For years it sat in a backyard flower bed. Nothing thrived. The toughest annuals barely survived in the glazed clay pot. Shade might be the problem, so I tried to heave the hefty thing to a… More
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Pink streaks of dawn stained the sky when the overnight train from Jaffna ground to a halt at the Fort railway station in Colombo. Clutching his small bag of belongings, the boy stepped out of his carriage, overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of the waking metropolis.
Aunt Rebecca Ponnamma was waiting on the platform, her husband — Uncle Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam — at her side. She waved to catch her nephew’s eye. Rebecca Ponnamma wrapped her arms around her dead sister’s boy and Shadrach heaved a quiet sigh of relief. This was his mother’s flesh and blood. His own.
He was home.
Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers was an intelligent young woman, as beautiful as she was bright. She conversed fluently in English, a bright star at Uduvil Girls’ College where she was awarded a Queen’s Scholarship in 1901 when she obtained her Calcutta University Matriculation Certificate.
School teacher, evangelist, lifelong friend and ally of Dr. Mary Rutnam, Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers was a woman beyond her time.
In 1904 Rebecca married Samuel Alfred Chellathurai Perinpanayagam who was a first cousin. They were both grandchildren of Kadirgamar and Harriet (Theivenei) Danvers. (Kadirgamar Danvers was the first in the family line to convert to Christianity). The couple moved to Colombo where Samuel Alfred was employed by the British firm, Messrs Boustead Brothers. They settled in the then fashionable suburb of Kotahena, where they purchased a home in Silversmith Street (now Bandaranaike Mawatha)
Shadrach found shelter in the kind maternal presence of his aunt and was happy in the home in Kotahena. Barely into his teens, the boy was apprenticed to the British firm, Hoare and Company. Here he was initiated into the hardware business. The job called for hard manual labour and his duties often included heaving heavy bags around on his back.
Young though he was, and now a cog in the wheel of big city life, Shadrak never gave up the daily discipline of a quiet early morning time alone in prayer and scripture-reading.
He clung with steadfast determination to the early discipline of his grandmother’s teaching,
From time to time he paused to open the twelfth-birthday letter from his granny to refresh his memory and savour the words of the blessing scrawled in Tamil script.
“So what do you want to know?” she enquired.
“Everything,” I replied.
She chuckled. “Okay. How much information do you have already?”
“Bits and pieces. There’s a newspaper clipping …”
“What does it say?”
“According to Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote an article which was published in the Morning Star, a young man named Kadirgamar Danvers from Tellipalai was baptized into the Christian faith in 1835. The villagers, angered by the conversion, burned the local church down. Danvers fled to the village of Panditherruppu, where he met and married Anna Saveriyal.”
“There was a lot of missionary activity in Panditherruppu at the time. They were more tolerant towards the converts,” she explained.
“According to Rev. Canagaratnam, Kadirgamar Danvers and Anna had seven children. One of them was Solomon Danvers,who trained as a medical practitioner under the famous Dr. Green of Manipay. An old Bible geneology that came into my possession recently, makes mention of only four offspring.”
The children of Kadirgamar and Anna Danvers (as recorded in the Bible of Solomon Samuel, their great grandson) –
- David Danvers (married Harriet Theivanei)
- Solomon Danvers (married Thangam Vethanayagam)
- Jane Elizabeth Danvers (married Joshua Perinpanayagam)
- Gabriel Danvers (married Mary Santiago)
David Danvers (son of Kadirgamar and Anna) married Harriet Theivanei.
The children of David and Harriet Danvers –
- Mary Chellammah Danvers (married Vethanayagam Samuel)
- Elizabeth Annamma Danvers (married Jacob Arumainayagam)
- Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers (married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam)
“Mary Chellammah married Vethanayagam Samuel, who was your great grandfather,” she said. “Her sister, Rebecca Ponnamma, married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam. Samuel Alfred’s father was Joshua Perinpanayagam, who married Jane Elizabeth Danvers, (the daughter of Kadirgamar and Anna), David Danvers’ sister.”
My head begins to swim in a muddle of recurring last names …
“Ah … so that’s the Perinpanayagam connection. And Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam were first cousins,” I commented. “There’s a connection to the Newtons, too, I noticed …”
“There have been Danvers/Perinpanayagam/ Newton marriages over a few generations,” she replied. “My mother told me the old stories. Now I can pass them on to you and they won’t die with me. I’m so happy you are doing this.”
Her eyes grew misty.
I’m visiting the Colombo home of Aunty Paranidhi, Mum’s cousin. We’ve just met for the first time. She responds with ease to my barrage of questions …
My journey of inquiry commenced shortly after Mum’s funeral in 2015, when I came across a battered copy of a formal family portrait from the 1930’s.
Faded photos on relatives’ Facebook pages – fascinating pictures of men and women from generations gone by – fanned curiosity to a compelling flame.
The search began.
I embarked on a voyage of e-mails, long distance calls and some stamped, addressed pieces of snail mail. Pictures, obituary notices, genealogies and newspaper clippings poured in from all corners of the globe. Through Facebook introductions, Whats App texts and hand-written letters, relatives contacted each other on my behalf, and people I’d only heard of by name leapt onto the ancestry bandwagon.
