Remembering Big Bumpa

Nov 13, 2010 | 3 comments

William Woods, 1844-1939

     Big Bumpa was my great-grandfather – my father’s mother’s father, William Woods.  He was born in Diss, Norfolk County, England, August 1, 1844, the youngest of 13 children.  At 21 he emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada and, in 1874, came to the United States and entered Boston University School of Theology.  He served as a Methodist minister throughout New England for the next 40 years.
     Although I was only three when I last saw him, I remember him clearly.  He was a larger than life character with a big voice and a wonderful twinkle in his eye.  He lived with my Boston grandparents and I remember that his room was way upstairs – probably an attic bedroom/sitting room  that was fixed up for him and my great-grandmother at the time of his retirement. If he wasn’t downstairs with the rest of the family, he could be heard singing hymns at full volume in his upstairs aerie.
     My parents and I were living in Wellesley, just a few miles distant from Nana and Bumpa’s in West Roxbury.  (As the first grandchild, I take full credit for naming my Grandfather Little, “Bumpa.”  It’s not a quantum leap to figure out why I called my grandmother’s father “Big Bumpa.)   We visited my grandparents frequently and one of my favorite memories of Big Bumpa was of the Mother Goose rhyme he used to recite to me:
                        There was a man in our town
                        And he was wondrous wise.
                        He jumped into a bramble bush
                        And scratched out both his eyes

And when he saw his eyes were out
                        With all his might and main,
                        He jumped into another bush
                        And scratched ‘em in again!
     I can still remember the shivery thrill I felt at the words and his hearty laugh as he’d scoop me into his arms and tickle my neck with his whiskers.
     We moved West the summer of 1939 when I was three and a half years old.  Our last stop before leaving Boston was at the rest home where Big Bumpa had gone “because of trouble with his foot” I was told.  I remember that he was sitting up in bed and that the sheet was tented over his feet and legs.  And I remember that I was cautioned not to bump the bed.
     Among my keepsakes is a letter in Big Bumpa’s spidery handwriting, written to my mother on October 30, 1939.  In it he said, …I am glad you are all so well, and that my dear little Sydney is growing so big and strong.  Give her 10 good kisses for me.  How I should like to see and hug her just now… 
     About himself he said, …I am, in some ways, pretty well.  My foot has healed and is the best foot I have now.  I eat well, can see and hear and pray and sing… 
     Would that we could all say that when we are in our 90s!


  1. Memi

    Blimey!! Are you sure he isn’t Nyel’s great-grandfather? Sure looks like him!

  2. Annie Blanchard

    I’ve been researching the origin of “Bumpa” for grandfather. I’m doubting that we got it from your Bumpa. Ours was born in Massachusetts and came from Mayflower ancestors (several of them) in the small town of Duxbury. His wife (our Nana) originated from Nova Scotia. There aren’t a lot of Bumpas out there, but I’m wondering if the name somehow originally came from England and is more common in New England, as I’ve seen several references to Bumpas from that area.

    No doubt a little one like you made up the name, though. My own grandson turned my “Nana Annie” into “Nini”and that’s who I’ll go down as in family history!

    • sydney

      Hi Annie,
      Sorry to say, I haven’t a clue where my names for “Bumpa” (my grandfather) and “Big Bumpa” (my great-grandfather) came from. I was the oldest grandchild on that side of the family and my cousins all followed suit and called our grandparents Nana and Bumpa as I had. I’ve always assumed that I name them that, but I really don’t know. It is interesting, though, that Big Bumpa (Nana’s father) came from England and arrived in the U.S. via New Brunswick, Canada. The similarities to your Nana and Bumpa names must be more than coincidental! If you learn more, let me know!


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