Until not so long ago, every comic had a fund of nasty mother-in-law jokes and, if the comedian was Jewish, he’d have some equally unflattering Jewish-mother jokes too. Now I am both, and a committed feminist, I resent all those unpleasant references, especially as my mother-in-law was loving and caring.
Like so many children, I was evacuated for long periods during WW2 with little if any contact with my parents. I returned from Dawlish in 1942 after two years in which my mother visited a couple of times and my father not at all. Our pre-war closeness was gone. When my father died, I was surprised and saddened to discover a letter kept with his will in which he said how much he loved me. I wish he could have told me that while he was alive, instead of being quite distant. My mother seemed to care much more for my elder sister, her firstborn, and I accepted that.
My husband, Josh, was an only child, with a gregarious outgoing father. His mother, Eva, was quite shy, but we got much closer after my father-in-law died and she moved to a flat that was only a short bus ride away.
Eva adored our four children, coming on holiday with us when we went away in the UK and babysitting during the periods between au pairs. She was still shy and undemonstrative but managed to make me feel loved and cared for.
When we started our toyshop, John Dobbie, we sold party favours in packets long before you could buy packets of balloons and little toys ready to hand out at the end of your child’s birthday party. My mother-in-law discovered a real knack for packing them into cellophane bags and attaching the labels designed by the late Colin Fulcher.
She was the youngest of four – three girls and a boy – and was tiny. In my prime I was 5’1½ and she was even smaller than me. It was good to be taller than someone!! She was born in the UK and married a very distant German relation, living in Berlin until 1939, when my father-in-law’s profession as a dental technician allowed him to escape the Nazis and come to the UK.
She died in 1969 and I still miss her and think about her. She was a model mother-in-law and Jewish mother, and fie on all those telling those nasty jokes about them.
While my first memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is mainly about growing up in the East End of London and achieving my various professions, my forthcoming book ’25 Houses’ will have more about the people in my life like my late mother-in-law, who were major influences.
Read more of Abby’s stories in her memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ and her previous posts Abby’s Tales of Then and Now. You can Look Inside on the Amazon site and get a taster for free. ‘Woman in a White Coat’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £9.99 in paperback. ‘Abby’s Tales of Then and Now’ is £2.99 for the Kindle version and £12.99 for the 7” x 9” paperback. Both are illustrated in colour.