An inundation of images and information descended on me. Tantalizing clues, fascinating glimpses into a bygone colonial culture and whispers of a skeleton or two in the ancestral cupboards. Riveting. The stuff bestselling novels are made of.
The first stop on the trail led me to Wellawatte (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Aunty Paranidhi. Her eyesight is almost non-existent, but her mind is razor-sharp, her recollection flawless. I see pieces of my mother in the facial features. The family resemblance is evident.
My pen flies across the pages of the notebook I balance on my lap …
“So Mary Chellammah – David and Harriet Danvers’ daughter – was given in marriage to Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. He was a farmer who owned land in Urumbrai –
Vethanayagam Samuel and Mary Chellammah had six children –
- Sarah Chinnamah (married David Sinniah Kanagaratnam)
- Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah (married Annam)
- Shadrack Chinniah Samuel (married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton)
- Elizabeth Thangamma (married Godwin Wesley Sittampalam)
- Anna Chinnathangam (married Albert Kanthapoo)
- Solomon Chinnatamby Samuel (married Mercy Atputhanayagam Gnanaratnam)
“Aunty Renee found handwritten notes in her father’s Bible – that’s the Bible I mentioned. She sent me scanned copies of the geneologies recorded on the fly leaf. My heart almost stopped when I saw how the entries confirm the details set out in Uncle Donald’s article. Just imagine, how information from a source in Australia confirms the data acquired from another source in Western Canada! Within weeks of each other. It has to be providence!”
“Your interest is inspiring,” she commented. “No one seems to care about these things these days. Renee is Solomon Chinnathamby’s daughter. He had ten children. She is my first cousin.”
“Yes, I know. I remember great uncle Solomon Samuel and the annual Christmas visits to his home in Mutwal. ”
“Anna and Solomon were twins,” she continued. “Shadrack Chinniah was your grandfather. Anna Chinnathangam was my mother. And Rebecca Chinnammah was the mother of Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote the article you told me about. He was my cousin and your mother’s.”
“According to the genealogy in the Bible, Anna Saveriyal – Kadirgamar Danvers’ wife – was a Bible Woman,” I noted.
“Bible women worked among the women in the village. They visited the homes, shared the gospel of their faith and cared for them,” she explained.
“I remember your mother,” I said. “We called her Asai Granny. She came to stay with us once when I was about seven years old. I remember the glasses and the white hair knotted at the back of her head. She taught me how to make a rag rug with strips of leftover material and a hairpin. I never forgot that.”
Aunty picks up the threads of her narrative …
“Vethanayagam Samuel, a successful farmer, wanted more land. After the birth of his two oldest children, he relocated his family to Vavuniya in the undeveloped Vanni region of the northern province of Jaffna. In those days, people of the Vanni were considered wild and uncouth, even the British avoided the area, so land was dirt cheap. Samuel disposed of his property in Urumbirai, and with the proceeds from the sale, invested in several acres in Vavuniya. He built a house for his growing family and began to cultivate the land.
Once established and beginning to prosper, Samuel encouraged his brother and family move to Vavuniya and make a new life for themselves. The brother sold his land in Urumbrai and purchased the stretch of property adjoining Samuel’s fields. The families became neighbours.
Vethanayagam Samuel distinguished himself as a prominent citizen and earned the respect of his peers. He was appointed chairman of the village council, which was a position of authority and responsibility.
The were no proper roads in the region. Daily journeys on foot could involve traversing stretches of jungle inhabited by snakes and wild animals. Legend has it that Samuel was skilled in the art of herbal medicine and would venture into the jungle in search of plants for his potions.
The farming life called for disciplined manual labour. The older children, still all under ten, had to wake up at dawn each day to perform assigned chores.
Sarah Chinnammah had the unenviable job of cleaning out the cattle shed. One morning she pretended to be asleep and refused to be roused. Her father, whose task it was to wake her up, finally declared, “If my child is really asleep, her feet will move.”
Rebecca reacted as expected and wiggled her toes. She received a spanking for her naughtiness and was shooed out of bed to complete her daily task.
The twins – Anna and Solomon – were born in Vavuniya. During the pregnancy, an astrologer made a grim proclamation. He declared that the birth would not be a good omen and would bring about the untimely demise of both parents (Samuel and Mary).
Solomon showed no signs of life when he was born. The midwife placed the tiny body on a banana leaf outside on the open verandah of the home and rushed back inside to attend to the mother who had gone into labour with a second baby – a twin – whose appearance was an unexpected surprise. Rebecca, the oldest child, sat beside the lifeless form of her new little brother, shedding tears over the loss. Providence intervened when a fly settled on the infant, who shuddered in response and began to bawl loudly as if nothing had been the matter.
Custom dictated that on the thirty-first day after the delivery of a chid, a traditional ceremony of cleansing (thudakku kaliththal in Tamil) must be carried out. The woman who had given birth would take a ritual herbal bath and the house had to be washed and cleaned from top to bottom.
