Tag Archives: William Ellsworth Hall

Hezekiah’s Chair

In preparation for a trip to France last fall, I looked at photo after photo of rental apartments with grand names – “River View,” Spectacular Dome des Invalides,” “Marais Glamour Studio.” But I kept thinking, “Where is the comfy chair?”

I’m like a dog or cat in my attachment to favorite chairs.

"Yoda on a Favorite Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1995

“Yoda on a Favorite Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1995

A good seat is important for so many activities – reading a book, knitting a scarf, chatting with a friend, drinking tea, eating a cookie, or writing in a journal.

"My Favorite Chair," Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1996

“My Favorite Chair,” Carol Crump Bryner, pencil drawing, 1996

It was hard for me to imagine spending a few weeks without an inviting place to sit. In the end it didn’t matter, because there was so much to see in Paris I spent very little time indoors sitting down.

The rarely used chair in our Paris apartment - the "River View" apartment.

The rarely used chair in our Paris apartment – the “River View” apartment.

Were my ancestors on Whirlwind Hill comfortable in their chairs? It’s hard to tell from old photos, since most of the pictures show serious men and women sitting still and stiff in straight-backed chairs.

William E. Hall as a young man

William E. Hall as a young man

Chairs have a human presence. With their arms and legs and seats and backs they seem like friends. So when my brother sent me a photo of an old chair he had recently found and purchased, I felt like I was meeting an ancestor for the first time.

Hezekiah Hall's chair

Hezekiah Hall’s chair

The chair belonged to Hezekiah Hall, one of several Hezekiah Halls who once lived in Wallingford. An inscription on a slat under the seat reads,


The inscription on Hezekiah's chair

The inscription on Hezekiah’s chair

A well-preserved relic it is. Although it doesn’t look very comfortable, it has a feeling of dignity and artistic delicacy.

I don’t know very much about the Hezekiah Hall who owned this chair. At some point in my blog research I came across a biography of him, but I haven’t been able to find it again. His chair will have to stand in for him as I search for more information. To me it looks like the chair of an important person. I’ll let you know.

I love to paint and draw chairs. The furniture on the farm and in my parents’ house was so eclectic that it inspired my choices in making art and in furnishing my house. I plan to share some of these paintings and drawings in the weeks to come.

"Northern Light #10," Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 38" x 30" 2001

“Northern Light #10,” Carol Crump Bryner, oil on canvas, 38″ x 30″ 2001


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


My grandfather Ellsworth Hall was a good man with a small vice. He smoked cigars.

Ellsworth with a cigar, 1904

Ellsworth with a cigar, 1904

The smell of cigar smoke can bring the farm back to me in an instant. I can picture my Grandpa Hall walking toward the barn, hat on head and cigar in mouth.

Ellsworth Hall, walking to the barn, around 1958, photo courtesy of Tom Teter

Ellsworth Hall, walking to the barn, around 1958, photo courtesy of Tom Teter

The stumps of his cigars perched on the porch ledge, smoldered in the living room ashtray, and adorned his mouth as he went about his daily chores. I don’t think he smoked in the barn, but he kept the cigar between his lips and chewed on it a bit.

Modern grandparents would probably never approve of a soggy piece of cigar resting on the living room mantelpiece. But my grandfather was quietly in charge of his domain. He loved his cigars, and my grandmother loved him, so she let him be.

But she worried about him falling asleep in the big armchair with a burning stogie in his mouth. So my brother and cousins were given a job. On Friday nights, when professional wrestling was on and Grandpa Hall sat in his green chair to watch, Grandma Hall told my brother or whatever cousin was handy, “Sit next to Grandpa, and if he falls asleep, take the cigar out of his mouth and put it in the ashtray.” There was not always a helper around to do this, and there must have been accidents, because I remember that big green leather chair being full of little burn holes.

Grandpa Hall watching wrestling, photo courtesy of Nancy Teter Smith

Grandpa Hall watching wrestling, photo courtesy of Nancy Teter Smith

On Monday:  Aunt Hattie 

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

Apples – An Addendum

One of the joys of writing this blog is hearing from readers who share their stories with me.

