Monthly Archives: December 2014

A New Year

I love calendars. It’s exciting to turn over the page and look at the clean slate of the coming month. For many years my friend Katy and I made calendars for each other, and I still hang my favorites on the walls of my studio. The one she made me in 2013 gave me the final push toward creating this blog.

"The Blog on Whirlwind Hill Calendar," Katy Gilmore, 2013

“The Blog on Whirlwind Hill Calendar,” Katy Gilmore, 2013

Now my daughter makes brightly colored calendars with photos of our family and our grandsons. I feel warmed and comforted by these efforts and the years of memories that made them.

Tomorrow I will retire my 2014 journal and open the blank pages of a new one. Since 1956 I’ve written in a diary every night. It’s both a habit and a necessity for me. And when I sit down to write I think of my great-grandmother, who also was a journal keeper.

My 2014 journal

My 2014 journal

On New Year’s Day in 1863, she married my great-grandfather, William E. Hall. Fifty years later they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

January 1, 1913 – “Our Golden Wedding – fifty years – one hundred and twenty-five invitations. Nearly one hundred here. Some very lovely gifts – letters – cards- everyone seemed to have a good time. Cake, salad, rolls, macaroni, ice cream & coffee – salted peanuts. Reception from two until five. Fine time in evening. The day fine.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Each year in her journal she said goodbye to the old year and welcomed in the new.

Thursday, December 31, 1914 – “The last day of the old year, and pleasant and all in fairly good health. Of course we all have our troubles, which are small in comparison with some around us. Let us be thankful for past mercies that we may receive more. God help us to bear our infirmities, and to look to Him for aid.” Lydia Jane Hall

January 1, 1924 – “The old year has passed with its joys and sorrows and the new year commences. May it be a happy one to us all – God helping us – forgiving our many sins. Leading us in paths of righteousness that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. A nice day for New Year’s Day. All well and happy. A light snow on the ground – some ice which makes good sliding for the children.

I hope the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 “will be a happy one to us all.” Let’s turn over the calendars and start the year with smiles and cheer. Happy New Year!

"Blue Moon - 12/31/2009," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache,

“Blue Moon – 12/31/2009,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache,

On Friday:  January Window

Ellsworth’s Birthday

My father, my cousin Tom, my grandfather Ellsworth, and I were born near Christmas. Competing with the baby Jesus on his special day was a tricky business that often resulted in gifts labeled “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas.”

But we were lucky to have family who loved us and made our birthday celebrations special without taking any of the joy away from Christmas. One year my cousins from Indiana gave me a gingerbread house for my birthday. I was young then – maybe seven or eight – and am not sure if Lydia, Bill, Tom, and Nancy drove east for the holiday or just sent the house. In any event, it was miraculous to me, and I can still taste those candies on the roof.

Carol and the gingerbread house

Carol and the gingerbread house

My grandfather’s birthday was December 28th. In 1913, on this date, he married my grandmother Agnes.

Sunday, 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.” – Lydia Jane Hall.

Five and a half years later my mother Janet was born, and she and her daddy were great friends.

Ellsworth and Janet Hall, 1920

Ellsworth and Janet Hall, 1920

Ellsworth had modest taste in food and a liking for eating it in little bits throughout the day. He hid favored snacks on the shelves of the pantry and china cupboards – squares of chocolate and boxes of “Hi-Ho” Crackers are what I remember. We all knew his hiding places and helped ourselves to his stores, but I don’t think we were ever scolded or seriously admonished for this behavior.

But once a year, on his birthday, he had an extravagant treat when my mother baked him a fresh coconut cake. She was a meticulous cook and followed all recipes to the letter. She had a hard time organizing her closets, but she could beat an egg white so that it stood at attention in perfect peaks.

For this annual confection she first baked delicate layers of cake and filled them with lemon custard. Next she covered the stacked rounds with a boiled frosting of egg whites, sugar, vanilla, water, and cream of tartar. Finally, she grated fresh coconut and gently patted it onto the graceful swirls, a long and painstaking process undertaken with love and care. It was a beautiful sight – this large snowball of a cake – and my grandfather was always delighted.

