Recreating Worlds That I Have Lost

 

Today, September 30, 2022, is the fifteenth anniversary of my father’s death.  He’s been the genius behind a number of my posts, so today I thought I’d let him speak for himself.  Not (as has often been the case) as a Colonial Officer in Nigeria, somewhere between 1948 and 1963, but as a son and member of a remarkable family that’s left its imprint on us all:

After Charles Muffett [my Grandpa Muffett] married Mary Louise Stoddard in the chapel on Graham St on December 26, 1904, they spent their honeymoon in London, where they went to see Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan (considered by mother to be very risqué!) They also witnessed a very large fire, with many engines deployed to put it out.  This made a very great impression on mother too.

As a woman earning her own living, although still living at home with her parents, Mary Louise Muffett (as she had now become) was, indeed, extraordinarily emancipated. She always claimed that she owned and wore the first pair of ‘bloomers’ in Birmingham, for she was a very keen cyclist and had attended “Professor Hubbard’s Academy for Young Lady Bicyclists” in Bingley Hall in order to learn how to mount and dismount with due modesty and decorum.

Her enthusiasm for cycling was shared by her husband-to-be.

Indeed, she was fond of recalling that when they left to go on their honeymoon the wedding guests, knowing of this double addiction, all sang the current music-hall hit:

with great emphasis on the bit “For you’d look sweet/Upon the seat/Of a bicycle built for two!”  So it must have been quite a bibulous occasion, which for a “Chapel” wedding was quite unusual and would doubtless have gratified Charles James [Great-Grandpa Muffett, a notorious imbiber], had he been present.

Charles [Grandpa] Muffett did a stint at Icknield Street, as what might be styled these days  a “management trainee” but which was then called an “apprentice.” During this time, he also traveled widely on behalf of a wholesaler of sausage and seasonings.  [My Uncle] Maurice said that mother told him that, when traveling and–as frequently happened–being offered a drink, father always refused the drink but said, “I will have a cigar with you!”

By 1909, the happy couple had returned to Birmingham, where father became the manager, and later Managing Director, of S. Ward Ltd (Est’d 1842), Ham and Bacon Curers, Melton Pork Pie and Cambridge Sausage Makers, of 222 Broad Street.

One of my proudest possessions (I don’t have many this side of the pond) is Grandpa Muffett’s oak roll-top desk from this time.  Not to mention the S. Ward Recipe Book.

I’ll claim, with thanks and appreciation the “extraordinarily emancipated” tag as it has applied to the women in my family, and as it might, in the final analysis, apply to myself. Lord.  I pass no comment (today) on why it appears that so many women who object to the idea of “emancipated” women seem to hate their sistern and would like to recall our ability to speak for ourselves.  You do you, K?  And we’ll see who wins out.

I don’t remember anything about Grandpa and Granny Muffett, other than that which has been told to me by their six children, the fifth-youngest of whom was my father, among a vanishingly few mementos of their lives. (Ask me about the shotgun.  Please.)

And yet.

I remember the house.  I remember the Beatrix Potter first editions.  I remember the independence shown me by my aunts and uncles.

And I know that I–and my siblings–are doing our best to hold up the deal, even today.

That same today, the only living remnant of those days is Auntie Pat, 99 years old and I wish she could live forever.

She.  Won’t.  But her memory can.  If you’ll help me to keep it alive.

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  1. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    She: Ask me about the shotgun.  Please.

    Tell us about the shotgun, She.

    Please. (:

    • #1
  2. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    I suppose Daisy’s reply ( I’ll be switched if I get hitched on a bicycle built for two) is a later addition.

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I remember my mother singing that song to us! At least the chorus. And I remember all of those words.

    As always the stories of your family are charming and touching. And God bless Auntie Pat.

    • #3
  4. She Member
    She
    @She

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    She: Ask me about the shotgun. Please.

    Tell us about the shotgun, She.

    Please. (:

    OK. Going for it.

    It was a wedding present from my grandmother to my grandfather in 1904.  My dad ended up with it in Nigeria.  It’s the gun he used to shoot the man-eating lion:

    Up on the bank, three paces into the bush from where I had climbed it, was the lion, dead as a doornail, with a great gout of blood poured out from his mouth onto the grass, over which a horde of bluebottles was already buzzing.

    Turning round, I invited the people on the road to come and see what a real man’s word was worth.  They nearly went bonkers with adulation, even Ahmadu, quite out of character, slapping me on the back.

    I forbade them to singe the whiskers and before I let the skinner begin, I looked for the entry wound.  But none was to be found!  So I had them roll him over and looked again–still none! Then I took his tail and pulled him straight.  As I did so, I looked at his anus and there, at about eight o’clock in the little hairless annular an inch and a half or so in diameter, was the tell-tale little blue circle of the entry wound.  I had hit him plumb dead center as his tail swung to the right.  He had been dead even before we went to pick up the skinner.

