Summer’s done. Trees begin to burn with autumn angst.
Backyard bursts with bloom. Garden glows.
A shaft or sunlight swoops down on Kneeling Angel. She shines against an emerald veil of vines. My heartbeat halts for a fraction of a stunned second and I’m all awash with the delight of summer past, the fascinating fragrance of my Secret Garden.
Such a summer of serendipity it has been. Such finds …
Like I’m pushed to pass by just when this stuff is outside, begging to be taken and pleading for a new destiny.
Click on the arrow below to savour 30 seconds of my Secret Summer Sweetness …
Which brings me to my Last Summer Serendipity …
Saturday morning, off to the mall. Spy something intriguing as we drive by. Little vintage school desks. The kind with a bench attached to the front of it. There’s a pair of them. In front of the old house that has a pile of stuff out each week, ancient things, free for the taking. Sometimes there’s a handwritten sign on a large white board: For Sale.
I have an image in my head. Of a chronic hoarder, who’s amassed stuff for years, urgently requiring to rid himself of a huge pile of junk.
“Could we check them out on our way back?” I ask.
So shopping done and happy hubby holding the first new suit he’s acquired in years, we head homewards.
The desks are gone.
It’s only been an hour …
“Maybe they took them back inside,” he suggests.
“Why would they? There must be someone like me on the prowl! We should have stopped right away!”
“But there was no room in the car.”
I feel forlorn.
I remember from time to time in a sad kind of way and when I do, I whisper, “Please, if he’s right and the owner took them back in, let me pass by when they’re out again …”
A fortnight goes by. Then one day, on my way to the dentist, my gaze strays to my left … and …
… they’re back.
U-turn, park in a by-lane and trot over to inspect. These are not from the ’50s as I’d guessed … the two darling desks are relics from the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth century.
Straight out of a late-Victorian era classroom or Anne of Green Gables novel. There are holes for the inkwells and circular openings in the ornate cast-iron legs to bolt them down to a wooden floor.
Be still, my heart!
The munchkin school furniture is chained together on the grass by the kerb. The chains are solid. Rusty. I waltz up the driveway. There’s an elderly gent sitting on an aged white garden chair, staring out into space by his garage door.
Waiting for customers …
“Are these for sale?”
He’s all I imagined he’d be.
Self-confessed hoarder. Eighty eight years old.
The house is hidden behind the trees. Possibly the last of the original homes on the avenue.
“I have a garage full of things,” he mumbles. “I’m tired now. Just want to get rid of them and go.”
He shrugs. “Found them downtown. They were tearing down an old schoolhouse, I think. Don’t remember. I pick things up. They’ve sat in my garage for over 30 years. ”
We agree on a price. For one of them. I’d like to have both, but the other one’s already taken.
I ask if he’s got old books. He shows me. A load in the entrance-way, tidily packed in boxes for donation, awaiting pick up.
“Help yourself,” he says. “They belonged to my wife. I never had time for books. But was she ever a reader!”
Mustn’t be greedy. I’m running out of shelf space at home.
I pick 20 hardcover copies — many from the fifties — several first editions and a 100 year-old beauty. The books are in marvellous condition. Most of them in vinyl cover-protectors. They look brand new.
Cared for by a woman who delighted in her books …
He invites me inside and I enter a rabbit warren of rooms in the Land that Time Forgot.
There’s some medical equipment, fine china and a collection of miniature cars. I take pictures and promise to put the items on Kiji on his behalf.
We sit at the kitchen table and chat awhile.
“My wife had a computer. She was an accountant. She did all that kind of stuff. Now she’s at the nursing home and that’s all I have …” He points to an old wall phone from the seventies, looking lost on the kitchen table.
“I live like a hobo, I’m sorry,” he adds.
“Don’t be,” I reply. “I’m amazed at how you’re coping. I’d love to help. Could I bring you some meals – dinner once a week, maybe?”
“No. Food is not a problem. I take those.” He shows me a crate of protein shakes.
“And there’s a collection of china teacups and stuff … my wife used to have tea parties. People don’t do that kind of thing anymore …”
“I do, actually!”
He mentions the wife a lot. I admire the faded cross-stitch pictures on the walls — her handiwork, he tells me. “But no one does that kind of stuff anymore.”
I do, actually!
“Could I take a photo of you with the desk?”
“But I’m honest,” he protests.
I smile. “Not because I don’t trust you. I’d like to record this moment.”
“Oh … okay!”
He sits and strikes a pose. I click.
He picks the desk up with effortless ease. It’s heavy.
“You’re strong,” I comment.