"Janet's Coconut Cake," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2012

“Janet’s Coconut Cake,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2012

On Wednesday:  A New Year

Janet’s Christmas

My mother wrote this essay in the early 1980’s in answer to a request by my son to tell him how she celebrated Christmas when she was a young girl.

“We would always cut one of our trees from our woods for Christmas. It was always a hemlock, and we would have to get it the day before Christmas because the needles would drop. I would usually go on a logging sled drawn by a horse – that was when I was around your age [probably eight years old]. Later, we would drive our old truck. Often we would just take the top off a tree – that would just fit in our living room. Then the night before, we would all decorate the tree with our old favorite ornaments. We often made colored chains to put around the tree – and sometimes popcorn. But my father liked his popcorn made into popcorn balls that we kept in the back of our wood stove.

My mother always made around 3 plum puddings and a large fruitcake with white boiled frosting. We would hang our biggest knee sock on the doorknobs near the tree – one year we hung them at the foot of our beds. Before we went to bed we would leave 2 oranges on the shelf with a note for Santa Claus.

Christmas morning we would get up around 5:30. That was the time life on the farm started – cows had to be milked and fed. We were always so excited Christmas Eve that we could hardly get to sleep. The 3 of us slept in one room on that evening. When we got around eleven, I slept with my sister, and my brother had his own room.

We usually got about 5 presents Christmas morning – one of them could be skis or a sled. But we were always happy no matter what we got. Christmas was so special on the farm. The windows in the kitchen were covered with beautiful snow flakes that Jack Frost made during the night, and the wood stove gave us a very magic heat, and on the wood stove a large tea kettle sang a little tune.

We would have our Christmas dinner at noon – always a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with mashed potatoes and boiled onions, peas or corn. We would have company, but it always depended on the weather. Then in the afternoon we went sliding on our beautiful hills or ice skating on our favorite pond. We also might go down the hill to our neighbors to see their presents and play with them for a while.

Then late in the afternoon I would go out in the barn and help my father at milking time. Even if it were zero outdoors, it was always warm in the barn. Somehow 30 or 40 cows help make lots of heat.” – Janet Hall Crump, 1983

Wishing you all a warm and peaceful holiday!

"Winter Scene," Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

“Winter Scene,” Janet Hall Crump, watercolor

On Monday: Ellsworth’s Birthday

Dolls and Poodle Skirts

My parents and brother and I always spent Thanksgiving at the farm on Whirlwind Hill with my mother’s side of the family. But on Christmas and Easter we celebrated with my dad’s parents – H. A. (Gus) and Charlotte Crump.

After opening presents on Christmas morning and briefly visiting my grandparents at the farm, we drove into town to have a big mid-day dinner and spend the afternoon at the white house on Cedar Street. I dressed up in my best clothes and brought my new toys to show to my cousin Sue. Sue was a year older than I, and I have never known life without her. We’ve always been “best buds.” Aside from the time I accused her of harmonizing on “Taps” at our Girl Scout meeting (a long story), our friendship has been without strife.

Our parents – my mother Janet, and Sue’s mother Charlotte Collins (my dad’s sister) – must have coordinated the presents we got, because it seemed we almost always received the same dolls, clothes, and toys. Even at our very first Christmas together you can see how much I admired my older cousin.

Carol and Sue, Christmas, 1946

Carol and Sue, Christmas, 1946

My aunt sewed many of her family’s clothes, and sometimes she made Sue and me our Christmas outfits. In this photo Sue and her doll wear matching dresses made by Charlotte.

Janet Crump, Charlotte Barton, Harold Crump, Charlotte Crump, Carol, Sue, Christmas, 1947

Janet Crump, Charlotte Barton, Harold Crump, Charlotte Crump, Carol, Sue, Christmas, 1947

By the mid-1950’s Sue and I had little brothers, and Sue had a baby sister. And Charlotte was still sewing. For Christmas 1954 she made the poodle skirts we’re wearing in this photo taken with our great-grandmother, Charlotte Sophia Barton. (Yes, my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my aunt were all named Charlotte, which was very confusing.) She probably made our neckwear also. I loved that skirt and the big scratchy crinoline that I wore with it. I think the skirt was made of felt.