    We took a long time to skin him as I made them go very carefully.  There was a roof rack on the Consul and we laid the skin over this, wet side uppermost.  The meat we stored in the boot of the car–Ahmadu promised faithfully to clean it all out and wash it down as soon as we got home–and did.  I gave the village most of the meat, but Ahmadu insisted that he had the two hind quarters.  I wanted the head, as that is necessary for mounting the skin. Its left, bottom incisor was broken at gum level and full of pus, which is why he had been inclined to go for easy meat–children!

    The tale Dad tells is that the man eating lion was elderly, or otherwise diminished.  Villages called upon those who might protect them, to clear them out at the time

    • #4
  5. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Good Stuff.  Thank you.

    My beloved grandmother bought a car in late 191x, in order to visit home on the weekends from her teaching job.  The railroad journey took all day – too long. I don’t know how she learned to drive.  Her father wanted nothing to do with automobiles.  After she married in 1920 she taught her husband to drive. 

    I appreciated the song.  I only recognize it from 2001.

    • #5
  6. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Benefits of bicycle-riding for women, as described in an Atlantic Monthly article from 1898:

    A typical American device is the bicycle. Invented in France, it long remained a toy or a vain luxury. Redevised in this country, it inspired inventors and captivated manufacturers, and native genius made it a practical machine for the multitude…Typical, too, is the bicycle in its effect on national character. It first aroused invention, next stimulated commerce, and then developed individuality, judgment, and prompt decision on the part of its users more rapidly and completely than any other device; for although association with machines of any kind (absolutely straightforward and honest as they are all) develops character, the bicycle is the easy leader of other machines in shaping the mind of its rider, and transforming itself and its rider into a single thing. Better than other results is this: that the bicycle has broken the barrier of pernicious differential between the sexes and rent the bonds of fashion, and is daily impressing Spartan strength and grace, and more than Spartan intelligence, on the mothers of coming generations. So, weighed by its effect on body and mind as well as on material progress, this device must be classed as one of the world’s great inventions.

     

     

     

    • #6
  7. She Member
    She
    @She

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Benefits of bicycle-riding for women, as described in an Atlantic Monthly article from 1898:

    A typical American device is the bicycle. Invented in France, it long remained a toy or a vain luxury. Redevised in this country, it inspired inventors and captivated manufacturers, and native genius made it a practical machine for the multitude…Typical, too, is the bicycle in its effect on national character. It first aroused invention, next stimulated commerce, and then developed individuality, judgment, and prompt decision on the part of its users more rapidly and completely than any other device; for although association with machines of any kind (absolutely straightforward and honest as they are all) develops character, the bicycle is the easy leader of other machines in shaping the mind of its rider, and transforming itself and its rider into a single thing. Better than other results is this: that the bicycle has broken the barrier of pernicious differential between the sexes and rent the bonds of fashion, and is daily impressing Spartan strength and grace, and more than Spartan intelligence, on the mothers of coming generations. So, weighed by its effect on body and mind as well as on material progress, this device must be classed as one of the world’s great inventions.

    Great stuff, thanks!  I think “[rending] the bonds of fashion” had as much to do with facilitating “bicycles for women” as anything else, and wrote a bit more about bloomers, bicycles, and Granny Muffett, here.

    • #7
  8. She Member
    She
    @She

    She (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    She: Ask me about the shotgun. Please.

    Tell us about the shotgun, She.

    Please. (:

    OK. Going for it.

    It was a wedding present from my grandmother to my grandfather in 1904. My dad ended up with it in Nigeria. It’s the gun he used to shoot the man-eating lion:

    Up on the bank, three paces into the bush from where I had climbed it, was the lion, dead as a doornail, with a great gout of blood poured out from his mouth onto the grass, over which a horde of bluebottles was already buzzing.

    Turning round, I invited the people on the road to come and see what a real man’s word was worth. They nearly went bonkers with adulation, even Ahmadu, quite out of character, slapping me on the back.

    I forbade them to singe the whiskers and before I let the skinner begin, I looked for the entry wound. But none was to be found! So I had them roll him over and looked again–still none! Then I took his tail and pulled him straight. As I did so, I looked at his anus and there, at about eight o’clock in the little hairless annular an inch and a half or so in diameter, was the tell-tale little blue circle of the entry wound. I had hit him plumb dead center as his tail swung to the right. He had been dead even before we went to pick up the skinner.