“You don’t know what I had to do for my wife until two years ago,” he replies airily.
There’s something endearing about him.
“It’s hard to dispose of your entire life,” he adds.
I see desolation in his eyes.
“I can only imagine,” I sympathize softly.
His sadness reaches me.
Goodbye Lifetime of Yesterdays …
I remember that I’m not as young as I used to be and reaffirm my resolve to squeeze every last precious drop out of the rest of my life.
I’ve been back to visit a couple of times. Bought more stuff for myself and on behalf of a friend.
His name is Albert. I call him Mr. A.
It’s kind of a privilege to have met him.
As I said … such a summer it has been, of delightful discoveries and intriguing encounters.
Sweet, surreal serendipity …
Until next time,
PS: Pause to breathe and linger in this year’s Secret Garden. Take a stroll in the Garden of Dreaming 2019 and savour the splendour of this summer past …
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.
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 onChristmas 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!
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.
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 —
… it’s the lovers cuddling beneath the colossal branches!
For as far as the eye can see …
Maybe because someone forgot to put up a sign like this one —
Tongue in cheek, of course …
Around six o’clock, dusk begins to fall and uniformed decency police appear to guard the morals of the nation. The amorous pairs are shooed out of the park.
Don’t laugh, Judy. I’m not fibbing – honest!
Three-wheeler tuk tuks swarm all over the city like a plague of locusts. They are the quickest and most precarious mode of transport in this traffic-choked city. The captions adorning the bodywork often had me chuckling —
So why is this one stuffed into the open doorway of an empty showroom?
Still good old tuk tuks are the go-to mode of emergency transport, I’ve often resorted to myself. A wild ride. Kids find it a hoot.
Uber is the latest trend, though, and so much cheaper with heavenly airconditioned vehicles …
I was up all night for the first ten days, Jet lag kills me. It gets worse with the passage of time.
The early walks with Aunty Rom were my day’s highlight.
In spite of these urgings –
and the necessary tools left lying around —
… and these willing workers
— the streets looked uncared for, garbage piled up in corners, picked over by crows and stray dogs.
A disappointing regression since the government changed hands.
The supervised disposal of crow’s nests has been abadondoned, Aunty Rom tells me.
Animal rights activists or government cutbacks. Don’t recall …
The morning walks energized me, Judy. I began each day embracing the essence of the city with all its quirks and complexities.
I remember this woman from last year —
The homeless slumber on –
… and the dogs —
Vigorously cleaning business premises —
At the bus stop. To school and work –
And so the day begins –
Early morning moments –
Some of my favourite moments, captured just for you, Judy –
The streets at peace half an hour before morning mayhem breaks out –
Business is brisk at the food truck –
Aunty Rom and I pass these two every morning –
Aunty Rom pauses to pick up her newspaper –
From time to time she suprised me with a detour. Like the time we popped in at Uncle Chandi and Aunty Christine’s home and sat for a while chatting.
I acquired a new aunty when I took this picture last year.
Found out later that the smiling woman was the employee of Aunty Rom’s friend, Sharmini.
Only in Sri Lanka …
Newest aunt, Sharmini,invited us both over for breakfast one Tuesday morning. Aunty Rom and I walked over. We’d been Facebook friends since the photo incident, and met face to face for the first time today.
Warm, generous Sri Lankan hospitality …
Welai had prepared a delicious meal of pol roti, chicken curryand spicy, accompaniments. Fresh bananas for dessert.
So good …
She was all dressed up to meet us and quite overwhelmed to encounter the camera lady once again!
New aunty has a lovely Secret Garden.
The sun rode high in the sky. Too sticky to walk. Aunty Rom and I took a tuk tuk back home.
The next week, Aunty Rom, New Aunty and I went to breakfast at the Commons Coffee House, steps away from new auntySharmini’s home.
Scrumptious cheese toast with good friends, all because I made a random click on my I Pad …
Some mornings Aunty Rom surprised me with a different route (to feed my appetite for photography), pointing out stately homes. Many of them are commercial buildings now.
The remaining single unit homes lurk behind high fortress-type fortification walls and iron gates.
A handful old mansions still remain private residences –
… a couple of them in varying stages of disrepair.
Love how flowers and foliage create waterfalls of colour along walls and from balconies —
Destructive love language along the sidewalk …
Architecture and construction accommodate behemoth trees –
The iconic Cricket Club Café has changed locations. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the old location is for sale —
… or not!
Paradise Road Galleries on Dad’s street has been torn down –
to make way for yet another highrise.
Found time to browse at Dean the Bookman’s secondhand store –
This is the old colonial cemetery where we buried Mum two and a half years ago, Judy.
