There was excitement at the fine brick residence on Forest Office Lane in Chundikuli. Shadrach Samuel was expected in town as the guest of his relatives, the Newtons of Old Park View.
Mrs Charles Newton (nee Anne Rose Perinpanaygam), his mother’s first cousin, was also Aunt Rebecca’s sister-in-law. Anne Rose was famed for her culinary expertise and Charles — her husband — was a hospitable man who needed no excuse to turn an occasion into a party.
Their two daughters — Grace Nesaratnam and Mercy Sugirtharatnam — were young women now. Petite Grace, a studious bookworm, was married to Mutuvelu Fred Aiyadore in 1924. Fred Aiyadore was attached to the Civil Service of the British Government, in the employ of Ceylon Railways.
Old Park View was part of the substantial dowry Anne Rose had received from her father, the wealthy landowner, Joshua Perinpanayagam. The property was signed over to Grace as her dowry when she married.
Mercy, four years younger than her sister, was a student at Chundikuli Girls’ College, steps away from her home, Old Park View. She, like her sister, had acquired the skills required of a genteel lady of her time. She played the piano, was a proficient dressmaker and had learned the finer points of cookery from her mother. She was also a gifted artist.
The infant Shadrach once held in his arms, was now sixteen. She was tall, slim with a distinctive beauty spot above her upper lip. She scaled the fruit trees in the orchard surrounding her home and roamed the grounds of Old Park View barefoot, engaging with gusto in the boisterous pastimes of Victor and Arthur, her young brothers. She still found time for her dolls. Life was lovely and uncomplicated. There was no hurry to grow up.
There was something about the marriage-market game that brought sparkle to the humdrum of day-to-day duties. Rose Newton’s spirits rose as she oversaw the dusting and sweeping of the home and issued orders to yard and kitchen staff.
Her husband and she were to accompany the young man, Shadrach on his visit to the home of the prospective bride. Rose had picked a suitable saree for the occasion.
The rice boiling on the wood stove was from her paddy fields, delivered yesterday by bullock cart and piled up in gunny (burlap) bags on the kitchen floor. There was fresh Seer fish which she would spice and cook to practised perfection. Oorukai prepared with limes from the kitchen garden, dried on the back porch and pickled last week, would be the tangy accompaniment to the afternoon meal, along with several side-dishes of curried vegetables simmering in clay chatty pots. Water was drawn from the well in the yard outside — northern water that was famously known to tinge Jaffna cuisine with a distinct flavour which would make the two-hundred-mile train journey from the south well worthwhile.
A feast of special things awaited the guest.
Shadrach didn’t seem inclined to rise from his seat at the Newtons’ table. Though gravy-stains spattered the white tablecloth and lunch was long consumed, he chatted about inconsequentialities while his gaze strayed through the open window to linger on the slender form of a boisterous girl, a pretty tomboy blooming into womanhood. Her braided hair askew, Mercy clambered up a tree in pursuit of a mischievous brother whose bare legs dangled from the branch above her.
The buggy waited outside, the driver at the ready.
The wall clock chimed the hour.
Charles Newton glanced at his wife and cleared his throat. “We have to leave in a little while. They’ll be waiting.”
“I changed my mind. I’m not going,” Shadrach announced flatly. He eyed his host and declared, “I want to marry Mercy!”
Husband and wife succumbed to seconds of stunned silence.
“Mercy?” Charles rasped. “She’s sixteen. Still at school!”
Shrewd Rose gathered her wits to take stock of the situation. Young Samuel was an up-and-coming entrepreneur, they said. He hadn’t made a fortune, of course — not yet — but his prospects were good, she’d heard.
The busy northern grapevine was rarely wrong.
There was discussion around the table in the course of which the surprised pair agreed that a union between their younger daughter and Shadrach Samuel was something to be desired. Despite the fact that she was a teenager and he sixteen years older.
Rose stepped onto the front porch and called to her daughter. “Mercy, come inside. We have to talk to you!”