After my post about apples on September 17th, I heard from two cousins with more apple tales. Cousin Sue heard an NPR piece about a man in Vermont who raises heirloom apples at his orchard. This orchardist, who dislikes Honeycrisp apples (he calls them a “one note apple”), tried to feed them to his pigs. They ate them the first time, but after that when he tried to give them Honeycrisps for dinner they tipped over their trough.

Cousin Patti and her husband Tom, who were on a trip to Northern Michigan, visited “Christmas Cove,” an orchard in Northport, Michigan that grows two hundred and fifty antique varieties of apple. They were excited to find some of the apple names our great grandfather William E. Hall had listed in his journal. When they showed the list to the orchard owner she said they raise seven or eight of the apples on William’s list. So in honor of our great-grandfather, Patti bought some Blue Pearmain apples. William’s list calls them “Black” Pearmain, but that seems close enough for me.

Blue Pearmain apples - photo curtesy of Tom and Patti Burkett

Blue Pearmain apples – photo curtesy of Tom and Patti Burkett

Tom also shared this quote from Henry David Thoreau’s book “Wild Apples.”

I know a Blue Pearmain tree, growing on the edge of a swamp, almost as good as wild. You would not suppose that there was any fruit left there, on the first survey, but you must look according to system. Those which lie exposed are quite brown and rotten now, or perchance a few still show one blooming cheek here and there amid the wet leaves. Nevertheless, with experienced eyes, I explore amid the bare alders and the huckleberry-bushes and the withered sedge, and in the crevices of the rocks, which are full of leaves, and pry under the fallen and decaying ferns, which, with apple and alder leaves, thickly strewn the ground. For I know that they lie concealed, fallen into hollows long since and covered up by the leaves of the tree itself, – a proper kind of packing. From these lurking places, anywhere within the circumference of the tree, I draw forth the fruit, all wet and glossy, maybe nibbled out by rabbits and hollowed out by crickets and perhaps with a leaf or two cemented to it…but still with a rich bloom on it, and at least as ripe and well kept, if not better than those in barrels, more crisp and lively than they.”

Blue Pearmain apple - photo curtesy of Tom and Patti Burkett

Blue Pearmain apple – photo curtesy of Tom and Patti Burkett

On Monday:  Barns – Part I

Money and Apples

I always liked the idea that earning money on the farm was a last resort – that a farm should be able to sustain itself without cash. But after reading my great-grandfather William E. Hall’s journals, I can see he thought often about making, having, and spending money.

He filled the back pages of his diaries with columns of figures and notes about what he spent and what he earned. The last page of his 1861 journal looks like a daydream about dollars.

Page from journal of William E. Hall, 1861

Page from journal of William E. Hall, 1861

His notes record that he sold a load of wood for $10 and spent $10 on his new teeth. His 1864 diary cost 25 cents, a postage stamp 6 cents, and a telegraph 30 cents. The sale of a cow earned $12.50 and a load of hay $28.75. There was the purchase of the mysterious “dog candy” for 45 cents. Some cotton cloth cost $16.20, and a new buggy relieved him of a whopping $45.00.

The record of farm goods and produce he sold for cash includes cows, oxen, hogs, horses, hay, buckwheat, wood, milk, butter, eggs, hard cider (my great-grandfather also had a still), peaches, and apples. The list of purchased items is much, much longer.

"Modern Apple," Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting

“Modern Apple,” Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting

For years apples were a major source of revenue because, unlike peaches, they could be stored in a root cellar and sold throughout the winter.

Monday, October 5, 1914 – “Men busy picking apples, selling them. The trees are many of them loaded. Not very large, but seem to be good and sound.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Wednesday, October 7, 1914 – “Ellsworth sold his apples for 35 cents a bushel, to be carried off by the seventh of December.” – Lydia Jane Hall

My great-grandfather William’s 1873 diary includes names of apples he may have grown or thought about growing. (There are about thirty varieties on his list, but I’ve had to leave out some and guess at others because his writing is hard to decipher.)