I’ve just discovered the beauty of the old memorial monuments. Wonder why I’ve never noticed before. I was almost tempted to stand in the sunshine and recite Victorian elegies, surrounded by discoloured Italian marble gravestones. Some of the sculptures are really quite exquisite.
China is pumping money into this country. Thousands of Chinese construction workers are swarming all over the city of Colombo.
This is the future Port City, a Chinese enterprise –
The ocean at Galle Face, where generations of Colombo dwellers came to relax and enjoy the fresh, salt air is gone. The Galle Face Green where you could fly kites, buy a cone from the Alerics ice cream van and have a ride on a sad, mangy pony, barely exists anymore. What’s left of it is all withered and brown.
Not sure how smart an idea this Port City is, politically speaking …
Slave Island is the dizziest hub of construction in the city –
The sights and sounds of Sri Lanka, Judy, are very much like India, with a lot less people, of course, and not as colourful. And less dirt, I suppose.
The varied face of Colombo fascinates me –
The flexibilty of the Sri Lankan woman is pretty amazing …
Umbrellas, come rain or sun —
Tried my hand at rainy day photography. Quite pleased with the outcome –
The street of my childhood grows less recognizable each time I go back.
Uncle Gerry and Aunty Doreen’s home is one of the few original houses in the old neighbourhood.
A highrise is under construction on the premises of #13 where my old home used to be located —
I’m embarrassed to admit that lunch become another highlight of my day. Latha excelled herself –
I miss the leisured simplicity of life as it used to be when I was growing up.
Change is inevitable of course. It just took longer coming to Sri Lanka …
Judy, have I mentioned the research I’ve been doing towards writing a book on Mum’s ancestry? I chased clues all over the city.
Felt like a character in The Da Vinci Code –
I spent fascinating hours with Mum’s cousins and some distant relatives I’d never met before –
Heard some incredible stories from the family archives, gathered a goldmine of information and tons of old photos. A mountain of notes to be transcribed. Almost wore my hand out writing in longhand as fast as it would move!
So when Daughters enquired (during a Whats App phone conversation) if I was bored, I answered: “No, I create my own adventures. There’s a new one every day and I can barely keep up with them all!”
The plan was for Husband to fly out from Toronto and join me after two weeks. While talking on the phone before he arrived, we decided, on the spur of the moment, to visit the Jaffna peninsula together. This area, a war zone for decades, is where our ancestors hail from.
With only days to go and a specific cut-and-paste tour in mind, I had to figure out how to make it happen.
Until then, take care, my friend. I intentionally recorded every detail of this trip just for you, so you were sort of travelling along with me, you know.
I’m thankful for you, Judy. You inspire me to keep living out joy, because joy doesn’t depend upon external circumstances. It comes from within.
Love always and thinking of you, my friend,
p.s Woke up to our first snowfall this morning. Oh Canada …
Just got a text from Aunty Rom. She wrote: A few days ago, I met the dog lady. She said the puppy had been run over. I was happy for her, so she didn’t have to find food for another mouth. This morning, she had another, carried in a box!
“I suck at this,” she wailed. ” I’ll never get it. I’m going to fail. Why even bother to try?”
Some people take to certain things like ducks to water. Others not so much.
All five fingers are not the same, Mum used to say…
I watched as she struggled to accomplish her task, heaping negativity on her hapless head. Her words settled like corrosive dead-weights in my spirit.
“Don’t say such things,” I uttered. “Words are powerful. They stick and become self-fulfilling.”
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it, Mum would say …
“That’s what you always say.” She sounded irritated. “So what? It’s just words.”
No. Not just words …
Proverbs 18:21 Life and death are in the power of the tongue …
I began to see a vivid picture in my mind. Two seedlings in glass containers, one full of acid and the other rainwater.
“If you were a plant,” I said, “And words were the medium you were growing in, if kind, positive words were rain water and negative, condemning words were acid – which one would you thrive in?”
She grew silent.
“If you wake up every morning and hear someone tell you how ugly, rotten and dumb you are, that you’ll never go far or succeed, can you imagine the toxicity you’ll imbibe? At some point you’ll come to believe what you hear. Your spirit receives what your ear hears until it becomes a part of who you are.
I plodded on. “On the other hand, if someone tells you daily that you are beautiful, smart, talented and capable of achieving anything you set your mind to … imagine the pure rainwater seeping in nourish your spirit.”
Point made. Her exasperation remained, but the dark words ceased.