Vethanayagam Samuel and his wife were about to begin the task of house-cleansing when a message came from the village counsel. Samuel was needed to arbitrate on a matter involving a dispute. Samuel sent word asking to be excused. He requested that the vice chairman to act on his behalf.
A second summons came. The matter was urgent, they said. His presence was mandatory.
Samuel left home on the mission of mediation, assuring his wife he would return in an hour. He conferred with both parties and reached a verdict. The disgruntled man who hadn’t been favoured by the decision, reached for a weapon concealed in his clothing and struck a heavy blow. Samuel’s head split open. Never pausing to retaliate, Samuel re-tied his turban and headed home. Blood gushed down from the wound in his head.
He passed a pond (kulam) as he walked, and saw the family dhoby (washerman) scrubbing his way through a pile of villgers’ clothing.
Samuel stepped in to cool off and dipped his head in the water. The dhoby, concerned to see how the water turned crimson from the blood, reached for some fresh-washed clothing spread out on the ground to dry. Samuel shed his blood-stained linen, donning the clean sarong (veshti) and turban offered by the dhoby. He walked into the house to his waiting wife, stepped over the threshold and announced that he was ready to start cleaning. Then, barely pausing for breath, Vethanayagam Samuel collapsed at her feet and died.
In an instant Mary Chellammah Samuel found herself a widow with six young children on her hands. Rebecca – the oldest – was 10, the twins – Solomon and Anna – were barely a month old.
Rebecca Chinnammah, a child herself, had to take charge of a brood of fatherless siblings while her mother attempted to salvage the pieces of their shattered lives.
Click here to go to Part 2: Widow’s Dilemma
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Fascinated by the art of decoupage as portrayed on Pinterest, I began to look for forlorn bits of this and that at garage sales and thrift stores. Ideas for their transformation simmered and stewed until the magic moment arrived some weeks ago.
The relentless force of it carried me through a fortnight of sanding, painting, gluing, lacquering.
Exhibit One –
A handcrafted stool lurking on a pile of junk in a country thrift store. One word: hideous. The darling drawer with the dangly handle was my undoing.
A coat of Dollarama paint, two favourite hymns on the top and all around …
Et voila ! A quirky stool to tuck into a corner. For occasional extra seating …
Exhibits 2 & 3 – Plain brown wood straight-backed chair and child’s rocking chair –
Forgot to take pre-painted ‘before’ pictures …
There’s a story to tell …
I’d hunted fruitlessly for wrapping paper or paper napkins with an old fashioned sort of rose design.
Months go by …
A week before Easter my friend, Gail presented me with a bouquet of lilies. The bridal blooms were done up in a layer of tissue paper printed all over with … red roses. The exact kind I was looking for. The attached card was from the florist at the mall up the street.
Woo hoo! Can’t wait to get going. Transformation time. Decoupage, here I come …
Pleasing finale. Tissue paper roses on garage sale salvage …
That old flip-top table could do with a matching makeover.
Rose-covered table to set off the seats. Lovely …
Gail’s tissue paper yielded just enough for the two chairs – nothing left over.
Flash of inspiration. The mall florist might have a sheet or two to spare.
So I went.
Me: I received a bouquet of flowers from your store some days back. It was wrapped in an unusual tissue paper with a beautiful rose print on it …
Pretty straight forward, huh?
Florist guy: Yeah. I know the one you mean. You know what’s weird, though?
…. We never ordered that kind. We never have. Don’t know why they came here.
Opens drawer and fishes around …
…They’re all gone. Guess the girls used them up. And we won’t …
Me: … be getting anymore.
Florist Guy: Weird, huh? As I said, we never ordered it. We only use the plain kind.
Weird all right …
Roses on two chairs AND a table would have been overkill anyway.
So I covered the table top with white lace, edged with baby ribbon.
Love the finished effect …
I paused to ponder on the Tale of the Florist and the Tissue Paper
A light went on –
There’s a dream waiting to come alive in every rejected thing and there’s a dream-bringer who makes it happen. At the top of the chain is the Dreamgiver who creates the dream, orchestrates and manipulates events to make it all come true …
This poor monstrosity has lived in the basement since forever –
Just had another idea for a fabulous furniture facelift.
Watch out for the next Cinderella table-metamorphosis story coming to this blog!
I love breathing new life into dull, dead things. Adore the thought of being prompted by a dream-giver.
So there’s really no such thing as junk …
Thankful for beauty-basking-beneath-ugly-if-you-only-choose-to-look.
Thankful for dreams.
There’s always another dream. And then the next one. And the next.
Can’t stop dreaming, no matter what!
Until next time,
P.s. ‘Crafty’ weekend guests offer invaluable input. Thank you Roshini!
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“Come on … poems? On your blog? Forget it!”
Crushed by the vehemence in her voice …
“Why not?” I felt two inches tall.
“Don’t want to hurt your feelings and all, but nobody reads that kind of poetry anymore!”
“You mean with rhyme and stuff?”