Jeannie Collins, (in highchair), Carol Crump, Sue Collins, Charlotte Sophia Barton, Kirt Crump, Skip Collins

Jeannie Collins, (in highchair), Carol Crump, Sue Collins, Charlotte Sophia Barton, Kirt Crump, Skip Collins

My Grandma Crump fixed the same meal for us on Christmas, Easter, and other holidays – ham and potatoes. It was always ham. She would not touch chicken after growing up next to a chicken farm, so she ate copious amounts of ham. My brother sometimes speculates that all that cured meat contributed to her long life. She died just two weeks short of her 108th birthday.

Our favorite tradition on those Christmas afternoons was the “Christmas Pie.” I think it started out as the “Christmas Chimney” as you can see in this photo, but over the years it became a pie. Grandma Crump wrapped little presents from the hardware store or W. T. Grant’s (a five and dime store) and tied strings to them with our names at the end. The strings came up through a piece of paper covering the top of the chimney or pie, and we had to cut the paper to get them out. This was her version of a “grab bag,” and the presents in it were always our favorites. We looked forward to this ritual all day. Maybe it was the communal aspect of the opening, or the silliness of some of the gifts, but whatever it was, we loved it, and carried on the tradition at our own Christmas gatherings for years afterwards.

The Christmas Chimney

The Christmas Chimney

On Wednesday:  Janet’s Christmas

Skating on the Cow Pond

In late April, the spring at the south end of the cow pond turns green with new life. The skunk cabbage, adder’s tongues, and violets unfurl in their usual spots and last for a heartbreakingly short few weeks. When I walk down the lane past the pond, I hope to hear the call of the red-winged blackbird – a sound I so associate with this place that to hear it anywhere else feels wrong.

These days there are no cows stopping for a drink of water on their way to pasture. My brother keeps the pond’s banks clear of grass and cattails and the land free of the milkweed with its boat-shaped pods.

The cow pond in 1924

The cow pond in 1924

This one small spring on the Whirlwind Hill farm feeds a pond that served as a watering hole for the cows and a place of year-round entertainment for children. The August dragonflies hovered over the water as we sat watching and waiting for our red and white bobbers to get tugged below the surface by a fish. We were told we could catch frogs with red flannel attached to a piece of string, and we spent hours bent over the bank of the pond with our lures. I can’t remember catching either fish or frogs, but I still feel the warmth of the sun on my arms and the luxurious sense of time standing still on a long afternoon.

When the leaves turned color in the fall we walked with our great-grandfather Joseph Biggs down the lane past the cow pond looking for hickory nuts. We gathered them in our baskets and brought them into the farmhouse kitchen where they rested for several months behind the stove until dry enough to be cracked open and eaten.

And in winter we skated. As soon as the ice formed a thick enough layer, we put on our wool sweaters, thick socks, bulky snow pants, bulkier jackets, itchy hats, and never-warm-enough mittens and walked to the pond carrying our skates. We learned to skate when we were three or four years old on double-runner blades. Later the boys played hockey and knocked their teeth out. The girls made figure eights and skated backwards. We all played “crack the whip.” I skated until I had frozen toes. I skated until I had frozen fingers. And one day I skated until I had waited too long to take off my skates and walk back up the lane to the farmhouse bathroom. I didn’t care. Skating was joy.

Cousin Nancy and Carol skating on the cow pond, 1953

Cousin Nancy and Carol skating on the cow pond, 1953

On Monday:  Dolls and Poodle Skirts


Lydia Jane Hall with "make-work" on her lap, around 1900

Lydia Jane Hall with “make-work” on her lap, around 1900

Monday, July 25, 1921 – “A very warm day – men busy working at hay in Peterland. Agnes helping out of doors most of the time – going to town looking after the children, making cookies, bread, etc…As for myself cannot do much but knit or sew make-work, etc.” – Lydia Jane Hall

The dictionary defines “make-work” as – work, usually of little importance, created to keep a person from being idle or unemployed.

