Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ghosts – Part III



My mother loved Halloween. She envied her older sister Lydia’s late-October birthday. They decorated the house for Lydia’s birthday parties with paper black cats, pumpkins, ghosts, witches, and bats. In this photo, my mother, her brother Francis, and her sister Lydia are probably getting ready for the birthday. They each carry a little pumpkin basket, and my uncle Francis holds a jack-o-lantern.

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, October 27, 1920

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, October 27, 1920

My mother passed her love of Halloween to my brother and me. Because we lived in a place with no sidewalks, she or my father drove us to neighbors’ houses to trick or treat. But I don’t think she ever made our costumes. We scrounged bits and pieces of this and that and put our own outfits together. One year I burned the end of a cork and rubbed the black soot onto my face to make a hobo’s stubble. When my own children were young, I made most of their costumes, and now my daughter makes elaborate costumes for her two boys.

Halloween, 1980, son Paul as  Godzilla, and daughter Mara in a homemade bat costume

Halloween, 1980, son Paul as Godzilla, and daughter Mara in a homemade bat costume

My grandsons in bat and owl costumes made by their mom Mara, Halloween 2013

My grandsons in bat and owl costumes made by their mom Mara, Halloween, 2013

I’m sure a cemetery on a dark Halloween night would be spooky, but during the day the cemeteries where my Hall family ancestors are buried are peaceful and restful places. I love going to the two cemeteries in Wallingford whenever I’m back east. When I’m there, time stands still. In these quiet spots my mind is freed to speculate and remember and maybe also to think about my own final resting place.

So when I’m in Connecticut in the fall and visit my mother at the cemetery, I take her a few pumpkins and a pot of flowers. I find myself being fussy and getting only the things she would have chosen. She liked round pumpkins with generous stems. When I go to Beaumont’s Farm Market in Wallingford to shop for them, I hear my mother’s voice saying, ” Don’t get that skinny one, Carol, and don’t get the pink flowers. Get the ones that match the pumpkins.” The ghost of my mother is far from a shadowy trace. She speaks to me from the grave, and I listen with daughterly affection.

Janet Hall Crump's grave in October

Janet Hall Crump’s grave in October

On Monday:  Birthday Cards for Agnes

Ghosts – Part II

Finding Cornelia

At the end of my Monday post – “Ghosts Part I” – I still hadn’t seen Cornelia’s headstone. I had found the two generations that preceded her on Whirlwind Hill. Under a long line of stones lay Asahel and Sarah Hall, their son Aaron (whose stone is missing) and his three wives Elizabeth, Sarah, and Annis, and Aaron and Elizabeth’s daughter Mary Hall. On the left is a small stone that I was unable to read. The only clue to its owner is that he or she died in 1798.

"Headstones," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

“Headstones,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

My brother and I went back to the cemetery the day before I was to leave Connecticut, and almost immediately we found Cornelia. She’s buried next to her husband, my great-great grandfather Salmon Hall. Next to them are their three children who died young – Henry Griswold at two, Emily at seven, and Edgar at eighteen. The impact of seeing these names and dates “written in stone” is so much greater than just reading them as part of a family tree or genealogy. Even the placement and order of the stones tells stories about those buried beneath.

And yet, Cornelia remains a mystery to me. How did a young girl from Sheffield, Massachusetts meet and marry my Connecticut great-great grandfather? How did she adjust to life so far away from her family? Why did she make so many visits back to Sheffield. How long did that journey take in the mid-nineteenth century? And how, I wonder, did she cope with losing three of her seven children? Maybe the ritual of visiting the cemetery helped. I hope that for her the putting of an offering on a grave and the standing in silence in the presence of her ghosts, eased what must have been great loss.

Cornelia's Headstone

Cornelia’s Headstone

On Friday:  Ghosts – Part III – Halloween

Ghosts – Part I

Haunting the Cemetery

On my visit to Whirlwind Hill in October 2013 I spent more time with cemetery ghosts than I’d planned to. I had a “bee in my bonnet” and was drawn to the resting place of my early ancestors.

The sign at the entrance to the Center Street Cemetery in downtown Wallingford, Connecticut reads “Established in 1653.” Many of the oldest headstones, especially the ones prior to 1750, are themselves ghostly. The stones still mark the graves, but the inscriptions have been smoothed or crumbled by wind and rain.