“But the world’s a stage”, my eyes pleaded. “It’s teeming with actors. They beckon and beg for someone to observe, pick up a pen and weave tall tales.”
Which is how Chronicles of Archie-Baldia came into being.
Meet Uncle Archibald …
Archie loves life. Harriet is his stoic spouse, unwitting co-star of hilarious hubby’s boisterous adventures. Aunty H is also on her own matchmaking mission to marry off her spinster pals, the Greying Gals.
So no one reads ‘that kind of poem’ anymore. Would you listen to one dramatized and spoken aloud, costume and all?
Here it is — first in the series. Old fashioned music hall-type farce. Slapstick comedy-in-rhyme … narrated for your listening pleasure.
An experiment to titillate the tired literary palate of the jaded twenty-first century non-reader of poetry. Archibald makes his debut at the Marriott Hotel in –
Uncle’s Rollicking Rumba!
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So what’s the verdict?
“Laugh and the world laughs with you”, as Mum used say …
Thankful for the folks I find. Fabulous fodder to feed this frenzied imagination!
Until next time,
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Life’s poignant vignettes erupt at unexpected moments.
Like that time in the hotel in Delhi …
She hovered uncertainly and looked anxious. Out of place in a sprawling hotel lobby teeming with tourists and brass-buttoned bellboys.
A bouquet of flowers in her hand. Red roses, in orange florist’s wrapping.
A dark swathe of garment flowed from the crown of her head all the way down to her heels. Only the hands were open to scrutiny. And the eyes. Beautiful eyes.
Elegance and grace.
He stepped up from behind. A brief exchange of words and she relaxed. The fabric of her shroud merged into the black of the couch.
The quiet tête-à-tête played out in the mirrored wall behind them.
His eyes never left hers. She leaned towards him. An ease, a pleasant familiarity in their interaction.
A glint of gold flashed on her fourth finger. I caught my breath.
The blinding brightness of Diwali, the annual Hindu Festival of Lights, crawled all over the streets outside, dripping off buildings and dangling from trees.
India ablaze …
… with light —
Bargain hunters poured into late-closing stores, negotiating traffic-snarled streets. Pavement hawkers squawked and beckoned.
Loud distraction painted the cosmopolitan metropolis and seeped into the marbled luxury of the hotel.
She nodded and waved a slender hand. The band of gold gleamed in the light of the crystal chandeliers.
Her eyes smiled.
The aching weight of might-have-been.
Playing with fire …
And then there was Farah …
My tiny friend flirted toothlessly and allowed me to hold her when harrassed-mom-of-three-kids-under-six looked like she could do with a break.
She nodded off from time to time and I caught this moment in cameo. It touched my heart –
as I recalled lines from the Psalms –
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast. (Psalm 131:2)
A powerful visual image.
There is an air of haughty luxury about some Middle Eastern airports –
and a mysterious modesty surrounds the veiled women –
The preoccupation with cellphones, of course, is global –
In the Middle East …
In India …
Sri Lanka …
A worldwide phenomenon, here to stay.
Does one even remember life before mobile devices?
Thankful for leisured people-watching fiestas during long layovers at far-flung international airports. Life at its unselfconscious best.
And thankful to be home.
Puppy found his present …
Until next time,
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The sun glowed orange during rush hour this morning. My heart sagged under a weight of joy and I slowed down to take pictures –
I almost sent them off to you.
Then I remembered …
I recalled a recent dialogue we had.
Me: Could I use these pictures of you, please? There’s such a beauty about you that’s riveting.
You: You can use every picture you want. You don’t have to ask. Surprise me!
So I’m surprising you today …
You: How long was your fight with cancer?
Me: The cancer battle was over a year and a half. My oncologist calls me a success case (I prefer miracle patient). I don’t look like myself in the picture, do I? Within two weeks of your first chemo, the hair starts falling out and you mutate into someone else. I began to practice intentional thankfulness. When gratitude seeps in, joy is not too far behind. Those were beautiful, dark, lovely, intense and precious times. God sends angels, as you know, in many shapes and forms.
You: I don’t look like myself anymore, either. I was always on the go. Now it is my mind that is on fast.
The aircraft commenced its descent into Halifax last Thursday afternoon and my thoughts overflowed with vignettes from your heart –
- My mum sent the pink rose to me today … just because. The Ford Escape is on the lawn because Cam wanted me to see it. He just bought it yesterday as a second vehicle. My wheelchair van rides low so it’s not practical for snowy days ahead. I always loved a Ford Escape and Cam would drive a van.
- We have a cottage on the Bay of Fundy and watch the tides go in and the tides go out. Nature at its best. September is a special time. Most cottagers are only there on weekends, so the solitude and beauty is magnified. My paradise …
Your beloved Cameron –
- Cam and our brother-in-law are re-shingling the back of the cottage. It has been a busy day. For me, the moments when I can look out the window and see the eagle fly, sandpipers having their last meals before heading to South America and the magnificent clouds being reflected in both water and wet mud are highlights of my soul.
