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 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 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 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.
“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.
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 –
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!
She chuckled. “Okay. How much information do you have already?”
“Bits and pieces. There’s a newspaper clipping …”
“What does it say?”
“According to Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote an article which was published in the Morning Star, a young man named Kadirgamar Danvers from Tellipalai was baptized into the Christian faith in 1835. The villagers, angered by the conversion, burned the local church down. Danvers fled to the village of Panditherruppu, where he met and married Anna Saveriyal.”
“There was a lot of missionary activity in Panditherruppu at the time. They were more tolerant towards the converts,” she explained.
“According to Rev. Canagaratnam, Kadirgamar Danvers and Anna had seven children. One of them was Solomon Danvers,who trained as a medical practitioner under the famous Dr. Green of Manipay. An old Bible geneology that came into my possession recently, makes mention of only four offspring.”
The children of Kadirgamar and Anna Danvers (as recorded in the Bible of Solomon Samuel, their great grandson) –
David Danvers (married Harriet Theivanei)
Solomon Danvers (married Thangam Vethanayagam)
Jane Elizabeth Danvers (married Joshua Perinpanayagam)
Gabriel Danvers (married Mary Santiago)
David Danvers (son of Kadirgamar and Anna) married Harriet Theivanei.
The children of David and Harriet Danvers –
Mary Chellammah Danvers (married Vethanayagam Samuel)
Elizabeth Annamma Danvers (married Jacob Arumainayagam)
Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers (married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam)
“Mary Chellammah married Vethanayagam Samuel, who was your great grandfather,” she said. “Her sister, Rebecca Ponnamma, married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam. Samuel Alfred’s father was Joshua Perinpanayagam, who married Jane Elizabeth Danvers, (the daughter of Kadirgamar and Anna), David Danvers’ sister.”
My head begins to swim in a muddle of recurring last names …
“Ah … so that’s the Perinpanayagam connection. And Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam were first cousins,” I commented. “There’s a connection to the Newtons, too, I noticed …”
“There have been Danvers/Perinpanayagam/ Newton marriages over a few generations,” she replied. “My mother told me the old stories. Now I can pass them on to you and they won’t die with me. I’m so happy you are doing this.”
Her eyes grew misty.
I’m visiting the Colombo home of Aunty Paranidhi, Mum’s cousin. We’ve just met for the first time. She responds with ease to my barrage of questions …
My journey of inquiry commenced shortly after Mum’s funeral in 2015, when I came across a battered copy of a formal family portrait from the 1930’s.
Faded photos on relatives’ Facebook pages – fascinating pictures of men and women from generations gone by – fanned curiosity to a compelling flame.
The search began.
I embarked on a voyage of e-mails, long distance calls and some stamped, addressed pieces of snail mail. Pictures, obituary notices, genealogies and newspaper clippings poured in from all corners of the globe. Through Facebook introductions, Whats App texts and hand-written letters, relatives contacted each other on my behalf, and people I’d only heard of by name leapt onto the ancestry bandwagon.
An inundation of images and information descended on me. Tantalizing clues, fascinating glimpses into a bygone colonial culture and whispers of a skeleton or two in the ancestral cupboards. Riveting. The stuff bestselling novels are made of.
The first stop on the trail led me to Wellawatte (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Aunty Paranidhi. Her eyesight is almost non-existent, but her mind is razor-sharp, her recollection flawless. I see pieces of my mother in the facial features. The family resemblance is evident.
My pen flies across the pages of the notebook I balance on my lap …
“So Mary Chellammah – David and Harriet Danvers’ daughter – was given in marriage to Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. He was a farmer who owned land in Urumbrai –
Vethanayagam Samuel and Mary Chellammah had six children –
Sarah Chinnamah (married David Sinniah Kanagaratnam)
Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah (married Annam)
Shadrack Chinniah Samuel (married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton)
Elizabeth Thangamma (married Godwin Wesley Sittampalam)
Anna Chinnathangam (married Albert Kanthapoo)
Solomon Chinnatamby Samuel (married Mercy Atputhanayagam Gnanaratnam)
“Aunty Renee found handwritten notes in her father’s Bible – that’s the Bible I mentioned. She sent me scanned copies of the geneologies recorded on the fly leaf. My heart almost stopped when I saw how the entries confirm the details set out in Uncle Donald’s article. Just imagine, how information from a source in Australia confirms the data acquired from another source in Western Canada! Within weeks of each other. It has to be providence!”
“Your interest is inspiring,” she commented. “No one seems to care about these things these days. Renee is Solomon Chinnathamby’s daughter. He had ten children. She is my first cousin.”
“Yes, I know. I remember great uncle Solomon Samuel and the annual Christmas visits to his home in Mutwal. ”
“Anna and Solomon were twins,” she continued. “Shadrack Chinniah was your grandfather. Anna Chinnathangam was my mother. And Rebecca Chinnammah was the mother of Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote the article you told me about. He was my cousin and your mother’s.”
“According to the genealogy in the Bible, Anna Saveriyal – Kadirgamar Danvers’ wife – was a Bible Woman,” I noted.
“Bible women worked among the women in the village. They visited the homes, shared the gospel of their faith and cared for them,” she explained.
“I remember your mother,” I said. “We called her Asai Granny. She came to stay with us once when I was about seven years old. I remember the glasses and the white hair knotted at the back of her head. She taught me how to make a rag rug with strips of leftover material and a hairpin. I never forgot that.”
