Deanna’s Story

This is Deanna BigCanoe. She is a member of Ojibwe First Nation (also known as Chippewa) and lives on the First Nation reserve on Georgina Island, Lake Simcoe in Southern Ontario.

There’s something in her eyes that compelled me to learn her story.

So I did.

Deanna was waiting for me at the jetty (August 2017)

 

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Georgina Island on Lake Simcoe, Ontario

Welcome to the island,” she said when I stepped off the boat. “I’ll take you to the Community Centre first. You can get all the pictures you want.”

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Approaching Georgina Island, one of hundreds of islands scattered across Lake Simcoe.

 

The Georgina Island Community Centre

 

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Georgina Island ladies posing at the community centre.

Dozens of black-and-white-photographs plastered the walls of the Centre’s auditorium, the ever present past, each picture a poignant piece of hidden history.

Islanders remembered …
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Deanna posing with a parade of people from her family tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A ‘dreamcatcher’ made by islanders hangs in the entrance hall of the community centre, above a framed line-up of Chippewa chiefs.

Deanna pointed out notable figures from her ancestry and I perched on chairs to catch the best camera-angles on my phone.

Here’s Ann, daughter of Chief Joseph Snake …

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Ann, daughter of Chief Joseph Snake

In the 1800’s settlers began encroaching on First Nations soil. For fear of losing their land the Chippewas of Southern Ontario gave up hunting to become farmers on Snake Island on Lake Simcoe. They were successful in their new way of life until the colonial government ordered Chief Joseph Snake and his band to leave Snake Island and move to a reserve in the Coldwater area.

Back at ground zero, the Chippewas built a road, a mill, churches and homes. Their farms began to thrive.

In 1836, First Nations leaders were tricked into a deal they believed would grant them title to more than 10,000 acres of land. The agreement which was signed without any legal representation on behalf of the Chippewas, turned their land over to the Crown. In exchange for three million acres of fertile land in Upper Canada (now Ontario) they received twenty-three thousand islands scattered across Lake Simcoe.

In 1838 Chief Snake moved his band back to Snake Island. The once bountiful farmland was in a dismal state of neglect. His people were afraid that when the area became productive again, their land would once more be snatched away from them.

By the mid eighteen seventies most of the Band members left Snake Island and moved to Georgina Island were they could farm on a larger scale.

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A group photo commemorating the move from Snake Island to Georgina Island (circa 1870’s)

The water level at the time was only ankle deep from the landing to the Sand Islands which are connected to Georgina Island and was shallow enough to walk cattle across the water to the mainland.

The faded photos speak for themselves, a vivid testament to life as it grew to be —

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The Big Canoe farm
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Comrades …

 

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Old Lady Big Snail
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Out on the porch: Old lady Big Snail and her family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Island damsels
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The Blackbirds: portrait of an island family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Sunday was church day, back in the day. Almost everyone went to church on Sundays,” Deanna commented as she unlocked the red-painted church door with a key borrowed from the community centre next door.

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The original island church
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Deanna at the door of the present church, next door to the community centre.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The graves of departed ancestors resting in the quiet island churchyard
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First Nations symbolism on the church altar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A piece of native art behind the church pulpit
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Ojibwe translation of the Lord’s Prayer hanging in the church

 

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Banner hanging above the main doorway at Chippewas Native United Church, Georgina Island.

The supply of fresh water was piped out from the lake. Fish was the main diet of the islanders. The men fished to provide food for their families and earn an income. Blocks of ice were cut out of the lake in the winter, insulated with saw dust and stored in sheds to provide refrigeration during the warm months.

“People made baskets for a living in my parents’ generation,” Deanna said. “They took the baskets down to Sutton and Newmarket and sold them there. They used White Ash and Black Ash.”

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Coming ashore …
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Baskets for sale.

Schooling was provided on the reserve by missionaries, although a number of children were shipped off to residential schools.”

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Outside the schoolhouse. Elementary schoolers and their teacher
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The Georgina Island Waabgon Gamig First Nation School where it stands today.

“In the last one hundred years,” Deanna told me, “the Canadian government stole native children from their parents and placed them in residential schools. Kids as young as three. Many of them died in these institutions, from sickness, abuse, suicide. Their parents were never informed and the children were buried in graves outside the premises. Those who survived lost their language. They had forgotten their culture. When they finally came home they couldn’t communicate with their families.”

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Old schoolhouse beside the original church

 

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Inside the island schoolhouse (circa 1950’s)
 

 

 

 

 

 

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The island elementary school at its present location.
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Older students are now bussed to school on the mainland.

 

 

 

 

 

When the Trent-Severn Waterway was completed in the 20’s and 30’s, the water table of the lake rose by several feet and drowned the wild rice (the main staple of the Chippewas) which grew around Georgina Island. Boats became the only mode of transport to and from the mainland, while walking across became an option only in the winter when the lake froze over.

The islanders were now completely cut off from the mainland.

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Ice hockey – fun on a frozen lake.

Electricity and a phone line (which was a party line serving the entire island) were only implemented in the late 50’s. Indoor plumbing came in the late 60’s.

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The old church (left) situated next to the old island school.
Posing on the stairs of a fine, two-storey building
Posing on the steps of a 2-storey building.

 

The photographs are haunting, compelling pieces of a past that demands acknowledgement …

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All dressed up to celebrate.

Although conscription was not mandatory for First Nations peoples, World Wars I and II, saw a record number of patriotic Georgina Island men enlist in the armed forces.

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Memorial to the islanders who perished in World Wars I and II

 

 

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Patriots and war veterans – Sam York and Enoch BigCanoe

This is Chief Charles Big Canoe (1834 – 1930), Deanna’s great grandfather, grandson of Chief Joseph Snake —

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Chief Charles BigCanoe, resplendent in native regalia.  He served as chief from 1881 – 1911.
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Charles BigCanoe was the fifth chief of the band, President of the Grand Council of Chiefs of Ontario, life member of the York Pioneers and Historical Society, a lively storyteller and for 40 years a passionate Methodist Preacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chief Charles Big Canoe’s portrait hangs in the community centre

Here’s Albert BigCanoe, great grandpa Charles’ brother —

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Albert Bigcanoe great grandpa Charles’ brother, with two dummies on his lap. He was a ship’s captain and ventriloquist.

 

 

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Captain Albert BigCanoe

This is Chief Lorenzo Big Canoe, Deanna’s grandfather, who was a teacher at the island schoolhouse. He multi-tasked as elected chief and manager of the post office which he operated out of his home …

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Lorenzo BigCanoe looking dapper and pensive “My grandpa Lorenzo had a pickup truck, ” Deanna said. “He also owned a big boat that seated 10 to 12 passengers. He drove folks in the pickup to the dock and them ferried them across the water in his boat.”
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In glamour-girl mode, Teresa (Tessie) BigCanoe, Grandpa Lorenzo’s wife. Lorenzo BigCanoe graduated from Lakeville University and obtained a teaching post at the Kanawakee Reserve where he met Theresa. Tessie, who was a Jehovah’s Witness, lost her hearing when her son, Bud, (Deanna’s dad) was a baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grandpa Lorenzo (seated) and his siblings.

 

 

 

 

 

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Lorenzo BIgCanoe in chief’s feathered headgear.

 

 

 

 

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Maggie BigCanoe (right) – Lorenzo’s sister (also known as Maggie Jack) – lived in the middle of the bush.  She never married.  She was a medicine woman and legend has it that she was a shape-shifter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and here’s Andrew BigCanoe (Uncle Andy) who served as Chief for a time —

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Uncle Andrew BigCanoe
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Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meets Uncle Andy on Georgina Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Aunt Wanda —

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Wanda Big Canoe did a stint in Hollywood. Here she is with silver-screen idol, Clark Gable and another actress..

 

… and Deanna’s dad, Bud Big Canoe —

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Bud BigCanoe with Deanna’s sister, Trish (centre) and second wife, Joan.

 

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Bud BigCanoe with his children. Deanna (standing, centre). “My sister, Cynthia (Cindy, far left) was born before my parents were married. Cynthia met her biological father (my dad, Bud) for the first time when I was about ten years old.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bud BigCanoe’s grave in the island churchyard.

 “Mom and Dad were legally married. Mom was Algonquin. My dad made boilers for nuclear plants,” Deanna remembered. “He earned an hourly wage that was a huge fortune in the sixties. Dad was away from home from Sunday night to Friday night. He came home drunk and stayed drunk all weekend. Sometimes my mom and he would beat each other up.  Mom was mean and abusive. She never knew how to be a mother, you know. Her mom, my grandmother Stella, was raised in a residential school and didn’t know anything about a normal family life. Guess Mom didn’t have an example to follow or anyone to learn from. ”

Until the late 50’s, it was illegal for the Indians to bring booze onto the island, or go to a bar. If you were a First Nations person and wanted a alcohol, you had to sell your birthright – hand over your ‘native’ card. In return you were given a card stating that you were ‘unregistered’. Then the drinking ban was lifted in the early sixties and the abuse of little girls began.”