  • Pown Sweets
  • Peck’s Pleasants
  • Stripe Pippins
  • Gilliflower
  • Maiden Blush
  • Wine Apple
  • New Town Pippin
  • Bell Flower
  • Roxbury Russets
  • Fair Maine
  • English Sweets
  • Hall’s Seedlings
  • James Linds
  • Citron Apples
  • Lord Thorntons
  • Baxter Greenings
  • Rome Apple
  • Black Pearmain
  • Fall Pippins
  • Roderick Greening
  • Red Stripe
  • Balmunds
  • Ruck Apples

I have no idea what kind of apples my mother is eating in this photo, or whether they were grown on the farm. In 1943 when my dad took this portrait of my mom in the fields below the farmhouse, there were probably still apple trees around, but I have a feeling the apples in the photo came from Young’s Apple Orchard, which was at the top of Whirlwind Hill. The orchard was still in business when I started living in Alaska in 1969, and I remember going there to buy apples one fall when I was visiting my parents. Mr. Young packed them up for me and shipped them all the way to the 49th State. What would my great-grandfather have thought of that!

Janet Hall Crump, 1943

Janet Hall Crump, 1943

On Monday:  The Room with Nine Doors


Whirlwind Hill was once crowded with trees whose lavish spring blossoms ripened into round, bright fruit in late summer. The orchards that were already starting to diminish in the 1950’s are completely gone from the hill now, replaced by fields of hay, acres of new houses with long driveways and tidy lawns, and a winery and vineyard.

"Orchards in Spring," Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting, 2013

“Orchards in Spring,” Carol Crump Bryner, ipad painting, 2013

For many years peaches brought work and cash to my ancestors. There were apple orchards on the farm for decades when, sometime after 1875, my great-grandfather, William Ellsworth Hall, introduced peaches. But by around 1920 my grandparents were concentrating on dairy cows and apples, and the peach trees were few.

In 1912 my great-grandmother still writes about selling peaches.

Wednesday, August 21, 1912 – “Another close day. Picking peaches. Sold twenty-four baskets for seventy cents a basket. Pretty good for the first.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, August 29, 1912 – “We have been very busy canning peaches besides our usual work. Canned eleven quarts. They look very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

By 1921, other farms on the hill had taken over the commercial selling of the crop.

Monday, August 29, 1921 – “A nice day, warmer. September days are coming. Apples and peaches are ripening fast. Large truck loads of peaches going past to the depot toward evening.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Saturday, September 10, 1921 – “Nice day and a busy one for all. Agnes has canned peaches pears & tomatoes. We have had all our peaches off the few trees that were left on the hill lot, which were very nice to eat and can.” – Lydia Jane Hall

For the past two years I’ve been slowly transcribing journals kept by my great-grandfather William. His journal entries tell me very little about him, and I’ve hesitated to try to sum up his life from sentences like this.

January 10, 1861 – “Went to New Haven with apples. Mother spent the evening at Widow L. Hall’s. Put up some cider in the evening.” – William E. Hall

January 11, 1861 – “Finish putting up cider.” Went to the mountain after wood in the afternoon.” – William E. Hall

But I learned more about him through a speech and poem he wrote to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Wallingford Grange. Paper-clipped to the speech was a letter of sympathy to my family from the Grange written after William’s death in 1920. In this letter, the writers call my great-grandfather “The Father of the Wallingford Grange.” This photo of him as a young man was taken before he and thirty-one other people founded the town Grange in 1885.

William Ellsworth Hall, around 1875

William Ellsworth Hall, around 1875

Granges were organized to bring farmers together. It was through the Grange that Wallingford became home to so many fruit orchards. When I buy peaches at the farmers’ markets here in the Pacific Northwest, or buy beets and carrots at the markets in Alaska, I feel the same spirit that must have driven the early farmers of Wallingford to respect the land and to work together as a community to bring their produce to market. In his speech to the Grange, William said:

“Our hills are covered with fruit trees. Wallingford has come to be recognized as a center for great peach orchards. There is no fairer sight than the hills covered with blossoms, no more earnest sight than the industry of gathering and sending to market the product of our labor. For years much of this land had gone to waste. It has been recognized as pasture or at least, barren hill. But now there are everywhere vineyards and orchards. Our Grange has done more than its share toward bringing this about. Because from the first the organization has aimed to support conservation of all natural resources…Every possible precaution for preserving the soil should be taken, and the fact that no one has a right to become robber of the soil should be taught in the home, the school, the church, and the Grange. For in this and all other things we say, ‘The greatest good to the greatest number.’ ” – William Ellsworth Hall

"Blueberries and Peaches," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and colored pencil, 1994

“Blueberries and Peaches,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor and colored pencil, 1994

On Monday:  The Porch


Ellsworth’s Room

My brother and I had the best possible babysitters – our two sets of grandparents. Sometimes we stayed with our grandparents who lived in town, but more often we would stay at the farm. Our parents dropped us off before dinner on Friday evening, and we stayed until Sunday.