One can’t help but feel bad for that young woman who would have been attired in her best and put on display, coached on the etiquette of serving tea to the visitors and speaking only when spoken to. Some unfortunate individual would have had the unenviable task of informing her parents that the eligible bachelor from the city of Colombo would not be visiting their home as arranged.
For the first time in her life, Mercy had a saree draped around her frame. A formal engagement ceremony took place the next day, with an exchange of gold rings and an Anglican minister officiating. A guest at the occasion later reported that she looked tall and grown up in her unaccustomed attire.
Childhood was now officially behind her.
The Newtons made it perfectly clear that their younger daughter would not be given a dowry, their unusual reasoning being that the bridegroom-to-be was a businessman and should well be able to make his way in the world unassisted. This was an unprecedented decision at a time when it was expected that a father would bestow property and jewellery on his daughter. Still on the precarious cusp of acquiring financial stability, he had fallen so much in love that it never occurred to Shadrach to protest or argue the matter.
Why the wealthy Newtons decided to act in this manner is a mystery.
Shadrach returned to Colombo with a band of gold on his finger, excited to share his news with his youngest siblings– Anna and Solomon — who were living in his home at the time.
He was caught off guard by the twins’ unexpected reaction.
To be continued …
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click here for part 4 – the newtons of old park view
The orphans spent their childhood shuttling between foster-homes and boarding school. It would be years before some of the six siblings set eyes on each other again.
Early one morning in 1905 Shadrach Samuel, aged twelve, stepped off the platform at the Fort Railway station in Colombo and into the open arms of his mother’s youngest sister, Rebecca (Danvers) Perinpanayagam.
Aunt Rebecca’s husband, Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam, was an accountant in the employ of Bousted Brothers, the agents for Colombo Electric Tramways and Lighting Company. Their residence in Messenger Street, Kotahena became home for the next several years and Shadrach was the unofficial eldest child of the newly weds. He called his aunt Amma (Mum) and thrived in her care. His siblings later followed suit and accorded her the same honour when they addressed her as they would their mother.
The family grew when the babies came. Cousin Stephen Edgar Rasasingham arrived when Shadrach was fifteen then baby Donald Edwin Balasingham who died before his first birthday, and finally George Walter Kulasingham.
Aunt and Uncle also adopted a little girl they christened Anna Mae Gnanmonie, who didn’t survive her teens.
As he grew into manhood the twelfth birthday letter from his grandmother remained Shadrach’s most treasured possession. He found quiet moments to feast his eyes on the elaborate handwritten curlicues of the Tamil script. The notepaper was fragile from frequent handling, the stamped, addressed envelope frayed and falling apart. He could recite the words off by heart —
May you, little one, go from strength to strength, and become a millionaire (Chinnavan aigiramum siriyavan palaththa seemanum aavaan) …
The passage of time ushered Granny Harriet Danvers into eternity, but the prophetic power of her written words lingered to become a compelling, guiding force in her young grandson’s life.
The years in Aunt Rebecca’s home were happy ones, but the memory of his paternal uncle’s betrayal was an unrelenting, plaguing presence . As soon as he reached the age of legal majority, Shadrach filed action against his father’s brother, the man who robbed his widowed mother of her home and property in Vavuniya. He laid claim to the house and the surrounding property, but was – perhaps unwisely – uninterested in taking on the burden of farming the extensive acreage of paddy fields extending beyond.
The court ruled in his favour. Shadrach had the land divided equally, earmarking a sixth for himself and his five siblings. These parcels of property would later be passed on to the oldest son of each Samuel brother or sister.
In 1918 bereavement came to the home in Messenger Street with the death of Uncle Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam. Aunt Rebecca was prematurely widowed after fourteen years of marriage. Shadrach slipped into the role of surrogate father-figure to his two young cousins.
His fascination with scrap-metal (which he salvaged and sold for pocket money during the boyhood years of World War I) and the years in the service of his employer, made him an authority in the hardware business. He rose from the ranks at the British firm of Hoar and Company — from apprentice errand boy and general dogsbody — to the position of Store Manager.