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Deanna paused for a moment and I perceived the depth of pain in her eyes. She said, “And they did nothing about it.”

I asked why.

“Because some of the men were relatives or your father’s friend. Everyone on the island went to church before alcohol was permitted on the island,” she said. “The booze changed everything. The jamborees didn’t feel safe. Many places didn’t feel safe anymore.”

First Nations land may not be sold to non-natives, so the land-rich, cash-poor residents parcel their properties out on 50-year lease to city-dwellers looking for a lake-side summer getaway. Their luxury cottages loom over the modest dwellings of the owners. The contrast is glaring.

All shopping, apart from the basics available at the General Store, has to be done on the mainland which is a ten-minute boat ride away. This boat must be shared with cottagers and holidaymakers. The last boat leaves the mainland at 9.30 pm after which time the residents are completely cut off from the mainland until morning.

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The island general store.
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The last boat leaves the mainland at 9.30 pm

“So what do the kids have for entertainment?” I wondered.

“They play in the bush,” she said.

Her parents moved to the mainland when she was five years old. Deanna quit school in Grade 9. Her first daughter was born when she should have been in Grade 10.

“I was a single mom raising six kids on my own. I had four under four for awhile. I paid the rent and bought the food and that’s that. We survived on welfare and food banks. There wasn’t money to go out for dinner — maybe once or twice a year — but I took my kids to church on Sundays. We never felt accepted in the church, though. I felt rejected. Most native people feel that way. That’s why we are often reserved.”

“Why? Because of the weight of history?”

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A teepee out in the bush (2017)

She nodded. “Yes. And because all the men in my life were abusers, I taught my three boys to never hit a woman. “

Indigenous woman and girls are five times more likely to experience violence than any other population in Canada.

Deanna moved her family back to the island twenty two years ago.

“What are the benefits you receive as a native person living on the reserve?”

“40% off eyeglasses, 80% off dental, almost 90% off prescriptions and items delivered to the island are tax exempt.”

“How do you qualify for welfare?”

“Some reserves pay monthly welfare. There’s treaty money from a claim which was settled five to six years ago . Each member got a $ 1,000 cash disbursement. Kids, when they turn 21, get their portion with back pay and interest. Everyone continues to get $1000 year for life. There’s $90 million of settlement money for the band, now in reserve in the bank. There’s also another settlement in the works. To do with the raising of the water level on the island. About 20 years ago it became politically incorrect to refer to us as Indians.”

I scribbled notes and posed questions while she remembered and shared.

“My sister, Becky, lives in a straw bale house.” There was pride in Deanna’s voice. “She’s an artist and a writer.”

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Becky’s straw-bale home. Deanna’s sister, Becky has founded an organization called Enviro Native Strong Woman’s Learning Centre. The purpose of this initiative is to teach women how to build sustainable housing – ‘yurts’, straw-bale houses (like hers), houses made of old tires and Straw/cob (straw mixed with clay) houses

 

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Deanna holding a piece of her sister Becky’s vivid artwork in the living room of the charming straw-bale house (literally built from bales of straw and plastered over).
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eye-popping colours inside Becky’s unique straw-bale home

“Becky wants to teach women how to build sustainable housing.”

“For what reason?”

“Because there’s a lack of men.”

The desolate reality …

The relationship between the islanders and the mainland police is uneasy. The absence of strong male role models is glaring and has taken its toll. The high school dropout rate is high.

Mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse run rampant, unleashing an endless chain of tragedy on tragedy.

Within the period of months Deanna experienced the heartbreak of losing two sons to drug overdose. Isaac was 26 years old and Nathan, 34, was the father of a young daughter.

 

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A funeral collage to commemorate the life of young Isaac BigCanoe, Deanna’s son whose life was snuffed out in 2019

 

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Rest in peace, Isaac.

 

 

 

 

 

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A promising student and young entrepreneur, Nathan BigCanoe in his younger days. Gone too early at age 33.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RIP Nathan BigCanoe (seated) with younger family members.

Deanna has busy days helping with the care of some of her eight grandchildren. She has dreams of implementing initiatives for First Nations young people. To bring them from up north to the island and provide vocational training and tools to succeed in life.

The Georgina Island band is now led by its first elected woman chief. Progress, perhaps.

I asked Deanna, “What message do you want me to convey through this story?”

She didn’t hesitate. “We are still here,” she said. “Still struggling. Still forgotten.”

Generations of wrongdoing. Born from of the pain of the past, it oozes into this present moment’s tragedy and lurks in her eyes.

I caught the 1.30 boat back to the mainland where I’d parked my car.

I had much to process and think about. I lay wide-eyed under the weight of Deanna’s story.

It took me awhile to fall asleep that night.

 

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Grandma D holding her newborn grandchild.
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Fire-pit ceremony at Isaac Big Canoe’s funeral (2019).
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A handbill on the notice board at the community centre (2017)

 

 

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Sandy Beach, a small strip of lakefront reserved for the exclusive use of First Nations islanders.
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The First Nations way of life — a poster seen at the community centre.

 

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Lake Simcoe, steps away from Deanna’s back door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An education fund has been set up for Nahlia, young daughter of the late Nathan Big Canoe.   Click here to donate.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Watch a compelling testimony about the Residential School system in Canada —

Watch Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology to residential school survivors —

(This story was authorized and approved by Deanna Big Canoe. All photos are used with permission.)

 
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Mr. A In Time Of COVID-19

I popped in on Mr A in March this year. 

“Finally found a buyer.  Sold the house.  Have to be out by the 1st of May,” he said.

A frown furrowed his forehead.  

“Couldn’t do much clearing out over the winter.  I’m fed up,” he mumbled.  “Arthritis is killing me.”

He looked tired and on edge.

“You’re allowed to be fed up,” I reassured him.  “At your age.  It’s a lot for anyone to deal with.”

Self-confessed hoarder.  Mr A’s garage is bursting with stuff.

My fed-up friend, Mr. A, at the entrance to his packed garage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I pulled out my phone to take pictures to post on Kijiji. Of random stuff he might be able to sell.

Like these –

A treasured, dusty collection of miniature cars .

A ferocious coconut pirate head hanging from the basement ceiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stars of the silver screen. 

Hollywood hotties of yesteryear …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some items he will not part with.  “That’s coming with me to the retirement home. Not selling!”

… this little tin bucket. “My grandma brought milk home everyday, when I was a little boy, in this pail.”

… Grandmother’s kitchen scale, a real beauty of an antique.

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“These things I want to keep ….:

 

Framed family photos are definitely not for sale! 

The chalet he grew up in on a Swiss-German mountain village.

Framed photo of grandparents stiffly posing in Victorian attire.

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Little mother holding a log as large as she is.  “Dad chopped the tree down. She was a strong woman!”

Rickety sheds scattered around the sprawling backyard, all bursting at the seams – 

He built the sheds himself with bits of this-and-that …

… and kept adding makeshift structures in the backyard …

 

 

 

 

 

 

… to house the increasing mountains of stuff he kept finding!

Even the abandoned outhouse is probably full of useless things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Albert nursing a beloved miniature car he hopes to sell. “It’s hard to say farewell to a lifetime of memories.”

 

We said goodbye and I promised to come back again soon. 

Then lockdown happened.   Two days later. 

The world changed.

Hadn’t been out in 12 days when I drove past the mall some days back.   A long weekend Saturday and there wasn’t a single vehicle in the parking lot. 

Strange, surreal sight, but angst at being away from home urged me on.  I didn’t stop to take a picture.

Wore a mask, of course — dust mask left over from home renovations — and disposable rubber gloves.  I felt foolish and looked ridiculous.

Pulled into the supermarket parking lot and encountered masked, gloved figures like myself, hurriedly dumping bags of groceries into trunks and backseats. 

Didn’t feel all that foolish after all.

The line-up stretched out into the street.  I was thankful we weren’t in the dead of winter.

At every turn, grim warnings and reminders of the strange season we find ourselves in.

Cautionary warnings posted on  glass doors and windows.   A grim-eyed security guard waved me in.  He was masked, no gloves.  I snapped a photo of the poster on the door, but dared not ask if I could take a picture of him.  

My mask and see-through rubber gloves blended beautifully into the collage of crazed shoppers.  

Designated shoppers feverishly foraged for food.  Tension hung tight in the air.

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Masked mother and son in produce section

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The look in the eyes above the mask speaks volumes.

 

 

“Gotta get out of here!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ominous urgency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bakery aisle was empty of flour.  Not one bag left.

No flour in the baking aisle. (Forget about finding yeast.) The whole world is stuck at home baking their hearts out — and posting pictures of their products on Facebook, of course.  Boredom births maestros!

 

 

Flour is now the new toilet paper it seems.

 

Masked cashier, behind a plexi-glass screen. Surprised to notice how many store workers were not wearing masks or gloves.