Center Street Cemetery, Wallingford, Connecticut

Center Street Cemetery, Wallingford, Connecticut

The bee in my bonnet was my great-great grandmother Cornelia Andrews Hall. I wanted to find her grave. I’d seen her headstone during one of my online genealogy searches. A picture of the stone popped up on the “Find a Grave” website, and I wanted to see it for myself. My brother didn’t remember running across it at the cemetery, even though he worked for many years as the cemetery’s caretaker – roaming among the dead as he cut the grass and repaired the stones. So on a beautiful New England October afternoon last year he joined me in my search for Cornelia.

At this Halloween time of year the word ghost conjures images of spectral spirits rising from their resting places in dark and haunted burial grounds. Children wear white sheets over their heads and say boo. People pay money to visit fake haunted houses with creepy, scary, heart-stopping surprises.

But my brother and I were looking for a different kind of ghost – the kind listed in the dictionary definition as “a faint shadowy trace.” Since I started writing down Whirlwind Hill stories two years ago, shadowy traces of my ancestors have haunted me. Every time I find a piece of physical evidence of their presence on this earth I feel the power of life’s continuity. The inscriptions on the headstones prove that the person lived, died, and was mourned by family and friends.

My brother and I started at the far end of the cemetery where my great-grandparents, William and Lydia Hall are buried. We walked back and forth in this flat city-block field of stones, but when it came time to leave we had not found what we were looking for.

So the next morning, fortified by another peek at Cornelia’s grave on the website, I drove back into town by myself and began a more methodical wandering. As often happens when you’re looking for one thing, something even more significant appears. Suddenly I came face to face with my great-great-great-great grandfather Captain Asahel Hall and his wife Sarah. The beauty and grace of their headstones surprised me. Carved with skill and care, the inscriptions remain fairly clear and readable. Here was the first couple to live on the farm on Whirlwind Hill – two people I knew very little about, but who, in that moment, became ever so real to me.

Captain Asahel Hall

Captain Asahel Hall

Asahal’s inscription reads:  “In Memory of Capt Asahel Hall who Departed this Life November 11th AD 1799 in the 79th Year of his Age.”

Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall

Sarah’s reads:  “In Memory of Mrs. Sarah, consort of Capt. Asahel Hall died Feb 25th AD 1789 in her 70th year.”

On Wednesday:  Ghosts – Part II – Finding Cornelia

Autumn Leaves

There’s something about an autumn leaf that makes picking it up and taking it home hard to resist.

My mother should have been a naturalist. Her knowledge of birds, trees, flowers, and animals was wide, and she collected specimens like a museum curator. And she never met a fall leaf she didn’t like.

"Autumn," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor, October 1982

“Autumn,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor, October 1982

When we went for walks together in the Octobers of the past we brought home leaves and pressed them between sheets of waxed paper. To this day I still find her handiwork gracing the pages of many of the big books in the house. In summer she did the same with flowers. Her letters to me in Alaska included dried field flowers she picked – buttercups, Queen Anne’s Lace, cornflowers. She sent me feathers, flowers, and reports about the flora and fauna activity on Whirlwind Hill.

Fall leaf in bird book

Fall leaf in bird book

My grandson Henry inherited her love of collecting. He picks up treasures everywhere and proudly displays them on the shelves of his room. So on a fall Saturday I suggested we go out and collect some autumn leaves. We carried a brown paper bag with handles and put in the leaves one by one as each was discovered on sidewalk or grass. Every time we thought that maybe we had gathered enough Henry said, “I want to stop, but I just can’t help myself!” With a promise of cookies and milk for him and a cup of tea for me, we took our bounty home and spread it out on a cloth.

Autumn treasures

Autumn treasures

The colors were vibrant. I thought we should paint some portraits of the best leaves, but Henry wanted to do leaf rubbings. I had never done a leaf rubbing, so he showed me how. What a treat it is to have a grandchild teach an old timer a new trick. We tried to fill the page with interesting shapes. We weren’t always successful, but in the end were happy with our project. And, of course, we followed my mother’s example and pressed a few leaves between the pages of books, maybe to be found in the future by Henry’s own children.

Carol and Henry's leaf rubbings, October 18, 2014

Carol and Henry’s leaf rubbings, October 18, 2014

On Monday:  Ghosts

Walking Down the Lane

Walking is my meditation. The rhythm of the steps, the slow passing by of scenery and people, the time alone to think, all bring me peace of mind. I needed some of this calming activity recently and was lucky to be where I could take one of my very favorite walks – down the lane on Whirlwind Hill.

