“Pity. Pity he never had any children.”
And at that, Chips opened his eyes as wide as he could and sought to attract their attention. It was hard for him to speak out loud, but he managed to murmur something, and they all looked round and came nearer to him.
He struggled, slowly, with his words. “What—was that—um —you were saying—about me—just now?”
Old Buffles smiled and said: “Nothing at all, old chap—nothing at all—we were just wondering when you were going to wake out of your beauty sleep.
“But—umph—I heard you—you were talking about me —”
“Absolutely nothing of any consequence, my dear fellow—really, I give you my word…”
“I thought I heard you—one of you—saying it was a pity —umph—a pity I never had—any children… eh?… But I have, you know… I have…”
The others smiled without answering, and after a pause Chips began a faint and palpitating chuckle.
“Yes—umph—I have,” he added, with quavering merriment. “Thousands of ’em… thousands of ’em… and all boys.”
And then the chorus sang in his ears in final harmony, more grandly and sweetly than he had ever heard it before, and more comfortingly too… Pettifer, Pollett, Porson, Potts, Pullman, Purvis, Pym-Wilson, Radlett, Rapson, Reade, Reaper, Reddy Primus–James Hilton, Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Thankfully, Auntie Pat has not yet heard “the final harmony.” July 13, 2021 is her 98th birthday, and she’s celebrating it along with as many members of her family as can possibly make it, either physically or virtually, at some point during the day. I spoke to her this morning, and she’s very pleased to be alive, devastated at the Euro football (“proper football”) loss, worried about the floods in London, and looking forward to tea with a large group of friends.
I’ve written often about Auntie Pat on Ricochet over the years.. And nothing touches me more than when some of you say “greetings to Auntie Pat,” “love to Auntie Pat,” and “here’s to Auntie Pat,” on posts that have nothing to do with her. That’s the sort of thing which convinces me that Ricochet is special, and that we are, in many important ways, and in spite of the sometimes stark differences among ourselves, a certain kind of family here.
Auntie Pat would like that. Because she’s always been all about family.
My father was the fifth of six siblings, in a loud, energetic, and boisterous English family. He and his two male siblings grew up to marry and each have families and children to–one may have hoped–continue the family into the twenty-first century and beyond.
Dad’s three sisters? Not so much. While living full lives, lives of love, loss, and carrying on, none of my paternal aunties married. And belonging to a generation in which women (decent women. anyway) who weren’t married didn’t reproduce, none of them had biological children.
My three “maiden aunts.” I honor them here:
Auntie Issy (on the left)–Cantankerous, physically challenged, and determined. Best advice anyone ever gave me WRT to Issy? “Do not get in her way when she has a goal in sight or an objective in mind. She will roll over you.” (Similar to Dad, of whom she was just one sibling older.)
Auntie Pat (in the middle)–The youngest of the lot. Equally determined, but with an unparalleled and child-like zest for life, and an an abiding love of children of all ages. A primary (elementary) teacher for decades, beloved of, and remembered by, her pupils (dozens of whom send her Christmas cards each year) for life. A few reminiscences from earlier posts:
From Happy Birthday, Miss Chips July 13, 2017:
Patricia Helen Mead Muffett was born [on July 13, 1923 and] for the first eight years of her life, Pat lived “above the shop” where Grandpa was the manager: S. Ward, Ltd–Ham and Bacon curers, Melton Pork Pie and Cambridge Sausage Makers, 222 Broad St., Birmingham. The burgeoning young family enjoyed the run of a sixteen-room flat, and, when not in use, the Board Room and the Typing Room (presided over, so I’m told, by “Miss Horton,” who appeared as a fearsome old lady to the children).
War broke out when Pat was sixteen, and in her last year of school. She and her classmates were evacuated to Attingham Park, a stately home in Shropshire, and although she was quite excited at the prospect, upon arriving, she discovered that the old pile was “drafty,” “freezing cold,” and that “the food was terrible.” So she was grateful to return to Birmingham for her teacher training course, volunteering in her spare time as a “bicycle boy” for the Home Guard.
Pat’s first teaching job was at Stanley House School, in Edgbaston. And it was while she was there that she introduced her older brother, David, to another Birmingham lass, a young teacher’s assistant (think, a more robust version of the early Lady Diana, without the see-through skirt).
That young woman was my mother. So, you see, I have much to thank Auntie Pat for, up to and including even the fact that I am here to do so.
From Auntie Pat Weighs in on the 75th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, June 6, 2019:
And in the course of our chat, she mentioned that she’d been enjoying the D-Day commemorative exercises on the television, and that Donald Trump had been visiting the UK.