Aunty picks up the threads of her narrative …
“Vethanayagam Samuel, a successful farmer, wanted more land. After the birth of his two oldest children, he relocated his family to Vavuniya in the undeveloped Vanni region of the northern province of Jaffna. In those days, people of the Vanni were considered wild and uncouth, even the British avoided the area, so land was dirt cheap. Samuel disposed of his property in Urumbirai, and with the proceeds from the sale, invested in several acres in Vavuniya. He built a house for his growing family and began to cultivate the land.
Once established and beginning to prosper, Samuel encouraged his brother and family move to Vavuniya and make a new life for themselves. The brother sold his land in Urumbrai and purchased the stretch of property adjoining Samuel’s fields. The families became neighbours.
Vethanayagam Samuel distinguished himself as a prominent citizen and earned the respect of his peers. He was appointed chairman of the village council, which was a position of authority and responsibility.
The were no proper roads in the region. Daily journeys on foot could involve traversing stretches of jungle inhabited by snakes and wild animals. Legend has it that Samuel was skilled in the art of herbal medicine and would venture into the jungle in search of plants for his potions.
The farming life called for disciplined manual labour. The older children, still all under ten, had to wake up at dawn each day to perform assigned chores.
Sarah Chinnammah had the unenviable job of cleaning out the cattle shed. One morning she pretended to be asleep and refused to be roused. Her father, whose task it was to wake her up, finally declared, “If my child is really asleep, her feet will move.”
Rebecca reacted as expected and wiggled her toes. She received a spanking for her naughtiness and was shooed out of bed to complete her daily task.
The twins – Anna and Solomon – were born in Vavuniya. During the pregnancy, an astrologer made a grim proclamation. He declared that the birth would not be a good omen and would bring about the untimely demise of both parents (Samuel and Mary).
Solomon showed no signs of life when he was born. The midwife placed the tiny body on a banana leaf outside on the open verandah of the home and rushed back inside to attend to the mother who had gone into labour with a second baby – a twin – whose appearance was an unexpected surprise. Rebecca, the oldest child, sat beside the lifeless form of her new little brother, shedding tears over the loss. Providence intervened when a fly settled on the infant, who shuddered in response and began to bawl loudly as if nothing had been the matter.
Custom dictated that on the thirty-first day after the delivery of a chid, a traditional ceremony of cleansing (thudakku kaliththal in Tamil) must be carried out. The woman who had given birth would take a ritual herbal bath and the house had to be washed and cleaned from top to bottom.
Vethanayagam Samuel and his wife were about to begin the task of house-cleansing when a message came from the village counsel. Samuel was needed to arbitrate on a matter involving a dispute. Samuel sent word asking to be excused. He requested that the vice chairman to act on his behalf.
A second summons came. The matter was urgent, they said. His presence was mandatory.
Samuel left home on the mission of mediation, assuring his wife he would return in an hour. He conferred with both parties and reached a verdict. The disgruntled man who hadn’t been favoured by the decision, reached for a weapon concealed in his clothing and struck a heavy blow. Samuel’s head split open. Never pausing to retaliate, Samuel re-tied his turban and headed home. Blood gushed down from the wound in his head.
He passed a pond (kulam) as he walked, and saw the family dhoby (washerman) scrubbing his way through a pile of villgers’ clothing.
Samuel stepped in to cool off and dipped his head in the water. The dhoby, concerned to see how the water turned crimson from the blood, reached for some fresh-washed clothing spread out on the ground to dry. Samuel shed his blood-stained linen, donning the clean sarong (veshti) and turban offered by the dhoby. He walked into the house to his waiting wife, stepped over the threshold and announced that he was ready to start cleaning. Then, barely pausing for breath, Vethanayagam Samuel collapsed at her feet and died.
In an instant Mary Chellammah Samuel found herself a widow with six young children on her hands. Rebecca – the oldest – was 10, the twins – Solomon and Anna – were barely a month old.
Rebecca Chinnammah, a child herself, had to take charge of a brood of fatherless siblings while her mother attempted to salvage the pieces of their shattered lives.
The sun glowed orange during rush hour this morning. My heart sagged under a weight of joy and I slowed down to take pictures –
I almost sent them off to you.
Then I remembered …
I recalled a recent dialogue we had.
Me: Could I use these pictures of you, please? There’s such a beauty about you that’s riveting.
You: You can use every picture you want. You don’t have to ask. Surprise me!
So I’m surprising you today …
You: How long was your fight with cancer?
Me: The cancer battle was over a year and a half. My oncologist calls me a success case (I prefer miracle patient). I don’t look like myself in the picture, do I? Within two weeks of your first chemo, the hair starts falling out and you mutate into someone else. I began to practice intentional thankfulness. When gratitude seeps in, joy is not too far behind. Those were beautiful, dark, lovely, intense and precious times. God sends angels, as you know, in many shapes and forms.
You: I don’t look like myself anymore, either. I was always on the go. Now it is my mind that is on fast.
The aircraft commenced its descent into Halifax last Thursday afternoon and my thoughts overflowed with vignettes from your heart –
My mum sent the pink rose to me today … just because. The Ford Escape is on the lawn because Cam wanted me to see it. He just bought it yesterday as a second vehicle. My wheelchair van rides low so it’s not practical for snowy days ahead. I always loved a Ford Escape and Cam would drive a van.