For the moment.Oh, to always be able to see the gorgeous pink sunset behind and that dark, dark cloud…
Some weeks back, I stepped into the mall and understood — all over again — the power of words. I’d recently begun to experience occasional darts of doubt . Amazingly, that mellow evening, it seemed like my steps led me from store to store and brought pause at unexpected spots where wonderful words leapt out to cheer me on –
I couldn’t have contrived the inspiration, if I’d tried. My spirits rose and began to soar.
But that wasn’t all …
On my way home, there was an impelling to stop at a supermarket I don’t often visit. I paid for two bags of soil I didn’t urgently require and headed out. A man hurried up from behind and bent over my cart.
“Those look heavy,” he said pleasantly.
I smiled, “They are.”
“I need some for my garden,” the stranger added, “but that’s why I didn’t get any today!”
He straightened up and I became instantly aware of the words on the back of his T-shirt –
I gotta believe …
Caught my breath on a gasp.
Gotta get a picture!
Hurried into the parking lot and chased the gentleman down.
Me (to man): I know this sounds silly, but do you believe in signs?
Man (looking startled): I do.
Me: Would you mind if I took a picture of the words on the back of your T-shirt? I needed to see them. They were my sign today.
Man turned around and obligingly posed.
Man: So what are your plans for the summer?
Me: I don’t know. I have so many dreams and they were beginning to die. That’s why I needed those words. Thank you!
Man: I really need to get some of that soil, you know.
Me: So go get some. Maybe I am your sign for today!
My heart sang all the twilit way back home.
The final clincher came a week later, at the dentist’s office.
I became acutely aware – the moment I stepped in – of the single word tattooed on the neck of the girl manning the phones. She had her back to me –
Point taken — signed, sealed and delivered!
I’d have to be really dense not to get it by now …
“My dear Beatrice …” Mum read aloud from the letter in her hand.
Postman has just delivered the mail …
Sister and I dared not meet each other’s eye. Bit our lips to keep from giggling.
“I don’t think you will recall me. I was a friend of your cousins, Daisy and Rosie, and have met you in their company on a few occasions in our young days.”
Mum’s voice rose to a squeak. “I write to you now regarding my son …”
Sister and I held our breath. Our lips trembled with mirth.
“He is a good boy. Very sober and steady (no vices whatsoever). He graduated as a doctor …..”
Sister swallowed hard. Her shoulders shook. I covered my mouth with my hand.
“We have heard about the goodness of your daughters. People all say they are good and smart, clever girls …”
No vices whatsoever/ the goodness of your daughters … good grief … who even writes like that?
Mum eyes continued to scan the handwritten lines. “I would be so happy to hear from you regarding this matter if your elder girl is still unattached. My friend, Mrs. M. tells me she is 22 years of age. In fact, your sister, Ruby …”
I’m the ‘elder girl’ …
“You may remember the times we shared as children.” Mum began to look puzzled.
Her jaw finally dropped when she came to the end of the letter. “PS: We prefer a spacious house in Colombo with garden and attached baths.”
Dowry details! Eek …
We could almost read Mum’s thoughts –
“I don’t remember this lady,” Mum mumbled almost to herself, and ran to the phone to dial Aunty Ruby’s number.
“Hello, how are you dear? I just received a strange letter … sounds a little eccentric … who are these people?”
Sister and I held our sides and roared. We laughed ourselves into stitches.
It all began some months before, when a close school friend of Mum’s asked if she would contact a certain family (who had an eligible son) regarding a formal proposal of marriage for their youngest daughter.
Girl in question was pretty, a recent university graduate, now on the Marriage Market. Parents were anxious to have her fixed up and settled.
True story, honest (down to the phraseology)! Absolutely no embellishment …
Older sister of said Young Lady got entangled with Completely Unacceptable Young Man and eloped when well-to-do Daddy refused to give his consent. Daddy disowned her. A year later, when First Grandchild was born, Starving Couple were ushered back into the family fold.
Get the picture?God forbid that history should repeat itself, right? Okay, so stage is set …
Mum obliged and our home served as venue for introduction between Sweet Young Thing and Very Acceptable Beau.
Cousin Ranji was staying over that weekend. She, Sister and I eavesdropped from behind the drawing room drapes.
No TV in Sri Lanka then. This was far better, delicious entertainment, served up on a platter …
Young Pair sat at one end of the room to get acquainted. Mothers made small talk close by.
Recipes and stuff …
Two dads at farthest corner.
Mum and Dad sat in on the powwow – being it was their home and all. Awkward …
Things suddenly grew ugly. Raised daddy-voices.
Dirty dowry matters …
Young Man’s father haggled for more.
Sweet Young Thing’s father finally agreed to throw in a lorry along with the house and land.
