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The first time I saw my future mother-in-law, Alice Bennison, she was leaning over and shouting abuse through the letterbox of the house opposite.

untitlewidIt was 1947, and we had been living in Holmleigh Road for a few months. Since the end of the war the lack of housing had become acute, and local councils had the authority to requisition any rooms they thought were vacant. This applied to private houses as well as council property.

The flat they had allocated Mrs Bennison was the whole top floor of a private house, and this included the only bathroom in the house.

The owner of the house was an elderly Jewish lady named Mrs Winter who lived there with her son, Alf. Mrs Winter was a small, frail woman with hunched shoulders. Her hair was still dark, which contrasted with her pale skin. She spent many hours peering from behind the lace curtain of her street door, but I never saw her out in the street and she never spoke to anyone.

Painting by Lithuanian Jewish artist Arbit Blatas (1908-1999 )

Painting by Lithuanian Jewish artist Arbit Blatas (1908-1999 )

Alf was a tall thin man with dark hair and a long nose, like a beak. He was a very gentle and quietly spoken person, and showed endless patience towards his Mother. Alf was more sociable than his Mother and would always speak to my family. Mum said that he had a lot to put up with as he cared for his Mother as well as running a business.

It was in the morning when the removal van pulled up with Mrs Bennison’s furniture, and Mrs Winter would have been alone in the house as her son was at work all day. She was obviously frightened and refused to open the door when Mrs Bennison started waving her fists and shouting at her through the letter box.

untitlpedThe men, who were waiting to unload, said there was nothing they could do, and told Mrs Bennison to call the police and let them deal with it. Mrs Bennison then started shouting at Mrs Winter that she was going to call the police.

The police duly arrived, and called through the letter box that Mrs Winter must let them in. She still refused, saying: “I don’t want those people in my house.”

My family were all peering through the window, and when we saw the police leave we wondered what they would do. However, they soon returned, but this time they were accompanied by Mrs Winter’s son. He entered the house and could be seen talking to his Mother. He placed an arm around her then led her away from the street door, and not long after he returned to open the door.

The furniture was taken in and the van finally left.

Painting by Yehuda Pen (1854-1937)

Painting by Yehuda Pen (1854-1937)

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