Category Archives: Rooms

Chair Drawings

On a 1985 visit to Whirlwind Hill, I needed a calming focus while I spent two weeks with my two young children and my wonderful, but very talkative mother. I decided to draw all the chairs in my parents’ house. I made a good start of it, but I didn’t get very far. Still, it was a good exercise in looking, and I came to appreciate the intricacy and the beauty and the history of this furniture.

The farmhouse living room was a hodgepodge of chairs, sofas, lamps, and tables – some antique, and some not. Above all, the space was comfortable and light – a perfect multi-purpose room. My parents’ living room was also spacious and bright, and some of the furniture in it came from the farm. Chairs were moved around to meet the demands of guests, Christmas trees, pets, and playing children. Below is a photo of the farmhouse living room in the 1950’s.

The farmhouse living room in the 1940's

The farmhouse living room in the 1940’s

Here are a few of the chairs I drew on that 1985 visit. My drawings were too big to scan, so I apologize for the quality of the photos.

The Fancy Chair

With their low pink seats and straight backs, this chair and its mate are rarely used for sitting. They flank the living room fireplace in a rather useless, but decorative manner.

"The Fancy Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Fancy Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

A Wooden Chair

This little wooden chair is also uncomfortable, but it holds a special place in Whirlwind Hill lore because it is very, very old. At least I think it is.

"The Little Wooden Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Little Wooden Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

The Low Rocking Chair

Now that I look at this drawing, I’m trying to place the chair but can’t remember seeing it lately. I’ll have to look next time I’m back on Whirlwind Hill.

"The Low Rocking Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Low Rocking Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

The Upholstered Rocker

I like to picture my mother rocking me in this chair when I was a baby on the farm. Did this really happen? I have a vague memory of her telling me that it did.

"The Upholstered Rocker," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Upholstered Rocker,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

Me as a baby on the farm with my Grandma Crump, my mother, and my Great-grandma Barton

Me as a baby on the farm with my Grandma Crump, my mother, and my Great-grandma Barton

The Chair with the Velvet Seat

For a long time this chair sat at the end of a long hallway leading to the bedrooms in my parents’ house. There was an oval mirror hanging above it and a long patterned runner on the floor. I did a linocut of this scene, and it’s now hanging in that same hallway.

"The Chair with the Velvet Seat," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Chair with the Velvet Seat,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

"Hallway," Carol Crump Bryner, linocut print, 1975

“Hallway,” Carol Crump Bryner, linocut print, 1975

The Queen Anne Chair

My mother was proud of this chair. It had a long history on the farm. My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hall, was photographed sitting elegantly on its seat. No one sits in it now, (it, too, is uncomfortable) but maybe someday one of my great-grandchildren will look at this photo of me and my great-aunt Hattie sitting on the chair and say, “That’s my great-grandmother Carol sitting in the Queen Anne Chair.”

"The Queen Anne Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

“The Queen Anne Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1985

Lydia Jane Hall, around 1900

Lydia Jane Hall, around 1900

Aunt Hattie and Carol, Christmas, 1946

Aunt Hattie and Carol, Christmas, 1946

Drawing is way to explore and learn and really, really look. Painting seems to me to be a medium that brings objects and scenes to life. In my next post I’ll share a few of the many (I count close to one hundred) paintings I’ve done of chairs.

Twelve Treats of Christmas

My taste runs toward the savory. If offered my dessert first I’ll probably refuse. I like my veggies and my salad and my protein. But when the second week of December comes, I remember fondly all the sweet and wintry food associated with past Christmas festivities and traditions. As I sit at my desk this month, with the darkening sky outside my window and the cozy lights inside, I feel ready to share memories of some seasonal treats. For the next twelve days, starting on Monday, I’ll post one a day until Christmas. I hope these posts rekindle some of your own memories of family celebrations and good cheer.

"Studio Window with Little Lights," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2010

“Studio Window with Little Lights,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2010


Spring Cleaning

Spring washing on Whirlwind Hill

Spring washing on Whirlwind Hill

As spring nudges me with warm breezes and birdsong I feel the urge to clean my own nest. And when the cold of the New England winter abated, my ancestors set about refreshing the rooms of the farmhouse.

