And they called her “Mother-in-Law”

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Ray Hahn

And they called her “Mother-in-Law”

Francis “Frank” Bishop (even his mother called him Frank) was born in Canada. The Bishop family moved to New York in 1891 to find work. Frank’s father was able to join the shop-crew in an Otsego County sawmill. Minnie Brousseau was born in New York. When she and Frank married in 1898, Frank was 30 and had followed his father into the sawmill, Minnie was 17. Neither of them had a formal education, but both could read and write. By 1900 they had set-up housekeeping in a modest home in St. Lawrence County and they had a one-year-old son who they named Francis F. – after his grandfather. Throughout the next decade, the Bishops added seven more children (three more sons and four daughters) to their family and moved to Portlandville in Otsego County.
Minnie Bishop was the recipient of the six cards in this PFB series of postcards #5897, all mailed in the second week of September 1906 from Station C New York, New York. That was before the divided-back era, but each card had a centerline, and they were all signed, “L.” The artwork is unsigned – most likely watercolors or colored pencil drawings – of six women who are posed in very molded stances with expressions of very forceful determination. The sender, “L” included a one-word message on each card: Admiration, Carrie=nation, Deliberation, Determination, Explanation, and Visitation.
My daughter’s husband may , be fond of her, but I saw him wink at me the naughty man.
So, my daughter’s husband says he’ll put me out of the house, does he,” Well, we shall see. Here I am and here I shall remain, to protect my poor dear girl!
Ah, my dear daughter, When your poor pa was alive he treated me very differently to the way your Husband treats you.
My son’s wife has dared to call me a cat. Outrageous, the shameless minx.
I always did maintain, and always will that mothers-in-laws are a real blessing in disguise.
Hoity, toity! Because a lady is a little plump, is she to be sneered at by her own son’s wife who is all skin and bone? But I will protect my boy in spite of her.
[Editor’s note: There is an unnamed emotion that many genealogists experience when researching a family with whom they have no connection. The feeling is much like being “introduced” to someone who is living, breathing, and aware, but is unable to respond to your greeting. I have experienced this feeling dozens (maybe hundreds) of times. This time as I sifted through the pages of online information about the Bishop family, I had a very strong feeling about Minnie Bishop. Without hesitation I would unconditionally summarize her as a person who was loving, kind, and graceful, as well as friendly, generous, polite, and gracious. I can’t imagine why anyone would send mother-in-law caricatures to her.]   *** The bond one forms with in-laws is much like winning a lottery. The odds are against you, but sometimes you hit the jackpot. Those whose in-laws are as warm and loving as biological parents are many, but in society, the stereotype must have some validity or they would not be topics of the books that have been written about them or the brunt of the jokes that are told. A bit more than a decade ago, the Huffington Post did a character study of mothers-in-laws. Many readers shared their stories of the outrageous individuals to whom they were related-by-marriage. Here are two examples: Carol wrote: After 19 years of marriage, I found a note taped to the bathroom mirror from my husband saying that he was leaving and would be moved out before I got home. I tried to reach my husband by phone but was unsuccessful, so I called his mother. She screamed over the phone that I refused to make him dinner. (I did, but he didn’t come home many nights until after everyone was in bed). She yelled more insults with me holding the phone about 12 inches from my ear, one of which was that only her son matters, not our kids and my boys heard her. Joanna wrote: While we were dating, my future mother-in-law insisted on being called Mrs. M (the initial of my husband’s surname). As soon as we got engaged, she sat me down and announced, ‘Now, we can’t have you calling me Mrs. M anymore. That’s too formal for family. What do you want to call us?’ I answered that I would be happy to call them by their first names. She replied that ‘the mister and I do not do first names.’ I responded that I was uncomfortable calling them ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’ Meanwhile, she introduced her husband and herself to my siblings and friends by their first names and never once corrected them. Annoyed by the inconsistency, I called her by her first name. She later complained to my husband and told him I had disrespected her. When we sat down, what I thought would be a problem solving discussion and reconciliation turned into a huge, heated argument. She finally screamed at me that I needed to ‘respect the pecking order of the human race!’ My husband got involved at one point and asked her what I should call her and she said, ‘Jim’s mother’ or ‘hey you!’ So, ‘hey you’ it was. The divorce came soon after. Then there are the jokes. There are millions of them, here are two of my favorites: A woman sent two ties to her son-in-law. Weeks later, she invited him and her daughter for dinner and in an attempt to impress his mother-in-law, the son-in-law wore one of the ties she’d sent him. The meal was extremely tense and uncomfortable with the mother-in-law maintaining a stony silence throughout it. Finally, she spoke, “Alright then, what was wrong with the other tie?” A pharmacist once counseled a desperate customer, “I’m sorry, Sir, to legally purchase arsenic, you need a legal prescription. A picture of your mother-in-law just isn’t enough.”
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Thank you. I enjoyed the article and as I have two of the cards featured it was interesting to see others from this series.

Although the clothing and some of the words on the cards are dated, the situations described in the captions are similar to the text of many “Dear Abby” columns of the present.

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