Shadrach learned to speak Sinhalese, the language of the south, with the flawless accent of the native. With wisdom unprecedented for a man of Tamil heritage, he taught himself to read and write the language as well. The latter was an unusual move which would stand in his favour in a nation that would experience ethnic unrest and bitter division in the troubled post-colonial decades to come.
As Shadrach approached his thirties, his unerring business acumen guided him to purchase a home on Messenger Street in close proximity to his beloved Amma. Shortly thereafter, when Hoar & Company wound up their business, he took a massive leap of faith to invest in the firm’s unsold stock — steel and miscellaneous hardware — which was delivered to his address and piled up in the yard around the house.
And so commenced the era of the entrepreneur and the birth of a business that was first named Ceylon Hardware Stores.
Shadrach operated a shop out of a shed at his residence and hired Cousin Stephen Edgar Perinpanayagam, a teen-aged student at St Benedict’s College, to walk over from school and mind the store. On weekdays, clad in school uniform, Stephen Edgar held the reins during his lunch interval while Shadrach took a break to eat and attend to other matters.
There were advantages to living in the vicinity of the Colombo harbour. When commercial vessels sailed into port, Shadrach scoured the ships’ cargo for bargain merchandise for his store shelves. He also kept a sharp eye out for unique items he would acquire as gifts for his family. An elderly niece remembers the German clock which, for decades, took pride of place in the home his sister, Anna Chinnathangam.
When Shadrach purchased his house on Messenger Street, his brothers and sisters had an official family home in Colombo. One by one, they found their way to the capital city and took up temporary residence at the bachelor abode. Anna Chinnathangam, now a young schoolmistress who lived in a boarding house in Jaffna during term-time, looked forward to the school holidays and the train-ride south. This thrice-yearly exposure to city life influenced her style and sense of fashion in a way that made her stand out amongst her provincial contemporaries up north.
The business began to grow and Shadrach got his older brother, S.V. Chelliah on board as manager of Ceylon Hardware Stores.
Graduates of the American Missions schools of northern Ceylon were highly sought after in Colombo and in the British colonies of Singapore, Malaya and Burma. Young Tamil men in search of employment flocked to Colombo or sailed off to Far Eastern ports to enlist in the service of the colonial government. One such ambitious hopeful was David Sinniah Kanagaratnam, who journeyed south from Jaffna to the capital city. He obtained an introduction to Shadrach Samuel, who, in the northern circles, was making a name for himself as an up-and-coming businessman.
Shadrach, in the absence of a father, had assumed the responsibility of procuring husbands for his three sisters. When the tall, good-looking young Kanagaratnam presented himself, Shadrach hired him to fill a position in the bourgeoning business. The offer, however, was conditional.
“If you became a Christian,” Shadrach suggested, “and married my sister …”
David Sinniah raised no objection. The bride in question was pleasant, petite and pretty. He agreed to give up the Hindu faith to marry his future employer’s older sister. The couple exchanged their vows in church under the auspices of an Anglican minister, and Sarah Chinnamma Samuel, the oldest child of Samuel Vethanayagam Subramaniam and Mary Chellamma Danvers, became Mrs. David Kanagaratnam.
The steam engine rattled northward along the coastal tracks leaving plumes of smoke in its wake. The passenger grew drowsy as he peered out at the dark forms of swaying coconut palms and flying pin-pricks of light dotting the shadowed landscape. He was stocky and slightly short of average height, with a thick shock of jet-black hair and dark line of neatly trimmed moustache grazing his upper lip.
Shadrach Samuel was riding the rails all the way up to the northern tip of Ceylon. He’d been summoned home by the relatives who’d located a suitable candidate on the local marriage market. It was time, they said, to marry and settle down. Thirty-two years old, a self-made man of modest means, Shadrach had no reason to object. After a flurry of letters and telegrams he packed a suitcase and boarded the overnight train to Jaffna.
He was going to stay at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Newton of Old Park View, Chundikuli.