We have a cottage on the Bay of Fundy and watch the tides go in and the tides go out. Nature at its best. September is a special time. Most cottagers are only there on weekends, so the solitude and beauty is magnified. My paradise …
Your beloved Cameron –
Cam and our brother-in-law are re-shingling the back of the cottage. It has been a busy day. For me, the moments when I can look out the window and see the eagle fly, sandpipers having their last meals before heading to South America and the magnificent clouds being reflected in both water and wet mud are highlights of my soul.
Today it was 29 degrees and sunny, so I went out in my wheelchair to enjoy. On impulse I drove on my lawn around to my gardens to see the tulips and bleeding heart. I felt free until my wheelchair got stuck in soggy lawn. Resourceful Cam got blocks of wood and we managed to get out. BUT my tires were full of mud. Cam cleaned as much as he could off and them I wheeled myself in. A flashback hit me. How many times had I told the boys NOT to wear their dirty boots in the house? Cam, patient Cam, has been working at getting the wheels clean ever since!!!
JOY was your three-letter codeword –
Went to the Festival of Lights today in Wolfville, where Cam and I met while going to Acadia University. At the farmer’s market, it was all about Indian food and entertainment. I got a dragonfly and the word JOY done with henna and several Indian silk scarves for Christmas gifts.
I am waking up immediately to JOY in the morning for the next couple of weeks.
What made my day? My careworker this morning for 4 hours was Holly. Someone that previously had only been there for my half hour tuck-ins at night. We were sitting at my kitchen table in the sun, when I asked her about her heart-shaped ring … and that was my further joy for the day.
You infused JOY into every moment, Judy, distilled, savoured, sipped on it, then infected the air you breathed and intoxicated those around you.
You: There is no such thing as coincidence.
Absolutely. I agree …
You: Maybe I came into your life to show you the other side of ALS. The joyful side.
You did just that. And you did it so well …
Your boys: your pride and JOY –
Tim is home. Happy heart.
Just got back from taking Tim to the airport. What a lovely visit and a wonderful son. He left such wonderful memories behind.
Andrew came home on Friday and stays till this Friday. Check him out on You Tube in the Hot Fireman ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Click here to watch Judy standing at Andrew’s side as he takes up the challenge.)
Matthew was home from Wednesday to Saturday. Shared the big news that Laura is pregnant! Be still my heart. We are so blessed.
Those grandbabies –
Got a wonderful card in the mail today, with an ultrasound picture on the front and the announcement inside saying “It’s a boy!” Our third grandson is due the end of October. The Starrit genes were working again. OverJOYed!!!!
He was born yesterday and all is right with the world. 8lb 11 0z of pure JOY! Yesterday was such an emotional day. Waiting, wondering, wishing, praying. And then the phone call came. Rejoicing, heart exploding, celebrating our new JOY! And then by 10.00 at night, emotional breakdown. Thinking about what I will be missing in his future, but being so overjoyed he is here. A part of me.
He’s Henry now. Named after Cam’s dad. We are still on our baby high. Will be for quite a while.
Cam just stenciled a picture of him onto a pillowcase.
Tomorrow Andrew, Findlay and Eamon are coming for Thanksgiving weekend. I am beyond excited!!!
I have arranged for the pilot, Debbie, of the only plane that travels to Sable Island, to come and speak about her experiences.
I took pictures, but my hands were unsteady with excitement.
Eamon just messaged me. Andrew is taking them to a movie. He likes to keep me informed.
Your sister —
Tonight Linda comes. Any minute now.
Linda is here and we are going to listen to the sixth CD of the Book Of Joy, a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. This is our sixth Monday night doing it …
… and the whacky, wonderful friends –
My friend, Mary, and sister are coming out to play a card game called Quiddler. A weekly event. I am on a winning streak.
Mary brings muffins for Cam
My tree is trimmed and …
… the Wild and Woolies are coming at 4.00. Laughter will abound.
The Wild and Woolies have been getting together for over thirty years
Don’t forget the goats …
Andrew and Cam have just taken the goats up the hill for a walk. If we let them loose too close to the house, they would eat all the flowers coming up …
I always have flowers in my view. I even got flowers for Father’s Day!
Gotta be kid-ding – goats at a wedding?(The “kids” are included in Andrew and Shantel’s backyard nuptials) …
… and the chickens (of course) —
Just had the chickens playing the xylophone at my window.
Homecare just arrived, but chickens come first!
On living with ALS –
I have a whole new view on listening. My boogie board is my voice now. People don’t wait until I finish writing and assume what I’m going to say and rush off to do their own thing. Also, they read it wrong, and I have to get their attention and underline a word or words.
It cost less than $30 at Costco.
I WAS a talker!
I do most of my writing on my phone now.
I am using my BiPAP for about 20 hours a day. It gives me the freedom of not having to think every time I take a breath. The strength in my hands has diminished as well. I will NOT let that keep me from living a full life but it has put limitations on what I can do. ALS sucks sometimes.
Success. Beyond resounding! My mind is still going. Still walking. Still enjoying yesterday. There were 59 people, including care-workers, friends and family on Judy’s Joys. I am blessed Truly blessed.
Took 5-6 days to get over the walk. SO worth it!
We shared our rainbows, you and I —
In your home …
… in mine –
You: We are definitely sisters from another mother.
There’s no doubt about that!
You: The physical meeting somehow eludes us, but we are so much beyond that. We are so much closer than that. What we have done for each other is beyond friendship.
Me: Can’t wait to meet you, Judy. It will be odd, though. Kind of like having a first date after being married for a year!
