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

5 thoughts on “The Parlor

  1. Margaret Norton Campion

    The reflection of the bride in the parlor window in the first photo could be Grammy (Ellen Hall Norton).
    I’ll take a closer look at her wedding dress when I’m in CT but that certainly could be her buxom profile.
    (But knowing you, CCB, you’ve likely already done the wondering “if that’s Ellen?” so perhaps not. : )
    Could be one of our other buxomly-profiled relatives.

    I love the “Many Ways With Carrots” photo. Love seeing Janet so young. Who is her fellow-presenter, do you know? And – in the audience: I see Agnes seated there … do you know the others in the audience?

    Wonderful post, once again. Thank you!

    1. Carol Post author

      It’s fun to speculate about that photo. It may have been Ellen. When was she married?
      In the cooking photo my aunt Lydia is on the far left sitting down, Pauline Grace is the closest to the camera, and my mother’s demonstration partner is Kathleen McGuin. (I could be wrong about her first name – don’t have the photo with me right now.)

  2. Anne Foster

    Your mother’s interest in sharing home-making skills continued when she was a member of the Whirlwind Hill Homemakers Club. This was one of the groups sponsored by the Connecticut Agriculture Extension Service in the 1950s. The Extension Service gave demonstrations of various household tasks such as cooking, gardening and sewing (including slip covers!). Each group sent two representatives to learn the new skills and then returned to teach them to the rest. The other group members took care of the attendees children so that they could participate. Among the members of our group were Janet, Glenna Hall, Barbara Hall, Madeline Kranyak, and Jean Anderson.

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks Anne. I didn’t know about this! It sounds like a very fun group. I love to think of all of you getting together and sharing these things.

  3. Katy Gilmore

    Don’t you wish, wish, wish you could watch that demonstration! Would be a big uTube hit now. Janet viral, think of the possibilities. These photos are just terrific. And such a sad part of the story, the little casket in the parlor.


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