Tag Archives: Janet Hall


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

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

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

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


I don’t know who named the coldest bedroom on the farm after a country so very far away from Wallingford, Connecticut, but I like their dry sense of humor. The room earned its reputation. We all slept there at one time or another, reluctantly repeating the bone-chilling experience of our ancestors. Modern conveniences in other parts of the house never reached this Siberia.

Siberia, 1922, Francis, Janet, and Lydia in the front yard

Siberia, 1922 – Francis, Janet, and Lydia in the front yard

When they were growing up, my mother and her older sister Lydia slept in Siberia – the upstairs bedroom on a southwest corner of the farmhouse. Lydia and brother Francis were the leaders in the family – my mother the good-natured follower. The two girls called each other “Sis,” and in photos from that time were often dressed in identical outfits. I picture them climbing the dark stairs together toward their bed in Siberia – two small dark-haired girls in white nightdresses carrying candles to light their way.

Janet, Lydia, and Francis Hall, 1922

Janet, Lydia, and Francis Hall, 1922

But I have another image of my mother. It’s about seventy-five years after the sisters go up the stairs together, and I’m on one of my twice-yearly visits to Whirlwind Hill. My mother, by this time, has developed a bedtime routine to rout the ghosts of Siberia. She cannot stand to be cold.

We sit in the den and watch a television show. We’ve spent a long and often trying day together, and I’m ready to be alone. My mother stalls and puts off her bedtime. When the show is over she disappears into her room and comes back smelling of Pond’s Cold Cream and carrying her pink brushed-cotton lined pajamas and a flashlight. I wish she had put on the pajamas in the bedroom, but she says she wants to do it here – in front of the television where it’s warm and light. She gets her hot water bottle from the hook in the kitchen closet and fills it with water. She doesn’t exactly fill it. She’s particular about things, and the bottle needs to be just the right temperature and just the right weight.

She stays with me a while longer, then gets up to go, clutching the warmth of the red water bottle to her chest and shining the flashlight into the darkness. I long to be by myself, but suddenly I don’t want her to leave. I feel how frail she is when I hug and kiss her good night, and as I watch her walk away I can see how she’s aged. It’s the first time I realize how final the going will someday be, and my heart fills with loneliness and love.

"Winter Light," Carol Crump Bryner, linocut, 2001

“Winter Light,” Carol Crump Bryner, linocut, 2001

On Wednesday:  Cigars

Birthday Cards for Agnes

It’s November. I need to start planning my Christmas card. I’ve been making my own Christmas cards since I was in college, and I enjoy the process of planning and creating the yearly card. I feel like I’m carrying on a family tradition.  Both my mother and my aunt Melissa made cards for special occasions. This one, painted by my mother in 1946, may have been meant for my grandmother, Agnes.

Birthday Card, Janet Hall Crump, 1946

Birthday Card, Janet Hall Crump, 1946

Agnes was born on November 1, 1887 in England, and today I want to celebrate her birthday, just a few days late. When she was six months old her parents brought her across the ocean to Connecticut, where she grew up in a happy household with her parents and brother and three sisters. The Biggs family went to the Episcopal Church in Glastonbury, Connecticut. And even after she joined the Congregational Church in Wallingford when she married my grandfather and came to live on the farm, she remained religious in a practical sort of way – going to church when she was able, and making sure her own children got a Sunday School education.

The Biggs family in 1895. Ethel Rosabell Biggs in front on the left, Agnes Maud Biggs on right. Behind them are their parents,  Joseph and Maud Sophia Biggs

The Biggs family in 1895. Ethel Rosabell Biggs in front on the left, Agnes Maud Biggs on right. Behind them are their parents, Joseph and Maud Sophia Biggs

Agnes Maud Biggs, eighteen years old

Agnes Maud Biggs, eighteen years old

My grandmother was bright and a good student. Her quick mind and cheerful work ethic endeared her to her childhood Sunday school teacher, J. O. Hulbert, who made and sent exquisite birthday, Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter cards to her for over thirty years. When Agnes married my grandfather Ellsworth Hall in 1913, Mr. Hulbert gave her a Book of Common Prayer with this inscription on the front page.

Inscription in Book of Common Prayer

Inscription in Book of Common Prayer

I’m happy that my grandmother, and then my mother, saved these unique cards.  I’m sure they influenced my mother’s love of making things. They’ve certainly been an inspiration to me. I admire the care and thought and skill that went into creating such treasures. And I try to picture my grandmother, who I only knew as a mature woman, standing in her parlor wearing her best dress and delighting in the birthday greetings so beautifully made just for her. Happy Birthday Agnes!

Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert, 1898

Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert, 1898


Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert, 1900

Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert, 1900

Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert, 1901

Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert, 1901

Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert

Birthday Card for Agnes, J. O. Hulbert

On Wednesday:  TV Dinners

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

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


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