When I was eight and my brother almost four, our parents went to Florida for a week. My brother stayed at the farm, but I went to our town grandparents because they lived closer to my school. They did their best, but I was unhappy. I missed my mom and dad, and because I’d been reading a book about an orphan, I was convinced they were dead and never coming back. I cried every day. I cried at breakfast, I cried in school when I tried to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and I cried at night in the little bed in my father’s old bedroom. Because I was afraid to tell them what was wrong, my bewildered grandparents took me to the farm at the end of the week to be with my brother. There, soothed by the familiarity of the place and by my Grandma Hall’s ample lap, I told her my fears. After reassuring me that my mother and father were coming back, she fed me dinner and sent me upstairs to bed in Ellsworth’s room.

This small bedroom at the top of the front staircase had been my grandfather’s bedroom when he was growing up. The bed was in an alcove and sported an enormous number of blankets – I once counted ten. When I snuggled under them to read my comic books, I was pleasantly stuck in one position by the weight of the covers. The pillows were soft, and there was a light over the bed that I turned on and off by pulling a long string. I don’t think I’ve ever again slept in such a comfortable and comforting bed.

But the two attic doors at the opposite end of the room were not comforting. There were rat holes in both doors, and I was scared that the rats themselves would come out while I slept. It was a legitimate worry, but minor compared to the fear of losing parents.

"Attic Doors with Rat Holes," Carol Crump Bryner, 2013

“Attic Doors with Rat Holes,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2013

It’s hard to tell what children are thinking. When my daughter and son-in-law spent the night at the hospital after the birth of their second son, I stayed at their home with my four-year-old grandson. We read books, took a walk, went out to eat Chinese food, brushed our teeth, and put on our pajamas. But as we were climbing onto his bed to read stories, he began to sob so hard that it caused a “spill” (his word for throwing up) of the wontons and the soy sauce all over the bed covers.

While my lap is nowhere near as ample as my grandmother’s was, I try to be a reassuring presence for my grandsons. So after the cleaning-up, and the drying of the tears, and the calming-down, I asked my grandson if he wanted to sleep with me in the big bed. He did, so we went upstairs, tucked ourselves in, and watched a cheerful cooking show about making cupcakes. He was fast asleep before the cupcakes came out of the oven.

Carol with Aubrey and Henry, 2011

Carol with Aubrey and Henry, 2011

On Wednesday:  Farm Cats


In 1888, my grandmother, Agnes Maud Biggs, came to America from England with her parents, Joseph Biggs and Maud Pawsey Biggs. She was six months old. A photo of her taken before they sailed shows an eager and well-dressed little baby perched on a fur rug.

Agnes Maud Biggs, six months old

Agnes Maud Biggs, six months old

The Biggs family settled in Glastonbury, Connecticut along with other Pawsey relatives. My great-grandfather got work in a woolen mill. On the back of a photograph of the mill building my grandmother wrote, “This is the factory where Joseph Biggs spent all his working days in America.”

Agnes was always a good student. In one of her report cards from 1900 she ranked first in her class. She went to nursing school in New Haven, Connecticut and graduated with honors. Her specialty was maternity, and I’m fairly certain she met my grandfather when she was nurse to one of his newborn nephews. When Ellsworth Hall and Agnes Biggs married in December 1913, she gave up her nursing career and her life in Glastonbury, and went to live at the farm on Whirlwind Hill.

Agnes Biggs, (right) in the maternity ward, New Haven Hospital, 1910

Agnes Biggs, (right) in the maternity ward, New Haven Hospital, 1910

According to my great-grandmother’s journals, Agnes was up to the challenge of living in a large house with her in-laws. She entered into marriage, not only to my grandfather, but also to his aging parents, a large house, and a busy farm. During her courtship she was referred to in the journals as Miss Biggs. “Miss Biggs has gone back to her home in Glastonbury. We like her more and more each time she visits.”