You:I, too, want to meet you! If I could, I would be on a plane now. But the other side of reality is that I know I won’t be travelling by plane anymore. Too many uncertainties.
You: Wish, wish you lived nearby. Always thinking about you.
Me: Me too. I love how Cam cares for you, love the chickens, love the red bike. I even love your ghastly puns!
You: Our friendship goes much deeper. I needed you as much as you needed me. You took me outside of myself.
By the way, Cam is going to mail a parcel to you tomorrow. No parcel from you yet. Tomorrow.
Your parcel arrived by express post on December 23rd. Icicles dripped off the eaves as the mailman hopped from one foot to the other and blew on his hands, while I hastily inscribed a signature on the electronic board he held out to me.
Such a treasure trove of thoughtful things inside …
Me: Did you make the Scrabble ornament? Love it!
You: Bought it at the ALS sale.
Me: It was meant for me.
You: I found your DREAMS, didn’t I?
You sure did!
We called onChristmas Eve, before heading out to church. Husband, Daughters and I sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas on speakerphone. Cam said you raised your arms in delight and crossed your hands over your heart.
On Christmas day we shared cameo moments.
You sent me –
and I sent these –
Isn’t this fun?
Our house was always the ‘go to’ house at Christmas. I used to make rolls and shape them in the form of wreaths and Christmas trees. Decorate them, of course, and wrap them in clear, cellophane with fancy ribbons. That is a thing of the past now, but Christmas still comes and goes!
“I suck at this,” she wailed. ” I’ll never get it. I’m going to fail. Why even bother to try?”
Some people take to certain things like ducks to water. Others not so much.
All five fingers are not the same, Mum used to say…
I watched as she struggled to accomplish her task, heaping negativity on her hapless head. Her words settled like corrosive dead-weights in my spirit.
“Don’t say such things,” I uttered. “Words are powerful. They stick and become self-fulfilling.”
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it, Mum would say …
“That’s what you always say.” She sounded irritated. “So what? It’s just words.”
No. Not just words …
Proverbs 18:21 Life and death are in the power of the tongue …
I began to see a vivid picture in my mind. Two seedlings in glass containers, one full of acid and the other rainwater.
“If you were a plant,” I said, “And words were the medium you were growing in, if kind, positive words were rain water and negative, condemning words were acid – which one would you thrive in?”
She grew silent.
“If you wake up every morning and hear someone tell you how ugly, rotten and dumb you are, that you’ll never go far or succeed, can you imagine the toxicity you’ll imbibe? At some point you’ll come to believe what you hear. Your spirit receives what your ear hears until it becomes a part of who you are.
I plodded on. “On the other hand, if someone tells you daily that you are beautiful, smart, talented and capable of achieving anything you set your mind to … imagine the pure rainwater seeping in nourish your spirit.”
Point made. Her exasperation remained, but the dark words ceased.
For the moment.Oh, to always be able to see the gorgeous pink sunset behind and that dark, dark cloud…
Some weeks back, I stepped into the mall and understood — all over again — the power of words. I’d recently begun to experience occasional darts of doubt . Amazingly, that mellow evening, it seemed like my steps led me from store to store and brought pause at unexpected spots where wonderful words leapt out to cheer me on –
I couldn’t have contrived the inspiration, if I’d tried. My spirits rose and began to soar.
But that wasn’t all …
On my way home, there was an impelling to stop at a supermarket I don’t often visit. I paid for two bags of soil I didn’t urgently require and headed out. A man hurried up from behind and bent over my cart.
“Those look heavy,” he said pleasantly.
I smiled, “They are.”
“I need some for my garden,” the stranger added, “but that’s why I didn’t get any today!”
He straightened up and I became instantly aware of the words on the back of his T-shirt –
I gotta believe …
Caught my breath on a gasp.
Gotta get a picture!
Hurried into the parking lot and chased the gentleman down.
Me (to man): I know this sounds silly, but do you believe in signs?
Man (looking startled): I do.
Me: Would you mind if I took a picture of the words on the back of your T-shirt? I needed to see them. They were my sign today.
Man turned around and obligingly posed.
Man: So what are your plans for the summer?
Me: I don’t know. I have so many dreams and they were beginning to die. That’s why I needed those words. Thank you!
Man: I really need to get some of that soil, you know.
Me: So go get some. Maybe I am your sign for today!
My heart sang all the twilit way back home.
The final clincher came a week later, at the dentist’s office.
I became acutely aware – the moment I stepped in – of the single word tattooed on the neck of the girl manning the phones. She had her back to me –
Point taken — signed, sealed and delivered!
I’d have to be really dense not to get it by now …
Ever noticed how suddenly-sometimes serendipity seems to occur most when the sun is shining and summer seeps into one’s heart, bubbles over and spills out in splashes all over the garden? It almost feels as if this sweet summer state of mind creates a catalyst that activates a sublime sequence of inexplicable events.
Like the time Bernadette called. “The Town is giving away compost. Want to go? I’ll pick you up.”
The sight of eager townsfolk feverishly shoveling free compost, piled up in the parking lot, into bags and bins didn’t inspire me. The stream of comings and goings to and from the main building however, was intriguing.
Woo hoo! Community garage sale …
Bernadette laughed when I mumbled, “I’m going to look for treasures for my garden.”
I heard “Junk Lady” as I hopped out of the vehicle.
My friends know me too well!
I picked up a bunch of beauties for mere coins. Like these –
And then I stopped in my tracks as some old books caught my eye.
Me: “How much?”