My great-grandmother Lydia opened doors, pushed up windows, brought furniture, rugs, and carpets out onto the sidewalks to air. With her broom she swept away the dust and shadows of a long winter. She aired out the quilts and bedding and washed all the curtains. My grandfather whitewashed the kitchen and called on the paperhanger to brighten the chambers. What a good feeling it must have been after months of smoky stove, fireplace, and furnace fires to let the sunshine and fresh air flow through the old house.

Wednesday, March 13, 1912 – “Cloudy and rainy. The meadows full of water. The water rushing down the gutter. Ellsworth and Pauline [hired girl] cleaned the kitchen attic. Looks fine. A good work done, which is very pleasing to me.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, April 24, 1912 – “Pauline cleaning and righting the front chamber and Ellen’s room. I washed and ironed the front chamber curtains. The rooms look very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, May 1, 1912 – “A nice clear day from morning until night. Done lots of work. Pauline cleaned two rooms upstairs. Her room and Ellsworth’s, and the back hall. Looks fine.” – Lydia Jane Hall

It’s a time of transition, this spring-cleaning time. When I used to have shows of my paintings every year or two, I always cleaned my studio and organized my supplies after the show was hung and the opening over. Cleaning and organizing helped me get started again. It opened a space for whatever new images, projects, and ideas came along.

Next Monday, March 30, will be my last regular entry for “On Whirlwind Hill.” In my first post last year on April 7, I said I would write my stories for a year. The year has passed and I’m ready to let some new ideas visit me. I do have unfinished business on Whirlwind Hill. I haven’t read all the journals and letters yet, I haven’t climbed the Three Notches, and I still haven’t found out why this lovely neighborhood was named Whirlwind Hill. The blog will stay up indefinitely, and I may add a post from time to time. If you’re a subscriber, an email will let you know if I’ve added something. And comments will still reach me. I’ve loved connecting with all of you who have read and commented and shared stories.

"Spring Cleaning," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and gouache, 2015

“Spring Cleaning,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and gouache, 2015

On Monday: A View of the Farm


Thirty-three years ago, when we remodeled our Alaska house, I papered the bathroom walls with Laura Ashley wallpaper. I bought the rolls at the Laura Ashley store in San Francisco and carried them home on the plane in a huge green plastic bag. I’m both proud and embarrassed that I still look at this wallpaper on a regular basis – proud that it’s held up pretty well and I still like it, but also embarrassed because it hasn’t held up ALL that well, and it really should be replaced.

The Laura Ashley wallpaper I love, but really should replace.

The Laura Ashley wallpaper I love, but really should replace.

My grandmother, Agnes Hall, definitely would have picked out and hung new paper by now. She enjoyed redecorating. Housework was not her forte, but she liked change, and moved furniture and repainted and repapered the rooms often.

Except for the whitewashed kitchen, all the downstairs rooms and some of the upstairs ones were busy with the patterns of wallpaper. I don’t know when the first sheet of paper was hung at the farm, but from 1912 to 1914, spring meant it was time to repaint and repaper the walls.

Friday, April 12, 1912 – “Pauline taking off the paper in front chambers. Getting ready for the paperhanger. Hard work scratching it off.” – Lydia Jane hall

Saturday, April 13, 1912 – “Pa scratching off paper in Ellen’s room.” – Lydia Jane Hall

And in the midst of this domestic activity my great-grandmother announced:

Sunday, April 14, 1912 – “The steamer Titanic went down. Many lives lost.” – Lydia Jane Hall

But the decorating at the Hall farm went on as usual.

Wednesday, April 17, 1912 – “Ellsworth painted the two chambers upstairs.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Friday, April 19, 1912 – “Mr. Goodspeed here papering.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, May 7, 1912 – “Ellsworth painted the bathroom.” – Lydia Jane Hall

One of the upstairs chambers was the room my mother and father used after their marriage in 1943. The photo is in black and white, but I like to imagine the paper in soft pink and cream, so I added a little of my own color.

Janet Hall Crump and the bedroom wallpaper, 1943

Janet Hall Crump and the bedroom wallpaper, 1943

The dining room was repapered at least three times between 1945 and 1968.