"Lane," Carol Crump Bryner, engraving, 1976

“Lane,” Carol Crump Bryner, engraving, 1976

Starting at the barnyard across the street from the farmhouse, the rutted path we called “the lane” meandered past the cow pond and the stone walls and barbed wire fences that delineated the lane from the open fields, joined up with another lane called “Strawberry Hill,” and eventually ended at the property known as “Peterland.”

Unlike the romantic and sometimes dark and sinister country lanes of Miss Marple and Thomas Hardy, our lane was used mostly for business. It took cows and tractors and horses and farmers where they needed to go. It connected the pastures and the orchards to the barn. And it provided a pathway to the pond for children carrying their fishing poles or ice skates.

"The Lane to Peterland," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil

“The Lane to Peterland,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil

But when fall comes each year I remember the walks we took with our great-grandfather, Joseph Biggs, who traveled from his home in Glastonbury, Connecticut to spend summer and fall weeks at the farm. He was a kind man with large hands and a bristly white mustache that tickled us when we kissed him hello. He smoked a pipe and wore suspenders. While he was at the farm he tended gardens, dried dishes, and entertained his great-grandchildren.

Me and Grandpa Biggs, summer 1947

Me and Grandpa Biggs, summer 1947

If he visited in October, Grandpa Biggs did “nut duty.” We went with him when he walked down the lane to gather hickory nuts. Into our baskets we put the light brown gems that lay tucked among the fall leaves. Our grandfather Ellsworth let the nuts dry out in their baskets behind the kitchen’s wood stove. On winter evenings he sat in his rocking chair by the stove and cracked the hard little shells one by one with a hammer, then slowly picked out the sweet nutmeats and ate them as he rocked. No one seems to have the time to pick out hickory nuts anymore, but for my grandfather it must have been, like walking is for me, a kind of meditation.

Hickory nuts and shells

Hickory nuts and shells

Over the years the old laneway has changed its course, but when I took my calming walk a few weeks ago, the trees still stood in their places to show the old route. Nuts continue to fall from their branches and add their bounty to the old path’s autumn tapestry .

Hickory nuts in the laneway, fall 2014

Hickory nuts in the laneway, fall 2014

On Wednesday:  Autumn Leaves

Outbuildings #2 – The Pig Pen


The real work on the farm happened in the barn, in the fields, and in the house. Some of the outbuildings were so specific in purpose that they were often hastily erected and as quickly abandoned when seasons or activities changed. Others had longer lives and a more major presence. They were spread out around the property in an almost haphazard way. A few of them I remember from childhood, but others I know only from photos. – Outbuildings #1

The Pig Pen

"Pig Pen," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

“Pig Pen,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and ink, 2013

My father took a movie of me when I was about three years old. Dressed in a red coat with a hood and red leggings, I fed the pigs bread crusts, carefully taking each piece out of a basket and sticking it through the slats of the pig pen.

Kept far from the house, this pen moved several times while I was young. The pigs smelled funky, and their dirt “floor” became a muddy mess after months of occupancy. The pigs were born, were fed until they were nice and fat, and then butchered in the open shed behind the house. My mother, when she was a little girl, hid in her room with a pillow over her head when the pigs were brought from the pen to the shed.

My grandparents gave up raising pigs when I was young, and took the pig pen down. But on that same property my uncle Aaron built a house for his new wife Barbara. His daughter Patti told me that after all those years of pig habitation, the soil was rich and dark and perfect for gardening.

On Monday:  Walking Down the Lane


My husband tells a joke about a farmer and a pig. I don’t really get the joke, but I like the punch line – “What’s time to a pig?”

What’s time to any of us? I thought about this recently when the new Apple watch was introduced. It looks very complex and expensive, but I had a similar reaction when the iphone came out, and now I can hardly live without my little magic device.

A digital watch or digital clock lacks the rhythm of big and little hands going around and around and pointing to the hours and minutes. I wear a $40 Timex watch that suits me. I only need to glance at it – not even read the numbers – to tell where in the day I am. My first watch was gold (probably not real gold), and I wound it every night before I went to bed. One of my mother’s friends told me never to wear it when I slept because if I did, lint would get into the workings and it would stop running. Now, I wear my Timex day and night and it only stops when the battery dies. My grandson Henry was looking for something to draw as a gift for his mother a year or so ago and I offered my watch. I’m not sure why he put the double watchbands on it, but I think it looks very cool.

