Damp foggy morning, very warm until toward evening, then a little cooler…Ellsworth and Agnes spending the day at Paug Pond fishing with John and Mabel. Came home with sunburned faces and few fishes.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Sunday, May 24, 1921 – “A fine day. Ellsworth went early this morning with John Leavenworth to spend the day in the fields by the trout stream…I have been sitting on the walk enjoying the works of nature. Henry, Ellen, Mother Norton, Norton Van Dyne, Jane, and John came to see us. Ellsworth and John home safely with the speckled beauties.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Ellsworth passed his love of fishing to his children. My mother loved to fish, and she was good at it. Her brother, my uncle Francis, must have loved it too.

Monday, May 5, 1924 – Francis has a new fish pole and has caught one fish – thinks he is smart.” Lydia Jane Hall

When my brother and I were young, we dug night-crawlers for bait and sat on the bank of the cow pond or at the edge of the reservoir to watch our red and white bobbers and wait for a bite. I remember hoping I would catch a speckled beauty and not a spiky bullhead. But the speckled beauty I remember best is the one kept in the cow trough near the bullpen.

The bull lived in a stall on the lower level of the barn. His presence dominated the space. I knew bulls were dangerous, and I had been warned to be careful, but I visited him anyway. I liked to look through the slats of the pen and watch the big ring in his nose shake as he snorted and stomped. Then I’d go back outside to visit the fish. Someone – maybe my grandfather or my uncle – kept a trout in the cold spring-fed water of the cow trough. I don’t know why the fish was there, and I’m sure it wasn’t always the same fish, but after the excitement of the bull, it calmed me to put my hand in the cold water and try to touch the fish as it swam around and around in its watery exile.

"Trout in the Cow Trough." Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting, 2013

“Trout in the Cow Trough.” Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting, 2013

On Monday:  The Front Door


To entertain my visiting grandsons one afternoon, I put out paper and pencils and some old crayons that came with a restaurant kiddy meal. But the youngest grandson (three years old) would have none of that. He wanted the big box of crayons from the high shelf where I keep my art supplies. I can’t remember where I got them, but I know I was excited when I bought this set of ninety-six Crayola crayons. They’re still in pristine condition. They reside neatly and sharply in their tiered rows – the way I long for them to stay.

But I can’t resist this little guy, so I gave him the box. At first he took out one at a time, drew a few lines, then tried to put them back. This soon gave way to an indiscriminate and disorderly adventure with first the crayons and then the little holders that keep them separated. Before I knew it the table was covered with crayons, and I was suddenly reminded of the cows.

Milk production was the main industry on the farm, and much of the daily activity was geared toward keeping the cows happy. My grandparents owned black and white cows called Holsteins and a few brown and white ones and milked them twice a day in the early morning and the late afternoon. As I helped my grandson color little circles on the paper, I wondered how a cow would look with colored spots.

I remember the work it took to herd the cows from field to lane and into and out of the barn at milking time. When the cows had been pastured across the street from the barn, all available help (sometimes even small children) lined Whirlwind Hill Road brandishing sticks to keep the cows from wandering up the hill, down the driveway, or into the front yard of the farmhouse. My grandfather’s gentle voice nudged them along as he tapped their rear ends with his stick and crooned, “Cow-boss. Cow-boss. Cow-boss.”

With furrowed brow and loud voice I herd my grandsons with, “Come on kids. Come on kids. Come on kids.” Keeping my mind on the past when I’m with grandchildren is a challenge. I love being with them, and when I am, all my thoughts are in the present, and all my cows are in color.

"Crayola Cow," Carol Crump Bryner, crayon, 2013

“Crayola Cow,” Carol Crump Bryner, crayon, 2013

On Friday:  Speckled Beauties

The Gold Beads

My grandparents, S. Ellsworth Hall and Agnes Maud Biggs Hall, were as much a part of my growing up life as my parents were. I saw them almost daily until I went to college in 1963. When they died – my grandfather in 1968 and my grandmother in 1970 – they left me photos and letters and memories and a feeling of being connected to a world that came before me.