Aaron P. Hall, Ellsworth Hall, Ellen Hall Norton, Thanksgiving, around 1950

Aaron P. Hall, Ellsworth Hall, Ellen Hall Norton, Thanksgiving, around 1950

Thanksgiving, 1960, Charles Crump, Janet Crump, Ellsworth Hall

Thanksgiving, 1960, Charles Crump, Janet Crump, Ellsworth Hall

Dining room wallpaper in 1962

Dining room wallpaper in 1962

My grandfather, Ellsworth Hall, in addition to his duties as a farmer and a turkey carver, was also the family painter. It makes sense given his patient and methodical way of doing jobs. In another life he might have been an artist, painting pictures of rooms instead of the rooms themselves.

Wednesday, April 16, 1913 – “Ellsworth whitewashed the kitchen. Looks nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Monday, September 22, 1913 – “Ellsworth painted upstairs.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, September 30, 1913 – “Mr. Goodspeed here papering the bedroom and preparing the other two rooms.” — Lydia Jane Hall

Here is the living room wallpaper in 1942.

Charlie Crump in the farmhouse living room, 1942

Charlie Crump in the farmhouse living room, 1942

And here it is in 1949.

Living room in 1949 - Carol Crump, Great-grandpa Biggs, Tuck Norton, John Norton

Living room in 1949 – Carol Crump, Great-grandpa Biggs, Tuck Norton, John Norton

I wonder how the wallpaper patterns were chosen. Did someone come to the house with a book of samples? Were they ordered from a store? However it was done, it must have been fun to have fresh walls every year or so.

Tuesday, June 9, 1914 – “A nice day. Two weeks ironing. All day work, with that the paperhanger called up. Coming tomorrow to paper the bathroom. The paper to be taken off which took until bedtime, and part of the next morning. Everything all stirred up.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, June 25, 1914 – “Ellsworth whitewashed the kitchen.” – Lydia Jane Hall

The parlor was always such a cozy room, and I love the paper on the walls in this photo of the Capable Cooks Club meeting in 1932. Later on it was replaced by a covering with wide stripes, which never seemed quite so pleasing.

Capable Cooks Club meeting, 1932 - Lydia Hall on far left, Janet Hall in center, Pauline Grace third from right

Capable Cooks Club meeting, 1932 – Lydia Hall to far left, Janet Hall in center, Pauline Grace third from right.

I wonder why paper instead of paint? Maybe it made the rooms seem warmer. Certainly it made them more colorful. Perhaps it was just the times. The downstairs bedroom, where my grandmother slept for as long as I knew her, was a lovely room with a door leading into the backyard and flowery paper on the walls. My brother told me that when the house burned in January 1971, my Grandma’s Hall’s bedroom remained intact- the wallpaper untouched by the flames. I have no photos of that bedroom, but here’s my grandmother standing near the door to her room around 1962. I wish the door had been left open so that I could have one last glimpse of the bedroom walls.

Grandma Hall standing in the living room near her bedroom door, around 1962

Grandma Hall standing in the living room near her bedroom door, around 1962

On Monday:  A Few Old Books


Measles and other infectious diseases of childhood have been much in the news recently. Modern day children are mostly free from the epidemics that sometimes threatened the lives of my ancestors. My own children had chicken pox, an illness my grandchildren won’t have to deal with.

Polio was rampant in the mid-1950s, and I remember my mother’s relief when she drove us to Dr. Salinger’s office in New Haven to get our first dose of the polio vaccine. Summertime was the most dangerous season during this epidemic. I wasn’t allowed to swim in the community pool, go to the zoo when we took the train through Chicago on our way to Montana, or be in any large gatherings of children. And to put the fear of God in me about these situations, my mother took me to a trailer on the outskirts of a local circus to I could see for myself a girl in an iron lung.

Pneumonia, diphtheria, typhus, scarlet fever, and measles threatened lives in the generations before mine. The loss of a child to these diseases was common, and no generation before mine was spared. Many of my great-grandmother’s journal entries report the sicknesses of her family and her neighbors. And in 1924 the measles came to visit the Hall farm.