“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.”
I pulled out my phone to take pictures to post on Kijiji. Of random stuff he might be able to sell.
Like these –
Some items he will not part with. “That’s coming with me to the retirement home. Not selling!”
Framed family photos are definitely not for sale!
Rickety sheds scattered around the sprawling backyard, all bursting at the seams –
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.
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.
The bakery aisle was empty of flour. Not one bag left.
Flour is now the new toilet paper it seems.
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.
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.
“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!
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 …
Thankful for technology in this time of stringent distancing. Thankful for Zoom family and other online gatherings.
Puppy can’t believe everyone’s home.
Thankful for family dinners. All four of us. Together. Everyday. After ages.
Thankful for time. To write –
To stop and stare –
Life changed. Overnight. An un-imagined, dystopian pause. The world over.
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?
Stay safe, stay home. Reach out.
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
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Summer’s done. Trees begin to burn with autumn angst.
Backyard bursts with bloom. Garden glows.
A shaft or sunlight swoops down on Kneeling Angel. She shines against an emerald veil of vines. My heartbeat halts for a fraction of a stunned second and I’m all awash with the delight of summer past, the fascinating fragrance of my Secret Garden.
Such a summer of serendipity it has been. Such finds …
Like I’m pushed to pass by just when this stuff is outside, begging to be taken and pleading for a new destiny.
Click on the arrow below to savour 30 seconds of my Secret Summer Sweetness …
Which brings me to my Last Summer Serendipity …
Saturday morning, off to the mall. Spy something intriguing as we drive by. Little vintage school desks. The kind with a bench attached to the front of it. There’s a pair of them. In front of the old house that has a pile of stuff out each week, ancient things, free for the taking. Sometimes there’s a handwritten sign on a large white board: For Sale.
I have an image in my head. Of a chronic hoarder, who’s amassed stuff for years, urgently requiring to rid himself of a huge pile of junk.
“Could we check them out on our way back?” I ask.
So shopping done and happy hubby holding the first new suit he’s acquired in years, we head homewards.
The desks are gone.
It’s only been an hour …
“Maybe they took them back inside,” he suggests.
“Why would they? There must be someone like me on the prowl! We should have stopped right away!”
“But there was no room in the car.”
I feel forlorn.
I remember from time to time in a sad kind of way and when I do, I whisper, “Please, if he’s right and the owner took them back in, let me pass by when they’re out again …”
A fortnight goes by. Then one day, on my way to the dentist, my gaze strays to my left … and …
… they’re back.
U-turn, park in a by-lane and trot over to inspect. These are not from the ’50s as I’d guessed … the two darling desks are relics from the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth century.
Straight out of a late-Victorian era classroom or Anne of Green Gables novel. There are holes for the inkwells and circular openings in the ornate cast-iron legs to bolt them down to a wooden floor.
Be still, my heart!
The munchkin school furniture is chained together on the grass by the kerb. The chains are solid. Rusty. I waltz up the driveway. There’s an elderly gent sitting on an aged white garden chair, staring out into space by his garage door.
Waiting for customers …
“Are these for sale?”
He’s all I imagined he’d be.
Self-confessed hoarder. Eighty eight years old.
The house is hidden behind the trees. Possibly the last of the original homes on the avenue.
“I have a garage full of things,” he mumbles. “I’m tired now. Just want to get rid of them and go.”
He shrugs. “Found them downtown. They were tearing down an old schoolhouse, I think. Don’t remember. I pick things up. They’ve sat in my garage for over 30 years. ”
We agree on a price. For one of them. I’d like to have both, but the other one’s already taken.
I ask if he’s got old books. He shows me. A load in the entrance-way, tidily packed in boxes for donation, awaiting pick up.
“Help yourself,” he says. “They belonged to my wife. I never had time for books. But was she ever a reader!”
Mustn’t be greedy. I’m running out of shelf space at home.
I pick 20 hardcover copies — many from the fifties — several first editions and a 100 year-old beauty. The books are in marvellous condition. Most of them in vinyl cover-protectors. They look brand new.