Bored vendor: “How about a dollar fifty? Fifty cents each.”
I set the coins down and scooped the volumes up, unable to believe my luck. There were two others still languishing on the table.
“I have a quarter left and a TTC token,” I dared to venture. “Would that be payment enought for those?”
Bored Vendor: “Sure. Someone could make use of the token. This stuff is junk anyway!”
He was in a hurry to pack up and leave.
I handed over my last coin and the transit system token, picked up my booty and scurried away in case someone should have a sudden change of heart.
James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask …
This rollicking suddenly-sometimes ride commenced a week before, when Evelyn and I sat down to enjoy a Japanese bento box lunch, and the conversation turned to gardens.
Evelyn: “How’s your garden doing? Done planting yet?
Me: “No. Haven’t even started. I haven’t had time to buy the annuals.”
Evelyn: “Have you tried Costco?”
Me: “No. We’re not members.”
Evelyn: “I am. I’ll take you.”
So off we went.
Nothing caught my eye in the garden centre.
On our way out, we passed the mobile phone sales centre, and I remembered my phone. It had been gasping at death’s door for a while.
Me: My phone is a bit of a dinosaur. I need a new one with a good camera, but I’m not willing to go above my present monthly payment.
Pleasant Salesguy: No problem. How much do you pay now?
I told him. I had an exceptionally good deal, he said. I knew that.
Pleasant Salesguy: Are you willing to go ten dollars more a month?
Me: No! I don’t use my phone enough to justify a higher monthly payment.
Pleasant Salesguy: So you want a free new phone with a great camera for the same amount that you pay now – or less – right?
Me: I know, it sounds like awful cheek, doesn’t it?
I turned to go.
Pleasant Salesguy: Wait, wait …
He continued to scroll down, squinting at the screen in front of him.
Evelyn assured me she wasn’t in a hurry. I rolled my eyes and sighed.
Pleasant Salesguy: Found it! There’s a loyalty deal and you qualify …
Music to my ears …
So I get a free phone worth $700, and my monthly payment is four dollars less than previously. My current phone, I’m told, is worth no more than $150, brand new.
Me: I’ve been to every mobile provider I could think of. When I tell them what I’m looking for, they look down their nose at me like I’m cheap. Or they talk down to me like I’m someone’s grandma, shrug and turn away. So how come you found this one for me?
Pleasant Salesguy: Because the mall guys work on commission. It’s not in their interest to spend time looking for deals in the customer’s favour. I’m a paid employee of Costco. I’m not on commission.
Me: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would this phone rate against my old one?
Pleasant Salesguy: It’s an 8! What’s more, check out the camera.
Evelyn and I pose. I click. We look ten years younger, the lines all automatically air-brushed away.
I asked for an upgraded phone cover and screen protector and he gave me $125 in Costco gift cards to pay for them.
Me: How come?
Michael: Because this is Costco!
And there’s more …
The screen protector I chose was not in stock, so Michael made a call and arranged for me to pick it up from the mall closest to my home.
I’m elated. Quite weak at the knees, to be honest. Evelyn’s jaw’s dropping. We’re both bewildered by the spectacular customer service …
Daughter squeaked when I showed her my phone at the end of the day. “Where did you get that? I’ve wanted an LG forever! They say it takes the best pictures.”
She almost passed out when I told her how little I was paying for it.
I couldn’t stop talking at dinner that night. About the amazing deal. About Michael and the unbelievable customer service.
So we all four of us marched into Costco the next weekend with Grandpa and Grandma (and their Costco card) in tow – Husband, daughters and I – waving my contract with Michael’s business card attached to it.
The service was disappointing. Lack-lustre. The two young fellows at the counter seemed to barely tolerate us. Kind of felt like we were a nuisance.
Daughters exchanged glances and threw me a funny look.
“So where’s the customer service you kept on about?”
We got the loyalty deal for two more phones. Husband pays two dollars and fifty cents less than I do, because he’s the second line on my account. Husband and Daughter also got $125 each in Costco gift cards. ONLY because I already had my contract through Michael and requested the same deal for the rest of the family.
There was enough left over, after paying for the extras, to buy trays of flowering annuals for the garden, a set of LED walkway lights, and a rose bush for Grandma. Compliments of Costco. All because Michael Blumenfeld never made me feel stupid, and took the time to dig out a deal that finally embraced my family as well.
Young Fellows were indifferent, when we were done, and looked relieved to see us go.
I assumed, because of my initial experience, that exceptional customer service was the norm at Costco Wirelessetc. I understood otherwise on my second visit. It was Michael who went out of his way to make this customer’s day sparkle.
Husband and Daughter had to return to the location the next day, to pick up their not-in-stock screen protectors.
“Pick them up from your local mall? Sorry. No way!”
“But Michael arranged for me to pick it up from …”
“Michael is the manager, he can do these things …”
Evelyn mentioned that if she’d chosen to take me to the other Costco location she shops at, the mobile phone sales section would not have been visible from the vicinity of the garden centre. So I’d never have seen it to remember the worn out dud I had in my possession.
Such a smooth-as-silk sequence of events that led me to three valuable vintage books and a brand new top-notch cell phone.
Life is full of appointments – to be kept or missed as one chooses – delicate deviations from the daily script. Sometimes showing up in the form of inner impelling, an inaudible whisper, they urge one to reach for the moment and grab it by the horns, before it dissolves and vanishes un-met, unrecognized.