Friday, April 11, 1924 – “This is a fine day. Francis not feeling well – is staying home from school. He has some fever – seems to be ailing. His mother is dosing him with calomel and physic. He thinks he may be having the measles coming on, as they are in the school.”

Thursday, April 17, 1924 – “Francis is broken out with the measles. Dr. is coming out to quarantine us. Suppose we have a siege of it now, for a month or two. Hope we will come out all right.”

Tuesday, April 22, 1924 – “Frances is well again of the measles. We are expecting Lydia and Janet next.”

Thursday, April 24, 1924 – “A nice day. The children are home from school. Lydia and Janet are coming down with measles.”

Tuesday, April 29, 1924 – Pleasant day. Lydia and Janet are still in bed with the measles. Gradually getting better.”

Saturday, May 3, 1924 – A nice day. The children are better. The measles are letting go. All dressed and downstairs but Lydia. She is downstairs but not dressed, lying on the lounge. Think she will be all right in a day or two. They have surely had the measles this time. They have troubled Lydia the most. The mother has taken good care of them. Feels tired from going up and down stairs.”  -–  Lydia Jane Hall

The mother – my grandmother Agnes Hall – certainly would have been tired after nearly a month nursing the sick children in their upstairs beds. Up she went carrying trays of food, glasses of milk and water, and bottles of nasty-tasting medicine. Back down she came with the empty trays, dirty linens, and full chamber pots. There were three sets of stairs in the house and she probably used them many times each day – not an easy task for a large woman with a bad hip.   But she was a good nurse and a devoted mother, and in the end, as my great-grandmother hoped, it “came out all right.”

"Front Staircase," Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

“Front Staircase,” Carol Crump Bryner, gouache and colored pencil, 2015

On Wednesday:  Wallpaper

Pigs in the Kitchen

In the winter of 1968 my grandmother Agnes sent me a letter from the farm. She knew about the menagerie of animals Alex and I had at our house in Menlo Park, California – ducks, chickens, roosters, and cats. So at the end of her letter she warned us not to go so far as to get pigs.

“Don’t you and Alex get any ideas even though I know from experience that baby pigs make great pets. Dr. Flaherty the veterinarian brought me one once.  – Grandma”

1968 Christmas Card - Alex and Carol with some of the livestock.

1968 Christmas Card – Alex and Carol with some of the livestock.

People say that pigs are intelligent, and writers have immortalized ones with human characteristics – the sweet and radiant Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web,” the three pig brothers and their nemesis the Big Bad Wolf, the politically symbolic animals in Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” the pig in the nursery rhyme, “Tom, Tom the piper’s son, stole a pig and away he run,” (said to be not actually a pig but some kind of meat pie).

One of my favorite literary porcine images comes from Gertrude Stein in her book, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.” Writing in the voice of her longtime companion Alice, she says:

“Gertrude Stein had always liked little pigs and she always said that in her old age she expected to wander up and down the hills of Assisi with a little black pig.”

"A Little Black Pig," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

“A Little Black Pig,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil, 2013

I don’t know if there were little black pigs on the farm, but in the days before supermarkets and cars and refrigeration, animals provided more than entertainment for the Hall family. My great-grandmother Lydia writes in her journals about the birth to death cycle of the farm pigs.

Thursday, February 12, 1914 – “Cold. Thermometer 8 ½ degrees below zero. Down to zero nearly all day. Pigs eleven in all came during the afternoon and evening. All were brought into the kitchen by the stove. All lively and doing well.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Saturday, March 21, 1914 – “Someone stole one of the little pigs last night, so it seems that thieves are about us.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Sunday, August 30, 1914 – “Ellsworth brought in a sick pig – died in the night – he thinks from eating sweet corn.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, December 9 – 1914 – “Ellsworth and Andrew butchered two pigs in morning. I took the fat off the intestines. Agnes helped me. One pig weighed three hundred – the other two hundred.” – Lydia Jane Hall

People and their animals lived in close contact on the farms of the early twentieth century, and I suppose it didn’t pay to be sentimental about the future of a pig. But my mother never could stand the butchering and hid under her bed covers until it was over. My cousin Skip told me that even when he was growing up my grandparents sometimes kept pigs in the back pantry, the room you passed through on your way from the back yard to the kitchen. In this photo of my mother and her brother and sister, you can see behind them the door to the back pantry.