 

 

 

Hopefully the lot from my cart will last the next two weeks.

Called Mr A to check in on him.  He’s unhappy.  Naturally.   Unable to visit the wife in the nursing home, time hangs on his hands.  A friend gets his groceries, he told me, when I offered to do his shopping. 

“There’s only so much time you can spend in a day feeding the birds and visiting with rabbits,” he mumbled.

He was worried he wouldn’t be able to move on May 1st.  Anxious about the mountain of stuff to be discarded.

I told him not to fret.  “A bunch of girlfriends and I will head out there with mops, brooms and garbage bags.  We’ll come.  When lockdown is all done.”

He sounded relieved. 

The last time I visited, we walked around his yard.  I watched as Mr A fed the birds and wild rabbits and shooed the neighbour’s cat away.

“Keeps coming back. Terrible fellow,” Mr A grumbled. “Steals the rabbit’s food!”

I almost twisted my ankle when I tripped over a bunny-burrow mound rising from the raggedy grass.

Tea time and Bunny popped out of his burrow. 

His handiwork. One of the many hand-built bird-feeders in the backyard, with metal cones at the base to deter thieving squirrels.

Mr. A pumping water from the well he dug himself over fifty years ago.

Snack-time for the critters. A squirrel nibbles his way through a fine feast. 

 

This structure with grim graffiti was from a former place of work. Used to store petroleum, I think he said.

 

Then the world changed.  Suddenly, in an instant.

The enforced isolation is hard on seniors,  particularly those who live alone and aren’t willing or able to navigate technology.

Like my dad.  And Mr A.

Mr A’s wife owned a computer – she was an accountant by profession – but she’s been in the nursing home for the past few years.   A single landline phone sits on his kitchen table.  His only connection with the world outside.

Mr A sleeps on the hospital bed his wife used until she was moved to a nursing home. He pressed buttons to show me how the head and foot of the bed could be raised and lowered when required.  It’s now for sale.

 

“You must miss seeing her,” I murmured.

“What do you think?” he replied.

Wish there was more I could do.

 

 

Then, on a brighter note … Bunny is back!  

Spotted the rascal hopping outside my study window last week – the bunny, my-sworn-enemy!

Caught occasional glimpses of Bunny in the winter, staring at the stone rabbit by the chair under the apple tree, then he was gone for weeks at a time.

 

Who’d have thought I’d be happy to see him? The wretched creature chews up my flowers!

Bunny’s my reminder that life goes on nevertheless.  That Nature won’t pause.  And Joy will return.

Thankful the weather’s getting nicer. Finally.  Pruning and digging time again. 

                                            Garden went from this in the summer —

 

 

 

 

 

To this —

 

 

 

 

And now this mess that I can’t wait to started on  …

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Thankful for technology in this time of stringent distancing.  Thankful for Zoom family and other online gatherings.  

Oh! The blessing of Zoom! A church committee meeting.

Puppy can’t believe everyone’s home.

Puppy checks in on anyone who’s not to be seen.  He can’t believe the good fortune that keeps us all home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankful for family dinners.  All four of us.  Together.  Everyday. After ages.

Thankful for time.  To write –

That’s me!

 

 

 

 

To stop and stare –

Time to catch my breath and take delight in a light-and-crystal shadow show on the window sill …

Time to stare at pink streaks of setting sun glowing on the bedroom ceiling …

 

Life changed. Overnight.  An un-imagined, dystopian pause.  The world over. 

Our front window – a call to prayer for safety and protection of the nation and our frontline workers.

When normal returns, we’ll forever be changed.  What will  that normal be?

While we wait, what do we do with this time on our hands?

A pause to ponder and re-prioritize?

Perhaps.

 

 Stay safe, stay home.  Reach out. 

Be thankful. 

Love this precious life. 

Our entire street stood outside on their driveways one Saturday night and banged on pots and pans in appreciation of our medical and frontline workers.  Listen …

 

Until next time,                                                                                                  

 

 

 

 

PS: Click here  to read Mr A’s story in Goodbye Yesterdays

Click here for Thursdays With Harold by Selina Stambi                                                                                                                                                                                                           SelinascoverKobo
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The Thursday Dream Came True

Smudged gold through a grubby windshield.                                                                             

A Sunday city sunset so bright, it’s blinding.

 

 

When you drive into the sunset on a Sunday evening, the glare of gold is blinding and your heart leaps at the glory glowing all around you …

The golden glory of that late-winter city sunset.

When you walk into a room doused with late-afternoon sun and run for your phone to get a picture.  To freeze the moment, that sense of wonder that washes over you …

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Seconds of sudden sunshine spilling into a dim room 

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Me with sun and shadow on the doors of the hall closet. Those golden, glorious, unexpected moments …

 

When a bar of sunshine spills all over the closet doors and your shadow slides into the panoply of light and shadow …

Moments of unexpected, unsolicited joy that whisper voiceless words of  wonder and promises of marvels to come.

 

This is my dream box –

The dream box sits in a corner of my bedroom, by the door. The first sight that meets my eye when I wake up in the morning.

 

 

 

It overflows with two decades of journals, the pen-and-ink record of significant moments — worst, best, lovely, ugly.  And all the dreams of course …

I was born to write. Write, I did.  All my life.  

 

So  Thursdays With Harold , a journey that commenced some years ago on the writers’ website, fanstory.com  , is finally a reality.

A ping on my phone one evening some years ago, alerts me to a message from Judy Starritt.  She’s found this blog and read the first teaser chapter of Thursdays With Harold.  She asks for more.

Judy has ALS , is paralyzed and has lost her power of speech.  She still has marginal use of her hands, however, and can read and type on her Ipad.  She’s a hawk for typos.  The teacher in her connects with the teacher in me.  We become fast friends and communicate daily via Facebook messenger. Her joy and determined vitality are infectious. She’s intrigued by Harold, the main character in the book, who is also an ALS patient.

I email her six chapters at a time.  

 Judy sent me this picture of her manuscript of Thursdays With Harold, which her husband printed for her to read.  It lies against the backdrop of the sheets of the bed she lay in. There’s a rainbow on it. We shared a mutual love of rainbows.

 Judy Starritt, wife, mother, grandmother, retired math teacher, an irrepressible, inspirational, vital, clever woman, who blazed a trail even through her ALS journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judy comments  –

I finished your book about 3 hours ago.  Would you like to know my thoughts about it?

This book is TOO good to be tucked away.  THIS IS A BOOK THAT SHOULD BE READ.  A book club and discussion sort of book.  A PERFECT book club book that would lead into wonderful discussions.  A book that stays with you.

Is this book at a publishers? 

It is time for it to come out of the closet … or drawer… or hard drive.  How can I help with miracles? This SO needs to be published. 

There is such an awareness about ALS now. I could be in charge of East Coast publicity. I have learned that anything is possible.

Judy in the final days with her newest grandchild.     

Judy passes on some weeks later.  I’ve never met her in person, this woman who’s become such a dear and intimate friend.  I fly out to eastern Canada to attend her funeral in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The hospital bed in which Judy spent her last years, set up by her bedroom window. On the bed lies her Ipad.  It was surreal to visit Judy’s home the day after her funeral in January 2018, to meet her family and experience the overwhelming sense of a woman I’d known so well, but never met face-to-face

The dream she’s rekindled refuses to die.  Anything is possible, she said …

But I need a cover design.

I reach out to Avril Borthiry, a talented Canadian writer of medieval romances.  We got acquainted on Fanstory.com when she was creating her fascinating novel, Triskelion

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Avril Borthiry, talented writer and amateur cover designer par excellence, author of several novels,  My favourite is the haunting Triskelion.

“Who does your covers?” I asked.                            

“I do my own,” Av said. “I could design yours!”

It’s lovely when artists are generous with one another. 

Triskelion: a legend continues by [Borthiry, Avril]
Triskelion, by Avril Borthiry. A haunting tale of medieval Cumbria.
Avril produced a cover that read my heart.  She pushed me to persevere.  She sent me tips and links, made suggestions and critiqued. 

“I loved Harold.  It’s a story that must be told,” she said.

And so, the dream came true.

Thursdays With Harold is  available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon –

(https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084YXJRDS…)

Also as e-book on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Indigo, Apple, Baker & Taylor, Bibliotheca, OverDrive and 24 Symbols.

(https://books2read.com/u/mKDxvd)

This is the story of Thursdays With Harold —

Thursdays With Harold: cover design by Avril Borthiry

Harold Stedman, a quirky sixty-something suburban lawyer with a crooked smile and zany sense of humour, is retained by Fiona to represent her in a bizarre case of copyright theft and wrongful dismissal.

Shortly into the legal proceedings Harold is diagnosed with ALS. Within months he’s lost his power of speech, but he’s determined to see the case through.

Fiona makes weekly visits to Harold’s office as attorney and client make a united effort to laugh their way through the harrowing circumstances

Lorraine, Harold’s wife – a strong, stylish professional – and Fiona become friends as time ticks by and the case drags on. Then Lorraine Stedman turns nasty. Very nasty.