“Oh, yes,” I said. And he seems to have done pretty well, don’t you think?” And here’s how it went from there:
Auntie Pat: Well, yes. Except for those stupid people stomping about waving things. Makes me furious, because, you know, they’re all sitting pretty because of the fact that America came into the war. If it hadn’t been for the Americans, we shouldn’t be here.
Auntie Pat: Well, it’s true.
She: Yes, I know.
Auntie Pat: We had not enough troops. I mean, there’s no argument about it. It makes me very cross. I mean, here’s the elected member of the, umm, society, and so he should be treated with respect. He may say stupid things sometimes, but he read quite a nice thing actually, which was quite good, and he did very well, and he’s coming home tomorrow, isn’t he?
Like many baby boomers, I grew up in the shadow of the greatest generation, with first hand accounts not only from the troops, but also of what it was like when every member of the population on the home front actually was “war-weary” and suffering privation of one sort or another along with them. It wasn’t an occasional, or a particular, or an incidental, or a boutique war which affected only those intimately involved with it. It was a monumental, existential, all-encompassing, shattering grind. I’ve always thought that one of Pat’s most cogent and heart-rending comments was that the ten years of continued rationing in the almost-destroyed Britain after the war was over was even worse than the war itself–“Well, you see,” she said, “there was no point. After all, we’d already won. Nothing we did helped or make a difference any more. It was just a miserable slog.”
From Restaurant Memories July 18, 2020:
On what may have been the same trip to Britain, we organized a family get-together, including Auntie Pat (early 80s), Uncle Arthur (late 90s) several cousins, my brother, and the self-same sister, Dad, and me. We held our little celebration at the Peacock Inn in Worcestershire, a conveniently central location, and a lovely place. As usual, we were doing our family thing, loudly, with everyone talking at once and almost no-one listening to anyone else. Auntie Pat, a primary-school teacher (5-6 years old) for over 40 years, excels at this sort of thing, and since she has a particularly distinctive voice, it’s easy to pick her out, even amid the general racket we all make.
A lovely lady who must have been in her early 50s gingerly approached the table. “It’s Miss Muffett, isn’t it?” she asked, rather timidly.
She hadn’t seen Pat’s face, or heard Pat’s voice, since about 1970.
I think it’s the only time I’ve seen Pat at a loss for words in her life. (BTW, she was 97 last week, may she live forever. The “last made and latest left” of my Dad’s generation on his side of the family. Bonus point for identifying the slight misquotation from one of her favorite poems).
From Dear Dad, September 30, 2017:
Here you are, on a childhood holiday in Pwllheli, Wales. The back of the photo reads “David’s First Catch!” You must have been about eight. Auntie Pat is in the background. She’s 94 now, may she live forever.
You, Auntie Pat, and Uncle Arthur, late 1990’s. This was taken not long after the three of you spent a very enjoyable year scouring the Shires for details on the family history (I have no doubt that numerous local functionaries and parish vicars are still reeling from the encounter), and you compiled the results of your labors into a 100-page book. Thanks for the stories about Aunty Issy having her tonsils removed on the kitchen table; Great Grandpa Reuben loaning Joe Lucas (The Prince of Darkness) fifty gold sovereigns to start his business; Grandma Wells, the hatmaker to “ladies of quality;” and so many more. I’ve already passed along quite a few of them to the next generation.
From Winning: V-E Day, May 8, 2017:
Back row, left to right: Auntie Mary, Uncle Arthur, Auntie Issy, Dad, Auntie Pat, and Uncle Maurice. Front row: Grandpa Charles and Granny Louise. Oh, and sitting on the ground by Granny’s feet? That’s Barney.
From Let Us Give Thanks for–Christmas Pudding? November 25 2015
My favorite story about this Christmas pudding comes from 92-year old Aunt Pat, who tells it with such gusto that it almost brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
During World War II, the family was living in Edgbaston, a fairly well-to-do suburb of Birmingham, in the UK. Although Grandpa was in charge of food rationing for the British Midlands, his scrupulousness meant that the family was usually at the end of the line when it came to distribution, and luxuries were in short supply.
However, like many Edgbaston families, the family had a live-in maid. This particular maid must have been rather more thorough than her predecessor (or, it must be said, the actual members of the family), because one day, in about 1942, on top of the bedroom wardrobe, she found a dried Christmas pudding that had been sitting there since before the war began.
Auntie Pat’s declamatory and exclamatory expressions of the joy, and yes, even thanksgiving, that the discovery of the Christmas pudding provoked are both hilarious and poignant.
