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 …
[ To get caught up on this story Click here for OUR PRESENT PAST (1) / CLICK HEREFOR OUR PRESENT PAST (2) ]
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.
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 sunny location.
It wouldn’t budge. Stuck a shovel inside to empty out and lessen the load. Struck something hard.
Attempted to tip the thing over. It moved a bit, not much. It was firmly anchored down.
On my knees in the grass, I discovered the culprit. A stray rootlet from the apple tree, creeping in through the drainage hole had grown upwards. The lower three quarters of the container was blocked by a solid serpentine coil of unyielding root.
Who could have guessed?
I hacked the ropey mass away – not an easy task – chopped and eased it out. Most of the soil was gone.
No wonder …
It blazed with joy in its bright new location and burned with bloom all the way through July until October’s first frost. Brand new beginning. Plenty of sunlight. NO sinister strangling roots.
Food for thought …
Isn’t life like that? Think of how relationships fail and situations deteriorate because of covert root issues lurking beneath the surface that never get acknowledged, dug out and disposed of.
Abandoned things are like hurting people. It’s worth investing time in them. A little care, nurture and a dab of creativity might go a long way towards bringing about a transformation of loveliness.
It would require a certain eye and angle of perception, of course, to realize the hidden value and immense potential in discarded things (and difficult people).
The site of unwanted cast-offs gets my imagination all fired up —
What wonderful things get tossed out and lie listlessly on the kerb, yearning for a second chance.
Clueless, careless people pressed for time, seek the trash can as a quick, convenient way out.
First world solutions …
The owner of a local antique store told me she pays someone to scour the streets of certain neighbourhoods on garbage day.
“You won’t believe the valuable things we’ve found and sold at a price,” she said.
I believe her.
I’ve made some magnificent finds myself.
Like these –
My friend, Gail’s eye fell on this ugly blanket box as we drove by. She suggested I pick it up –
I love browsing in thrift stores –
You never know when smiling serendipity will direct you to the find of a lifetime.
Perhaps a gold-embossed book published in 1915 that you hold breathlessly in your hands to gaze at the faded name scrawled in elegant fountain-pen handwriting across the fragile fly leaf.
You might even find a bonus in the shape of a Christmas or birthday card tucked inside, with formal, handwritten greetings from almost a century ago.
Sentimental birthday greetings and Christmas wishes from the early 1900’s …
Or a rare first edition of a book by Dickens that you didn’t even know existed.
The creative possibilities are endless.
Check out the evolution of this found item from vintage breadbox to desktop knickknack holder –
Or the resurrection of a sorrowing three-legged chair –
Or an ancient soccer ball reborn as glowing garden gazing ball preening on a cast-off plastic lampshade –
There’s no better place than a garage sale to locate sad things dreaming of a fresh purpose and renewed destiny.
Last summer I drove by a lawn sale and screeched to a halt when out of the corner of my eye, I saw this worn wooden ladder from the 40s/ 50’s.
The perfect stage for seasonal decorations –
I came across an identical ladder in an antique-store window. The price tag was exactly ten times what I forked out for my weathered treasure!
A garden is the perfect platform to showcase dreams of discarded things.
– Blooming barbecue planters …
– Chair plant stands –
– Coloured bottles –
– Old windows
– An unloved bicycle, a sad old door –
– Abandoned light fittings –
The pipes from an old tap for stems, glass lampshades from an ugly old chandelier and solar lights make for stunning garden decor that lights up the night …
The chandelier itself becomes a bird feeder with coconut shells for bowls …
– A garden bedroom –
You can never have too many mirrors in a garden …
Reflected dreams …
When the sun sets and the stars come out –
How they glow …
From hideous, useless to one-of-a-kind wonderful, these once-unwanted things shine in a quiet space of gentle dreams, enhancing this place of rest and relaxation.
I have to draw the line at old toilets, however.
Longing for spring, in spite of this past weekend’s dump of snow.
Dreaming of those long summer days. Of pounding the pavements in running shoes at dawn and sitting out on the deck, reading till the stars come out at night …
Always mindful that there is a fresh purpose for everything. The ugly-useless and despairing-broken — people and things.
Life changed with the grisly demise of her husband, Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. In ways Mary Chellamma never imagined. The breadwinner struck down in his prime, she was left alone to raise month-old twins amongst six young children. There was neither time, nor expertise to tend the land which was the family’s only source of income.