There’s a trial looming and finances are depleted. An ugly cloud hangs over Fiona. Will there be a way out?

Charged with pathos and fun, unexpected twists and convolutions, this is the compelling story of an unlikely friendship, misplaced trust and the mad scramble to wind up an ill-fated lawsuit.

Come on in and visit with Fiona on Thursdays with Harold …

 

Thank you, Judy Starritt, for believing in this novel.  I’ve dedicated it to your memory.  You came out of nowhere, reached out through cyberspace and helped me believe the dream was worth pursuing.

Thank you, Avril Borthiry for sharing your time, talent and expertise, and for convincing me to see this project through.  Without the crucial, final detail of an eye-catching cover Harold would never have hit the public forum.

Remember how your mum would tell you not to judge a book by its cover?  Not true in this demanding digital age!  The cover counts big time.  It’s the reader’s first exposure to the author’s work — to tempt or to turn away.

So this dream’s done and dusted off.   And now, there’s a brand new one simmering on my mind!  

I believe the best is yet to come.

Until next time,

Excitedly yours,

Judy sent me this picture. “… and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true …”

The Newtons Of Old Park View (Our Present Past 4)

[ To get caught up on this story – OUR PRESENT PAST – CLICK HERE   FOR PART 1 /  CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 /   CLICK HERE  FOR PART 3 ] 

  …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …      …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     …     .

 

Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton was a fine-looking fellow, a dapper dresser, impeccably turned out at all times.  His appreciation of quality clothing and polished footwear was legend.  

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Young Charles Newton (standing left) and his buddies. ‘Westernised Oriental Gentlemen’, all dressed to the nines in colonial finery.  Circa 1920s. (Courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

 

The son of Gladwin Ponniah and Victoria Nesamma Newton of Puloly West, young Charles commenced his career as an assistant teacher at his alma mater, St John’s College, Chundikuli (Jaffna).   Charming and youthful, he became popular with the students and well respected by fellow members of staff.  Charles, who possessed a scholarly knowledge of the Tamil language, was an acknowledged pundit among his peers.  

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Staff of St John’s College, Chundikuli (circa 1930’s).  Cbarles Newton in ‘national cosume’,  seated third from left.  Principal, Father Peto (a British Anglican minister), seated centre right.
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St John’s College, Chundikuli, as it stands today, renovated and rebuilt after the civil war.  (Picture taken by this writer in 2017)

 

Young Mr. Newton of St John’s College was also known for his love of English drama and lent his wholehearted support to the school’s theatrical endeavours.  

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Photo of a scene from a Shakespearean production staged at Chundikuli Girls’ College in 1912, published in the school magazine.  (The original magazines are all accessible in the school library.)  The standard of education provided in the missions schools in northern Ceylon was very high.  English was taught as to native speakers of the language. Chundikuli Girls’ College is the sister school of St. John’s College.  The two institutions are  a stone’s throw away from each other.  (Photo taken by this writer 2017)

 There came that inevitable moment in this young man’s life — as in the lives of all young men for generations before and after him — when his elders commenced discussions on his matrimonial prospects and the family matchmakers began screening potential candidates. The young lady presented for his consideration was Miss Anne Rose Thangamma Perinpanayagam, daughter of  a wealthy landowner, Joshua Perinpanayagam of Perinpanayagam Lane.   Miss Anne Rose’s hand was backed by the gleaming promise of a substantial dowry. 

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Joshua Perinpanayagam’s great grand children standing at the entrance to Perinpanayagam Lane, Chundikuli.  Left to right:  Suhanthi, Indramathy and Indranath, children of his grandson, Barnabas Albert Thambirajah Perinpanayagam (Courtesy Suhanthi Knower)

The dashing dandy, Charles Newton,  was permitted a glimpse of the wife-in-waiting before he agreed to the nuptials. Miss Anne Rose sat demurely in her chair, directly beside her brother, Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam’s wife.  Her sister-in-law, Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers)  Perinpanayagam was a tall, pretty lady of striking appearance.  Charles, who did a walk-by and was allowed to take a quick look from a distance away, assumed that the attractive young matron, Rebecca Ponnamma, was the proposed bride-to-be.   

 

He  declared a definite, delighted, “Yes!”    

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Mistaken identity:  Anne Rose Thangamma (Perinpanayagam) Newton in her later years, circa 1950’s (courtesy Daniel Newton)
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and her brother’s wife –  Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers) Perinpanayagam with her oldest          grandchild, Eric. Circa 1930’s.  (Courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the match was made, the details decided on.  The date was set. The next time Charles Newton set eyes on the woman he’d pledged to marry was at the altar at St John’s church in Chundikuli, as she walked up the aisle on her father’s arm.                 

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St John the Baptist Church (known as St John’s), Chundikuli, the stage for family weddings over several generations, rebuilt and modernized after the civil war (2017).

He was perturbed to note the stature of the veiled bride.  She appeared much shorter than he remembered.  Then, when guazy fabric was moved aside to enable the bridegroom to secure the traditional marriage thali around his bride’s neck, he observed that her skin was some shades darker than his recollection served him.  

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The thali is a rope of solid 24 carat gold that the Tamil groom places around the neck of the bride.  It has the same significance as the wedding ring.  The screws in the shape of clasped hands, once put in place at the altar by the bridegroom, are traditionally never undone.  In the old days several gold sovereigns were affixed to the necklace.  This was the woman’s wealth and her insurance in case of unexpected widowhood. The symbols on the Hindu and Christian thalis differ. (The thali in the picture with a Bible, a cross and an angel engraved on it, a smaller, simpler version of the traditional thali, belongs to this writer.  It was placed around her neck by her husband on her wedding day.)

 

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A solid rope of gold (the lower necklace) – the thali worn by this writer’s husband’s great grandmother (circa 1900s)

                                                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                             Too late for second thoughts …

They exchanged their vows and Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton and Anne Rose Thangamma Perinpanayagam entered the state of Holy Matrimony.  The pair were now man and wife. 

Oral family history recalls that the disgruntled new husband made no effort to hide his dissatisfaction.

“In those days, there were no honeymoons,” an elderly great-niece-by-marriage chuckles as she remembers the story her mother told her.  “They went straight home and were sent to their room.  He ignored her completely. The relatives had to intervene.  They told him it was too late to do anything now that the wedding was over.  They advised him to make the best of the situation.”

Her eyes gleam with amusement.  “They set the stage when he walked by.  He was tricked into agreeing to the marriage …”

Posterity will never find out who the culpable ‘they’ might be …

The circumstances surrounding the nuptials of this theatre-loving thespian was comic drama worthy of Oscar Wilde and others whose plays his students performed on the stage of his beloved school, St John’s College.

“What to do?” as the local saying goes — which really means … there’s no solution to the situation, so grin and bear it!

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A wedding photo taken outside St John’s Church, circa 1920’s.  This writer located the picture in the library of Chundikuli Girls’ College,  in an original copy of the school magazine from the 20’s/30’s (2017)

 Despite the inauspicious commencement to the marriage, the couple eased into a life of domestic comfort, although history doesn’t remember Anne Rose Newton as being a lady of exceptionally cheerful disposition.

In addition to several acres of paddy land that was part of her dowry, Joshua Perinpanayagam, Anne Rose’s father, presented his daughter with a handsome property in Forest Office Lane in the fashionable Jaffna suburb of Chundikuli. 

The neighbouring block of land was given by Joshua to his son, Samuel Alfred Chellathurai (Anne Rose’s brother, who married the pretty Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers).

At a time when homes were constructed of wattle-and-daub and coconut thatch, old Joshua Perinpanayagam, they say, built the first brick-and-tile residence in Jaffna – such was the vast extent of his wealth.   

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The entrance to Forest Office Lane (2017) (photo taken by this writer)
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A wattle-and-daub, coconut thatch building typical of the time (circa 1900’s)

 

 

 

 

Chundikuli, in the early nineteen hundreds, boasted modern homes with flower gardens and shady trees, built in the Dutch and colonial styles and was where the residence of the British Government Agent was situated. It was the posh part of town.  

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Old Dutch houses in Jaffna town, circa 1900’s
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War-damaged colonial home in Tellipalai (2017) (Photo taken by this writer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Government Rest House, Jaffna (circa 1900)

Charles Newton built Old Park View on his wife’s dowry property.  It was a few minutes’ walk from Old Park, St John’s College and Chundikuli Girls’ College.  

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Old Park, Chundikuli, as it stands today.  The colonial Government Agent’s residence, known as the Kachcheri, was built on these sprawling grounds which he named Old Park.  He later opened the park to the public (photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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A child’s thoughts on Old Park, from the Chundikuli Girls’ College magazine, circa 1930s.  The old magazines, many falling apart, are accessible at the school library. (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)

 

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An artist’s view of the Kachcheri (the colonial Government Agent’s residence) in all its original grandeur.