- Today it was 29 degrees and sunny, so I went out in my wheelchair to enjoy. On impulse I drove on my lawn around to my gardens to see the tulips and bleeding heart. I felt free until my wheelchair got stuck in soggy lawn. Resourceful Cam got blocks of wood and we managed to get out. BUT my tires were full of mud. Cam cleaned as much as he could off and them I wheeled myself in. A flashback hit me. How many times had I told the boys NOT to wear their dirty boots in the house? Cam, patient Cam, has been working at getting the wheels clean ever since!!!
JOY was your three-letter codeword –
- Went to the Festival of Lights today in Wolfville, where Cam and I met while going to Acadia University. At the farmer’s market, it was all about Indian food and entertainment. I got a dragonfly and the word JOY done with henna and several Indian silk scarves for Christmas gifts.
- I am waking up immediately to JOY in the morning for the next couple of weeks.
- What made my day? My careworker this morning for 4 hours was Holly. Someone that previously had only been there for my half hour tuck-ins at night. We were sitting at my kitchen table in the sun, when I asked her about her heart-shaped ring … and that was my further joy for the day.
You infused JOY into every moment, Judy, distilled, savoured, sipped on it, then infected the air you breathed and intoxicated those around you.
You: There is no such thing as coincidence.
Absolutely. I agree …
You: Maybe I came into your life to show you the other side of ALS. The joyful side.
You did just that. And you did it so well …
Your boys: your pride and JOY –
- Tim is home. Happy heart.
- Just got back from taking Tim to the airport. What a lovely visit and a wonderful son. He left such wonderful memories behind.
- Andrew came home on Friday and stays till this Friday. Check him out on You Tube in the Hot Fireman ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Click here to watch Judy standing at Andrew’s side as he takes up the challenge.)
Matthew was home from Wednesday to Saturday. Shared the big news that Laura is pregnant! Be still my heart. We are so blessed.
Those grandbabies –
- Got a wonderful card in the mail today, with an ultrasound picture on the front and the announcement inside saying “It’s a boy!” Our third grandson is due the end of October. The Starrit genes were working again. OverJOYed!!!!
- He was born yesterday and all is right with the world. 8lb 11 0z of pure JOY! Yesterday was such an emotional day. Waiting, wondering, wishing, praying. And then the phone call came. Rejoicing, heart exploding, celebrating our new JOY! And then by 10.00 at night, emotional breakdown. Thinking about what I will be missing in his future, but being so overjoyed he is here. A part of me.
- He’s Henry now. Named after Cam’s dad. We are still on our baby high. Will be for quite a while.
- Cam just stenciled a picture of him onto a pillowcase.
- Tomorrow Andrew, Findlay and Eamon are coming for Thanksgiving weekend. I am beyond excited!!!
- I have arranged for the pilot, Debbie, of the only plane that travels to Sable Island, to come and speak about her experiences.
- I took pictures, but my hands were unsteady with excitement.
- Eamon just messaged me. Andrew is taking them to a movie. He likes to keep me informed.
Your sister —
- Tonight Linda comes. Any minute now.
- Linda is here and we are going to listen to the sixth CD of the Book Of Joy, a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. This is our sixth Monday night doing it …
… and the whacky, wonderful friends –
- My friend, Mary, and sister are coming out to play a card game called Quiddler. A weekly event. I am on a winning streak.
- Mary brings muffins for Cam
- My tree is trimmed and …
… the Wild and Woolies are coming at 4.00. Laughter will abound.
- The Wild and Woolies have been getting together for over thirty years
Don’t forget the goats …
- Andrew and Cam have just taken the goats up the hill for a walk. If we let them loose too close to the house, they would eat all the flowers coming up …
- I always have flowers in my view. I even got flowers for Father’s Day!
Gotta be kid-ding – goats at a wedding?(The “kids” are included in Andrew and Shantel’s backyard nuptials) …
… and the chickens (of course) —
- Just had the chickens playing the xylophone at my window.
- Homecare just arrived, but chickens come first!
On living with ALS –
- I have a whole new view on listening. My boogie board is my voice now. People don’t wait until I finish writing and assume what I’m going to say and rush off to do their own thing. Also, they read it wrong, and I have to get their attention and underline a word or words.
- It cost less than $30 at Costco.
- I WAS a talker!
- I do most of my writing on my phone now.
- I am using my BiPAP for about 20 hours a day. It gives me the freedom of not having to think every time I take a breath. The strength in my hands has diminished as well. I will NOT let that keep me from living a full life but it has put limitations on what I can do. ALS sucks sometimes.
Sucks? The beast stinks …
- Thank you, my dearest friend, for caring so much
You have no idea how much, Judy …
About the annual ALS Walkstrong fundraising campaign —
- Success. Beyond resounding! My mind is still going. Still walking. Still enjoying yesterday. There were 59 people, including care-workers, friends and family on Judy’s Joys. I am blessed Truly blessed.
- Took 5-6 days to get over the walk. SO worth it!
We shared our rainbows, you and I —
In your home …
… in mine –
You: We are definitely sisters from another mother.
There’s no doubt about that!
