Love Sonnets of a Shop Girl (Sonnet XIII)

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, October 3, 1913: Working for wages.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma worked long days on her father’s farm husking corn.  Did she ever wish that she had a job in town—maybe as a clerk in a store?

Postcard showing Marsh Shoe Store, Milton a hundred years ago (postally used December 1910).

Postcard showing Marsh Shoe Store in the nearby town of Milton a hundred years ago (postally used December 1910).

It wasn’t all fun and glamor working in a store. Here’s what one of the sonnets published in 1913 in  Love Sonnets of Shop Girl had to say:

Sonnet XIII

That floor-walker’s getting’ too breezy;

He hangs around me all the time.

I’ve wanted to let him down easy,

But he doesn’t get wise—he’s a lime.

I don’t like the way that he treats me –

You’d think that he owned me, the slob!

You’d think, by the way that he meets me,

I owed him my life—and my job!

.

He’s got to quit callin’ me “Baby”

And “Sister” and “Honey” and “Pet.”

I’ve quarreled with Terence; but maybe

He wouldn’t be tickled to get

A chance at this floor-walker Willie,

Who tried to get merry with muh!

Oh, wouldn’t he wallop him silly!

And then for the ambulance—huh?

.

But I won’t tell Terence; I merely

Will speak to this floor-walker gink,

And tell him, quite plainly and clearly,

Exactly the things that I think.

I don’t want to act at all shady,

But if he get uppish—the yap!—

I’ll lift up my hand like a lady

And bounce him a biff on the map.

Love Sonnets of a Shop Girl by Berton Braley was published in a 1913 book called Sonnets of a Suffragette.  The entire book is available on the Internet Archive.

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37 Responses

  1. I’ll be fascinated to hear more of any comments she made about farm work and whether she felt it restricted or enhanced her life.

    • About about seven and a half years after this diary entry she married a farmer–so in many ways I think that her work on the farm during her teen years was preparing her for her future life. But, at the same time, a little piece of me thinks that she was very smart, and wonder if she was fully utilizing her abilities.

  2. The sonnet could be a rap song today

  3. that sonnet was AWESOME! What a wonderful find- thanks for sharing!
    Sue (and look at me all visiting and stuff. Got my new improved internet!)

    • I’m glad you liked the sonnet. Fast internet can make a real difference in what can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. I know that when my internet isn’t working quite right and is really slow that I get really frustrated.

  4. Amazing sonnet – life was certainly different for women in those days, wasn’t it??

    • It was often tough for women who worked a hundred years ago. I think that things are much better today–though sometimes I hear about harassment issues that make me realize that there are still occasional problems.

  5. A very good sonnet, that girl seemed to be a feisty and funny one! I hope she told of the flor walker indeed!

  6. Another time, another place, but “the more things change, the more they are the same.”

  7. working for wages – I’ve been working, but so far no wages! Love the poem <3

  8. “he’s a lime”, that’s new to me, I love it, Annie

    • The old slang in that line (and in some of the others) is great. It’s so descriptive. I also liked the first line about him “getting too breezy.”

  9. Have you ever read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser? Touches on this stuff. Best yet is The Maimie Papers by Maimie Pinzer–actual letters by a girl of the times. A girl from the school of hard knocks.

  10. A biff on the map! Priceless.

    My husband’s grandfather used to ask, “Whaddya want, a biff in the bim?” This was the first time I heard anyone use the word “biff” outside of our family.

    • The old slang was great–though I bet that a child would immediately improve their behavior when they heard the threat of a biff in the bim. :)

  11. Maybe it was better to be working on the farm!

  12. Haha! It made me laugh, especially the last two lines of the “sonnet”. I don’t know if you enjoy researching all these facts as much as we enjoy reading them! I wonder what Helena’s “wages” were and what she did with the money :)

    • Thanks for the nice note. I have a lot of fun researching and writing the additional information that I include in this blog–and it’s always wonderful to hear when someone especially enjoys it.

  13. I thought of “Sister Carrie” when you mentioned the shop girl…then I read the “sonnet” and it’s more like one of those Betty Grable movies. Maybe with Don Ameche?

  14. I read your comment above that seven years after your grandmother married a farmer. I think that was more common back in her era as a couple of my mother’s siblings went that way as well. these days the little farmers have been swallowed up by the large corporations and so we do not see individuals working on their own farms as much.

  15. sounds like a poem to me. haha. the words are fantastic! ah but yes, sexual harrassment does happen even in such modern world. and these days, men get it too. the table has turned for some.

  16. […] her piano lessons.—even when she didn’t seem particularly busy.  On the days when she “worked for wages” and had lots to do, did she somehow still manage to find time to practice the […]

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