 

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The ruins of the grand old Kachcheri, the Government Agent’s residence, bombed during the civil war. (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Newton was placed in charge of a satellite school of St John’s College in Urumbrai, which was later consolidated with the main school in Chundikuli. He also served as the college bursar.

Charles was a gregarious man.  He adored company.  Married to a woman who was famed as a great cook, he made every occasion an excuse for a party. Old Park View was a place of regular entertainment and his guests often received a gift at the end of an evening of jollification at his residence.  He marked the milestone of his fiftieth birthday with a special handkerchief that he presented to every gentleman who attended the celebration.

Charles was fond of animals and set up a mini zoo in the large grounds surrounding his house, with iron cages housing deer, peacocks and exotic birds.  Tales are told of Charles’ talking parrot and the pet squirrel who slept in his bed at night and answered to the name of Ganapathy.  (One sad morning the squirrel was found dead. The creature’s life was snuffed out when his sleeping master rolled over him.)

RIP little Ganapathy …

Charles delighted in agrarian pursuits and had dreams of planting every variety of fruit tree native to the island of Ceylon in the orchard around his home.  The juicy karuththa kolumban mangoes harvested on this property were, in later years, carefully boxed by Anne Rose and dispatched by overnight train to the grandchildren in Colombo.

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Typical wattle-and-daub and cadjan (coconut-thatch) homes in old Jaffna (circa 1900s)
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A shady, palm-lined lane in northern Ceylon, with an approaching bullock-drawn carriage (circa 1900’s)

Charles and Anne Rose Thangamma Newton had four children — two daughters and two sons — Grace Nesaratnam, Mercy Sugirtharatnam, Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam and Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam.  

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The Newtons of Old Park View, circa 1930s.  Left to right (seated):  Grace Nesaratnam (Newton) Aiyadore (expecting her first baby), Charles Newton, Anne Rose Thangamma (Perinpanayagam) Newton, Mercy Sugirtharatnam (Newton) Samuel (expecting her third child).  Standing: Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam (Newton).  Seated on the ground: Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam (Newton).  On Grandpa Charles’ lap: Ruby Ratnadevi , With Grandma’s arm on her: Pearl Ratnaranee (daughters of Mercy Sugirtharatnam) (Courtesy Rowena Landham)
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(2) Mercy Sugirtharatnam (Newton) Samuel (circa 1930’s)
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(1) Grace Nesaratnam (Newton) Aiyadore , circa 1960’s (Courtesy Ranji Ratnasingham)

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

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(4) Arthur Samuel  Selvaratnam Newton, circa 1950’s (courtesy Daniel Newton)
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(3) Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam (Newton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the solemnization of the union between Charles and Anne Rose Thangamma, a marriage was arranged between Anne Rose’s brother, Joseph Alfred Thambirasa Perinpanayagam, and Charles’ sister, Jane Ponnamma Newton. These unions were termed inter-marriages, where a brother and sister were married to a brother and sister of another family. Such marriages forged strong family ties, lessened the pressure of dowry demands and kept property and wealth within clans.  

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Jane Ponnamma (Newton) Perinpanayagam (Charles Newton’s sister) with her husband, Joseph Alfred Thambirasa Perinpanayagam (Anne Rose Thangamma’s brother) and their only child, Barnabas Albert  Thambirajah, circa 1924 (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

 

And now … what of Shadrak?   Remember him?

To the Newton household at Old Park View, for a short while in the early years of their marriage, so the story goes, came Shadrak Samuel, the young orphan from Vavuniya.  Anne Rose Thangamma (Perinpanayagam) Newton was Shadrak’s late mother’s first cousin. Her sister-in-law, Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers) Perinpanayagam, was his aunt (his mother’s sister) who welcomed him into her home where he lived in the capital city of Colombo. 

Shadrak and his two brothers had been sent to Jaffna to be educated as wards of the Anglican Church.  The boys were fostered by various relatives while being schooled at Saint John’s college.  Shadrak was twelve years old when he made the bold, independent decision to terminate his formal education and take the long journey from the northern province to the south of the island of Ceylon, to seek his fortune and help support his siblings.   He might have been on a visit from Colombo some years later when the second Newton daughter, Mercy, was born.  The teen-aged Shadrak is reported to have held the infant in his arms.  

He would have been sixteen years old.  

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Charles Newton in the St John’s College Magazine.  This picture was included with his death announcemnt (1936) (Photo taken by this writer in 2017)
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The original copies of the St John’s College magazine are still available in the school library.  This writer found the photo of Charles Newton, her great grandfather, in the 1936 magazine from the bound compilation above.

 

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 Charles Newton memorial plaque in the St John’s College library. (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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Portrait of Dr. E. S. Thevasagayam, hanging at St John’s College in the gallery of former principals. Dr. Thevasagayam was the husband of Daisy, Charles Newton’s granddaughter, whose mother was Charles’ daughter, Grace Nesaratnam Aiyadore. Dr.  Thevasagayam, after retiring from a career in the UN, took up the postion of principal of St John’s College during the difficult civil war years.  He was a former student of the school.

 

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Handwritten burial records in the vestry of St John’s Church, Chundikuli, by means of which this writer was able to locate graves of ancestors.  Many records were lost when the church was bombed during the civil war.  There appeared to be no plans towards digitizing when this picture was taken by the writer in 2017.

                                                           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                  To be continued …      

   [ Click here  to read Part 4: The Newtons Of Old Park View. ]     

(Scroll down for details of geneologies and more pictures)       

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Geneologies of the Danvers / Perinpanayagam/  Newton / Samuel family lines —

(These geneologies were put together using notes from the archives of the late S.E.R. Perinpanaygam, courtesy Eric and Tim Perinpanayagam)

 

The family tree gets complex and tangled with several marriages within the Danvers, Perinpanayagam, Newton and Samuel lines. This writer created a detective-style board to unravel the convolutions …
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Helen Nesamma (Newton) Karthigesu (Charles Newton’s sister), and her husband, Sinnathamby Solomon Karthigesu (courtesy Charles Manickam)

 

 

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Danvers Family Line –

Kanthar married Thangam (circa 1790) and settled in Tellippalai.  They had 4 children. One son, Kathirgamar Danvers (b. 1809) graduated from the Tellipallai English boarding school and the converted to  the Christian faith in 1834.  

 

Kathirgamar Danvers fled to Pandeterruppu after the villagers, angry that he had turned away from his Hindu beliefs, burned down the Tellipallai Church.  The American missionary, Rev. Daniel Poor, arranged a marriage for him with Anna Saveriyal of Pandeterruppu, a student at Uduvil Girls’ School.

Kathirgamar and Anna Danvers had seven children – David, Jane Elizabeth, Daniel, Gabriel, Samuel, Solomon and Joseph.  

 

Their son, David Danvers, married Harriet Theivanei. Their daughter, Jane Elizabeth Danvers married Joshua Perinpanayagam (b. 1837) Their son, Solomon Danvers, married Thangam Vethanayagam (sister of Vethanyagam Subramaniam Samuel)  

 

The tomb of the missionary, Rev. Daniel Poor, in the Tellipalai Church yard.  (Photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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Plaque at the door of the Tellipalai Church (taken by this writer in 2017)

 

The American Missions Church in Tellipalai, rebuilt after the civil war. This was the church that was burned down in reaction to Kathirgarmar Danvers’ conversion to Christianity in 1834.  Plaque (as in picture above left) by the door. (Picture taken by this writer, 2017)
The refurbished tombs of the early American missionaries in the Tellipalai Church yard. (Picture taken by this writer, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Danvers and Harriet Theivanei had three daughters – Mary Chellamma, Elizabeth Annamma and Rebecca Ponnamma.  

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Mary Chellamma Danvers married Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. (Solomon Danvers, Mary’s uncle, married  Thangam Vethanayagam, her husband’s sister. Her uncle her became her brother-in-law.)

Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers married her cousin, Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam.

Elizabeth Annamma Danvers married Jacob Arumainayagam.  

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Geneology records from the Bible of Kathirgamar Davers’ great grandson, Solomon Chinnathamby Samuel.  This Bible survived war and immigration (courtesy Renee Jogananthan)

 

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Perinpanayagam Family Line –

Joshua Perinpanayagam married Jane Elizabeth Danvers (daughter of Kathirgamar Danvers, sister of David Danvers).

They had 2 sons and a daughter — Samuel Alfred Chellathurai (b. 1892), Anne Rose Thangamma and Joseph Albert Thambirasa (b. 1879)  

 

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Jane Ponnamma (Newton) Perinpanayagam (Charles Newton’s sister) with her husband, Joseph Alfred Thambirasa Perinpanayagam (Grandson of Joshua Perinpanayagam) in their latter years (circa 1960’s) (courtesy Suhanthi Knower)

 

Samuel Alfred Chellathurai Perinpanayagam married Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers.

Anne Rose Thangamma married Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton (b. 1883).