Agnes and Ellsworth had three children by 1918. Nine years later, when she was forty years old, my grandmother gave birth to twin boys in the downstairs bedroom of the farmhouse. My mother, who was nine at the time, described the event like this. “I didn’t even know she was going to have a baby. And suddenly there were two little babies, and my mother hadn’t made a peep.”

Agnes with the twins, Luther and Aaron, 1927

Agnes with the twins, Luther and Aaron, 1927

How tired my grandmother must have been all the time. She rarely had a minute to herself. She was responsible for keeping the whole show together. She was the nurse, the mother, the grandmother, the daughter, the bookkeeper, the chauffeur, the cook, the veterinarian, the letter writer, the stockbroker, and the babysitter. And she was the go-to person in any emergency.

She treated sick cows, put gentian violet on their wounds, gave my uncle emergency shots when he got stung by bees, rocked new-born grandbabies, herded cows, and lifted my two year old brother up by his heels one day to dislodge a wayward cough drop from his throat. When something went wrong, we called Grandma Hall, and she answered on the big black telephone in the dining room. She embraced new technology, and would, I’m sure, have bought herself an ipad if they’d been invented during her lifetime.

That my grandmother was smart I have no doubt. She was the adult I went to for help with math homework. She called a zero a “cipher.” She kept the farm records, did the driving, and the planning of the meals and activities for her children. When she became a grandmother she often took care of as many as seven grandchildren at one time.

It’s nearly impossible to describe my grandmother Agnes in a few paragraphs. Families are often strengthened by the addition of outsiders, and my grandmother brought new life to the two-hundred-year-old farm. Along with her dark brown eyes, her magnificent hair, and her sturdy body, she brought a desire to educate her children and grandchildren and send them out into the world. My grandmother and I were close. I loved her with a fierce attachment, and I miss her every day.

Agnes Maud Biggs Hall

Agnes Maud Biggs Hall

On Wednesday:  The Creamery


When a cousin visited me recently, we talked about the gardens on the farm. Most of the large crops of hay, corn, alfalfa, oats, barley, etc. were planted in fields away from the house. But near the house my grandparents grew all kinds of shrubs, flowers and vegetables.

My mother and her brothers and sister started their interest in gardens when they were very young. In this photo of them from Children’s Sunday, 1921, they hold tiny potted plants received that morning at church. All the Hall children went on to have “green thumbs.” My Aunt Lydia studied animal and plant life and raised orchids, Uncle Francis worked his whole life on the farm, Uncle Aaron tended a beautiful yard and garden, and my mother made striking bouquets from her flowers and then did paintings of them.

Francis, Lydia, Ellsworth, and Janet Hall, 1021

Francis, Lydia, Ellsworth, and Janet Hall, 1021

The visiting cousin, Skip, spent many years working on the farm and for our Uncle Francis and my grandparents.  Skip never understood how anything could grow in the vegetable garden behind the farmhouse – it was so very full of rocks. I pulled up carrots from that garden and wiped them “clean” on my pants before taking a gritty bite. They tasted of sunshine and earth, and I don’t think there is any better way to eat a carrot.

"Garden Carrot," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

“Garden Carrot,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

At the foot of the hill leading to my Aunt Glenna and Uncle Francis’s house my grandmother grew flowers, and around the front of the house and across the street near the barnyard fence my grandfather planted hollyhocks. When they bloomed in the heat of summer he brought single hollyhock blossoms into the kitchen for my grandmother. They looked like dancing girls in brightly colored skirts balanced on the tips of his fingers.

Iris, hostas, peonies, and phlox are what I picture when I remember my grandmother’s gardens. Maybe that’s because the plants lived on for many years after she died. In 1986, sixteen years after her death, my grandmother’s flowers were plentiful enough for a bouquet. During a summer visit that year, my mother and my daughter picked an armful of phlox and hostas to put into a pewter pitcher for the dining room table. Most people grow hostas for their foliage, but I’ve always loved the pale lavender-colored blossoms because they remind me of Julys on Whirlwind Hill.

Mara Bryner and Janet Hall Crump picking flowers, 1986

Mara Bryner and Janet Hall Crump picking flowers, 1986

On Monday:  Agnes