Waiting for the yizkor service to begin is a perfect time to reflect. This year, sitting behind a fellow congregant at the Charles Kimmel building of the Maplewood Jewish Center, I was entranced by the bare goldtone zipper on the classy black outfit worn by the woman in front of me. The style is finally starting to win me over, but it was my mother-in-law Hilda Cohen’s hobbyhorse.
An executive assistant of a non-profit organization by day, Hilda was a fastidious seamstress by night. She insisted that a zipper needed to be properly encased in the matching fabric of the clothing. That was her standard of a well-made garment.
Before we bought our house in Essex County, New Jersey, during our first six years of marriage, my husband and I lived downstairs from his parents in their two-family house on Pennington Street in Elizabeth. In those years Hilda and I spent lots of time hanging out together while my husband was studying in law school and graduate law school.
Most evenings, Hilda would be knitting while we watched television and spoke about family. Surprisingly, I never did learn how to knit. Instead, I looked through her old photo albums, enthusiastically discussing the various characters. There were classic tales of ancestors, which she passed along and I made sure to record in my manuscript entitled Kitchen Talk.
Hilda didn’t ask for much, only respect. Having lost her own mother at a young age, she was comforted by the thought of her mother-in-law bringing her grapes when she was pregnant.
Astute aphorisms came from Hilda’s much older sister Rosie, such as, “A happy baby has a well-fed mother, so feed yourself first.” Hilda, in her relaxed manner, at times of stress would muse, as her wise sister had taught her, “This too shall pass.”
Time passes, but I always keep thoughts of Hilda close to my heart. Always neatly dressed and with every hair in place, she enjoyed working with her hands either gardening, sewing, or knitting, whenever time permitted.
A favorite pastime for my husband and me in the 70s was shopping at malls. One time, Hilda came along and we tried on variously colored wigs, giggling uncontrollably like young girls.
The best way to explain our relationship is with the words from her niece, a psychologist, who wished for me the same relationship when I become a mother-in-law as I had with mine. I suppose that being secure enough in my relationship with my own mother allowed me to appreciate all that Hilda had to offer. And, knowing how my father’s parents felt about my mother gave me positive reassurance that in-laws are okay. As a bonus, my parents were good friends with Hilda and Is (short for Isadore).
Stop and look around. Whether you’re thinking about the Golden Calf or someone special in your own life, grasp whatever memories pop up. Hopefully they are as pleasing as the ones I had just in time for the yizkor prayers on the high holidays. While the zipper secured the outfit on that black dress in front of me, the exposed metal brought vibrant memories of a mother-in-law, who was as good as gold.
By Sharon Mark Cohen