"Henry's Watch Drawing," Henry Thomas Kennedy, pencil, 2013

“Henry’s Watch Drawing,” Henry Thomas Kennedy, pencil, 2013

I’m more aware of the dimensions of time and clocks when I visit my brother, because he’s a horologist. He collects and sells and repairs old clocks. His house and his workshop are alive with the ticking and tocking and chiming of hundreds of early American timepieces. He is doctor to many, many clocks. Some are as small as a box of Cream of Wheat, some as large as the Tower Clock at Yale University. He’s on intimate terms with their insides. I admire his expertise and his dedication to keeping the art of time alive. You can read more about him here.

Before electricity and batteries, many houses had some kind of clock. Tall clocks, Grandfather clocks, Mantel clocks, regulator clocks – all were made like works of art. My grandparents’ clock sat on the mantelpiece in the dining room. Keeping it running involved winding it regularly. I can’t remember whether or not it chimed. I think it did. But I know it ticked, and I know it was old. It gave an organic feeling to the house, and even when I got so used to it that I didn’t hear it anymore, it felt odd when it stopped – as though the heart of the house had stopped beating.

My grandparents' mantel clock

My grandparents’ mantel clock

The old clocks were not very accurate and would have to be periodically reset using the readings from a sundial. Most time was local time – dependent upon the position of the sun. When the family clock was the only timepiece in the house, its location and its appearance became as important as the time it kept. If you had to come downstairs to look at the clock in the parlor, you got clues to the time of day by glancing out windows, hearing other activity in the house, and feeling the temperature in the air. And many clocks also provided information about the phases of the moon, the days of the week, and the whimsy of the clock face’s painter.

Antique clock face

Antique clock face

And there were tall case clocks with music boxes inside that could play as many as six different songs.  Some of the more popular songs that marked the 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 hours were:

  • The Raptur
  • Maid of the Mill
  • The Cuckoo’s Nest
  • Banks of the Dee
  • Handel’s Minuet
  • Air by Handel

But my favorite is “Over the Water to Charlie.” Set to the lyrics of a Robert Burns poem about Bonny Prince Charles, this song has a lovely melody. When I hear it – maybe because my father was a Charlie – I picture my mother standing on the banks of Muddy River waiting for my father to come around the corner and cross the water to Whirlwind Hill.

On Wednesday:  Outbuildings #2 – The Pig Pen

The Tree

"Tree," Carol Crump Bryner, woodcut

“Tree,” Carol Crump Bryner, woodcut

In October 2001, I traveled east to visit my parents. The trip I’d always taken for granted had, after 9/11, come to seem like a miracle. I got on the plane in Anchorage, and eventually got off in Hartford, but it wasn’t until we reached the reservoir and I could see the lights on Whirlwind Hill that I felt the enormous joy and relief of being back home.

After that visit I sent an article to a feature at the Meriden Record. The piece was printed in January 2002, and I’ll reprint it here. The newspaper titled it “And the Tree Lives On.”

“In early October, I made the long trip from my home in Anchorage, Alaska to my parents’ house in Wallingford, Connecticut. Although I haven’t lived in East Wallingford since 1967, I still feel most truly and securely at home there.

The farmland, which has been in our family since before the Revolutionary War, has stayed open and undeveloped. I feel lucky to be able to visit such a timeless treasure and grateful to my relatives for keeping it that way year after year. Each time I come home I walk down the lane and up the hill to sit under my favorite tree. It’s silent there and beautiful, and I’m cheered to see the tree still standing in glorious isolation.

On one of my visits, my aunt told me that when my uncle was a young boy helping his father on the farm, he asked to have a tree planted here. During the long days of summer work he wanted to have a shady spot to put the water jug. Since then the fields have been almost continuously farmed. It must be a nuisance to mow, plant, and harvest around the tree, especially now that water jugs stay cool on their own. The fact that the tree has endured comforted me as I sat under it on October 8, trying to find balance in increasingly unsettling times.

As an artist, I collect images that connect me to the people and places I love. This year when I visited, the tree was still dressed in fall leaves, but in a few months it will look like this photo I took in March, 1972 – an example of the stark, powerful New England landscape I miss when I’m living so far way from home.” – Carol Crump Bryner, October 2001

The Tree, 1972

The Tree, 1972

On Monday:  Time

The Parlor

Gone are the days when guests were greeted at the front door and led into the parlor. “ ‘Will you walk into my parlor?’ said the spider to the fly.” The old poem illustrates the formality of a place where visitors were, in a way, held captive. Because the parlor was where first impressions were made, furniture had to be of good quality. Family portraits and sconces of light adorned the papered walls. Company sat in upright chairs and paid visits. The parlor was a buffer between the outside and inside life of the house.