You: The physical meeting somehow eludes us, but we are so much beyond that. We are so much closer than that. What we have done for each other is beyond friendship.
Me: Can’t wait to meet you, Judy. It will be odd, though. Kind of like having a first date after being married for a year!
You: I, too, want to meet you! If I could, I would be on a plane now. But the other side of reality is that I know I won’t be travelling by plane anymore. Too many uncertainties.
You: Wish, wish you lived nearby. Always thinking about you.
Me: Me too. I love how Cam cares for you, love the chickens, love the red bike. I even love your ghastly puns!
You: Our friendship goes much deeper. I needed you as much as you needed me. You took me outside of myself.
- By the way, Cam is going to mail a parcel to you tomorrow. No parcel from you yet. Tomorrow.
Your parcel arrived by express post on December 23rd. Icicles dripped off the eaves as the mailman hopped from one foot to the other and blew on his hands, while I hastily inscribed a signature on the electronic board he held out to me.
Such a treasure trove of thoughtful things inside …
Me: Did you make the Scrabble ornament? Love it!
You: Bought it at the ALS sale.
Me: It was meant for me.
You: I found your DREAMS, didn’t I?
You sure did!
We called on Christmas Eve, before heading out to church. Husband, Daughters and I sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas on speakerphone. Cam said you raised your arms in delight and crossed your hands over your heart.
On Christmas day we shared cameo moments.
You sent me –
and I sent these –
- Isn’t this fun?
- Our house was always the ‘go to’ house at Christmas. I used to make rolls and shape them in the form of wreaths and Christmas trees. Decorate them, of course, and wrap them in clear, cellophane with fancy ribbons. That is a thing of the past now, but Christmas still comes and goes!
I sent you a song on Saturday night. It came with my heart. Your response set my heart ablaze.
Click here to listen …
I picked up Cameron’s message on Sunday afternoon. You crossed over an hour after we last messaged each other.
Cousin Preman met me at the airport and drove me to the afternoon and evening visitations.
I met Cam and Linda, Mum and your boys. And the Wild and Woolies, of course.
Linda told me she’d packed my Christmas box of goodies for Cam to mail. She recognized the necklace I wore.
I laughed with the Wild and Woolies. Such stories they had to tell …
It felt like I’d known your friends and family forever.
Your final farewell on Friday was one immense celebration of joy. The church was packed.
An unusual, uplifting occasion. You planned it all yourself, Linda said in her tribute.
Your beloved Bhangra Boys danced their hearts out.
(Click here to dance with Judy and her Bhangra Boys, on her birthday last year.)
I picked up my tea bag and one of your dainty, embroidered white hankies on my way out.
(Click here for photos and video clips of Judy’s funeral Celebration of Joy)
It felt strange to visit your home on Saturday. To walk up the ramp and knock at your kitchen door.
Joy all over the house, pouring from every corner.
Cam and I sat in your room. We chatted like we’d known each other forever.
My Christmas package finally made it out to you after New Year’s, he told me. Two days before your final departure. Cam said you smiled when he showed it to you
He showed me your rubber chickens. I peeped into the henhouse on my way out.
You wrote three months ago: PS: Oct 11 – went to my regular 3 month appointment with all the specialists today. They are all pleased with how I’m doing …
The only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability, isn’t it?
I’m sipping, as I remember and write, from the mug I found nestled in my surprise Christmas box.
The dragonfly brightens my kitchen window. I love how it begins to burn when the sun seeps through.
We never said ‘hello’ in person, Judy. I never got to write about what I discovered in the bombed out jungle graveyard in Tellipallai, Jaffna. This was not how our Dear Judy travel series was supposed to end.
I’m thankful you found this blog and reached out in joyful friendship.
(Click here to read how we met)
Thank you, my courageous friend. You are proof that a purpose-driven life does not necessarily embrace a bed of roses. You were a true and unique gift.
- Loving you from afar. Love, xx Judy
I love you too, Judy …
We’ll meet face-to-face. On the other shore some day, when my own journey’s done.
His Master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the JOY of your master.” (Matthew 25:23 RSV)
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The snow’s piled up outside.
Summer still clings to my head in spite of the skeletal trees brooding outside my window.
Okay, so returning to warmer times in sunny climes …
We are now in Jaffna, Judy. Part Two of our virtual travels together, you and I —
Click here to read Good Morning (Again) Colombo! (Dear Judy, Part 1) …
We drove into Tellippalai where Dad’s parents settled on their return to Ceylon (Sri Lanka’s pre-republic name) from the British colony of Malaya, shortly after World War II. Grandpa, a communications officer under the British government, took up the post of Airport Controller in the neighbouring town of Palaly.
Ghosts of war-time devastation lined our route. Cringing skeletons of bombed out buildings still haunt this once-upon-a-time ghost town.
A trickle of former war regugees are returning after decades of absence. Several unclaimed properties are now in government hands …
Desolate brick-and-motar wraiths of buildings steadfastly guard their ground –
So on day three of our odyssey, Husband and I found ourselves at the entrance of the graveyard attached to the Church of the American Ceylon Mission.