Joseph Albert Thamirasa (b. 1879) married Jane Ponnamma Newton (sister of Charles Newton).          

 

 

 

 

Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam and Rebecca Danvers had three sons – Stephen Edgar Rasasingham (b. 1908), Donald Edwin Balasingham (b. 1909) and George Walter Kulasingham (b. 1912).  Donald died in infancy. Their adopted daughter, Anna May Gnanamanie died in her teens.  

 

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Samuel Family Line –

   

Vethanayagam (from Kaithady) married Seeniachchi (from Urumpirai).  They had 9 children – 6 daughters and 3 sons.

Their son, Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel married Mary Chellamma Danvers.

Their daughter, Thangam Vethanayagam married Solomon Danvers (Mary Chellamma Danvers’ paternal uncle).  

 

Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel and Mary Chellamma Danvers settled in Vavuniya.

They had 6 children – 3 sons and 3 daughters – (1) Sarah Chinnamma, (2) Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah, (3) Shadrak Chinniah, (4) Elizabeth Thangamma, (5) Anna Chinnathangam and (6) Solomon Chinnathamby.

Sara Chinnamma Samuel married David Sinniah Kanagaratnam.

Subramanian Vethanyagam Chelliah married Annam (neé?).

Shadrak Chinniah married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton.

Elizabeth Thangamma married Godwin Wesley Sittampalam.

Anna Chinnathangam married Albert Kathapoo.

Solomon Chinnathamby married Mercy Atputhanayagam Gnanaratnam.  

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More beautifully handwritten  records from the Bible of Kathirgamar Davers’ great grandson, Solomon Chinnathamby Samuel.  This Bible survived war and immigration (courtesy Renee Jogananthan, Solomon’s daughter)

Shadrak Chinniah Samuel married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton.

They had 6 children – (1) Pearl Ratnaranee, (2) Ruby Ratnadevi, (3) Peter Ratnarajah, (4) Daniel Ratnadeva, (5) Beatrice Ratnajothy and (6) Elizabeth Ratnamalar

A seventh child, Bertie, didn’t survive childhood.  

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Newton Family Line –

Gladwin Ponniah Newton (son of Robert Newton and his wife, a Miss Phillips) married Victoria Valliamma.

They had 6 children – (1) Charles MacArthur Thambithurai , (2) Jane Ponnamma (who married Joseph Albert Thambirasa Perinpanayagam), (3) Isaac Alagaiah, (4) Ranji , (5) Julia Rasamma and (6) Helen Nesamma .  

 

Charles MacArthur Thambithurai Newton married Anne Rose Thangamma Perinpanayagam.

They had 4 children – (1) Grace Nesaratnam, (2) Mercy Sugirtharatnam, (3) Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam and (4) Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam.

Grace Nesaratnam Newton married Muthuvelu Fred Aiyadore.

Mercy Sugirtharatnam married Shadrak Chinniah Samuel.

Victor Joseph Jeyaratnam Newton married Selvamalar Thayalam Arulampalam.

Arthur Samuel Selvaratnam married Thangam (née?)  

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The David the Sexton trying to locate our ancestors’ graves (photo taken by this writer, 2017)
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David, the Sexton of St John’s Church, Chundikulli, unlocking the gate to the little church graveyard (photo taken by this writer, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The little cemetery in the St John’s churchyard where some of the ornate, Victorian-style tombs have been refurbished after the war, while others are disintegrating into crumbling mounds of rubble. On this site, the writer and her husband  discovered the graves of ancestors and others on their respective family trees –

 

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Native Christian pastors and preachers in Jaffna, circa 1917                    (courtesy Dr. R.P. Rajakone)

Goodbye Yesterdays

Summer’s done.  Trees begin to burn with autumn angst.  

Backyard bursts with bloom.  Garden glows.

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A glance through the dining room window, just as sunlight spills all over the kneeling angel under the apple tree.  Heavenly moment …

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 …

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View from the bay window where I sit at my desk to write.  Summer garden of 2019 — my living museum of broken, abandoned and unwanted things.

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A once-upon-a-time fondue set preening on a tree stump by the fence.

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I found this beautifully rusted, ancient wheelbarrow abandoned on the kerb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Husband nods.

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 …

I’m crushed.

“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.”

True.  

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 …

Whoa!

 … 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?”

“Yes.”

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.”

The desks? 

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. ”

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Late Victorian schoolhouse desk.  The little beauty that took my breath away.  The bench folds up. Dear hubby was right.  The desks were taken back in as the owner had to visit his wife in the nursing home and couldn’t risk his possessions being stolen from the kerb.

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.

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My library of vintage and antique books bursts at the seams.  No shelf space left!

 

 

 

 

 

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 …

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This book, over a century old …

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… contains some fascinating historical photos and maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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My new friend and the antique school desk (picture used with permission).

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 … 

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All alone.  Mr. A taking me to the shed in the sprawling backyard, to show me his grandparents’ stuff.  He built the shed himself using old garage doors!  My kinda re-purposing guy!

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.

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This suitcase would already be old if it were checked onto the Titanic.  There’s a single handle located on one side.  With solid wood trimming and brass embellishments, it certainly wasn’t designed for air travel! I plan to turn it into a coffee table

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This beautiful Singer treadle sewing machine is over a hundred years old.  Mr. A purchased it 40 years ago from an old farmhouse.  The carved drawers hold the original machine accessories, bobbins, needles and spools of thread.  It weighs a ton and I have no idea how he and his son carried it down the narrow flight of stairs ready for pick up.   It’s now my whimsical new foyer table

                                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I said … such a summer it has been, of delightful discoveries and intriguing encounters.

Sweet, surreal serendipity …

 

Until next time,

sincerely

 

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 …

 

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Anna Goes To School (Our Present Past 3)

[ To get caught up on this story Click here   for OUR PRESENT PAST (1) / CLICK HERE FOR 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 Shadrak heaved a quiet sigh of relief. This was his mother’s flesh and blood.  His own.   He was home.

Tramcars on York Street, in the bustling metropolis of Colombo, circa 1900’s. (Courtesy Google images).
Goodbye farming communities, wattle-and-daub abodes and coconut-thatch roofs in the rural the northern province of Jaffna … (Google images)

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.  

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Woman beyond her time: born in 1876, Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers (far left), with classmates (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)
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Uduvil Girls School founded by the CMS Anglican Missonaries in Jan. 1824, the first girls’ boarding school established in Asia.
A senior class at Uduvil Girls’ School, circa early 1900’s (Courtesy Tishan Mills, ceylontamils.com)

School teacher, evangelist, lifelong friend and ally of Dr. Mary Rutnam, Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers was a woman beyond her time.

Dr Mary Rutnam (1873-1962), a Canadian pioneer, physician, philanthropist and political activist, came to Ceylon in 1896. She was rejected as a missionary doctor because of her marriage to a Ceylonese Tamil man. In defiance of missionary and colonial society, she remained in Ceylon and worked for the government.

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)

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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers) Perinpanayagam, grandly attired in colonial finery.

 

 

 

Shadrak 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. Continue reading “Anna Goes To School (Our Present Past 3)”

Root Of The Matter

For years it sat in a backyard flower bed.

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The dead remains of an ill-fated evergreen in the brown planter. Everything struggled and died.

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.

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A root from the apple tree (left) growing upwards into the pot, created a gaping hole in the process.

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 …

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Sunny new location.  An old CD rack repurposed as a trellis support for a vine.

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No hidden roots to contend with. These gorgeous pink trumpet-shaped blossoms created a spectacular bright-spot at the foot of the deck steps.

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.  

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Abandoned things are like hurting people going through life wearing masks, when all the while there’s possible loveliness waiting to be excavated, if one only knew how

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 —

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Thrift store finds.  Note the upside down chair at the top of the pile …

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Here it is. A lick of leftover paint …

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… glue and a pack of rose-print paper napkins.  Several coats of lacquer and behold! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 –

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Something similar to this darling drop-leaf tea cart from the 1920’s-40’s (straight from a Downton Abbey-type setting) had a price tag of $350 plus taxes at a local thrift shop.  It would go for double the price at an antique store.  In excellent condition, I rescued this one from the kerb just minutes before the garbage truck roared by.  All it needed was a good scrub to get rid of dust and cobwebs.

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This adorable tilting mirror (I can just picture it in a scene from Jane Eyre) was lying face down in the grass as I jogged by just after dawn one morning.  I paid a few dollars to have the murky mirror replaced, had it sanded and stained, and what a conversation piece!  The price tag on a similar one at an antique store was astounding!

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This little bit of old-world loveliness sat forlornly outside a front gate after the owner failed to sell it at a garage sale.  He was delighted to give it to me for nothing.  It’s a whimsical reminder of a summer visit to my sister in the US. (Yes, it was driven back over the border to Canada!)  A bit of popsicle stick to repair the chip at the edge and …

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… more paint, glue and rose-print napkins and …

               

           

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I just managed to grunt my way through the process of lifting this heavy carved triple mirror into my trusty hatchback.