Gotta grab that camera before the light moves on …
Rainbows on the ceiling won’t linger long , nor shadows on the carpet …
So one halts to act. Because such moments will not be put on hold. Because the tide of micro-events ebbs and swells, leaving behind the joy of happy happen-stance embraced or the tragedy of serendipity unrealized.
The timing of such things is fragile, precise and never a coincidence.
NEVER a coincidence …
I had a nagging urge one busy afternoon, to check my Facebook page.
I’m not one of those Feverish Frenzied Facebook Fiends … honest!
The screen on my phone opened up at a video clip on Cousin Preman’s page.
Jaunty young men with beards and bright turbans leap and prance, holding hands with a delighted woman.
A birthday Bhangra serenade!
The woman in the motorized wheelchair beside herself with glee, claps her hands and beams.
Her eager, electrifying enthusiasm smacked me in the face.
You have made such a difference in my life this afternoon (I read). Your reply to Preman started it all. I SO want to connect with you. I SO want to find out about the next Thursday. Having gone through cancer yourself, you know the deep JOY of living .
Curious, I leapt into her Facebook page.
The intro read –
I am a joyous person LIVING with ALS with my loving husband, Cameron, always at my side.
I gotpunched in the guts. I’ve lost two good friends to this brute, a cruel, merciless, relentless ogre that steals and destroys –
Drum roll … Ladeez a..a..nd gentlemen, presenting the one, the only …
– Cameron Amos Starritt
Many hats Judy wears. She sparkles, she shines. She’s extraordinary.
A wheelchair won’t vanquish her spirit –
Disease daren’t define her.
Judy: “I have discovered I haven’t changed, just my body has changed. I am more intensely aware of both the changes in my body and the JOY that surrounds me …”
Shortly after her diagnosis in 2014, ALS awareness (literally) deluged public awareness in the form of the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Judy: “It was as if ALS suddenly came out of the closet!”
Her firefighter son took on the challenge with gusto –
Click here to watch Judy at Andrew’s side in the Hot Firefighter Ice Bucket Challenge …
– as his mother prepared herself to face the inevitable new normal.
Judy: “I made up a motto for myself and shared it with others … ‘I have faith and hope, I am optimistic and I will find joy every day.’”
I so identify with Judy’s resolve. When late-diagnosis breast cancer crashed-landed on me in the summer of 2008, I determined to live each day with joy. However many – or few – of them remained.
Me to self: “I won’t waste a single moment of my cancer!”
Judy won’t waste her ALS.
Kindred spirits or what?
Judy: “I looked for joy – unexpected happiness – and began to find it in the most unexpected places.”
Judy: “At first I would recite this over and over in my head. Now I just accept it because I HAVE found JOY and mentioned it is nearer than you think.”
Some snippets from e-mail newsletters to family and friends –
“If you are wondering, I did find JOY every day! I don’t want to sound superhuman … I DO have dark moments about the future at times, but by keeping myself busy and surrounding myself with positive people that love me and knowing I have so many people out there, caring and praying for me, this journey is SO much easier.”
“Every day became a special one. I have so many reasons to smile.”
Like them wild chicken stockin’s and a brand new volunteer-constructed ramp …
“As I started out my journey with ALS, I made up a motto that I wanted to represent what I have, what I am and what I want. As many of you know, I composed the following –
I have hope and faith
I am optimistic
I will find JOY every day.
“Just had to look out the back windows to find my joy. I told you once that JOY is nearer than you think!!”
“I will participate in the ALS walkathon.”
Since she made that last statement above, Judy has inspired three ALS Walk Strong teams to join Halifax and Virtual Walks!
Judy Starritt is probably the unofficial poster girl of the ALS Society of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia (www.alsnbns.ca).
Her story is on their blog.
Click here to read about Judy’s journey: ALS In The Words Of Judy Starrit …
I contacted Kimberly Carter at the the ALS Society for permission to use information from their website
Me to Kimberly: Any friend of Judy is a friend of mine.
Kim’s reply: I’m the same way, any friend of Judy’s is a friend of mine. I just love her half to pieces.
Yes, there’s certainly something about Judy …
It’s ALS Walkathon time of year again on June 10, 2017.
MAY the 4TH be with you and me and the ALS Walkathons across Canada. Today is my official starting date to promote my own team. It is called “Judy’s Joys” and Cameron and I and many more family and friends are going to walk beside me.
It is on June 10th at DeWolfe Park in Bedford. Registration is at 11 o’clock and the walk is at 12 o’clock.
To join my team, go to www.alswalkstrong.ca
I made a donation (of course) and wrote on my page –
Wish I could walk alongside you, Judy Starritt. Brave, beautiful, joyful, you inspire me … Rooting for you in memory of two close friends I’ve lost. Keep sparkling, keep being you. You go, girl … GO!
Join me in supporting ALS WalkStrong 2017. Click here to donate/ support Judy’s team. She calls them Judy’s Joys …
Mum often said when I was a girl, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”
Phrased more simply: “Who wants to be around a miserable grouch?”
Or in Judy’s words (quoting from a newletter update to her circle) –
Find YOUR joy!
You’ll find this picture in her Facebook photo gallery –
So her home is her haven, not a jail. She made that choice.
Life is her adventure. It’s not unfair. She made that choice too.
It helps immensely, of course, to have a wonderful man at your side.
Judy: Thank God for big men!
Judy: Eggs come in different shapes and sizes, but they’re all the same inside. Just like people.
