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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.
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.
“Tell me about Singapore,” I said. “During the war. When you were a child.”
Dad set his fork down, a rush of memories spilling into his eyes.
“My father was a radio communications officer. He worked for the British government in Singapore …”
“He was a highly intelligent man, but he had a volatile temper! He was my hero, though it was frightening to live with someone like that.
He flew into a rage one day and struck me with the radio wires he was working with. My mother had to apply a hot fomentation on my back for days until the marks subsided.
I don’t remember my mother ever cuddling or kissing me. But there was plenty of food. A laden table. She was a good cook. My father was a hospitable man. The house was always filled with people and she fed them gladly.
“We lived in a sprawling home on Mount Rosie, surrounded by a large compound. I remember climbing fruit trees and playing for hours outside.”
“The Japanese considered their monarch a god. They worshipped him as such.
The West was distracted by Hitler and Stalin. It was the perfect time for the Japanese to leap in with their own agenda. They worked their way through the East, carving out an empire …”
“When the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans got involved. This was the beginning of the Pacific War.”
“The tanks rolled into Singapore.
It was one of the worst defeats in British military history …
“Pretty much everyone was labelled a traitor. They shipped them off to POW camps. By the thousands.”
“So how did Grandpa survive, Dad?” I asked.
Dad’s tone was matter-of-fact. “My father worked for the Japanese,” he said.
My jaw dropped.
“After the surrender of Singapore, the Japanese generals stood at our doorstep with drawn swords. They threatened to cut off his head if he didn’t work for them. There was no other option.”
“On our way to school, we’d see rows of traitors’ heads impaled on the walls.”
“The Japs began losing ground after America entered the war with a powerful fleet of fighter planes and bombers. I remember them. There were the B-27s, B-23s, B-24s and B-26s.”
The Chinese and Japanese were hostile to each other. If the Chinese had been for the Japanese, the Americans would never have won the war.”
“I remember watching the Japanese bombers flying overhead in formation with anti-aircraft units hot in pursuit.”
“The air raid sirens could go off at any time of day and you were supposed to seek shelter immediately in the bunker, under a staircase, or under furniture. Our bunker was in the basement of the house.”
“I remember the dog fights in the air, when the Japanese bombers came in V-formation and the American fighter planes went after them.”
“I stood outside one day and watched as a Japanese plane got shot down. It caught fire and made a nose-dive to the ground. It crashed into our compound, its tail pointing upwards. There was a huge crater in the ground.
After the flames burned out, the gardener ran up. He was an eccentric Indian man. We were all convinced he was mad. He dragged the dead airman out, pulled off his boots and pillaged the corpse. He pocketed the wrist watch and searched for gold fillings in the teeth. Then I saw the allied planes pass overhead – massive aircraft, gleaming in the sun. You could hear them from miles away.”
“One day my father was shaving upstairs, when a shell came flying in through the bathroom window and rolled down the staircase. Thank God it didn’t explode.
Our home was like a refugee camp for the Ceylon Tamil community – injured boys and girls were brought there. Providentially, Mount Rosie was never bombed.”
“We attended an Anglo-Chinese school. There was a Tamil priest on the teaching staff. The Singaporean teachers were compelled to learn Japanese and then teach it to their students.”
“Our formal schooling was sporadic through the war years. English was forbidden.
My father taught us in the basement bunker at night. We had to memorize poetry and I was able to read far beyond my years.
I remember reciting The boy stood on the burning deck …
The Japanese soldiers had funny uniforms – long, long khaki shorts and hats with elongations at the back from the brims, covering their necks.”
“The officers wore white shirt, khaki jacket and leather boots.
I remember coming down the hill, one particular day, where the school was situated. There were steps going up the hill to the school building. The students were all lined up on either side of the road to greet and wave flags at visiting Japanese army dignitaries. They came in a convoy of lorries and military vehicles. A boy standing across the street called out to me. Without thinking, I dashed across the road to reach him, cutting through the oncoming parade. A lorry hit me and I was knocked unconscious. They drove on. They didn’t stop. The entire convoy passed over me.
When the parade was done, the Tamil priest — the teacher from my school – picked me up and took me to the government hospital. Miraculously, there was no serious injury and I recovered.”
“How old were you, Dad?” I queried.
“I must have been about 7 or 8.”
“That was nothing short of divine providence,” I commented.
Dad nodded. “Yes,” he said. “And I used to collect all the shells and metal fragments I found lying around. That was my hobby.”
“My mother carried her jewellery in a pouch tied around her waist, under her saree. She finally buried it all outside in the garden. When the war was over she wasn’t able to find the spot to dig it back up.”
“You mean she lost all her jewellery?” I asked.
Dad shrugged. “Many people buried their valuables and never found them again.”
“The Americans bombed Singapore before the Japs surrendered. I remember Singapore harbour up in flames.”
D-Day came and the Germans surrendered, but the Japanese hung on until the American bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That was when they finally gave in.
” Japan would never had surrendered if not for the atom bomb. America was the only nuclear power in the world at the time. The bombs were dropped two days apart.”