I take umbrage with that sentence, because I never think of the things created by hand – not to earn money necessarily, but to add to the richness of life – as being of little importance.

Saturday, August 13, 1921 – “Nice day – all hustling to get the work done. Men gathering the apples. Agnes going to town. Emily going to dentist, the children going also. I am left alone with my knitting…Francis’ sweater keeps me busy – should be lonely without something to do.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921 - Francis holding a chicken and wearing a hand-knit sweater

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921 – Francis holding a chicken and wearing a hand-knit sweater

My daughter and I, like my great-grandmother  and her great-great-grandmother, enjoy knitting. The repetitive motion of the needles calms me down when I’m waiting for an airplane to take off. It gives my daughter a creative focus when her busy children threaten to upset the equilibrium of the day.

Right now I’m working on an afghan like the one given to me in 1968 by my grandmother Agnes’ Whirlwind Hill neighbor and friend Lena Schneider. Lena always had knitting on her lap, and made many blankets like the one she gave me years ago.

Our afghan traveled with us from Connecticut to California and then to Alaska. My children cuddled under it, and the cats slept on top of it. But a few years ago the holes in the lacy pattern began to get bigger. The yarn grew so thin I decided it was time to knit another one like it.

Lena's afghan in 2013 with extra holes

Lena’s afghan in 2013 with extra holes

After about a year of searching, I found a similar pattern and knitted a new one. Now I’m working on a second one for my daughter and her family.

The new afghan

The new afghan

My daughter has taken knitting to another level. She creates colorful and intricate things to wear and to love. She shows them off at her Instagram page, where she goes by the name “orangeknits.” And she has done this presentation of her work so humbly and quietly I didn’t know about her public persona until a few days ago.

Like my great-grandmother Lydia, who did her sewing and knitting despite painful arthritis, my daughter uses her skill to keep her hands limber and active and to cheer us all up. She makes beautiful hats, shawls, socks, mittens, and tiny animals. They are labors of love, and she gives many of them, like this tiny chicken she made for me, to family and friends.

Tiny chicken, knitted by Mara Bryner

Tiny chicken, knitted by Mara Bryner

One day when I was wearing a pair of orange socks she made me, I told her, “When you wear something made by someone you love, you think about them all day.”

My orange socks

My orange socks

Lydia reported that after several months – “I have finished the sweater at last, which seems to please Francis. It is nice and warm.”

I’m grateful for this kind of work – the doing and the receiving, especially when it’s made with  care and thoughtfulness. It pleases me, keeps me warm, and makes me smile.

Henry and Mara keeping warm

Henry and Mara keeping warm

On Wednesday:  Skating on the Cow Pond


I used to be nearsighted. I wore glasses when I drove the car, watched movies, read street signs, needed to recognize friends from a distance, and find the dirt on the floor when I vacuumed. And then, about a year ago, the glasses just didn’t work anymore. The remedy turned out to be cataract surgery, and after I had it done this summer everything became clear and bright.

It’s wonderful to have sharp vision – except for one thing. I’ve lost that misty, romantic blur I had when I wasn’t wearing my glasses. Now I see every speck of dust on the furniture and all the wrinkles on my face – yikes! And because the Christmas lights I put up a few days ago look just like what they are – lights on a string – real candlelight has become very appealing to me.

When darkness gathers early on a December afternoon I love the twinkle of little lights or the glow of a candle. One of the best things about an Alaska winter is the way the lit-up outside tree looks after snow falls. It’s a glow that always cheers me.

