In no particular order, a sort of stream of consciousness, these are the qualities of my Mum that I want to share with you all and remember her for.
It was always important for her to be helping other people. She was very active in the Ladies Guild at Wembley Shul. She prepared flower arrangements for Guild lunches. She was on the kiddish rota and regularly helped out at the Friendship Club for elderly members. Until well past the age and personal circumstances when she could have enjoyed them herself, she distributed meals on wheels to those who could not prepare food for themselves. She was the secretary of the local Wembley branch of Bnai Brit. She played the piano to a very high standard: she was Grade 8 and as I speak now I can hear in my mind’s ear pieces from her books of Beethoven sonatas and in particular Chopin nocturnes echoing down the years.
She was also the secretary of the Ladies Guild and when we were boys she was active on the committee of the local Jewish scout group, the 19th Wembley. She was very particular in her dress and in her speech and in how we all spoke.
Our house was called Eden and she lovingly tended the massive garden
She was a busy mum, ferrying us to school, to Hebrew classes, and piano lessons, fetching and carrying, cooking and mending, entertaining friends and looking after her parents who came to live in a house built for them by Mum and Dad next door to our own chalet bungalow in Mount Drive. Our house was called Eden and she lovingly tended the massive garden and employed a series of gardeners of varying quality to tend the plants and shrubs. Her good friend Anita Singer would often visit with her dog, Boxer. Anita helped with expert horticultural advice.
Born in 1929, her mum and dad were Harry and Lilly . They lived in Margate. She spent her childhood on the beach and her parents kept a shop selling fancy goods and sweets. When she was a girl she had a small dog which was something she never allowed us to have when we were growing up, probably because my father did not approve, and I mean dogs of any description, not just small ones.
The family was evacuated from Margate during the war to Leicester and after school she worked as a reporter on the newspaper for the Gas Board.
She met her first husband Cecil Burman, a doctor. He died tragically young, just twenty three days after Anthony was born.
She returned to Leicester from London and lived in Dixon Drive with Anthony and her mum and dad. By now they ran a fancy goods stall in Leicester market. Cold work.
Such discipline as she tried to introduce into Anthony’s life was instantly negatived by the doting grandparents.
Mummy melded the three families together as if they were one
The garden of the Dixon Drive house backed onto the garden of Grace Henig’s house, first cousin of dad. Three or four years later in 1957 she was introduced to and married my father, Charles. Charles was in a similar situation, his wife having died at a young age when my brother Jonathan was five years old .
Mummy melded the three families together as if they were one. I never knew the circumstances of our family, never knew why my name was David Gesher, which means link or bridge, until I was seven years old. She was a loving mum to all three of us in the same way.
I do not think she was a particularly spiritual person, nor was she particularly steeped in Jewish knowledge, but she kept a home where we were all steeped in Yiddishkeit and we were brought up with a love of Judaism, Shabbat and the chaggim and family. She made it her business to ensure we studied, went to Shul and belonged to the Wembley Shul community.
As I said earlier She loved gardening and grew tomatoes and other vegetables, although I cannot remember what they were. The tomatoes I remember because of the chutney she made to preserve the glut of the harvest.
She cooked wholesome meals. I remember with fondness her chicken soup, her fried fish, the chickens she roasted on the spit my paternal grandparents gave my parents for one of their anniversaries.
There was order and, dare I say it, a degree of repetition to the weekly diet. If it was Thursday then it was viennas and chips or wurst and egg. Shabbat was always chopped liver, roast chicken and mandarin jelly, sometimes with what she called apple strudel or what others might more properly call apple pie.
Sunday lunchtime was lamb, lumpy, fatty lamb. You had to sit at the table until it was finished. Mine, I’m sorry to say, often ended up being surreptitiously spat out into the bin under the sink in the kitchen. Today I am a vegetarian. Perhaps cause and effect?
She maintained friendships from all the different periods of her life. She had friends from Leicester, cousins of her own and cousins of my father who were of a similar age and interests. Rose and Stanley Cohen were particular friends. My father was one of five, and the brothers and sisters in law and their children were a thread that wove throughout our childhoods. She had friends from Wembley and the various different groups and committees she was a member of. Coincidence always gives one pause for thought. Two of her oldest friends, Estelle Marks and Ena Morris, also both died in the last couple of weeks.
sat next to Orsen Welles who was of such a girth that he occupied both his own and half of Mummy’s seat
She was always learning how to play bridge, an eternal student but never a master.
She ran the house for my father who was generally too busy during the week to help around the house.
In her mid forties, with both Jay and Anthony away at university, life slowed for her and, possibly with a bit more time to dwell on the early trauma she had suffered, she experienced the first of her depressive episodes that would dog her for the remainder of her life.
Eventually with the right treatments she found an equilibrium and she and dad settled into an annual rhythm of Shul committee meetings, Bnai Brit branch meetings, theatre,she used to love the annual Chichester festival and one year sat next to Orsen Welles who was of such a girth that he occupied both his own and half of Mummy’s seat. She enjoyed entertaining and spending Pesach in Israel and Christmas and the new year in Lanzarote.
She took a job at Comet in Neasden working for the manager administering applications for consumer credit. My twenty first birthday present was a stereo system from Comet that had been repossessed.
She trundled around delivering meals on wheels into her late seventies until the second debilitating condition emerged, the dementia which eventually took everything from her save her basic sweetness of nature and love of people.
What was left was her basic loving nature
Kintsugi (“golden joinery”), also known as Kintsukuroi (“golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.
You take something that is broken and make it into something that is more beautiful, more valued, than it was when it was whole. I think it is an apt analogy for mummy once the dementia set in. What was left was her basic loving nature.
Family, friends, food, caring for others, neatness of appearance and roundness of vowels. She was a child of the Second World War and as in the Kipling poem, she met with those two imposters, triumph and disaster with the same equanimity and treated them both the same.
With her love of gardening and care for others hers was the earth and everything that is in it.
A full life which would have been fuller but for illness, and one that we were all blessed to share with her.
Sarah Bat Hanoch
Baruch Dayan Ha Emet.