Or something like that …
Cousin Ranji, Sis and I are horrified.
We’ve travelled back into antiquity …
Deadlock. Evening concludes in chilly huff.
But no one counted on Young Pair falling madly in love.
Completely unexpected turn of events …
Now unacceptable, Young Man contacted and romanced Sweet Young Thing on the sly.
Mum politely declined when asked to intervene.
Sweet Young Thing phones to weep on Mum’s shoulder …
Romeo and Juliet elope to overseas destination. Daddy disowns Little Girl, then throws arms wide open when she returns from honeymoon with baby on the way.
Yay! Forgive and forget …
Found out later that Rejected Romeo and one of the cousins were co-workers at the time of Nebulous Nuptial Goings On. They were quite good friends and I’d met him at one of her birthday parties.
Only in Sri Lanka …
Found an old scrapbook of letters and cards written by Sister, cousins and me when we were children. Carefully dated and captioned by Mum.
Sis and I wrote little notes and longer letters all the time.
Hilarious notes from Sister …
Mostly to Mum.
So when it came time to play a prank on a long-suffering mother, inspired by recent events, one would automatically resort to letter-writing.
“My dear Beatrice …”
Poor Mum. We teased her unmercifully and she was always such a good sport about it. Don’t think Sister or I ever ‘fessed up or divulged the source of the written proposal of marriage that once came my way.
And now I’ve two daughters of my own.
Full circle. What goes around surely comes around!
The memories flooded in when eyes wandered over the yellowed sheet of notepaper taped to the fraying page of Mum’s scrapbook.
With sister’s heavily disguised handwriting on it. She must have figured it out …
Thankful for Mum’s sentimentality that induced her save all this stuff.
Pure gold …
Like these home-made cards from her nieces –
A definite artistic bent in the family …
— and the self portrait I drew.
A fairly good likeness of my gawky pre-teen self …
Sister needs to work on her spelling in this one –
Golden memories. A sweet, mellow time.
When we were very young …
Until next time,
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On the first family trip to England, Mum had us pose in front of Buckingham Palace while she attempted to take a picture of Dad, Sister and me against the backdrop of the Changing of the Guards.
The guards had changed and gone their wayby the time the picture focused to satisfaction. Sister and I teased her about it for years to come.
Smile please …
Everyone was using pocket cameras.Sis and I were embarrassed by the ghastly contraption Mum still wielded with pride!
We flew on to Singapore where Dad bought us girls a Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash bulbs.
Colour pictures … yay, finally!
Shudder to think of the environmental impact from all the used flash bulbs we gleefully dumped in the trash can.
Mum discovered the joys of photography around age 12 when she got a gift of a Brownie camera.
She still had it when Sis and I were kids …
Mum’s crisp black-and-white photos display an instinct for capturing the ‘moment’ and an unerring eye for placing and composition.
When sister and I were little, Mum acquired the Yashica, also sort of box-camera-ish.
Sleeker, less ‘primitive’, more sophisticated …
It took ages to focus with Mum staring into the open Yashica ‘box’ in her hands, at an upside down image.
She’d murmur, “Smile, smile” through fixed grin and puckered brow, our features remaining in frozen limbo until we heard the click and a cheerful ‘thank you’!
Felt like forever!
Mum often said she wanted to get an ‘unawares’ shot.
Sister and I heard … underwears!
We hadn’t the foggiest notion what she meant.
She caught us unawares all right. The delightful album-memories bear testimony to the fact.
Mum’s was the era of stay-at-home mothers. Those who were in the professions were nevertheless the proud masters of the housewifely arts. They cooked, sewed, hung for hours on the telephone with other women, shared recipes, discussed the current price of important commodities like sugar, rice and eggs, wrote lengthy, polite letters and never forgot birthdays and anniversaries.
At family concerts we kids ‘did’ Mum and aunties talking on the phone …
When Sister and I got married, we each received a special gift from Mum. An album of photographs – mostly black and white photos and some washed out Kodak and Polariod colour pictures – each one tailored to document our lives from birth to early adulthood.
All meticulously labelled …
With Mum’s unexpected passing two years ago, I lost my best friend and discovered a treasure trove of old pictures while cleaning out cupboards and putting things in order for Dad.
Eyes popped out of my head as a pictorial record of family history unfolded …
Entered a new realm. Memories of bygone days surfaced from boxes, dusty files and disintegrating albums.
Mum’s voice recounting fragments of family legends echoing in the recesses of my mind …
The past came alive in a way that didn’t seem possible. Moments in time frozen on faded bits of glossy paper, pictures worth thousands of words.