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Reflections from a bygone era …

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… here’s where it ends up, with a pair of Daughter’s boots, an ancient two-legged chair (right) which serves as a pot-stand for a brilliant coleus. (The bridge is an online purchase, a fabulous Mother’s Day gift from the kids and their dad).  Not entirely visible (left) a birdhouse perched on a tall floor-lamp base.  #Repurposedlife !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My friend, Gail’s eye fell on this ugly blanket box as we drove by.  She suggested I pick it up –

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Looking quite hideous. Peeling wood with splinters, a cracked lid and stains from water damage …

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Sand it down, a coat of white paint ..

 

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… shredded tissue paper and some glitter glue …

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… and behold!  A bench to sit and dream (and a chest to store twenty years’ worth of a hand-written journals).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love browsing in thrift stores –

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Treasures. My favourite thrift shop.  Cash only, no tax and all the proceeds go towards mental health awareness.

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A great place to hunt out vintage books. The Salvation Army Thrift Store is not-for-profit, so no taxes on top of the price tag. Children’s books are just a dollar.  I picked up a 1915 hardcover edition of Little Women (Luisa M. Alcott) with dust jacket in mint condition, for a buck. (E-bay tells me it’s worth way, way more.)

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Prices at value village have sky-rocketed lately and there is tax on top.  Books average $7.00 for hardcover, exactly double what others charge.  Someone is making a hefty profit out of donated junk.

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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.

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Classics from a hundred years ago 

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.

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The Life Of Our Lord, written by Charles Dickens for his children.

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Contrary to his wishes, it was published posthumously in 1934

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 –

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Old ladder.  Perfect garden display stand for vintage kitchen implements, including meat grinder, sandwich toaster and Mum’s old tea kettle and teapot.

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Porch platform for autumnal Thanksgiving decorations.

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Winter world .  Ladder aglow with Christmas lights and silver stuff.

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Ladder hosting assorted antiques ‘n’ things for in-between times (including an ekel broom from Sri Lanka).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 –

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This decorated door took three of us to haul it out when I was done with it.

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Old bike festooned with flower baskets.  Squirrel finds a moment’s rest on the handlebars.

– 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 …

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Chandelier birdfeeder with cocunut shell bird seed bowls.

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Blooming three-tier shoe-rack planter stand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Solar bulbs clipped to the skeleton of an outmoded chandelier create a dreamy glow under the cherry tree at night.

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A single solar light inside a wee crystal chandelier lights up the corner under the apple tree  

A garden bedroom –

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A garden bed (literally).  A mesh for a perennial jasmine to crawl all over and create a blooming summer bedspread.  Old cupboard door for bedroom window.

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Optical illusion … a frame placed in a flower bed creates the appearance of a reflecting mirror.

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.

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… and haven of rest …

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A place of discovery …

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… to meet and eat

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… and sweetly dream.

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These newest acquisitions have been out all winter, weathering nicely to acquire the perfect patina of age, all ready for spring planting.

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The plumber didn’t think I was nuts when I wouldn’t let him throw out this old laundry tub.  (He knows me well.) It’s going to be re-purposed as a pond this summer, with fountain water flowing out of the taps.

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The old downstairs powder room wash basin got re-purposed as a shallow pond some years ago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to draw the line at old toilets, however.  

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Spring and fall renovations see dozens of these on neighbourhood sidewalks.  As we drive by I’m told, “Don’t you dare, Mom!” (I have my standards, of course – I wouldn’t dream of it!)

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Upcycled toilet adorning a garden.  Doesn’t feel too sanitary … (courtesy Pinterest)

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Spent hours last week, picking up a winter’s worth of lap-dog droppings.  All ready for spring and then … woke up on Sunday morning to a marshmallow world.  #thisismycanada!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  

Keeping a sharp eye out …

Until next time,

sincerely

nvr2old2dream_nametag

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Re-purposed picture frames make a fine a bathroom collage

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tell Me The Story, Daddy!

“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.

 

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The famous Raffles hotel, Singapore,  playground of the colonial elite,  circa 1920 (Google images)
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High Street, Singapore in 1945, just before the outbreak of WW2 (Google images)

 

“My father was a radio communications officer.  He worked for the British government in Singapore …”

 

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I don’t remember Grandpa James who died days after my first birthday.
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A WW2 radio communications officer (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

 

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James and Violet. Grandpa James was part of the diaspora of English-educated Ceylon Tamils who were wooed into coveted government posts in colonial Malaya and Singapore.  He sailed home for a brief visit  when an inter-marriage was arranged for him and his sister.  Grandpa James wedded my grandmother, Violet;  grandma Violet’s brother married Grandpa’s sister, Fanny. 
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Dad’s older brother, Rigby, was born in 1935. Dad arrived thirteen months later. Granny Violet had three children during the Malaya/ Singapore years.  Dad grew up speaking Malay and Chinese.

 

“We lived in a sprawling home on Mount Rosie, surrounded by a large compound. I remember climbing fruit trees and playing for hours outside.”

 

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An old colonial home on Mount Rosie Road (circa 1940’s) which matches Dad’s description of the home he lived in as a child (Google images)
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Mount Rosie Road — the current street sign (Google images)

 

“The Japanese considered their monarch a god.  They worshipped him as such.

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Screaming headlines (Google images)

 

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 …”  

 

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Map of the Japanese Empire in 1942 (Google images)

 

“When the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans got involved.  This was the beginning of the Pacific War.”

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Hawaii 1941.  US Soldiers watching the explosion after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. (Google Images)

  “The tanks rolled into Singapore.

 

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Japanese troops storm the shores of Singapore (Google images)

 

Headlines screamed.

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Singapore surrenders (Google images)
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Screaming headlines (Google images)
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Singapore: the newest feather in the cap of the Japanese Empire (Google images)
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Invaders patrol Singapore streets (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was one of the worst defeats in British military history …

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The fall of Singapore was one of  Britain’s greatest military defeats.  The 1942 battle ended with 140,00 troops and citizens of Singapore captured, wounded or killed.  Around 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops based in Singapore became prisoners of war.
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POWs in the Changi Prison, Singapore WW2 (Google images)

 

 

“Pretty much everyone was labelled a traitor.  They shipped them off to POW camps.  By the thousands.”           

    

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Singapore surrenders, 1942 (Google images) 

 

“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.                                  

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Sword held high, ready to strike.  Japanese officer, Singapore, 1940s (Google images)

“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.”

 

 

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POWs who were used as targets in practice had their heads blown off (Google images)
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Katana (Samurai) swords laid out in rows.  They were long, curved, single-bladed and could slice a man in half. (Google images)

 

“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.”

 

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Anti-American propaganda (Google images)
japwarposter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

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American bombers (Google images

“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.”

 

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Singaporeans waiting out an air raid in a bunker (Google images)

 

“I remember the dog fights in the air, when the Japanese bombers came in V-formation and the American fighter planes went after them.”

 

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Japanese boat plane (Google images)
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Japanese fighter plane (Google images)

 

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Aerial dogfight, WW2 (Google images)
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American ground forces observing the wake created by aerial dogfights.  Pacific War (Google images)“  
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Tail pointing upwards.  Downed warplane (Singapore) and gaping onlookers.  (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.”

 

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Allied planes. Massive aircraft, gleaming in the sun … (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.”

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Singaporean students being taught Japanese, circa 1940s (Google images)

“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.

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A Japanese class with soldiers in attendance, Singapore, circa 1940s (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

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Dad’s amazing power of recollection: “The officers wore white shirt, khaki jacket and leather boots”. And the long swords he described … (Google images)
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Japanese soldiers wearing long khaki shorts and hats with “long extensions at the back”.  I was amazed at Dad’s accurate description, culled from his memories from over 75 years ago. (Google images) 

                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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. 

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“They didn’t stop.  The entire convoy passed over me …” (Google images)

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.”

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Grandma Violet looking fine, wearing a saree (1961)

 

 

“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.”

 

 

 

 

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Inferno.  American forces bomb Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
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Singapore harbour in flames, 1945 (Google images)

 

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.

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Mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan officially surrendered on September 12, 1945 after the US military dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.  About 200,000 people died in the horrific aftermath of these nuclear explosions (Google images)

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.”

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Singapore is signed back over to the British, September 1945 (Google images)
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The British return to Singapore, 1945 (Google images)

             

 

 

 

 

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.    

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The Union Jack flies at full mast over liberated Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
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The allied troops roll back in to Singapore, 1945 (Google images)

“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.”

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Plain skin and bones.  A starving POW, Singapore, circa 1940s (Google images)
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Parade of prisoners in a Japanese POW camp (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The war ended in September 1945. 