    We took a long time to skin him as I made them go very carefully. There was a roof rack on the Consul and we laid the skin over this, wet side uppermost. The meat we stored in the boot of the car–Ahmadu promised faithfully to clean it all out and wash it down as soon as we got home–and did. I gave the village most of the meat, but Ahmadu insisted that he had the two hind quarters. I wanted the head, as that is necessary for mounting the skin. Its left, bottom incisor was broken at gum level and full of pus, which is why he had been inclined to go for easy meat–children!

    The tale Dad tells is that the man eating lion was elderly, or otherwise diminished. Villages called upon those who might protect them, to clear them out at the time.

    Here’s the shotgun:

    Here’s the lion:

    Like many of my family stories, Leo’s almost defies belief, from the manner of his death to his present, recently restored, state on my sister’s floor.

    As Dad recounted, he had Leo’s hide tanned and turned him into a decorative piece which for decades lay on my aunties’ living-room floor.  (They had three living-rooms in their enormous house, and this one was lightly-used.)  Mostly, Leo served as entertainment for the nieces and nephews in our toddler years, as we sat on top of his head, and slid merrily down his neck.  This explains why he has almost no mane left. I remember clutching it with glee, as it came out, bit by bit.  And I remember such times with delight, even now.

    When the aunties moved, Leo went into storage at my father’s and mother’s, and–in a rather disreputable state by then–was sold at the estate sale shortly after Mum went into a nursing home.  That was in late 2009, I think.

    Several years later and quite by accident, my sister discovered that the man who bought him was selling him again, so she bought him back! (Exclamation point inserted just so you know I’m my father’s daughter.)

    She had him cleaned, restored, the plasterwork of his mouth and teeth redone (I think they overdid it on the teeth), and new green felt edging applied.  And there he lies.

    • #8
  9. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Bicycles…in 2017, I wrote about my visit to the American Precision Museum (in Vermont), which is focused on the history of the American machine-tool industry. One of the exhibits was about Columbia chainless bicycle, from the 1890s. An advantage of this type was that women could ride them without danger of getting their long skirts caught in a chain.  A disadvantage was the price…$125 in 1890 dollars!

    • #9
  10. Rōnin Coolidge
    Rōnin
    @Ronin

    She:

    she was a very keen cyclist and had attended “Professor Hubbard’s Academy for Young Lady Bicyclists” in Bingley Hall in order to learn how to mount and dismount with due modesty and decorum.

    “how to mount and dismount with due modesty and decorum” is a skill we all could benefit from, no matter what activity one may find one engaged in.  Especially I think, in the international foreign policy arena (I’m looking at you U.S. State Dept.)

     

    • #10
  11. Al French Moderator
    Al French
    @AlFrench

    She (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    She: Ask me about the shotgun. Please.

    Tell us about the shotgun, She.

    Please. (:

    OK. Going for it.

     

    Hunting lion, even an elderly one, with a shotgun, is not something I would undertake.

    • #11
  12. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Al French (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    She: Ask me about the shotgun. Please.

    Tell us about the shotgun, She.

    Please. (:

    OK. Going for it.

     

    Hunting lion, even an elderly one, with a shotgun, is not something I would undertake.

    A shotgun loaded with slugs would kill a lion. You’ll need to be uncomfortably close. It wouldn’t take a lion long to cover forty yards. Shot would be a bad idea. All you’ll accomplish is making the lion very angry.

    • #12
  13. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Percival (View Comment):

    Al French (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    She: Ask me about the shotgun. Please.

    Tell us about the shotgun, She.

    Please. (:

    OK. Going for it.

     

    Hunting lion, even an elderly one, with a shotgun, is not something I would undertake.

    A shotgun loaded with slugs would kill a lion. You’ll need to be uncomfortably close. It wouldn’t take a lion long to cover forty yards. Shot would be a bad idea. All you’ll accomplish is making the lion very angry.

    I don’t know.  Buck shot creates a pretty big hole.

    • #13
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Al French (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    She: Ask me about the shotgun. Please.

    Tell us about the shotgun, She.

    Please. (:

    OK. Going for it.

     

    Hunting lion, even an elderly one, with a shotgun, is not something I would undertake.

    A shotgun loaded with slugs would kill a lion. You’ll need to be uncomfortably close. It wouldn’t take a lion long to cover forty yards. Shot would be a bad idea. All you’ll accomplish is making the lion very angry.

    I don’t know. Buck shot creates a pretty big hole.

    Depending on your choke and the range, not all the pellets will hit.

    • #14
  15. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Percival (View Comment):

    I don’t know. Buck shot creates a pretty big hole.

    Depending on your choke and the range, not all the pellets will hit.

    Double barrel with a bead site at 5 yards?  From behind?  No problem.

    • #15
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