My father had a radio hidden in the basement. He tuned in at night to listen to the BBC news. There was no other way of knowing how the war was progressing. Suddenly one day, the war was over. Everything fell silent. The Japanese forces vanished.
“A Ceylonese Burgher gentleman who was a friend of my father’s – his name was Mr. Garth, an educated man, slightly brownish in complexion — ended up in a Japanese POW camp. After we knew for sure that the war was over, my father took me with him to the POW camp. I remember sitting in the car as we drove there.
The camp was a place of the living dead. Men, women and children had been starved and made to do hard labour. We found Mr. Garth. He had been a prisoner for four years. He was plain skin and bones. We brought him back home. My mother had cooked a good meal and set it on the table. Mr. Garth sat and stared at the food for quite awhile. Then he ate slowly, savouring every mouthful. He saved the boiled egg for the last.”
The war ended in September 1945.
“The British returned.
Many Ceylon Tamils who lived in Burma had walked to South India to escape the invasion. They were found and rescued.
Everything was in a mess. A new administrative system had to be set up. All residents of Singapore had to get their British citizenship renewed. Those who were not originally from Singapore were given the option of staying or receiving a free passage back to the country of their birth.
Mother wanted to stay, but Father had no choice. He had worked for the Japanese during the war years and was declared a traitor to the British Empire.
His name was on a formal list of Traitors To The Empire that appeared in the newspapers directly after the war ended.
The British arranged for our repatriation. We travelled in a massive ship which had been used as a troop carrier during the war. It was called the SS Arundel Castle.”
Our passage was paid and they provided us with clothing and food. With a load of over one thousand passengers – all Ceylon Tamils – the vessel set sail soon after the war was over. The voyage lasted five to six days before we docked at Colombo harbour. I remember being loaded onto a boat and coming ashore, where there was a big reception committee awaiting the home-comers.
My mother’s sister’s daughter — my cousin, Mabel — came to meet us at the dock. We slept the night at her home in Maradana and caught the train to Batticoloa the next day.”
At breakfast the next morning, a heavy-eyed Dad informed me that he hadn’t had much sleep the previous night. “The horrible scenes kept playing in my head,” he said.
I picked another subject for that evening’s conversation.
A year and a half in later, after the birth of his youngest child — a son — Grandpa James returned to Singapore. He approached the British authorities in anticipation of being reinstated into his former civil service post. Representatives of His Majesty’s government grimly reminded my grandfather that his name was etched on the infamous traitor list. They concurred that Grandpa’s only other choice would have led to the instant annihilation of himself and his young family. They graciously granted him a pension for his service to the British Empire. Then they showed him the door.
Grandpa sailed back to his native Ceylon. He disembarked at the port of Colombo and rode the railway back to Batticoloa in the east, where his wife had inherited extensive acreages of profitable paddy land.
The new baby symbolized the end of an era in their lives.
Old dreams dead and buried, life commenced anew and in earnest. The three youngsters, foreigners in the land of their parents’ birth, were constrained to learn a fifth language. English, Malay, Chinese, Japanese and now … Tamil.
If Grandpa was granted his pardon, if Granny obtained her heart’s desire, Dad wouldn’t have met Mum and allied himself with a new country and people.
And I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.
An interesting thought which strengthens my conviction in the knowledge that life is directed by an unseen hand. A hand that masterfully orchestrates circumstances in such a manner as to bring an undeniable destiny to pass. With one hundred percent accuracy.
Until next time,
P.S. Dad meets his bride in Matchmaker, Matchaker! (click here)
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.
The new life beckoned.
World War I was still to come.
To be continued …
Geneology of the Danvers and Samuel lines (from the files of the late S.E.R. Perinpanayagam, courtesy Eric and Tim Perinpanayagam)
Danvers family line –
* Kanthar married Thangam and had 4 children – 2 sons and 2 daughters (Circa 1790)
* Their son, Kathirgamar Danvers (born 1809) married Anna Saveriyal.
* Kathirgamar and Anna Danvers had 7 (8 ?) children – only 1 daughter
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.
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 theTale 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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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!
“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 …
Ever noticed how suddenly-sometimes serendipity seems to occur most when the sun is shining and summer seeps into one’s heart, bubbles over and spills out in splashes all over the garden? It almost feels as if this sweet summer state of mind creates a catalyst that activates a sublime sequence of inexplicable events.
Like the time Bernadette called. “The Town is giving away compost. Want to go? I’ll pick you up.”
The sight of eager townsfolk feverishly shoveling free compost, piled up in the parking lot, into bags and bins didn’t inspire me. The stream of comings and goings to and from the main building however, was intriguing.
Woo hoo! Community garage sale …
Bernadette laughed when I mumbled, “I’m going to look for treasures for my garden.”
I heard “Junk Lady” as I hopped out of the vehicle.
My friends know me too well!
I picked up a bunch of beauties for mere coins. Like these –
And then I stopped in my tracks as some old books caught my eye.
Me: “How much?”
Bored vendor: “How about a dollar fifty? Fifty cents each.”