My ancestors had their picture taken in a parlor that is probably not the parlor at the farm. They appear to be at a wedding. You can see the bride reflected in the mirror. It may have been my grandmother Agnes and grandfather Ellsworth’s wedding or maybe the wedding of Alice Hall to Harry Dickerman. The seated family members wear their best clothes. They look uncomfortable. But I’ve always loved the ghostly look of this parlor photo.

From left: Unidentified relative, William E. Hall, Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Davidson Hart, Edgar Hall

From left: Unidentified relative, William E. Hall, Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Davidson Hart, Edgar Hall

The farm parlor I remember was a nearly square room with three windows and three doors. It faced south, and provided warmth, light, and sunshine. Cherished paintings and portraits hung on the wallpaper. It was sparsely furnished. A piano took up most of the west wall, and my grandmother’s planters most of the south wall. In one corner an antique marble-topped table held a basket of old photographs. My grandmother often sent me home from my visits with a photo or two from that basket. I’ve used many of them here in my blog posts.

In my mother’s day the parlor had taken on the role of a multi-purpose room. The family gathered around the piano after Thanksgiving dinner to sing songs accompanied on piano by my Aunt Hattie. Toys sometimes littered the floor. Because it was the warmest room in the house, (shutting all three doors kept in the heat from the cast iron radiator and the warmth of the sun shining through the windows) my great-grandmother sat in the parlor and watched her grandchildren play as chilling drafts of air cooled other rooms.

In 1930, when my mother was twelve, her three-year-old brother Luther died of pneumonia, and his little body lay in a coffin in the parlor during the days of mourning. Friends and family and neighbors came in and out through the front door to say goodbye to the child.

But as life went on and the days grew brighter for my grandparents and mother and aunts and uncles, the room again became a warm and cheerful place. The parlor hosted card games and club meetings. In 1932 the local newspaper ran this photograph of my mother and other members of the “Capable Cooks 4-H Club” doing a demonstration called “Many Ways with Carrots.” I wish I’d been there in the parlor to see that lesson. I would like to have known exactly how many ways there are with carrots.

"Many Ways with Carrots," cooking demonstration, Janet Hall standing on right, 1932

“Many Ways with Carrots,” cooking demonstration, Janet Hall standing on right, 1932

My mother, standing on the right, looks tidy and professional. Because I was a 4-H member myself, I know that 4-H cooking demonstrations have to be detailed and exact. My mother cooked that way for the rest of her life. She measured her ingredients closely, cut her cucumber slices to a paper thinness, soaked cut onions in ice water, and greased and flowered her baking pans so thoroughly that not a single crumb would be left behind after the cake was turned out onto the plate. She learned her lessons well, and was always a “capable cook.”

In my dining room in Alaska, I have a Christmas cactus grown from a cutting of my grandmother’s original plant. In this photo my mother stands in front of one of the parlor windows. Through the window you can see the plants my grandmother Agnes grew – geraniums, Christmas cactus, amaryllis, and begonias – and also, reflected in the glass, the silhouette of the barn across the street with its rooftop cupola.

Janet and the parlor window, 1942

Janet and the parlor window, 1942

On Wednesday:  The Tree

October Window

The voices of my ancestors keep me company while I write these posts. Some days this process of living in the past makes me sad, and I feel all too mortal. But the cyclical nature of dying and birth, summer and winter, war and peace, loss and recovery, helps me understand these people who paved my way, and gives me clues about how to live my own life.

The strongest voice I hear is my great-grandmother’s. Lydia Jane Hall left me a cherished legacy – her words. She always said just enough. This October entry is her last. She died in 1926. But the joy of these cycles is that next month I can go back to an earlier year when she still had many more words to share.

"October Window," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“October Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Saturday, October 11, 1924 – “Nice cool morning. The foliage is changing. The winds are blowing, the bright colors are coming. Nature is putting on her bight robes. Beautiful but sad, when the change comes, we are passing on. ‘Time waits for no one.’ ” – Lydia Jane Hall

See also:  April, May, June, July, August, September windows

On Monday:  The Parlor