"Christmas Snow," Carol Crump Bryner, 2009 Christmas card

“Christmas Snow,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2009 Christmas card

A long time ago, the farm Christmas tree was cut on December 24th and decorated with ornaments and little clip-on candles. I’m sure those lit candles were dangerous as all get-out, but what a sight they must have been for children on Christmas day. It had to be thrilling to watch the little points of flame teasing the dry needles. My mother never got over her fear of trees catching on fire, and only wanted to have the strings of electric lights lit if she was nearby. I think she was very brave to entrust me with the candle I hold in our 1948 Christmas card.

1948 Christmas Card

1948 Christmas Card

When my grandson Henry came to visit this weekend, we opened the box with the Christmas ornaments and decorations I had mailed here to Portland from Alaska. In it were the Swedish chimes my mother gave me more than forty years ago. We set it up, and I let him light the candles (something I found out later he isn’t allowed to do, which, of course, made it twice as fun for him). We turned off all the lights, cuddled together on the couch, and watched the little angels go round and round making music as the flames burned the red wax almost down to the bottom.

Henry and the candles, 2014

Henry and the candles, 2014

On Monday:  “Make-work”


I started sewing when I was nine. Every Saturday afternoon our 4-H club – the Wallingford 4-H Harmonizers – met at Mrs. Porter’s house to practice our skills. We started by sewing straight lines on paper, learned to make tailor tacks, pleats, and button holes. Finally, when we were in high school, we made full outfits that we wore on the runway at the statewide “Dress Review.”

Until around 1988, I kept my 1954 portable Singer sewing machine busy. In 1968 I made three bridesmaid dresses and one flower girl dress for my wedding.

Cousin Skip, and cousin Sue (wearing the "Maid of Honor" dress I made) at my wedding in 1968

Cousin Skip, and Cousin Sue (wearing the “Maid of Honor” dress I made) at my wedding in 1968

For the next twenty years I made maternity clothes, curtains, pillows, placemats, dresses, and Halloween costumes.

Paul in the clown costume, 1975

Paul in the clown costume, 1975

I even made snow pants and down jackets.

My children in well-used snow clothes, 1978

My children in well-used snow clothes, 1978

And then I lost interest. I got tired of sewing. After all, it was almost cheaper to buy what I needed and wanted in the store. But for my great-grandmother Lydia, that wasn’t an option.

There’s a dress shop near us in Portland that displays different dresses in its window every day, and I try to walk by to see what they’ve come up with to match their moods, the season, or the holiday.

Three dresses in a shop window, Portland, Oregon

Three dresses in a shop window, Portland, Oregon, November, 2014

I wonder what Lydia would have thought of these festive offerings? I think she would have loved them, because even though her wardrobe consisted of only a few dresses each year, they were carefully and beautifully made, partly done by her, but most often done by Miss Norton.

Monday, June 1, 1914 – “Pa went in town to get Miss Norton to dressmake for us. Hattie came out with them, made one dress, a dimity for Agnes.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, December 1, 1921 – “Miss Norton here today cutting & making pants for Francis out of old coats, which are very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

I inherited one of the dresses from the farm. It may have belonged to my great-grandmother, but I suspect it was made for her mother, my great-great-grandmother Lydia Reed Hart.

Dress from the farm

Dress from the farm

There are twelve yards of fabric in the skirt. Two different colors of cotton line the bodice and sleeves. Although the seams are machine-stitched, almost everything else was sewn by hand.

Lining and seams of dress

Lining and seams of dress

On the right side of the skirt, hidden in the seam, is a large pocket, capacious enough for handkerchiefs, spectacles, a small journal, and maybe a pencil. What a chore it must have been to do up all those buttons, and I can’t help but wonder how handy these big dresses were during trips to the “privy.”

Inside of dress showing linings and pocket

Inside of dress showing linings and pocket

In a three-generation photo from the early 1900’s, my great-grandmother Lydia Jane Hall, and her own mother, Lydia Reed Hart, are seated in front of my great aunt Hattie. The elder Lydia’s dress looks very much like the dress that hangs today in my bedroom closet. She wears it, as was the custom then, with an apron tied around her waist and a white lace bow at her neck, dressed up for the photo session which, the elder woman claimed, (as reported in her daughter’s journal), was “nothing but an aggravation.”