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921

The pigs of my own childhood were kept far from the house. Grandma Hall gave us baskets of stale bread to feed them. We pushed the crusts one piece at a time through the slats of the pen. I loved the sounds they made as they ate our offerings, and can’t forget their unique smell, but I wish I could have seen those other little pigs on a long ago winter night staying warm and cozy next to the big black kitchen stove.

"Pigs in the Kitchen," Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2015

“Pigs in the Kitchen,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2015

On Wednesday:  Outbuildings #4 – The Chicken Coop

Things I Remember About the Farmhouse Bathroom

I like a secure bathroom. There should be a window – but only one window – and it should be small with an opaque shade to pull for privacy. One door is quite enough, and that door needs a proper lock.

My grandparents’ bathroom was nothing like that. It was large, open, and light – not originally meant to be a bathroom. Its spaciousness and lack of security made the simple act of sitting on the toilet fraught with anxiety. Someone might walk in unannounced, and once in a while they did!

Here are some of the things I remember about the bathroom on the farm.

 The Door Behind the Desk

The bathroom had three doors. One led from the dining room, one from the back bedroom, and the third from the living room. This third door was not used in my lifetime. It was behind “The Desk” in the living room.

“The Desk” belonged to my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall, Esq. and was reputed to be valuable. Its little drawers and cubbyholes held photos and documents, newspapers, and ancient spectacles. In the early days, when the only bathroom on the farm was an outhouse, this door probably led into a bedroom or sitting room.

"The Door Behind the Desk," Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2013

“The Door Behind the Desk,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2013

The Bathroom Windows

The two windows in the bathroom were large and low and looked out onto the back yard. The gauzy curtains were for decoration only, and the green shades were always up. One of the windows was directly opposite the toilet, and its placement meant that anyone walking past the window could see me sitting there.

"The Bathroom Window," Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2013

“The Bathroom Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2013

The Bathtub

The bathtub’s appearance is hard for me to remember. But it sat out from the corner of the room, and I don’t think it had a shower or curtain of any kind. A bather in this tub, like a sitter on the toilet, was exposed to the two windows and the three doors. I don’t think many baths were taken on the farm. My grandmother practiced once-a-month hair washing. In between washings she brushed her long brown hair the required one hundred strokes daily and pinned it up into a bun. One of my jobs when I stayed at the farm was to brush her hair for her. She died when she was eighty-two with barely a grey hair on her head.

"The Bathtub," Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2013

“The Bathtub,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen, 2013

The Sewing Machine

The bathroom was a multi-purpose room. My grandmother did her sewing there on an old Singer treadle sewing machine. I think it stood between the door and the window on the wall opposite the toilet, but I also remember it being right smack in the middle of the room when she was using it.

"The Sewing Machine," Carol Crump Bryner, pen 2013

“The Sewing Machine,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen 2013

The Toothpaste

A tube of Ipana (the Bucky Beaver toothpaste) sat on the sink, and was shared by everyone sleeping at the farm. Later on, my Indiana cousins brought Crest into our lives, and a tube of that joined the Ipana. I used something else at my own house – I think it was a pinkish bland-tasting tooth powder that I shook into a little puddle of water in the palm of my hand and worked to a lather with my toothbrush. It was a treat to use toothpaste from a tube – to squeeze the paste onto the brush and feel the startling bite of mint when it touched my tongue.

"The Toothpaste," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2013

“The Toothpaste,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2013

The Unlocked Door

There was nothing worse than hurrying into the bathroom, sitting down on the toilet, and realizing I hadn’t locked both doors. This was the source of my greatest anxiety about using the Hall bathroom, and I think it’s the reason that I am so very, very fond of small, dark, cozy bathrooms.

"The Unlocked Door," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2013

“The Unlocked Door,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2013

On Monday:  Pigs in the Kitchen


"Spoons," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

“Spoons,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil, 2015

My daughter, when she was very young, had a best friend who spent many hours at our house. They were friends from the time they were born and had that kind of closeness that comes with growing up together. In their creative play they used their imaginations and whatever props they found around the house.