Mary turned in desperation to her brother-in-law, her husband’s brother, who cultivated rice and raised cattle on the adjoining property. He agreed to take on the management of her farm. Mary was relieved to be rid of the burden.
Blood is thicker than water, after all, and they were neighbours …
Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers – Mary’s mother, the children’s maternal grandmother – a widow herself, lived in her own home, a stone’s throw away. This pious woman was a bottomless reservoir of strength.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw evangelical activity at its height in northern Ceylon. The numerous schools and hospitals in the region bore witness to the presence and commitment of the American and British missionaries. Mary Chellammah, a young woman still, found employment with the CMS Missionaries in the area, who offered her a position as nurse’s aide at the local missions hospital.
Disaster struck again. Neighbour-brother-in-law turned perfidious predator and assumed ownership of the widow’s property. By unscrupulous means he had changes were made to the the title deeds and the cattle were re-branded accordingly.
Grandma Harriet – Paatti to the little ones – was a woman of prayer and unshakeable faith. She was known to sit in her house for hours by herself, lost in prayer. Her hands one upon the other, palms facing heavenwards, she pleaded with tears for heaven’s favour.
Subramaniam Vethanayagam (S.V.) Chelliah, her oldest grandson, looked in through an open window one day, and heard the old lady praying out loud in Tamil: “Heavenly Father, what am I to do about these children? Open the windows of heaven and bless them, I pray.” (“Aandavaney, intha sinna kulanthaihalodu naan enne seivan? Vaananthin palahanhelai thiranthu intha chiruvarhalai aasirwathiyum.”)
Irreverently tickled by the pious woman’s fervour, Chelliah summoned his brothers and sisters to witness the peep-show. The amused youngsters gawked at their grandmother while she made her petition to the unseen Almighty.
“Look at how her hands are open and reaching upwards,” he snorted with laughter. “She’s waiting for heaven to open and blessings to fall into them.”
The yield from the land continued to be purloined by the greedy uncle. Mary and her little ones lived in a home, which, according to the doctored deeds, was theirs no more.
Life was a struggle.
The stuff that ugly fairy tales are made of …
When the twins – Solomon and Anna – were six years old, Mary Chellammah took ill and was confined to her bed. Grandma Harriet, who carried on as best she could, was out of earshot when young Chelliah complained, “The food is not good (chaapadu chari illai).”
“Be patient, my son,” his ailing mother urged. “I’ll be up and about to cook tasty meals for my children (porungo rasa, naan elumbitu wanthu, nalai chamaichchu kudukiren pillaihalukku)”
Mary was unable to keep her promise. Fate struck another foul blow when she succumbed to her illness and died a short while later. The six fatherless offspring of Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel were now orphans.
Grandma Harriet – was left to raise the children on her own.
The children became unofficial wards of the Anglican Church.
Elizabeth Thangamma, who showed no particular interest in academic learning, was constrained to give up her schooling in order to remain at home and help cook and care for her siblings.
The boys were fostered out to benevolent families in Jaffna, sixty miles north of Vavuniya. The providential intervention of the church enabled them to continue their education at the reputed CMS Missions boys’ school, St. John’s College , Chundikuli (Jaffna).
On Shadrack Chinniah’s twelfth birthday he received a letter from his grandmother (who remained in Vavuniya with his sisters), mailed to his new address in Jaffna. The single sheet of notepaper was laced with weighty words of blessing written in the Tamil language.
Granny wrote: May you, little one, go from strength to strength, and become a millionaire (Chinnavan aigiramum siriyavan palaththa seemanum aavaan).
This birthday proved to be a milestone marking the end of Shadrack’s formal schooling. He bade farewell to Saint John’s College where he learned to read, write and speak with the polish and ability of a highly educated individual. His dreams lay beyond the confines of the arid northern province, far away in the colonial metropolis of Colombo.
The landscape shifted from dusty-dry to lush-verdant as the tracks snaked inland and the train rattled on its way, two hundred miles down to the capital city in the south of Ceylon.
In his shirt pocket, pressed to his heart, was the precious birthday letter.
The memory of his mother grazed his thoughts. The grim ghost of his uncle’s unthinkable actions haunted these quiet moments.
Shadrak pressed his face to the train window. Coconut-thatch huts and green fields flew by.
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.
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!