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Rejoicing survivors (young boys in their midst) exit the Changi prison camp, Singapore, 1945 (Google images)
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Rows of Katana swords after the surrender of Singapore at the end of the war (Google images)
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Captors now captive … Japanese forces being guarded by Indian troops in Singapore, 1945 (Google images)

 

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Captors captive. Japanese soldiers being hauled off to POW camps,  Singapore 1945 (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.”

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The SS Arundel Castle. I was delighted to find a picture of the liner and amazed at the accuracy of Dad’s recollection.  (Google images)

 

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. 

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Colombo harbour, circa 1940’s (Google images)

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.”

 

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Maradana Railway Station (Google images)
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The journey by rail from  the west coast of the island of Ceylon to Batticoloa on the eastern shoreline.
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In the land of their ancestors.  Rumbling through the countryside on British-built rails …  (Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  

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An old steam train (1940’s Ceylon) rattling its way around the island on an efficient network of railways that still remains in use (Google images)

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.

 

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Settling in nicely.  Dad in his teens some years later, thriving in academics and sports, sporting his trademark moustache and burgeoning film-star looks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.     

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Looking good at 82.  Dad at Christmas service, 2017

 

 

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,      

       

sincerely

 

P.S. Dad meets his bride in Matchmaker, Matchaker! (click here) FOLLOW THIS BLOG (Go to Follow button below or on side bar or click here)

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Widow’s Dilemma: Our Present Past (2)

Click here to read Our Present Past (1)

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.

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Rice farmers in Ceylon in the early 1900s, clad in loin cloths and driving buffalo yoked to hand-crafted ploughs.  Similar scenes are still to be seen in rural parts of the island (now Sri Lanka) (Google images)

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 …

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Rice (paddy) cultivation in the early 1900s – back-breaking manual labour.  The same primitive methods are still in  practice in certain rural areas of the island. (Google images)

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Woman of faith: Grandma Harriet Danvers, wife of David Danvers (who was the son of Kathirgamar Danvers, the first convert to Christianity in the family line)

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.

 

 

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The Misses Leitch ( AMSmissionaries) with Tamil converts in Jaffna.  Foreign missionaries did not venture into the untamed Vavuniya area (wary of both inhabitants and jungle animals). Mary would have been assisted by native Christians, who were sent to serve in this region (courtesy, Google images) American missionaries in Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, where the Samuel family originally hailed from (courtesy Tishan Mills, ceylontamils.com)

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Northern provinces of Ceylon (highlighted) Vethanayagam Samuel relocated from the Jaffna province (shaded pink) to Vavuniya in the Vanni region (shaded brown)

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Bullock carts, a bull trussed up for branding,and  a young boy with branding iron in hand. (circa 1900’s, Google images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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Aunty Paranidhy (Anna Chinnathangam’s daughter) recalls the stories her mother told her. She shows me how her great grandmother Harriet’s hands reached heavenwards in prayer.

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.              

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The Anglican Church of the Holy Spirit, Vavuniya, where the family would probably have worshipped.

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).

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St. John’s College, Jaffna, as it stands at present, renovated and reconstructed after the civil war

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Jaffna town is approxiamtely 60 miles north of Vavuniya

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.

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A steam train speeds along the British-built coastal railway lines of early 1900s Ceylon (courtesy Google images)

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.                     

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Mary Chellamma (Danvers) Samuel, young mother of Sarah Chinnamma, S.V. Chelliah, Shadrack Chinnathamby, Elizabeth Thangamma, Anna Chinnathangam and Solomon Chinniah.    

World War I was still to come.

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the wide, wide world.  Dam Street, Colombo, circa 1900 ((Google images)

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Geneology of the Danvers and Samuel lines

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
           David, Jane, Daniel, Gabriel, Samuel, Solomon & Joseph.

 

* David Danvers married Harriet Theivanai
* David and Harriet Danvers had 3 children, all daughters.
      Mary Chellammah, Elizabeth Annamma & Rebecca Ponnamma

 

* Mary Chellammah Danvers married Subramanium Vethanayagam Samuel
* Mary Chellammah Danvers and Subramaniam Vethanayagam Samuel had 3 sons and 3 daughters –
      Sarah Chinnamah, Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah, Shadrack Chinniah, Elizabeth Thangamma , Solomon Chinniah and Anna Chinnathangam

 

 *Elizabeth Annamma Danvers married Jacob Arumainyayagam
  *Rebecca Ponnama Danvers married Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam
* Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers and Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam had 2 sons –
Stephen Edgar Rasasingham and George Walter Kulasingham

Samuel family line –

Illanganayagar Udaiyar of Kaithady – Vethanayagam married: Seeniachi of Urumpirai
They had 6 daughters and 3 sons which included
* Subramanium Vethanayagam Samuel who married Mary Chellammah Danvers 
          &
  Thangam Vethanayagam who married Solomon Danvers (Son of Kathirgamar Danvers and Anna see above)
(From the archives of the late S.E.R. Perinpanayagam, courtesy Eric and Tim Perinpanayagam)

(Click here to read Our Present Past 3: Anna Goes To School)

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Our Present Past (1)

“So what do you want to know?” she enquired.

“Everything,” I replied.

She chuckled. “Okay.  How much information do you have already?”

“Bits and pieces.  There’s a newspaper clipping  …”

“What does it say?”

“According to Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote an article which was published in the Morning Star, a young man named Kadirgamar Danvers from Tellipalai was baptized into the Christian faith in 1835. The villagers, angered by the conversion, burned the local church down.  Danvers fled to the village of Panditherruppu, where he met and married Anna Saveriyal.”

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A clipping of the article by Rev. Donald Kanagratanam published in 1981 in the Morning Star (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam).  The Morning Star was the oldest English newspaper in Jaffna, established by the American missionaries in 1841.

“There was a lot of missionary activity in Panditherruppu at the time.  They were more tolerant towards the converts,” she explained.

Tellipilai Church, Jaffna
The American Mission Church in Tellipalai, Jaffna (prior to civil war damage and reconstruction)

“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.

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Victoria Harriet (Theivenei) Danvers  (courtesy Vasanthi Narendran)
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1. Gabriel Danvers and wife, Mary (nee Santiago)     2.  Gabriel’s son and wife – Alfred Muttiah Danvers and Archimuttu – with their daughter  3. Albert Seevaratnam Danvers and his sister, Muttamma, children of Gabriel’s brother, Solomon Danvers (from notes by the late Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam)

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 …”

Mary Chellamma (Danvers) Samuel

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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca Ponnamma (nee Danvers) Perinpanayagam (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

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Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam, at age 25 (born 1872)
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Family tree notes from the files of S.E.R. Perinpanayagam (son of Rebecca Ponnamma and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam) (Courtesy Thavo Perinpanayagam)
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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca (Danvers) Perinpanayam with their children and Rebecca’s mother, Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers (from the archives of the late Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam)

“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  …

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Aunty Paranidhi, a goldmine of ancecstral history.  I managed to snatch two more visits during my brief stay in Colombo.

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.

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The photograph that began it all.  Shadrack Samuel, wife Mercy (nee Newton) and their children, taken before the birth of their youngest child, Elizabeth.  Left to right: Ruby, Pearl, Dan (seated), Peter. Beatrice is the toddler held by her father.

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)
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Subramaniam V. Chelliah

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Rebecca Ponnamma

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Elizabeth Thangamma

Shadrak Chinniah

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Anna Chinnathangam
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Solomon Chinnathamby

“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!”

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Handwritten family records from great uncle Solomon Samuel’s Bible

“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.”

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Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam (standing) with his sisters and mother, Rebecca Ponnamma

“According to the genealogy in the Bible, Anna Saveriyal – Kadirgamar Danvers’ wife – was a Bible Woman,” I noted.

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Bible Woman, circa late 1800 – early 1900’s.

“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.

A group of Bible Women (1910), Bibles in hand. (Courtesy ceylontamils.com)

“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.”

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Anna Chinnathangam (Asai Granny) as I remember her

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.

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Jaffna province in northern Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

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. 

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Solomon Samuel in his twilight years.  He lived to a ripe old age and was known for his vigour and boundless energy.

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. 

‘Dhobies’ – washermen – human washing machines, beating garments against rocks and washing boards to get them clean. Circa late 1800s, northern Ceylon.

Samuel stepped in to cool off and dipped his head in the water.  The dhoby, concerned to see how the water turned crimson from the blood, reached for some fresh-washed clothing spread out on the ground to dry.  Samuel shed his blood-stained linen, donning the clean sarong (veshti) and turban offered by the dhoby. He walked into the house to his waiting wife, stepped over the threshold and announced that he was ready to start cleaning. Then, barely pausing for breath, Vethanayagam Samuel collapsed at her feet and died.

In an instant Mary Chellammah Samuel found herself a widow with six young children on her hands.  Rebecca – the oldest – was 10, the twins – Solomon and Anna – were barely a month old.

Rebecca Chinnammah, a child herself, had to take charge of a brood of fatherless siblings while her mother attempted to salvage the pieces of their shattered lives.

Click here  to go to Part 2:  Widow’s Dilemma

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