Cared for by a woman who delighted in her books …
He invites me inside and I enter a rabbit warren of rooms in the Land that Time Forgot.
There’s some medical equipment, fine china and a collection of miniature cars. I take pictures and promise to put the items on Kiji on his behalf.
We sit at the kitchen table and chat awhile.
“My wife had a computer. She was an accountant. She did all that kind of stuff. Now she’s at the nursing home and that’s all I have …” He points to an old wall phone from the seventies, looking lost on the kitchen table.
“I live like a hobo, I’m sorry,” he adds.
“Don’t be,” I reply. “I’m amazed at how you’re coping. I’d love to help. Could I bring you some meals – dinner once a week, maybe?”
“No. Food is not a problem. I take those.” He shows me a crate of protein shakes.
“And there’s a collection of china teacups and stuff … my wife used to have tea parties. People don’t do that kind of thing anymore …”
“I do, actually!”
He mentions the wife a lot. I admire the faded cross-stitch pictures on the walls — her handiwork, he tells me. “But no one does that kind of stuff anymore.”
I do, actually!
“Could I take a photo of you with the desk?”
“But I’m honest,” he protests.
I smile. “Not because I don’t trust you. I’d like to record this moment.”
“Oh … okay!”
He sits and strikes a pose. I click.
He picks the desk up with effortless ease. It’s heavy.
“You’re strong,” I comment.
“You don’t know what I had to do for my wife until two years ago,” he replies airily.
There’s something endearing about him.
“It’s hard to dispose of your entire life,” he adds.
I see desolation in his eyes.
“I can only imagine,” I sympathize softly.
His sadness reaches me.
Goodbye Lifetime of Yesterdays …
I remember that I’m not as young as I used to be and reaffirm my resolve to squeeze every last precious drop out of the rest of my life.
I’ve been back to visit a couple of times. Bought more stuff for myself and on behalf of a friend.
His name is Albert. I call him Mr. A.
It’s kind of a privilege to have met him.
As I said … such a summer it has been, of delightful discoveries and intriguing encounters.
Sweet, surreal serendipity …
Until next time,
PS: Pause to breathe and linger in this year’s Secret Garden. Take a stroll in the Garden of Dreaming 2019 and savour the splendour of this summer past …
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CLICK HERE FOR THURSDAYS WITH HAROLD BY SELINA STAMBI
Nothing thrived. The toughest annuals barely survived in the glazed clay pot. Shade might be the problem, so I tried to heave the hefty thing to a sunny location.
It wouldn’t budge. Stuck a shovel inside to empty out and lessen the load. Struck something hard.
Attempted to tip the thing over. It moved a bit, not much. It was firmly anchored down.
On my knees in the grass, I discovered the culprit. A stray rootlet from the apple tree, creeping in through the drainage hole had grown upwards. The lower three quarters of the container was blocked by a solid serpentine coil of unyielding root.
Who could have guessed?
I hacked the ropey mass away – not an easy task – chopped and eased it out. Most of the soil was gone.
No wonder …
It blazed with joy in its bright new location and burned with bloom all the way through July until October’s first frost. Brand new beginning. Plenty of sunlight. NO sinister strangling roots.
Food for thought …
Isn’t life like that? Think of how relationships fail and situations deteriorate because of covert root issues lurking beneath the surface that never get acknowledged, dug out and disposed of.
Abandoned things are like hurting people. It’s worth investing time in them. A little care, nurture and a dab of creativity might go a long way towards bringing about a transformation of loveliness.
It would require a certain eye and angle of perception, of course, to realize the hidden value and immense potential in discarded things (and difficult people).
The site of unwanted cast-offs gets my imagination all fired up —
What wonderful things get tossed out and lie listlessly on the kerb, yearning for a second chance.
Clueless, careless people pressed for time, seek the trash can as a quick, convenient way out.
First world solutions …
The owner of a local antique store told me she pays someone to scour the streets of certain neighbourhoods on garbage day.
