This photo shows Hellen Anzonetta Parcels Miller, my 3 x Great Grandmother, demonstrating the proper use of a hand auger to Great Uncle Reuben on a milk crate.

I have a great many studio portraits of family members, but this is a rare snapshot. It is printed on thin photo paper and has turned almost black with age; scanning and Photoshop brought the image closer to the original.

Rueben was born 14 January 1893 and appears to be about age 7 – 9. Hellen died 31 January, 1910 so I estimate the date of this photo @ 1900. The clothes are wonderful: Rueben’s flowing shirt and boy cap, and his Grandma’s flowered dress and capable hands. I have no idea who took the photo, but I’m grateful for their grasp of new technology for this slice of life.


I was cleaning out and going through boxes tonight, and came across one of those photos that you can’t put back in the box – or at least, I can’t. This is Henry Virgil Miller 1830-1900, with his son Benjamin Isaac (BI) Miller 1868 – 1930, and BI’s son Reuben Parsells Miller (my great-uncle) 1893 – 1956.

I think this must be the house where B.I. was born, in Avon CT. The rocker with the hat is nice, so are the chaps. The verso is labeled, and this handwriting has become very familiar to me because it’s on so many of the family photos in my possession. It isn’t my grandmother’s – she was a lefty who was forced to switch  in school and had a very rounded hand. I think it must be B.I.’s.

On to the next box!


Spring is in the cold, damp air, the temperature hovers around the freezing mark, it’s light until 6:30 pm, the moss is bright green under the snow – time for boxty.

I had always thought of boxty as Irish latkes – and then I went to Yonkers and had actual crispy, delicious latkes made of dry grated potato, matzoh meal and sea salt. Boxty, on the other hand, always start with mashed potatoes. Most people add a grated raw potato but I never learned that method – mine are just mashed potatoes with a leeks, little flour, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and perhaps an egg if the mashers are very dry. Somewhere, an Irishwoman is wailing about me using baking powder. Or buttermilk. Or something – I’ve read recipes for boxty and included bacon, whiskey, corn meal, and parsley and they’re all right for somebody, just not for me.

First, go out to the raised beds and get some leeks. The snow has melted off enough to dig the knife down and get to the pristine white roots. Leave the upper leaves on the bed for compost.

Boil two or three potatoes. I don’t have any of ours left in the cellar, but Hannafords had some nice Maine Corollas. Mash the potatoes and add 1 C flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp sea salt, 1/2 C chopped leeks (raw). Mix that up and add enough buttermilk to make it “cohesive” – add an egg if it looks too dry.  Put a little canola oil in a frying pan, add 1 Tbs butter and fry the potato mixture until browned – about 3 minutes on a side.

Serve with applesauce, sour cream, and salad.

Boxty on the griddle,
And Boxty on the pan;
The wee one in the middle
Is for Mary Ann.
Boxty on the griddle,
boxty on the pan,
If you can’t bake boxty
sure you’ll never get a man.
Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty on the pan,
If you don’t eat boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

Night off

My family is on the road tonight and it’s been a long day, so instead of doing anything productive I’m sitting at the kitchen table reading old cookbooks. I’m learning about chicken and dumplings, the proper use of marjoram with fish (don’t over do it), all the various uses of lard and how to roll out pie crust in the 1860’s. I found this bill being used as a bookmark in the pie section and had admire the fine copperplate hand of the person making out a list of gas fixture parts for great grandfather Miller’s wife’s father in NYC.

Wikipedia Commons has a photo of a display of Archer and Pancoast chandeliers – very impressive! I’ll keep reading, and see what else I run across.

Mr. Flood’s Party

This is my favorite New Year’s poem, written in 1900 by Edwin Arlington Robinson. He grew up in Gardiner, Maine and the inland winters probably contributed a great deal to his outlook on life. He also wrote “Richard Cory” and “The Mill”.

Here is Eben Flood, and his party.

Old Eben Flood, climbing alone one night
Over the hill between the town below
And the forsaken upland hermitage
That held as much as he should ever know
On earth again of home, paused warily.
The road was his with not a native near;
And Eben, having leisure, said aloud,
For no man else in Tilbury Town to hear:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have the harvest moon
Again, and we may not have many more;
The bird is on the wing, the poet says,
And you and I have said it here before.
Drink to the bird.” He raised up to the light
The jug that he had gone so far to fill,
And answered huskily: “Well, Mr. Flood,
Since you propose it, I believe I will.”
Alone, as if enduring to the end
A valiant armor of scarred hopes outworn,
He stood there in the middle of the road
Like Roland’s ghost winding a silent horn.
Below him, in the town among the trees,
Where friends of other days had honored him,
A phantom salutation of the dead
Rang thinly till old Eben’s eyes were dim.
Then, as a mother lays her sleeping child
Down tenderly, fearing it may awake,
He set the jug down slowly at his feet
With trembling care, knowing that most things break;
And only when assured that on firm earth
It stood, as the uncertain lives of men
Assuredly did not, he paced away,
And with his hand extended paused again:
“Well, Mr. Flood, we have not met like this
In a long time; and many a change has come
To both of us, I fear, since last it was
We had a drop together. Welcome home!”
Convivially returning with himself,
Again he raised the jug up to the light;
And with an acquiescent quaver said:
“Well, Mr. Flood, if you insist, I might.
“Only a very little, Mr. Flood—
For auld lang syne. No more, sir; that will do.”
So, for the time, apparently it did,
And Eben evidently thought so too;
For soon amid the silver loneliness
Of night he lifted up his voice and sang,
Secure, with only two moons listening,
Until the whole harmonious landscape rang—
“For auld lang syne.” The weary throat gave out,
The last word wavered; and the song being done,
He raised again the jug regretfully
And shook his head, and was again alone.
There was not much that was ahead of him,
And there was nothing in the town below—
Where strangers would have shut the many doors
That many friends had opened long ago.

