In 1888, my grandmother, Agnes Maud Biggs, came to America from England with her parents, Joseph Biggs and Maud Pawsey Biggs. She was six months old. A photo of her taken before they sailed shows an eager and well-dressed little baby perched on a fur rug.
The Biggs family settled in Glastonbury, Connecticut along with other Pawsey relatives. My great-grandfather got work in a woolen mill. On the back of a photograph of the mill building my grandmother wrote, “This is the factory where Joseph Biggs spent all his working days in America.”
Agnes was always a good student. In one of her report cards from 1900 she ranked first in her class. She went to nursing school in New Haven, Connecticut and graduated with honors. Her specialty was maternity, and I’m fairly certain she met my grandfather when she was nurse to one of his newborn nephews. When Ellsworth Hall and Agnes Biggs married in December 1913, she gave up her nursing career and her life in Glastonbury, and went to live at the farm on Whirlwind Hill.
According to my great-grandmother’s journals, Agnes was up to the challenge of living in a large house with her in-laws. She entered into marriage, not only to my grandfather, but also to his aging parents, a large house, and a busy farm. During her courtship she was referred to in the journals as Miss Biggs. “Miss Biggs has gone back to her home in Glastonbury. We like her more and more each time she visits.”
Agnes and Ellsworth had three children by 1918. Nine years later, when she was forty years old, my grandmother gave birth to twin boys in the downstairs bedroom of the farmhouse. My mother, who was nine at the time, described the event like this. “I didn’t even know she was going to have a baby. And suddenly there were two little babies, and my mother hadn’t made a peep.”
How tired my grandmother must have been all the time. She rarely had a minute to herself. She was responsible for keeping the whole show together. She was the nurse, the mother, the grandmother, the daughter, the bookkeeper, the chauffeur, the cook, the veterinarian, the letter writer, the stockbroker, and the babysitter. And she was the go-to person in any emergency.
She treated sick cows, put gentian violet on their wounds, gave my uncle emergency shots when he got stung by bees, rocked new-born grandbabies, herded cows, and lifted my two year old brother up by his heels one day to dislodge a wayward cough drop from his throat. When something went wrong, we called Grandma Hall, and she answered on the big black telephone in the dining room. She embraced new technology, and would, I’m sure, have bought herself an ipad if they’d been invented during her lifetime.
That my grandmother was smart I have no doubt. She was the adult I went to for help with math homework. She called a zero a “cipher.” She kept the farm records, did the driving, and the planning of the meals and activities for her children. When she became a grandmother she often took care of as many as seven grandchildren at one time.
It’s nearly impossible to describe my grandmother Agnes in a few paragraphs. Families are often strengthened by the addition of outsiders, and my grandmother brought new life to the two-hundred-year-old farm. Along with her dark brown eyes, her magnificent hair, and her sturdy body, she brought a desire to educate her children and grandchildren and send them out into the world. My grandmother and I were close. I loved her with a fierce attachment, and I miss her every day.
On Wednesday: The Creamery