Some eggs, like some people, have stronger shells strengthened not because of, but despite the circumstances …
Judy wrote on her Facebook page some months back –
Since my video went viral, many new and exciting things have happened to me. I tried to read every comment and some just stood out. Selina’s was one of of the them. I replied and a special friendship has developed. Is it serendipity??? Who knows? Who cares?? I delight in her words and she has opened my mind and heart to newer things.
As she has opened my heart …
Words are powerful. Weapons of destruction or tools of hope. It all depends on how one chooses to wield them.
To bless or to curse …
Judy: “I will pray that in my lifetime, ALS will become treatable, not terminal …”
Oh, me too! Me too …
Believers in dreams, you and I, Judy. With faith, we’ll make them all come true.
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood …
Through the looking glass in my garden nooks …
Judy Starrit has found her Promised Land — that place within the heart, nestled deep inside the human spirit.
A believing heart, a humbly yielded spirit …
Codeword: JOY …
So thankful for Judy’s joy. Infectious, unforgettable lady.
To help increase ALS awareness and support Judy’s Joys at the Walkathon, please share this post. (Scroll down and click on one of the share buttons below). Let’s see how far Judy and her cause can travel. Thank you.
Leave two days later. Weather’s changed, sporadic showers. Piano clothed in plastic protection.
Never encountered Simone in person. Forgot to ask about the piano. Wish I had. Kept wondering …
My mind is an interesting place I’ve been told.
“It’s about perspective,” I reply,
– “being able to see where there’s nothing to see.”
When waters swirl sixty feet deep, who’d imagine the possibility of a stroll on the ocean floor?
A parable? Sort of.
Waters did recede, in spite of what we saw when we first arrived …
Which is the definition of faith. Sort of.
Hebrews 11: 11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see …
Which brings me back to when eye sees what doesn’t yet exist –
Like knowing when garbage is more than garbage …
For example –
(1) Old washbasin – just an unusual lily pond-in-waiting –
2) An ordinary bottle … a prospective tree ornament, of course!
(3) The old kitchen sink – a perfect container for growing swamp plants
(4) That tired saucepan – an eccentric hanging container for a flowering summer plant
(5) Ancient pots and pans make whimsical garden ornaments
Daughters issue dire edict when ensuite toilet is replaced: “No planting flowers in it, Mom. Not going in our garden.”
I give my word!
See a bath tub tossed out on sidewalk recently, imagination bubbles over. So tempted. Wish I could carry it home.
Which brings me all the way back to Simone’s piano.
A year and a half’s gone by. Often wondered about it. Have to know …
Find Simone Ritter on Facebook and shoot off private message. She sends picture of finished work with a note –
Simone writes: It was popular with the passers by during the summer months, even in the unfinished stages. Unfortunately a storm came through and ripped the plastic off the piano. The heavy rains made the wood swell and then it could not be played anymore …
Absolutely breathtaking …
It’s all about knowing how to look –
Living in the possibility of the moment –
And honing the inner vision –
So how do you see what you see?
And that’s Life According To Me, a deliriously expectant resident of La La Land!
Love living there …
Because, ultimately, it’s about the final, impossibly possible picture –
“There was a crash. The knife came down, barely missed my eye. Blood everywhere…”
I can almost hear Mum’s voice. Wish I’d paid more attention to details.
Her tales often commenced with all six of us.
Pearl, Ruby, Peter, Dan, Beatrice, Elizabeth …
Mum: So all six of us climbed into Babby’s cot with the cake Alice baked. We found it on the kitchen table. Just as Petes lifted the bread knife and said, ‘Let’s have a piece’, the cot collapsed. The knife came down on my forehead. It narrowly missed my eye.”
Alice, the family retainer who helped cook and keep house, the hapless victim of boyish pranks.
Peter and Dan – Petes and Danma to us nieces and nephews – youthful villains.
Baby Elizabeth was Baba. Babby to the next generation.
Me: (doing mental calculation) But Mum, if Babby was say … five, and you … eight, the others would have ranged in age from eighteen and under. How could all six of you have squeezed into a baby’s bed – with a cake and knife?
Mum’s a storyteller, not a mathematician. It’s how she remembers …
Mum: On Sunday evenings we had family prayers. On our knees. They went on forever.
Her eyes are brimming with memories …
Mum: We quietly slipped away into the kitchen to have a feast.
Me: All six of you …
Mum: Poor Alice.No one listened to her protests. The patties were for the visitors. She made lovely patties. We ate everything we could find and crept back to the living room, knelt down and folded our hands.
Me: And No one noticed?
Mum: No. And E.T.S Aunty was so impressed by our piety, we all got toffees. She said we were good children!
E.T.S Granny (always known by her initials), Grandpa’s widowed sister, frequent visitor, devout, determined lady, given to eloquent, lengthy prayers.
Mum: One Sunday evening, Geo Uncle came to visit.
Me: At prayer time?
She’s chuckling …
Mum: Petes used a coat hanger to start Uncle’s car. We all climbed in.
Me: All six of you …
Mum: He drove to Geo Uncle and Malar Aunty’s house. We ate all the goodies Malar Aunty fed us and drove back home again.
Me: And their eyes were closed, they were still praying?
I’m laughing with her …
Mum: He never knew!
Me: And Malar Aunty?
Mum: I don’t think she ever told him.
Shadrach Samuel Esquire, aspiring businessman aged 32, won the hand of Miss. Mercy Newton of Chundikuli, Jaffna. As legend has it, the friends of the sixteen-year-old bride called out over the fence as she walked past the schoolyard of the local girls’ school, on her way to church to be married.