One of their favorite games involved gathering spoons from my kitchen drawers and carrying them in an old briefcase to their “house” under the dining room table. The friend called a spoon a “spung” and a briefcase a “broofcase.” Those words became a permanent part of my vocabulary.

Spoons carry with them associations and meaning. A favorite painting – “Sam’s Spoon” by Avigdor Arikha, shows a single silver spoon resting on a white cloth. When Arikha’s daughter was born, his friend Samuel Beckett gave him the christening spoon that had been given to him as a baby.

I treasure a set of spoons that belonged to my Aunt Hattie. They’re engraved with the letter “C,” (her married name was Cannon) and my mother thought I should have them because my name began with that letter. The spoons sit inside a satin-lined box that seems made just for them. They’re paper thin and probably useless for anything but stirring tea or eating the most delicate of puddings.

Aunt Hattie's spoons

Aunt Hattie’s spoons

My kitchen drawer still holds colorful utensils used by my grandsons, who found more delight in the object holding the food than the food itself.

Henry with a spoon, 2007

Henry with a spoon, 2007

The kitchen table on the Hall farm was used for every chore from plucking chickens to paying bills. But at three o’clock every afternoon my grandmother cleared the table of all but the coffee pot, pitcher of cream or can of evaporated milk, tin of cookies, sugar bowl, cups and saucers, and the jar of spoons.

Stirring the coffee was a ceremony, and I can picture my mother, uncles, aunts, and grandparents sitting around the table reaching for one of the spoons as they relaxed and talked and found a focus in the day. It was handy to have the spoons right there – to not have to get up and go to the silverware drawer or stir the coffee with your finger. I’ve tried several times to have my own spoon jar, but with no success. Times are different. We don’t drink coffee at the kitchen table, and we have reading glasses and pens in our jar instead of spoons.

I suppose the children could just as easily have played with forks, but there’s something soothing about spoons, especially when they sit bowl-side up in a special container. My daughter has her own house now, and in the middle of her dining room table is a box full of tiny spoons made for stirring a small cup of espresso, or as my mother used to call it, “a demi-task.” My mother and my daughter’s friend both added color to our spoken language, and now I always stir my demi-task with a tiny spung.

"Spoon Jar," Carol Crump Bryner, 2013

“Spoon Jar,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2013

On Wednesday:  Things I Remember About the Farmhouse Bathroom

House Divided

Long ago I had a dollhouse with a removable front. I could peer into the rooms, and because the roof came off too, I could look down onto the bedrooms, bathroom and staircase. For me this was magic – to be able move the furniture around and pretend that real people lived there. I’m a romantic when it comes to imagining the rooms in the houses I pass by on my walks. The glimpses I get into lit-up nighttime windows give just the barest hint of the lives lived inside.

I thought about my old dollhouse when I read my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall’s will, inventory, and property distribution documents. The actual real estate settlement and uses of the land are still confusing to me. Where exactly was the “Lot adjoining the Garden,” or “The Meadow north of the bridge,” or “The Side Hill and Meadow, under the Rock?”

The thing that piqued my interest and made me chuckle was the description of future use of the “dwelling house and buildings” for the two important women in Aaron’s life – his wife Annis, and his daughter Mary. At the time of Aaron’s death Annis was seventy-five years old. Mary was forty and unmarried. Annis was Aaron’s third wife and Mary’s second stepmother. Aaron and Annis had been married for twelve years when Aaron died. Mary and Annis both lived in the farmhouse, and as far as I know they continued living there. Mary never married, and Annis died in 1844.

I have no photographs of Annis, but do have this tintype of Mary taken in the 1860’s.

Mary Hall, around 1860

Mary Hall, around 1860

Aaron left to his “beloved wife” no property except what she brought with her to his house at the time of their marriage. She was to share the use of the chaise and horse with his daughter Mary.

And she was to have the use of the house as stated here:

We set to the widow Annis Hall, the use of one-third part of the dwelling house & buildings north of the highway towit:

  • The east front room with the bedroom adjoining.
  • One undivided third of the keeping room.
  • The east third of the garret.
  • The south part of the old cellar to the amount of one third of all the cellar room.
  • The south part of the milk room.
  • Her right in the oven, and at the well, with the right of passing to and from the above named apartments and appendages.
  • Also her right in the wood room. [In the written document this looks like “mood room,” and I thought what a wonderful place that would be to have in a house – a place to hide out when you were just in some kind of mood.]