I set the coins down and scooped the volumes up, unable to believe my luck. There were two others still languishing on the table.
“I have a quarter left and a TTC token,” I dared to venture. “Would that be payment enought for those?”
Bored Vendor: “Sure. Someone could make use of the token. This stuff is junk anyway!”
He was in a hurry to pack up and leave.
I handed over my last coin and the transit system token, picked up my booty and scurried away in case someone should have a sudden change of heart.
James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask …
This rollicking suddenly-sometimes ride commenced a week before, when Evelyn and I sat down to enjoy a Japanese bento box lunch, and the conversation turned to gardens.
Evelyn: “How’s your garden doing? Done planting yet?
Me: “No. Haven’t even started. I haven’t had time to buy the annuals.”
Evelyn: “Have you tried Costco?”
Me: “No. We’re not members.”
Evelyn: “I am. I’ll take you.”
So off we went.
Nothing caught my eye in the garden centre.
On our way out, we passed the mobile phone sales centre, and I remembered my phone. It had been gasping at death’s door for a while.
Me: My phone is a bit of a dinosaur. I need a new one with a good camera, but I’m not willing to go above my present monthly payment.
Pleasant Salesguy: No problem. How much do you pay now?
I told him. I had an exceptionally good deal, he said. I knew that.
Pleasant Salesguy: Are you willing to go ten dollars more a month?
Me: No! I don’t use my phone enough to justify a higher monthly payment.
Pleasant Salesguy: So you want a free new phone with a great camera for the same amount that you pay now – or less – right?
Me: I know, it sounds like awful cheek, doesn’t it?
I turned to go.
Pleasant Salesguy: Wait, wait …
He continued to scroll down, squinting at the screen in front of him.
Evelyn assured me she wasn’t in a hurry. I rolled my eyes and sighed.
Pleasant Salesguy: Found it! There’s a loyalty deal and you qualify …
Music to my ears …
So I get a free phone worth $700, and my monthly payment is four dollars less than previously. My current phone, I’m told, is worth no more than $150, brand new.
Me: I’ve been to every mobile provider I could think of. When I tell them what I’m looking for, they look down their nose at me like I’m cheap. Or they talk down to me like I’m someone’s grandma, shrug and turn away. So how come you found this one for me?
Pleasant Salesguy: Because the mall guys work on commission. It’s not in their interest to spend time looking for deals in the customer’s favour. I’m a paid employee of Costco. I’m not on commission.
Me: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would this phone rate against my old one?
Pleasant Salesguy: It’s an 8! What’s more, check out the camera.
Evelyn and I pose. I click. We look ten years younger, the lines all automatically air-brushed away.
I asked for an upgraded phone cover and screen protector and he gave me $125 in Costco gift cards to pay for them.
Me: How come?
Michael: Because this is Costco!
And there’s more …
The screen protector I chose was not in stock, so Michael made a call and arranged for me to pick it up from the mall closest to my home.
I’m elated. Quite weak at the knees, to be honest. Evelyn’s jaw’s dropping. We’re both bewildered by the spectacular customer service …
Daughter squeaked when I showed her my phone at the end of the day. “Where did you get that? I’ve wanted an LG forever! They say it takes the best pictures.”
She almost passed out when I told her how little I was paying for it.
I couldn’t stop talking at dinner that night. About the amazing deal. About Michael and the unbelievable customer service.
So we all four of us marched into Costco the next weekend with Grandpa and Grandma (and their Costco card) in tow – Husband, daughters and I – waving my contract with Michael’s business card attached to it.
The service was disappointing. Lack-lustre. The two young fellows at the counter seemed to barely tolerate us. Kind of felt like we were a nuisance.
Daughters exchanged glances and threw me a funny look.
“So where’s the customer service you kept on about?”
We got the loyalty deal for two more phones. Husband pays two dollars and fifty cents less than I do, because he’s the second line on my account. Husband and Daughter also got $125 each in Costco gift cards. ONLY because I already had my contract through Michael and requested the same deal for the rest of the family.
There was enough left over, after paying for the extras, to buy trays of flowering annuals for the garden, a set of LED walkway lights, and a rose bush for Grandma. Compliments of Costco. All because Michael Blumenfeld never made me feel stupid, and took the time to dig out a deal that finally embraced my family as well.
Young Fellows were indifferent, when we were done, and looked relieved to see us go.
I assumed, because of my initial experience, that exceptional customer service was the norm at Costco Wirelessetc. I understood otherwise on my second visit. It was Michael who went out of his way to make this customer’s day sparkle.
Husband and Daughter had to return to the location the next day, to pick up their not-in-stock screen protectors.
“Pick them up from your local mall? Sorry. No way!”
“But Michael arranged for me to pick it up from …”
“Michael is the manager, he can do these things …”
Evelyn mentioned that if she’d chosen to take me to the other Costco location she shops at, the mobile phone sales section would not have been visible from the vicinity of the garden centre. So I’d never have seen it to remember the worn out dud I had in my possession.
Such a smooth-as-silk sequence of events that led me to three valuable vintage books and a brand new top-notch cell phone.