“You won’t believe the valuable things we’ve found and sold at a price,” she said.
I believe her.
I’ve made some magnificent finds myself.
Like these –
My friend, Gail’s eye fell on this ugly blanket box as we drove by. She suggested I pick it up –
I love browsing in thrift stores –
You never know when smiling serendipity will direct you to the find of a lifetime.
Perhaps a gold-embossed book published in 1915 that you hold breathlessly in your hands to gaze at the faded name scrawled in elegant fountain-pen handwriting across the fragile fly leaf.
You might even find a bonus in the shape of a Christmas or birthday card tucked inside, with formal, handwritten greetings from almost a century ago.
Sentimental birthday greetings and Christmas wishes from the early 1900’s …
Or a rare first edition of a book by Dickens that you didn’t even know existed.
The creative possibilities are endless.
Check out the evolution of this found item from vintage breadbox to desktop knickknack holder –
Or the resurrection of a sorrowing three-legged chair –
Or an ancient soccer ball reborn as glowing garden gazing ball preening on a cast-off plastic lampshade –
There’s no better place than a garage sale to locate sad things dreaming of a fresh purpose and renewed destiny.
Last summer I drove by a lawn sale and screeched to a halt when out of the corner of my eye, I saw this worn wooden ladder from the 40s/ 50’s.
The perfect stage for seasonal decorations –
I came across an identical ladder in an antique-store window. The price tag was exactly ten times what I forked out for my weathered treasure!
A garden is the perfect platform to showcase dreams of discarded things.
– Blooming barbecue planters …
– Chair plant stands –
– Coloured bottles –
– Old windows
– An unloved bicycle, a sad old door –
– Abandoned light fittings –
The pipes from an old tap for stems, glass lampshades from an ugly old chandelier and solar lights make for stunning garden decor that lights up the night …
The chandelier itself becomes a bird feeder with coconut shells for bowls …
– A garden bedroom –
You can never have too many mirrors in a garden …
Reflected dreams …
When the sun sets and the stars come out –
How they glow …
From hideous, useless to one-of-a-kind wonderful, these once-unwanted things shine in a quiet space of gentle dreams, enhancing this place of rest and relaxation.
I have to draw the line at old toilets, however.
Longing for spring, in spite of this past weekend’s dump of snow.
Dreaming of those long summer days. Of pounding the pavements in running shoes at dawn and sitting out on the deck, reading till the stars come out at night …
Always mindful that there is a fresh purpose for everything. The ugly-useless and despairing-broken — people and things.
Keeping a sharp eye out …
Until next time,
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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.
“Don’t want to hurt your feelings and all, but nobody reads that kind of poetry anymore!”
“You mean with rhyme and stuff?”
“But the world’s a stage”, my eyes pleaded. “It’s teeming with actors. They beckon and beg for someone to observe, pick up a pen and weave tall tales.”
Which is how Chronicles of Archie-Baldia came into being.
Meet Uncle Archibald …
Archie loves life. Harriet is his stoic spouse, unwitting co-star of hilarious hubby’s boisterous adventures. Aunty H is also on her own matchmaking mission to marry off her spinster pals, the Greying Gals.
So no one reads ‘that kind of poem’ anymore. Would you listen to one dramatized and spoken aloud, costume and all?
Here it is — first in the series. Old fashioned music hall-type farce. Slapstick comedy-in-rhyme … narrated for your listening pleasure.
An experiment to titillate the tired literary palate of the jaded twenty-first century non-reader of poetry. Archibald makes his debut at the Marriott Hotel in –
Uncle’s Rollicking Rumba!
(The video clip might take a few seconds to appear on screen. If you are on the email list, the video won’t show up in your notification. Click here to view this post with the video.)
So what’s the verdict?
“Laugh and the world laughs with you”, as Mum used say …
Thankful for the folks I find. Fabulous fodder to feed this frenzied imagination!