The rubble of shattered gravestones poked their way through tall vegetation, thorny underbrush and rope-like vines. A tangled tatch of tropical jungle.
Yikes! How trustworthy is the church caretaker who said there were no snakes?
But I have to tell you first about the journey leading up to this moment, Judy.
So this is how it came about …
Husband and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit our ancestral homelands in the Jaffna Peninsula, a war zone for decades and only recently open to tourists.
How to figure out the details in such a short space of time?
I remembered Yamindra Watson Perera of Jungle Fowl Leisure Planners
— and presented my wish list to Mariesz, her assistant. A demanding cut-and-paste itinerary, a combination of every location in the area associated with family history and lore. Neither lady turned a hair.
Mariesz: No. So sorry, we are still in the process of setting up our site for online payments.
Me: (wailing) But I don’t have time to go to the bank!
Yamindra and Mariesz showed up at Dad’s condo the next afternoon, with Accountant Lady and credit card machine in tow.
Impressive service or what?
All booked and paid up by the time Husband flew in from Toronto.
Still pitch-dark. Growling clouds burped and released a deluge as we drove away.
Rest stop and a scalding pot of Ceylon tea in the ancient city of Anuradhapura –
And it’s well past the hottest time of year …
Landscape grows arid, parched and thirsty.
A paradox-panorama of war and peace as we fly by –
Crossed Elephant Pass, a sliver of strait connecting the northern province to the rest of the island, sandwiched on either side by shallow stretches sea.
Welcome to Jaffna, the traditional homeland of the Tamil people …
Zipped through Vavuniyya, then Chavakacheheri —
— and on to Jaffna town.
A different ambiance manifests beyond Elephant pass. It’s unique, distinct.
Ladies on bicycles –
— scooters and motorbikes –
Neatly draped sarees and all …
Scooters/ motorbikes are the new, affordable middle class family vehicles –
A plethora of Hindu temples at every corner –
Temple architecture is typically South Indian …
Ancient deities –
– worshipped in nooks and under spreading trees –
Sages and ascetics, some long dead ..
… and some still very much alive —
A distinct, bright South Indian flavour in the traditional women’s fashions –
One-of-a-kind cuisine –
‘Holy’ cows roam the streets unchallenged —
Ubiquitous stray dogs-
A conservative culture still –
Check out the sign, Judy. Chuckling with you …
Discreet couples sneak into quiet corners away from the prying eyes …
A certain demureness about the young women. Untainted grace and elegance.
Long tresses, often worn in a single braid, still the order of the day –
(1) Shopping malls boasting …
… beauty parlours and bright billboards
(2) Supermarkets –
Shopping in airconditioned comfort versus haggling over prices at the local market …
(3) Upscale tourist hotels –
(4) Mobile phones –
(5) … and Tom Cruise!
Niranjan slowed down to point out the ruins of the old Kachcheri –
The bombed remains of the Kachecheri (district secretariat), a maginificent Dutch-era seat of administration. It’s modern replacement sits across the street ..
and other landmarks around town :
– The Jaffna Public Library and clock tower –
- Imprints of King Sangilian, last ruler of the Jaffna Kingdom
Lingered awhile in the amazingly well- preserved home of King Sangilian’s minister.
How it survived the war is a mystery …
– The teaching hospital
– And ever-present phantoms of the past
Remains of once-magnificent Dutch-era architecture –
(Click here to take a haunting walk through the shattered ruins of an old Dutch-period mansion.)
Carefully slid camera under barbed wire fence to get this one. No one could identify the sprawling ruins, probably a palace, across the street from our hotel. The damage is definitely pre-war, from ceturies of neglect. Thick tree trunks grow out of remnants of walls.
No fanfare or signage for many ancient abandoned Hindu worship-places squatting by the roadside –
A sense of unhurried uncomplexity about life in this region. As if it’s just awakening from a long sleep.
Fluorescent lights, after-sundown markets and shops groaning with made-in-China and other items in varying violent shades of neon –
The three-storey Rio Ice Cream parlour with its wide variety of modestly-priced sundaes, is the place to visit these days.
A constant stream of tourists spill out of loaded buses …
The place is popular with couples anxious to hide from nosey parkers.
In a culture of arranged marriages, young women have to be cautious about ‘spoiling’ their names and ruining future ‘chances’ …
Popped in at Aunty Sothy’s old house, occupied for years by the LTTE and then the military. Street numbers and names have changed. It took some locating.
Then on to some vanishing landmarks of the LTTE –
– The unmarked site of the slain Tamil Tiger leader, Prabhakaran’s home –
– and the remains of a Tamil Tiger war-themed children’s playground –
Built for children raised to hate and kill. Sent unpleasant chills up my back …
Must-see tourist spots –
- Nilavarai – the bottomless well –
- Keerimalai (Mongoose Springs) –
There is a more evident Buddhist presence these days, in this former enclave of Hinduism –
Sunday morning service at St John’s Church, Chundikuli, where Mum’s parents were married –
Click here to sing along in Tamil with the congregation of St John’s …
The minister gave us access to old vestry records …
The ones that survived …
… and introduced us to David, who led us to the little churchyard –
… and pointed out tombs and monuments of interest –
Such a thrill to locate the site of Mum’s grandpa Charles’ grave …
Niranjan invited us to visit his ancestral home.