My grandmother also left her gold beads. First they came to my mother, and then, when I married, my mother passed them on to me. They were probably a wedding present to Agnes when she married Ellsworth in 1913.

"Gold Beads," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

“Gold Beads,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

My great-grandmother wrote about the wedding in her journal:

December 27, 1913 – “A fine clear cold day. Ellsworth’s wedding day. Married at four o’clock in the afternoon to Agnes Maud Biggs by the Episcopal minister, Mr. Reynolds. The two families present including the brothers and sisters. A fine supper served by Mrs. Biggs at her home. House prettily trimmed with evergreens. All had a good time. The bride looked nice in her pretty white silk dress, also in her traveling suit. The groom very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall on their wedding day, 1913

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall on their wedding day, 1913

December 28, 1913 – “Cold night Saturday night, cold today. Ellsworth a married man. Spent the night with his bride in Springfield. His birthday today – thirty-two years old today. He has always been one of the best of boys to us all, and hope he may be blessed in all his ways that are good.” – Lydia Jane Hall

For their honeymoon my grandparents went to Stowe, Massachusetts, where this photo of them rabbit hunting (they called it rabbitting) was taken. They spent seven days away from the farm.

Ellsworth and Agnes rabbit hunting in Stowe, Mass., 1914

Ellsworth and Agnes rabbit hunting in Stowe, Mass., 1914

January 3, 1914 – “Cloudy and cold. We are wishing the bride and groom would come home. We want to see them.” – Lydia Jane Hall

January 7, 1914 – “Nice day – Ellsworth and Agnes came home. Looking well and happy. They had a very pleasant trip. We had oysters for supper. We all enjoyed them.” – Lydia Jane Hall

They came home to the farm and rarely left for the next fifty-four years. My grandfather couldn’t bear to be away from “wife,” as he often called her, and would succumb to fits of anxious burping and unhappiness when she was gone overnight. Someone, maybe my cousin Tom, took this picture of them in front of the farmhouse sometime in the early 1960’s. My grandmother wears her gold beads, just as she did all those years ago on her wedding trip. She wore them often on the farm, and I was used to seeing them around her neck. Now, when I wear them, I think of her, and the beads feel warm and comforting against my skin.

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall, around 1960

Ellsworth and Agnes Hall, around 1960

On Wednesday:  Cows

Ginger Cookies

Friday, May 14, 1912 – “Looked like rain in the morning. Cleared before noon. Ellsworth gone to town with butter. We baked bread, ginger cookies, and crullers.” – Lydia Jane Hall

"Rolling Pin," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2014

“Rolling Pin,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2014

When we had our Hall family reunion last year, my cousin Skip asked if he and his wife Rita could make ginger cookies to bring. “Of course!” I said, because if there was one food we all remember from the farm it was Grandma Hall’s ginger cookies.

Skip’s cookies were great, and the ginger cookies my cousin Tom makes and sends me from Indiana are also fantastic. I make my cookies from a recipe in an old New York Times cookbook. I cut them in the shape of hearts and frost them with pink frosting. But none of them taste quite like the ones from the kitchen on Whirlwind Hill.

Here’s my grandmother’s recipe – in her writing – sent to me by Skip.

Grandma Hall's Ginger Cookie Recipe

Grandma Hall’s Ginger Cookie Recipe

I remember helping her make ginger cookies at the kitchen table. She (in spite of her recipe) didn’t seem to measure at all. She used a ton of flour, and the darkest molasses I’ve ever seen, and she worked very fast and with absolute command over the dough. My grandmother had to work fast – she had such a busy life.

Monday, July 25, 1921 – “Agnes helping out of doors most of the time – going to town, looking after the children, making cookies, bread, etc. She doesn’t find much time for housework.” – Lydia Jane Hall

She always cut her cookies into circles. I think this cutter may have been from the farm, but what I remember is just a plain metal ring. Maybe the answer to the memorable taste is that not only did we eat them around the kitchen table but ate them when they were starting to get stale and perfect for dunking into a cup of afternoon coffee or a glass of milk.

"Cookie Cutter," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

“Cookie Cutter,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache, 2014

On Monday:  The Gold Beads

Rooms and Doors

Almost fifteen years ago our adult son moved back in with us while he went back to school. He stayed for seven years.