Shadrach and Mercy set up home in Colombo, sleepy metropolis of colonial Ceylon.
He founded the iconic engineering firm, Samuel Sons.
The union produced six children.
A seventh, Mum remembers as Bertie, succumbs to an untimely demise as an infant …
Grandma Mercy died in her sleep at age 33. Cause of death unknown.
Mum recalls asthma and a family history of heart disease …
Rajes Aunty, seventeen-year-old bride, moved in with new husband, Thurai Perinpanayagam (Grandma Mercy’s cousin) to help take care of a brood of children, some of them almost her age.
To this day, Rajes Aunty occupies a special place in all our hearts.
The siblings grew closer to one another.
All six of us …
Grandpa Shadrack never recovered from his loss. Well meaning aunties and clucking grannies suggested umpteen prospective brides to grace his hearth and mother the children.
Mum: He always said, “There was only one woman for me. God who took her away from me will take care of my children.”
Me: Do you remember her, Mum?
Mum: Of course! She was slim and pretty, darling, gentle, soft-spoken, a lady through and though. Always simply and tastefully attired. She was an artist, she painted beautifully. I remember whenever she baked a cake, she let me stir the batter and lick the spoon. I got a new dress every year, for my birthday. She cut it out herself and made me turn the wheel of the sewing machine for her. She used to call me Pambaram.
Mum: Because I was a tomboy. I could never sit still. It means spinning top in Tamil. She played the piano. On Sundays, all six of us would stand ‘round and sing hymns.
Me: It must have been awful after she died.
Mum: We had Daddy. We loved him. He was strict, of course, but such a kind, generous man. He helped everyone. Babby and I secretly called him Dixie Daddy from a song on the radio hit parade. We giggled every time we said it.
Me: Did you miss having a mother, Mum?
Mum: Of course, darling.On the day she died,I asked God why he took my mummy away. I was six. Babby was only three. I made up my mind to eat all my vegetables and grow strong, so I would be fit and well and never die and leave my children all alone. But we had each other, it was a happy home.
All six of us …
Church was an important part of family life.
As cousins, we have childhood memories of our mothers and aunts talking for ages on the phone. Cousin Dileeni and I often recreated these conversations – to loud applause and gales of laughter – at family-gathering kid-concerts,
“How are you, dear?” ” Did Alice come today?” “Can you believe the price of sugar these days?”
They couldn’t do without each other.
Time marched on.
Pearl and Ruby married their doctors.
Peter and Dan sailed off to the United Kingdom to pursue engineering degrees.
Mum kept house for Grandpa and played doting aunty to a growing circle of adoring nieces and nephews.
They called her Bety …
Tragedy struck again. Grandpa Shadrach died unexpectedly, after routine surgery. He was only 63. Mum was 19 years old, Babby just 16.
Shadrach and Mercy united in death, buried side by side ….
Mum and Babby clung to each other –
Peter took over the headship of the firm.
Elizabeth attended medical school.
Mum ran the family home for Uncle Peter, wrote wonderfully imaginative short stories that were published in the newspapers, taught Sunday School and created exquisite cakes for nieces and nephews, an abundance of relatives and friends.
The artistic, thespian, writing/storytelling genes run strong in this family line …
Grandpa was a man of faith, a praying man.
His example rubbed off. Mum was a staunch believer in the power of prayer.
I remember Sunday evenings with Mum at the old piano of her girlhood (now situated in her own home), singing the same beloved hymns she sang as a child.
I remember us as little girls – Sister and I – kneeling by our beds as Mum taught us to pray. I remember Mum reading from a book of devotionals, holding hands with Dad, Sister and Me (in our tiny school uniforms) and sending us off for the day with a prayer.
Sister and I often made fun, called her Saint Beatrice.
Mum learned from Grandpa Shadrach.
They prayed, things happened …
I learned from Mum.
Much older now, I’m an ardent believer in the mountain-moving power of prayer.
Faith we follow …
Just dialed long distance to talk to Babby – godmother and second mum — in Bethesda, Maryland.
The pain of missing Mum is less when she and I talk …
Babby is the only one left. She feels it badly.
Asked about the size of the cot. Says she slept in it till she was around eight years old.
All six of us?
It must have been a humongous piece of baby furniture!
Called Rajes Aunty some months back, posed questions about the family tree. She snail-mailed handwritten details from New York –
Excited, more curious than ever!
Saw a picture of an ancestor on Facebook recently.
The Perinpanayagam connection, circa 1834 …
Fascinated. Impelled to dig deeper into the family tree.
Mum’s second cousin, Thavo (Geo Uncle’s nephew), e-mailed more puzzle pieces from New Zealand –
Cousin Thavo remembers the Noddy cake Mum made: ” For my sixth birthday in 1959. It had Noddy’s car and house and even had 2 milk bottles outside the house” …
Discovered that Grandpa Shadrach and Grandma Mercy were distant relatives.
An exhilarating peep into the past.
It was misty this morning in Toronto.
Much brighter/warmer in the land of our birth.
Alas for ugly politics, economics: the clans are scattered worldwide.
Appetite whetted. Must know more.
These roots go deep.
Stay tuned.More stories to come as more dots are joined.
KEEP IT MOVING! SEND THIS POST ON WHATS APP. SCROLL DOWN FOR SHARE BUTTONS, LIKE AND PASS ON.
THUMBS UP ! Like this Facebook Author page: Click here