He shrugged when I enquired enthusiastically if there were plans for restoration and renovations in the near future.
“Who has the money?”
Framed family photos still adorn the walls, dusty books distintegrate on cupboard shelves, clothing and kichen untensils scattered on the floor while a rusty parrot cage languishes in the yard outside –
Signs of hasty retreat …
Me: Is there any bitterness in your heart, Nirangan?
Niranjan: No. The people of the north accept that war is a political machine. Soldiers are paid to do a job and follow orders. Without acceptance and forgiveness, there is no way of moving on. Besides, we are tired of war and the stagnation it brings.”
Niranjan was born into war, a child of the horrendous ethnic conflict that saw a death toll of over one hundred thousand civilians. His eyes clouded over when he described the growing up years without electricity or leisure activities, when he had to do his homework by the light of a kerosene-fuelled hurricane lamp. When there were no sounds of boys playing cricket in the dirt lanes outside the garden gates. When no one dared step into the dusty streets after sundown. When schools ceased to operate, childhood ceased to exist and young people disappeared, never to be seen again. When every young man was suspected of being a terrorist and subjected to unspeakable horrors, or seen as a potential recruit for the Tamil Tiger cause and expected to perpetrate such horrors.
He talked of the time he was conscripted into the LTTE, months before the end of the war –
Against his will …
– and when the militants surrendered and the army closed in. The memories grew ugly and burdensome. He changed the subject.
Sometimes the eyes speak what the lips cannot utter. There’s a heaviness in the air …
Nirangan: No more tears. Why dwell on the past? Sinhalese is spoken on the streets as much as the Tamil language now.
I asked if I could write his story and he agreed to sit down and talk the next time I visited Sri Lanka.
I purchased a hurricane lamp –
A souvenir to remember the many years determined young people of Niranjan’s generation excelled academically despite deprivations and hindrances …
And now I should return to the beginning and the jungle-graveyard in Tellipalai, shouldn’t I? But I’m all out of time, Judy. I’m so sorry. In the next post, I promise. Probably not until after the New Year though.
Tons of Christmas stuff still to get done . I’m really behind this year …
If you should happen to know anyone who’s thinking of exploring Sri Lanka in an off-the-beaten-track sort of way, I would recommend Jungle Fowl. The service is personal and prompt. The team is with it, knowledgeable and passionate. An exciting, different kind of travel service, to be sure.
Stay warm, my friend. Loving this country as I do, the tropics still run in my veins. I’d be happy to remain indoors from December all the way to March, if I had the choice.
So thankful for the freedom we take so much for granted in this wonderful country of my adoption.
God keep our land, glorious and free,
Merry Christmas, my inspiring friend. You are a truly remarkable lady.
Thinking of you with affection.
All my love until next time,
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Splashes of butter and blood met my eye when I looked through the kitchen window, just two weeks ago. Time to put the terra cotta flower pots away in the garage.
So summer’s officially done.
I messaged you two months ago: What can I bring you from Sri Lanka?
You replied: Send me pictures of your culture.
Puppy had the usual anxiety attack. Suitcases are a rotten omen, as far as he’s concerned.
I decided to visit Dad later in the year, to avoid the hot season. Got fried last April.
Texted Aunty Rom (who’s not really my aunt!): I’m arriving in Colombo in two weeks. Looking forward to our morning walks.
The familiar sense of homecoming as the plane touched down on the tarmac. I’ve spent more than half my life away from the motherland.
Sinhalese words came diffidently to my lips, then slid out with fluency. It takes my tongue a few minutes to get acclimatized.
Dad’s driver was waiting outside. He cranked up the air conditioning. The roads were congested, though it was still early in the morning.
A bewildering sea of highrises punctured the sky around me.
Colombo is currently the fastest growing metropolis in Asia, I’ve been told …
The Lotus Tower , dominates the skyline.
Rush hour traffic is in full swing and Dad’s just waking up when we get home.
Everything’s spick and span, crisp linen in the guest room, a fresh breeze and the sun streaming in through the open balcony doors.
A resounding emptiness, though. A sort of hollow ache as the eye alights on an empty rocking chair, the laptop idling under a dustcloth and the vacant seat beside Dad’s easy chair in front of the living room TV.
It’s been two and a half years. Hard to believe.
I missed Mum’s embrace, her radiant smile.
“How are you, my darling girl?”
Dad drove us to Independent Square in the evening to catch some fresh air. I struggled to keep awake.
This is my Dad, Judy.
He was a strikingly handsome man in his day.
Independence Square is a great place for people-watching. I got unobtrusively busy with my camera.
A change of scene the next evening, when Dad headed for Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park). An imposing statue of Queen Victoria appears to have materialized out of nowhere.
There’s a different ambiance in this space, besides the gnarly, mammoth trees, probably planted in Victorian times —