Until next time,
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The sun glowed orange during rush hour this morning. My heart sagged under a weight of joy and I slowed down to take pictures –
I almost sent them off to you.
Then I remembered …
I recalled a recent dialogue we had.
Me: Could I use these pictures of you, please? There’s such a beauty about you that’s riveting.
You: You can use every picture you want. You don’t have to ask. Surprise me!
So I’m surprising you today …
You: How long was your fight with cancer?
Me: The cancer battle was over a year and a half. My oncologist calls me a success case (I prefer miracle patient). I don’t look like myself in the picture, do I? Within two weeks of your first chemo, the hair starts falling out and you mutate into someone else. I began to practice intentional thankfulness. When gratitude seeps in, joy is not too far behind. Those were beautiful, dark, lovely, intense and precious times. God sends angels, as you know, in many shapes and forms.
You: I don’t look like myself anymore, either. I was always on the go. Now it is my mind that is on fast.
The aircraft commenced its descent into Halifax last Thursday afternoon and my thoughts overflowed with vignettes from your heart –
My mum sent the pink rose to me today … just because. The Ford Escape is on the lawn because Cam wanted me to see it. He just bought it yesterday as a second vehicle. My wheelchair van rides low so it’s not practical for snowy days ahead. I always loved a Ford Escape and Cam would drive a van.
We have a cottage on the Bay of Fundy and watch the tides go in and the tides go out. Nature at its best. September is a special time. Most cottagers are only there on weekends, so the solitude and beauty is magnified. My paradise …
Your beloved Cameron –
Cam and our brother-in-law are re-shingling the back of the cottage. It has been a busy day. For me, the moments when I can look out the window and see the eagle fly, sandpipers having their last meals before heading to South America and the magnificent clouds being reflected in both water and wet mud are highlights of my soul.
Today it was 29 degrees and sunny, so I went out in my wheelchair to enjoy. On impulse I drove on my lawn around to my gardens to see the tulips and bleeding heart. I felt free until my wheelchair got stuck in soggy lawn. Resourceful Cam got blocks of wood and we managed to get out. BUT my tires were full of mud. Cam cleaned as much as he could off and them I wheeled myself in. A flashback hit me. How many times had I told the boys NOT to wear their dirty boots in the house? Cam, patient Cam, has been working at getting the wheels clean ever since!!!
JOY was your three-letter codeword –
Went to the Festival of Lights today in Wolfville, where Cam and I met while going to Acadia University. At the farmer’s market, it was all about Indian food and entertainment. I got a dragonfly and the word JOY done with henna and several Indian silk scarves for Christmas gifts.
I am waking up immediately to JOY in the morning for the next couple of weeks.
What made my day? My careworker this morning for 4 hours was Holly. Someone that previously had only been there for my half hour tuck-ins at night. We were sitting at my kitchen table in the sun, when I asked her about her heart-shaped ring … and that was my further joy for the day.
You infused JOY into every moment, Judy, distilled, savoured, sipped on it, then infected the air you breathed and intoxicated those around you.
You: There is no such thing as coincidence.
Absolutely. I agree …
You: Maybe I came into your life to show you the other side of ALS. The joyful side.
You did just that. And you did it so well …
Your boys: your pride and JOY –
Tim is home. Happy heart.
Just got back from taking Tim to the airport. What a lovely visit and a wonderful son. He left such wonderful memories behind.
Andrew came home on Friday and stays till this Friday. Check him out on You Tube in the Hot Fireman ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Click here to watch Judy standing at Andrew’s side as he takes up the challenge.)
Matthew was home from Wednesday to Saturday. Shared the big news that Laura is pregnant! Be still my heart. We are so blessed.
Those grandbabies –
Got a wonderful card in the mail today, with an ultrasound picture on the front and the announcement inside saying “It’s a boy!” Our third grandson is due the end of October. The Starrit genes were working again. OverJOYed!!!!
