When I was a child, my gt-aunt Myfanwy lived with us. She loved to tell family stories, and one she told often was about the day she took an amputated arm, wrapped in newspaper, to the cemetery.
If you’ve been reading this series of ‘Don’t Trust a Document’ blogs, you may recall my gt-uncle Felix from the unfortunate business with his wrong baptism date in ‘Never Trust a Document – or a Gravestone’. The picture heading-up this blog is Gt-Uncle Felix in his Postman’s uniform.
Apparently Felix was a bit eccentric – Aunty Myfanwy often referred to him as a miser, and said that as a child she would see him counting his money, at a table “covered in gold sovereigns”. Well, that stuck in my mind all right – I’d never seen a gold sovereign in my life, but knew they were fairly spectacular. If you look on ebay now, they fetch about £250, so I expect a tableful would be worth having. The nearest thing I have myself is a half-sovereign which was put into my father’s hand on the day he was born by his grandmother (Martha, who I’ve mentioned in ‘Never Trust a Document’ and ‘Never Trust a Document – or a Gravestone’ and ‘Never Trust a Document – or an Aunt’. As you can see, I’m quite fond of this branch of my family), and which I treasure as a link to his family, and as a last resort in case of penury.
We will now time-shimmy back nearly a hundred years to 1915.
Some time in the first half of 1915, a needle gets lodged in Uncle Felix’s right hand, and he becomes unwell. I think he may have been doing some sewing (possibly to save the cost of getting it done by somebody more competent).
By early August, it has become such a problem that one of his nieces, Nell, is staying with him. Martha (who is Felix’s sister) and her daughter Myfanwy (Nell’s sister) are on holiday, and send this postcard to Nell, at Felix’s address, on 5 August:
Despite this hope for improvement, things don’t get better with Felix and on 16 August he is laid on the kitchen table and the doctor amputates his arm at the elbow. The arm is wrapped in newspaper, and Myfanwy is told to take it to the cemetery. Going by the number of times I heard her tell this story, it must have made quite an impression on her, to have been handed this gruesome package and told to potter off to the cemetery with it.
The arm is buried in a still-open grave with some poor unsuspecting corpse …and that’s why this particular skeleton has three arms. Of course, there’s no reason to distrust this particular document, but I’m still keeping the ‘Never Trust’ title going as a badge for this series of blogs.
I say above that Felix’s right arm was amputated at the elbow. I didn’t know this until I recently found the record of his stay at the county Asylum, where he died less than two years later of “softening of the brain”, but the Asylum notes say his “right arm has been amputated about the middle”, which seems to mean his elbow.
The Asylum notes also say “he was recently married to a very drunken woman”…and tho’ this is a different story, and I haven’t yet got to the bottom of the very drunken woman’s identity and Felix’s three-month marriage, I think it’s probable that Mrs Felix was a con-artist and a bigamist – certainly the information on their Marriage Certificate seems quite suspect – a real “Never Trust” sort of document. Maybe one to blog about when I’ve dug a little deeper? In the meantime, I’ll just say that I’m hardly surprised that Aunty Myfanwy never mentioned the existence of the very drunken bride – not a welcome addition to the respectable Methodist family.
4 thoughts on “Never Trust a Document – or a Skeleton with Three Arms”
That’s gruesome all right!
I love these stories that come down the generations for no better reason than they have stuck in somebody’s mind – you have to wonder at the warping of small children’s brains when they experience something like this……..
This reminds me of a story I was told about a family member named Dee who also lost an arm. He liked to drink and he liked to ride the rails (this was probably in Georgia, USA in the 1930’s), Once , he tried to climb on a moving train while he was drunk. Well, Dee fell across the track and his arm was cut off. He made it home somehow and told the family what happened and wanted them to go back and get his arm because he’d heard “you could not get into Heaven unless you were whole”. So the men went back and found it and brought it home in a box and set it on the table where the family ate. A couple of the children (one of whom was the mother of the lady that told me this story) looked into the box and screamed, not expecting to see an arm in it. After the kids went to sleep (that took a while, I bet) they took the arm out to the graveyard and buried it next to Dee’s parents, so he could be whole.
The more I hear about other people’s families, Susan, the more I firmly believe everyone’s family is full of rather odd people and stories – and often they’re so used to them, they don’t realise just HOW odd.
The diversity of human experience is something to be well-and-truly cherished, I think.
A few years ago, my children were all rather shocked by a revelation about a family member of my generation. When they asked why I hadn’t told them about this incident previously, I could only say that it didn’t seem note-worthy – because, of course, I was used to it.
And I thought my family was eccentric…