Ave Atque Vale, Family, Family Matters, Loss, Love

Ave Atque Vale: Goodbye, Miss Chips

My head kept telling me she wouldn’t live forever, but my heart simply would not believe it:

Patricia Helen Mead Muffett, July 13, 1923–December 10, 2022, Rest in Peace.  It’s the first time for a little more than one-hundred fifteen years, that neither my Dad, nor at least one of his siblings, has walked the earth.  For me, it’s the end of an era. The last human being who knew me as an infant, or even as a very young child (my sister wasn’t born until I was almost seven years old) is gone.

She’s now reunited with her beloved “Ma” and “Pa,” and (back row) Arthur and Maurice; middle row–left–Mary; and front row–left–Dad, and–right–Isobel.  Pat’s front-and-center, as is only proper.

The photo must date from about 1927, and was taken in Pwllheli, Wales, where the family spent many happy summer holidays.  Granny and Grandpa Muffett’s ashes are scattered nearby, and Pat’s will be, as well.

I last spoke with Pat on November 22.  She was very weak, but with the usual Muffett spunk, she was determined to find out how I and the dogs were.  I’m pretty sure that her slice of heaven is full of dogs.  Perhaps even some of mine.

Lord, I remember the day she took Mr. She to see an Aston Villa match (“proper football,” she instructed him it was) in Birmingham.  And thinking how brave he was to get in a car that she was driving.  Although, I suppose, he didn’t know any better.  And I certainly wasn’t going to tell him.

And so many family stories.  An excerpt from a post I wrote on her 94th birthday:

How can I best describe Pat for you? I’d say, if she were to be featured in a movie, that the only actress fit to play her might have been Katharine Hepburn. Ferociously bright. Tall. Lanky, sometimes a bit awkward and gawky. But always comfortable in her own skin. “With it.” Self-confident. Articulate. Determined (this is not a trait that stands out much in my family). Kind. Always youthful and sometimes childlike in her enthusiasms. Intellectually curious. And even the voice. A bit loud. Staccato. Exclamatory. Unique.

I’ve only every seen Pat embarrassed once in my life.

It was about fifteen years ago. I was on a visit to the UK, by myself, and we had made our usual pilgrimage to The Peacock Inn, a nice pub, restaurant and hotel, centrally located for family members to swarm to, on our all-too-rare get togethers. We were enjoying our main course, and a few drinks, and carrying on as Muffetts do (this means: all talking loudly at once, and no-one really listening to what anyone else is saying), when a piercing voice from across the room called out, “It’s Miss Muffett, isn’t it?”

The voice belonged to a woman a bit older than me who hadn’t seen or heard from Pat since she was a five-year-old pupil in Pat’s preparatory class, over four decades previously. Much reminiscing ensued, but unusually, and for one of the few times I’ve known her, Pat didn’t say much.

Her pupils who’ve stayed in touch with her (and many have) love her. She receives Christmas cards from all over the world every year, and occasional visits from those who live in, and pass through, Birmingham. Although she herself never married, James Hilton’s words about another dedicated teacher might have been written for Pat:

“I thought I heard one of you saying it was a pity–a pity I never had any children–But I have, you know . . . I have . . .”

“Yes.  I have,”  he added with quavering merriment.  “Thousands of ’em.  Thousands of ’em . . .”

Happy Birthday, our very own Miss Chips. May you live forever.

Crumbs.  Then there was the post I wrote on her 98th birthday.

Pat, like quite a few members of her birth family, up to and including present generations, was a very organized and efficient person.  Her mother’s favorite phrase, when recounting her progress on a particular project was “I’m well forward!” indicating that she was on schedule, and that she intended to bring things to closure on time and under budget.

Thanks, Auntie Pat for–when the inevitable day came–choosing the one that found me surrounded by friends who–as much as is possible in the circumstances–knew you, loved you, understood my grief, and joined me in raising a heartfelt toast.  And thank you, those I told, for letting me tell the story here in my own good time.

Every once in a while, we are gifted with a small miracle.  Eighteen months ago, one occurred in my own family, when my brother and his beloved had a baby.  My only niece.  My late father and mother’s only grandchild.  Named “Isobel,” after Pat’s sister.  The joy that Pat felt in this baby, and in the continuation of my father’s “line” was palpable.  I’m so very glad she got to see this.

I don’t expect little “Issy” will actually remember her great-auntie Pat.  But I know she’ll learn the stories.  And that, when she is, perhaps, a very old lady herself, she’ll be able to reach back through the years–almost two hundred of them–and tell some of them herself, as I have so often here.

Thanks for indulging me.  And thanks–above all–for recognizing Auntie Pat as the national treasure she is.

Cross-posted, original is on Ricochet.

7 thoughts on “Ave Atque Vale: Goodbye, Miss Chips”

  1. Not kidding about that whole “Little Miss Muffett,” fancy-dress business. When I was about five and we were sailing on an Elder-Dempster liner between Liverpool and Lagos, the children onboard were dragooned into such an event. We’d just set sail from a visit to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, and my mother had bought me a couple of very lovely dresses. So I wore one of those, and Dad went down to the kitchen and scrounged a dinner bun, some toothpicks, and some raisins. Stuck raisins in the bun for the spider’s “eyes,” and then took eight of his pipe cleaners, bent them artistically, and formed the spider’s “legs.” A piece of elastic was acquired from the ship’s seamstress, stuck–North to South–through the bun with a knot tied underneath and with a loop on top, so I could stick my hand through, and then bounce him up and down. A bowl, and a spoon, representing the “curds and whey,” and there it was! History repeating itself.

  2. Words fail. After hearing so much about her over the years the world does seem a bit emptier. Such strong personalities always leave their mark, and a vacuum after they leave.

    Memory Eternal.

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