Farmington, July 13 1883

I have a copy of a letter from one “William Millar”, my great grand uncle, to his Dear mother (Ann Bell) and Dear uncle. He was born in Ballymena Ireland and I believe the letter keeps the rhythm of that language, even though the words are English and written more than a century ago. The transcription is below. Substitute “they” for “the” throughout, mostly.

Farmington July 13 1883

Dear mother I know take the pleasure once more to let you know that we are all well at present hoping that this will find you all enjoying the Same blessing of good health. Dear mother I may let you know that my uncle John would do nothing for us. Bill sent letters to him and told him in the letter John Bell and John Moore had ten pounds for us and She said that if She would sell her place that she would have plenty to pay her debts and plenty left She said not like some of her friends and she said that the all could keep my grandma when she was able to do nothing She said the could Send her too them I said that she did stand her kind of treatment long Bell rote in the letter that made L10 pound since for butter and she says the with get along well know when the have not ten pounds year and she say the have flax 4 feet long I said it would be like the girl and new shift it would not be their neighbors that would need it and she give me plenty in it to I think she knows more about me nor know myself.

Well Dear mother we will be able our self to send the tickets for you and four little ones in about week from this date so you may be getting ready and be rest that you leave behind you fixed in places for stopping over the winter I would like to know how John is doing in my Uncle matthew my father is working and has 6 shillings a day and has not heard to work I am always with the one man our health is all as good as it was Ireland and Jane is in one place and has 2 dolers weeks. You may yet your house made we well Send you some money to make ready for road Jaems Miller ready to do

Dear uncle Aunt I received your kind and welcome letter which I got all right and I was glad to hear that you are all well doing well you may let my friends know that I have joined Farmington true blues No Surrender and good free country Bell band that James Harper got my grandma feather bed I don’t believe that the took it we send our true love to James harper and family Dear uncle I have got little more to say present that remains

Yours truly unto death

William Millar rite Soon

Salad Days

The winter garden cares for itself; I don’t need to be out there tending the kale and the leeks, the horseradish will bury itself and sprout again without me – probably even better without me. Which means that I’ve been inside tonight working with the genealogy software.

My son J. is the “home person” for our family tree. You can start with a source ancestor, but frankly I had no idea who that might be when I started this project. And it’s fun to enter someone’s name and have them pop up as “fourth cousin twice removed of J___”. Tonight, I got as far as “eleventh great-grandfather of” with William J. Pitkin. Born in England in 1608, William J. received his MA from Oxford and was a headmaster. His “medical condition” is listed as beheaded, so I’m off to do some further research on that one.

This is a picture closer to our time, but still far enough away that it comes with an obituary. Charlie is the boy with his arms crossed at the far right and tonight I entered notes into the family tree from a press clipping about his son and daughter, his love of farming and the hayfields, and his burial in August, 2009. Goodbye, Charlie – I’m glad we took time out and stood together on this gravel road, on some sunny day back in ’73.

Left back to right and left again: Sarah, Melissa, Charlie, Raymond, Kimmy, Doug, Amy, Dickie, Heather and Mary Beth.

Hattie’s Day

My mother, Harriet (one “t” no “e”) was born on October 9, 1928. Tonight in celebration we had buttermilk vanilla cake with fudge frosting from Alisa Huntsman’s book “Sky High“, Martha Stewart’s mac-and-cheese as re-imagined by Smitten Kitchen, and cabbage slaw with Westfield Seek-no-further apples and Seckel pears from the trees in the dooryard. Good friends K. and S. were there, and there are no better friends than the kind who come over for your mom’s birthday. Thanks, guys!

I’ve promised blog entries for the slaw dressing (buttermilk, honey, cider vinegar and so forth) and the cake, but after that meal and some follow-up vodka I’m just going to scan a picture of my mom and call it good.

This is Harriet on your left, the eldest, and moving to the right: Harrison, “Pinky Blue the Doll”, Cynthia and Dorothy. Grampa Barnard’s house still stands at the “vee” of Jerome and Bloomfield Ave. I estimate the date of the photo at about 1940 – a long way from Bar Harbor in 2010.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Certificate of Promotion

On June 24, 1934, my mother was promoted to the “Primary Department” at the Bloomfield Federated Church. It’s a lovely certificate, with copperplate handwriting and the picture of the young Savior.  She was 6 years old. And she kept this for the next 75 years in a paper bag with her first mortgage and a picture of her mother.