Living in a multi-generational household wasn’t easy, but we managed. It took humor, patience, and love. But when the humor ran dry, the patience wore thin, and the love felt tempered by irritation, it helped to have a room to go to and a door to slam.

I thought often about my ancestors during that time and fortified myself with the knowledge that if they could do it, so could I. There were almost always several generations living under the roof of the Hall farmhouse. Aaron built with this kind of living in mind. There were enough rooms to go around, and definitely enough doors to slam. The living room alone had nine doors, although until the 1930’s the one big room of my childhood had been divided into three smaller chambers.

Over the next few months I’ll take you on a tour of the house – a room here and a room there. I’ll begin with the room where my parents started their life together – the upstairs front bedroom.

My mother, Janet Hall, and my father, Charles Grantham Crump married in 1943. It made sense for them to move into the farmhouse with my grandparents while my father did his Coast Guard service during the war. It would be over two years before they had the time or the money to build their own house. In the photo below, my mother sits at her vanity table in the light-filled bedroom at the upstairs front of the farmhouse.

Janet Hall Crump, around 1942

Janet Hall Crump, around 1942

After my birth in the middle of the winter of 1945, my parents brought me home from the hospital to this room. Surely it was cold there even with the clanking and hissing radiators doing their best work. There were no bathrooms on the second floor, just chamber pots under the beds for nighttime use. The switch for the upstairs hall light was at the bottom of the stairs, so an upstairs sleeper needed candles, or flashlights, or someone to turn the switch for them when they reached the top. Later, when I was older and spent occasional nights at the farm, it was my grandmother who did this for me, waiting until I got to the bedroom door and told her goodnight before she pushed the round black button that started the darkness.

It was in this same room in October 1969 that my husband and I, on an overnight visit to my grandmother, stayed awake long into the night in the big lumpy bed with the chamber pot underneath, trying to decide whether or not to go to Alaska. In a way, this was the start of our life together, because we decided to go north to build our own rooms and doors.

"Studio Door," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on panel, 2001

“Studio Door,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on panel, 2001

On Wednesday:  Ginger Cookies

June Window

June must have been a welcome month for my great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hall. By 1921, when she wrote the second quote, she was spending her days in a wheelchair because of rheumatism. But she was also, by that time, surrounded by the busy life of a farmhouse with three young children in it. She patiently sat through her days, watching, trying to help a little, and observing.

"June Window," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“June Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Sunday, June 1, 1913 – “A very fine day – everything is lovely outside. The birds are especially fine around us with their sweet notes, which is very nice for those that are at home like myself. Should be lonely without them.”

Thursday, June 2, 1921 – A nice cool day when the sun shines clear and warm. Everything is beautiful, the fields are full of flowers, the roses and peonies are coming. Lydia [my mother’s sister] brings them in to show me. Soon the harvest will be here. How fast we are going on the wings of time!”

See also – April Window, May Window

On Monday:  Rooms and Doors

Water on the Farm – The Spring

The Whirlwind Hill farm never, as far as I know, lacked water. My ancestors chose well when they settled there. Natural springs flowed through the fields and down the hills. Muddy River provided water for animals, fish for dinner, and fertile land for crops.

The Whirlwind Hill land I own with my brother shares many of these springs, one of which flows from the cow pond, under the lane, and onto our property. My parents dug a well when they built the house. This well water, although abundant, displeased my mother who found it too “hard” (too full of minerals). She put a water softener in the basement because, she said, softer water made for a better lather and a good “soak in the tub.” But we avoided drinking the bad tasting softened water and bemoaned the impossible-to-rinse-off soap film left on our bodies after bathing.

Now that I’m an urban dweller I turn on my faucets with near-certainty that water will flow into my teakettle or onto my sudsy dishes. Our water is always cold. It always tastes good. It’s always available. But there’s nothing quite so exhilarating as the icy water from an underground spring. It feels new and sparkling as it escapes from its source and meanders over rocks and vegetation, through the culvert, and on into the green, green fields.

"Spring Water Under the Lane," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

“Spring Water Under the Lane,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

On Friday:  June Window