Over the holidays, I spent a lot of time reading. Thanks to a suggestion by Paul Huard, blogger at “The Shout Heard ‘Round the World,” I read Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore. Jane was Benjamin Franklin’s sister, mother of 12 children, and writer of many letters to her famous sibling.
When Jane wasn’t busy making soap, avoiding a revolution, or raising her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she poured out ideas on paper, giving us a wealth of information about her life as it unfolded.
Not all her children reached adulthood, and as Jane aged, she became the caretaker of several. Her husband, Edward Mecom, was a saddler who left the family financially broke. Two of Jane’s sons went insane, and later, Jane took in boarders to make ends meet.
Isn’t it understandable if Jane became a little cranky sometimes?
When Josiah Flagg, one of Jane’s grandsons, contacted his famous great-uncle Benjamin, hoping for some help establishing a career, Jane, according to Lepore, was mortified.
“Tho he is my Grandson & I wish him well settled to something he can git his Living by I am Angry with him for his Audacity in writing to you on such an Acount,” Jane wrote to Benjamin. She accused Josiah of having “too Proud a Spirit to conform to the occupation he was Taught” and refused to recommend him.
Lepore said Jane was “uncharacteristically uncharitable.” Later Jane relented, writing apologetically to Benjamin:
“I am sorry you are as it were forced to bare the Burden of soporting my whol Famely,” Jane said. “He is the son of a Dear worthy Child; his sister was Remarkably Dutyfull & affectionat to me & I wish him well but should never consented to his throwing himself upon you.”
Lepore said Jane “regretted having been so hard on (Josiah), in her first, and miffiest letter.”
What a wonderful word! According to dictionary.com, miffy means “touchy; inclined to take offense.”
Who hasn’t been a little miffy from time to time, especially where errant children are concerned?
Let’s meet miffy’s partner for today, squiffy.
We have the wildly popular PBS TV show Downton Abbey to thank for this gem. In Series Three, Episode Eight, Lord Grantham waves the authorities off his property by throwing his footman, Alfred, under the bus, albeit in very upper crust tones.
“I’m very much afraid to say he was a bit squiffy, weren’t you, Alfred?” Lord Grantham says, one regal eye on the authorities, the other on hapless Alfred, who is forced to nod in mute agreement.
Squiffy means “slightly drunk,” and in this case, Alfred was nothing of the sort, even though he manfully shoulders the blame without flinching. One would think he’d have a right to feel miffy about this turn of events, but wasn’t.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “He that can have patience can have what he will.”