To his daughter Mary, Aaron gave six acres of land, $150, and his chaise. Her share in the house was also specified:

The use of one-sixth part of the dwelling house, while she remains single, towit:

  • East front chamber with the bedroom adjoining.
  • One undivided sixth part of the keeping room.
  • The west end of the garret to the amount of one sixth of all the garret room.
  • The remaining part of the old cellar, with the right to use the oven and the well.
  • Also the right to use the stairs and passes leading to and from the apartments and privileges herein set to her.

I try to picture how the women lived in this way, if indeed they did. Maybe it just had to be put down in writing in case some kind of argument ensued. But it’s hard for me to think of the rooms I grew up with – dining room, kitchen, living room, bathroom, parlor, etc. being used so very differently. I don’t know how many other people were living in the house in 1839 when Aaron died, but the 1830 census counts ten people. By 1939 my great-great-grandfather Salmon had married Cornelia and had added three children to the household – Aaron, Mary Jane, and my great-grandfather, William E. Hall.

I wish I still had that dollhouse. Maybe some day I’ll make a model based on the Hall farmhouse, but for now I’m content to speculate about nineteenth-century domestic life on Whirlwind Hill.

"Farmhouse Rooms," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2015

“Farmhouse Rooms,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2015

On Monday:  Spoons

The Woodstove

It’s a frigid 8-degree day in Anchorage, Alaska, and the ice fog covering the trees and ground and garbage cans makes it feel even colder. There isn’t much color, and there’s no warmth.

How I’d love to step into the kitchen at the farm and sit in the rocker next to the woodstove. My grandfather Ellsworth often sat there rubbing his sore hands and soaking them in Epsom salts – he inherited his mother’s rheumatism, and he felt it in his hands, especially in cold weather. He sat in the rocker on the day before our annual Thanksgiving feasts chopping the onions and celery for stuffing. In the big wooden bowl he held on his lap, he diced the vegetables with a chopper that looked like an Ulu – the Yupik knife used to cut fish.

My grandfather was the one who lit the fire in the stove before dawn each day, warming his hands before he went to the barn. But it was my grandmother Agnes who kept the fire going and baked cookies and breads and roasts in its oven.

In 1934, when my Aunt Lydia demonstrated to the other “Capable Cooks 4-H Club” members how to make jelly, this big, black, cast iron stove was the only cook-stove in the kitchen.

4-H cooking demonstration in the Hall farmhouse kitchen. Lydia Hall at the stove, Janet Hall second from right, around 1934

4-H cooking demonstration in the Hall farmhouse kitchen. Lydia Hall at the stove, Janet Hall second from right, around 1934

When my mother and father and I lived at the farm, my highchair sat near the woodstove, and I stayed warm enough to eat lunch without my socks on. Sometime in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s my grandparents added an electric stove to the already crowded kitchen, and replaced the old wood-burner with a newer version.

Carol near the woodstove, winter 1947

Carol near the woodstove, winter 1947

I’m not sure if my memories of the stove are of the ornate black beauty, or of the more modern one that replaced it. Both of them had black cook-tops, and “burners” with concentric rings that could be lifted out by a special handle when wood needed to be added to the fire. How my grandmother regulated the heat I don’t know, but everyone swore that the pies and baked beans and Thanksgiving turkey made in the woodstove’s oven were far superior to the ones made in the “easier,” but much more boring electric one. The woodstove remained the heart of the kitchen. We gravitated toward it as soon as we came into the house. Summer or winter it brought comfort, welcome, and good cheer to the busy kitchen.

Patti Hall Burkett with her parents, Aaron Hall (in rocker), and Barbara Hall (with Patti) near the newer wood stove -- Photo courtesy Patti Hall Burkett

Patti Hall Burkett with her parents, Aaron Hall (in rocker), and Barbara Hall (with Patti) near the newer wood stove – -photo courtesy Patti Hall Burkett

On Monday:  A Special Day