Culture & Society
My Uncle Yudi
“He didn’t know the names of all his customers, so he’d invent nicknames for them, like The Woman With No Nose, or Mrs Scabbydick.”
By Kitty Wintrob
TORONTO. August 10/22 -– We are delighted to publish another short story by Canada’s acclaimed storyteller, Kitty Wintrob. Kitty lives in Toronto, Canada. She was born and raised in Britain’s east end of London. At the start of the Second World War in 1939, in the first three days of official evacuation, 1.5 million people were moved: 827,000 children of school age; 524,000 mothers and young children under five; 13,000 pregnant women; 70,000 disabled people and over 103,000 teachers and other ‘helpers’. Children, including Kitty Wintrob, were parted from their parents.
Today, Kitty writes once again about her loveable Uncle Yudi, during her time growing up in pre-Second World War in the east end of London, England:
My Uncle Yudi was so funny. He was always joking. But today was no joke.
Uncle Yudi had gone to the Races first thing this morning, with the money he’d won the day before. He’d left my Mum and me in charge of the shop. I loved helping in the shop. If a customer came in for two ounces of butter, I’d put the two-ounce weight on one side of the scale, then cut off a piece of butter from the ice box, and trim it off to two ounces. I’d pat it into a square with wooden paddles, wrap it in waxed paper, and put the money for it in the till.
Sometimes the customer wanted it on credit, and I’d have to call my Mum to enter it in Uncle Yudi’s credit book. He didn’t know the names of all his customers, so he’d invent nicknames for them, like The Woman With No Nose, or Mrs Scabbydick.
Another customer would come in with her own jug for half a pint of milk. So I’d stand on the stool by the churn and ladle out half a pint into the jug. If a customer didn’t have a jug, I’d pour the milk into one of our bottles, and cap it with a disc on top.
This morning my Mother was just about to leave to do her shopping, when Mrs Yarrow, who lived across the street, came running in. “The Inspector’s on the street, Mrs Simmonds. He’s in the butcher’s next door.” And just then, the Inspector walked in.
“Where’s Yudi,” he said.
“He’s gone out to do his rounds,” my Mum said.
“I’m here to check the milk,” he said. And he poured some milk from the churn into a cup he’d brought, put on a lid, and tucked it into his briefcase. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said, “and I hope Yudi will be here.”
That night, when Uncle Yudi came home, he wasn’t joking. He looked so glum. He said he’d lost all his winnings from the day before. He and my Mum had such a row over it.
“Why do you throw all your money away like that,” my Mum shouted. “If Sam (my Dad) finds out, he won’t talk to you for weeks. Anyway, the Inspector was here today looking for you. He took a sample of the milk from the churn, and said, you’d better be here tomorrow.”
The next morning the Inspector arrived bright and early. “Where’s Yudi,” he said.
“He’s not up yet,” my Mum said.
“Well, get him up. Tell him I’m down here waiting, and I haven’t got all day.”
She roused him, and he was down in a minute.
“First of all,” the Inspector said, “Yudi, pour that churn into the sink. It’s half water. Here’s the summons. You’ll have a nice fine, or spend some time in jail, you will. This has happened before, so you’re in for it.” And he stomped out.
“I’m not going to waste this milk, whatever he says,” Uncle Yudi said. “I’m going to make it into cheese. I’ll keep it until it starts to go sour, put it into cheese bags, and let the whey come out. And then I’ll knot the tips, and put them into the fridge to harden into cottage cheese.”
“But how are you going to pay the fine? You haven’t a penny to your name,” Mum said. “I guess I’ll have to pawn my wedding ring, to get you out of this. It’s real gold. We’ll get enough for it.”
“Pass,” he said, “I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.” My Mum loved my Uncle so, she’d do anything for him.
And she was off to the pawn shop round the corner.
I fetched the white linen sacks, Uncle Yudi poured in the milk, and hung them up to drip into pails underneath, from a small hole he made in the bottom of each.
And we waited for Mum to come back. She had more than enough to pay off the fine. And my Uncle was in business again.
Sure enough, with Uncle Yudi’s winnings, Mum could claim back her ring a couple of weeks later. And we didn’t tell my Dad anything about it. ♦
Kitty Wintrob is the author of “I’m Not Going Back: Wartime Memoir of a Child Evacuee.”
Credits: Kitty Wintrob photo Omar Mosleh/Town Crier; Wikipedia
Do you have comments or questions about this story? Contact Kitty Wintrob at email@example.com
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