Seated:  Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Hart,  Standing:  Hattie Cannon Hall

Seated: Lydia Jane Hall, Lydia Reed Hart, Standing: Hattie Cannon Hall

On Wednesday:  Candlelight

Afternoon Coffee

My husband thinks nothing of having breakfast at 1:30 in the afternoon or dinner at 9:00 at night. This goes against my grain, because I try to hold fast to the routines of my childhood – breakfast immediately upon rising, lunch at noon, dinner around 6:00, and snacks taken at a reasonable midpoint between the meals.

My mother, who grew up with the cow-oriented daily routine of the farm, passed on to me her love of the afternoon coffee break.

As often as we could, we went the farm for the 3:00 – 4:00 coffee hour. For my grandfather and uncles and hired men, this was their time to relax before the late afternoon milking. Although tea was brewed after the noontime dinner, the rest of the day – starting at 5:30 in the morning – was all about coffee, coffee, and more coffee.

In a photo of the farm kitchen from the 1950’s, there are three different coffee pots and a stovetop teakettle. When I was very young, my grandmother Agnes bought her coffee at the A & P on Simpson Court in Wallingford. She ground the beans in a large machine near the store’s front door. The smell was heavenly.

Farmhouse kitchen around 1950

Farmhouse kitchen around 1950

She brewed the coffee on the stove in big double-decker pots. I think they were “drip” pots and not percolators, but if anyone remembers more specifically, please let me know.

We sat around the kitchen table or stood leaning against the sink or the gun cupboard while coffee was poured, lightened with cream, sweetened with sugar, stirred with one of the spoons from the spoon jar, and drunk with cookies, or donuts, or leftover cake.

I wish I could report that the coffee was served in the kind of heavy white mugs one sees at truck stops – to me the ideal container for a warm beverage.

"White Cup," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

“White Cup,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

But in my childhood, Melmac was all the rage, and the grown-ups drank out of thick grey-green plastic cups and saucers, sometimes pouring the coffee into the saucer to cool.

"Green Cup," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

“Green Cup,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2014

Every few weeks, the inside of the cups grew badly stained from the dark coffee, so my grandmother soaked them in Clorox. For days after their cleansing baths, the cups smelled of bleach, and the coffee tasted a bit “off.” At our house, we had the same kind of cups and saucers made in “Boonton, U.S.A,” except ours were yellow and blue. I still have a few of those, and think about the afternoon coffee hours at the farm every time I pick one up.

Blue and yellow Melmac cups

Blue and yellow Melmac cups

Over the years tea has replaced coffee for my afternoon breaks, and my grandsons have begun to observe this routine with me. They have cookies and milk, I have tea and cookies, and in this way the customs of the generations before are passed on and cherished.

Afternoon tea break with Henry, 2014

Afternoon tea break with Henry, 2014

On Monday:  Dressmaking

December Window

As I turn over the calendar on December first, I think of this nursery rhyme I read to my children when they were little:

“The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow,

And what will the robin do then, poor thing?

He’ll sit in the barn, and keep himself warm,

And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.”

Snow and cold and darkness were hard for my great-grandmother, especially when she became dependent on a wheelchair. In her journals she laments the absence of loved ones, but also takes joy in the presence of every-day comforts – a furnace, some sunshine, and her grandchildren.

"December Window," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“December Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Sunday, December 1, 1912 – “A nice day. My mother’s birthday – Ninety-two years old. Would like to see her today. She is a well preserved old lady, her great trouble being rheumatism which keeps her from getting around freely. I truly sympathize, being twenty years younger than she is in years, but sometimes think not so many in feelings. Snow still on the hills.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Friday, December 30, 1921 – “Nice day. Quite cold, below zero this morning – windows covered with frost. Couldn’t see out of them. The North window still has some left on it. I have been sitting in the Sitting room this morning in the sunshine to keep warm, the children with me. With the furnace fire and doors closed was very comfortable.” – Lydia Jane Hall

On Wednesday:  Afternoon Coffee