And the most recent comment, from earlier this month:
Auntie Pat (98 in a week-and-a-half, may she live forever) is, like her father and mother, and many members of her family, a dedicated Aston Villa fan. The Muffetts had season tickets to The Villa from the day that such things were first offered. (The team was founded in 1874, and for those of you who don’t know, it’s a football team. “Proper football,” as Auntie Pat would say. She escorted Mr. She to a match many years ago, on one of our trips to the UK.)
Probably around the same time–that is when Pat was in her early 80’s and had a special parking spot just to herself, where cars weren’t allowed to drive, and right by the main entrance–she was at Villa Park with a couple of family members who went off to get a beer or find something to eat, only to come back and find Pat deep in enthusiastic conversation with the young man in the next row, a young man with spikes all over the place, blue hair and several safety-pins piercing and dangling from various parts of his anatomy. The family members were horrified.
Pat, however, was unflappable. She started chatting with her returned family, introduced them to her new acquaintance, said what a “marvelous time” they’d been having, what a “lovely boy” he was, and that “Alfie” (not his name) had been telling her all about (now I want you to imagine Pat speaking in the Chancellor’s Wife’s voice), “his pet rat.”
Lord. I miss that England.
And so I do.
There are many in my family who desperately wanted, and who struggled mightily, to conceive their own biological children. Those who would have loved to, but who never found their soulmate and who lived out their lives in a state of celibacy. Those who did find their soulmate, but whose fate decreed a life apart, and who lived out their lives honoring their choice. Those who thought they’d found their soulmate but….ummm….no. And those who did find their soulmate, who were together, who thought children were in their future, but who found that it just wasn’t to be.
I’m in that last category. In 1992, at the age of 37, I had a total hysterectomy, and my dreams of a family of “my own” vanished down the drain along with many of my lady parts. Prior to that, and with nothing identifiable mucking up the works, and over the course of a decade or so, it just hadn’t happened. Finally, it seemed that perhaps it might have. And then scans identified a possible ectopic pregnancy. So more tests. No pregnancy, of any sort. Just a scary lump. And a conversation with my gynecologist of many years which concluded with his observation that it was probably safer and wiser to go with a course of “better out than in.”
And so it was.
I’m more fortunate than many in that, several years before, I’d hooked up with Mr. She who, along with his first wife, had very graciously bequeathed me their own three children. And, a little over forty years later, those of us (not many) who are left, still carry the torch.
One of the ones who holds it high is my granddaughter (after the first generation, the word “step” in the relationship is meaningless. Trust me). She was born in 2008.
Another I hope will be paying it forward, perhaps into the 22nd century is my infant niece. Yes, that’s right! At the grand old age of 66, and contra any rational expectation, I’ve become an auntie myself. The tiny mite is named for Auntie Isobel: I hope she has a quarter of Issy’s drive, determination, and panache. And I
hope and trust know that, somewhere around the year 2088, when she’s about the age I am now, she’ll be writing posts (or whatever it is they do at that point) about her unsinkable Auntie Louise (named for her great-grandmother), and what a pistol I was. Because I am, and I will be. You see, I’ve learned from the very best.
Childful, childless, or not, that’s the best we can hope for. It’s absurd to think that we’ll all be remembered through the ages like Shakespeare, Aristotle, or Queen Victoria. All most of us can hope for is that those we touch during our lives will remember us kindly, and that if they love us enough, they’ll pass the memory of us along to a new generation.
Much as I’d love to have passed those memories along to those born of my body, it’s enough for me to know that if I make it–as most actuarial tables say I should, but who knows–well into the middle of the twenty-first century, those I’ve touched in my life will have had family history and experiences that span almost 200 years recounted to them by a person who knew and remembered the primary sources fondly and in detail.
God. I’d have liked to have had children of my own. That was MY plan. But, apparently, it wasn’t THE plan. It seems God had other things in mind for me. Whether or not I’ve met His expectations WRT them, I suppose I’ll find out one day. In the meantime, I’m pretty sure that Auntie Pat will have nothing to worry about when “the final harmony” strikes its chord. Like Charles Edward Chipping, her bequeathed children (although not all boys) number in the thousands. I count myself just one of them.
Meanwhile, all I know how to do is keep on keeping on, and celebrating those who do manage to do what I could not, all the way up to and including the newest member of the Ricochet family, Baby Boy Mandel, born to editor Bethany and husband Seth just a few days ago. Congratulations to you all.
Going forward, I relish the opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the young around me whenever it presents itself, whether, or however closely, they’re related to me, or even if they’re not. Just like my dearest Auntie Pat.
Happy 98th Birthday, sweetie. May you live forever. As you will in the hearts of the thousands of children whose parents bequeathed them to you for a portion of their young lives, and whose lifelong character you’ve helped form.
**cross-posted from Ricochet, July 13, 2021