He was born yesterday and all is right with the world. 8lb 11 0z of pure JOY! Yesterday was such an emotional day. Waiting, wondering, wishing, praying. And then the phone call came. Rejoicing, heart exploding, celebrating our new JOY! And then by 10.00 at night, emotional breakdown. Thinking about what I will be missing in his future, but being so overjoyed he is here. A part of me.
He’s Henry now. Named after Cam’s dad. We are still on our baby high. Will be for quite a while.
Cam just stenciled a picture of him onto a pillowcase.
Tomorrow Andrew, Findlay and Eamon are coming for Thanksgiving weekend. I am beyond excited!!!
I have arranged for the pilot, Debbie, of the only plane that travels to Sable Island, to come and speak about her experiences.
I took pictures, but my hands were unsteady with excitement.
Eamon just messaged me. Andrew is taking them to a movie. He likes to keep me informed.
Your sister —
Tonight Linda comes. Any minute now.
Linda is here and we are going to listen to the sixth CD of the Book Of Joy, a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. This is our sixth Monday night doing it …
… and the whacky, wonderful friends –
My friend, Mary, and sister are coming out to play a card game called Quiddler. A weekly event. I am on a winning streak.
Mary brings muffins for Cam
My tree is trimmed and …
… the Wild and Woolies are coming at 4.00. Laughter will abound.
The Wild and Woolies have been getting together for over thirty years
Don’t forget the goats …
Andrew and Cam have just taken the goats up the hill for a walk. If we let them loose too close to the house, they would eat all the flowers coming up …
I always have flowers in my view. I even got flowers for Father’s Day!
Gotta be kid-ding – goats at a wedding?(The “kids” are included in Andrew and Shantel’s backyard nuptials) …
… and the chickens (of course) —
Just had the chickens playing the xylophone at my window.
Homecare just arrived, but chickens come first!
On living with ALS –
I have a whole new view on listening. My boogie board is my voice now. People don’t wait until I finish writing and assume what I’m going to say and rush off to do their own thing. Also, they read it wrong, and I have to get their attention and underline a word or words.
It cost less than $30 at Costco.
I WAS a talker!
I do most of my writing on my phone now.
I am using my BiPAP for about 20 hours a day. It gives me the freedom of not having to think every time I take a breath. The strength in my hands has diminished as well. I will NOT let that keep me from living a full life but it has put limitations on what I can do. ALS sucks sometimes.
Success. Beyond resounding! My mind is still going. Still walking. Still enjoying yesterday. There were 59 people, including care-workers, friends and family on Judy’s Joys. I am blessed Truly blessed.
Took 5-6 days to get over the walk. SO worth it!
We shared our rainbows, you and I —
In your home …
… in mine –
You: We are definitely sisters from another mother.
There’s no doubt about that!
You: The physical meeting somehow eludes us, but we are so much beyond that. We are so much closer than that. What we have done for each other is beyond friendship.
Me: Can’t wait to meet you, Judy. It will be odd, though. Kind of like having a first date after being married for a year!
You:I, too, want to meet you! If I could, I would be on a plane now. But the other side of reality is that I know I won’t be travelling by plane anymore. Too many uncertainties.
You: Wish, wish you lived nearby. Always thinking about you.
Me: Me too. I love how Cam cares for you, love the chickens, love the red bike. I even love your ghastly puns!
You: Our friendship goes much deeper. I needed you as much as you needed me. You took me outside of myself.
By the way, Cam is going to mail a parcel to you tomorrow. No parcel from you yet. Tomorrow.
Your parcel arrived by express post on December 23rd. Icicles dripped off the eaves as the mailman hopped from one foot to the other and blew on his hands, while I hastily inscribed a signature on the electronic board he held out to me.
Such a treasure trove of thoughtful things inside …
Me: Did you make the Scrabble ornament? Love it!
You: Bought it at the ALS sale.
Me: It was meant for me.
You: I found your DREAMS, didn’t I?
You sure did!
We called onChristmas Eve, before heading out to church. Husband, Daughters and I sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas on speakerphone. Cam said you raised your arms in delight and crossed your hands over your heart.
On Christmas day we shared cameo moments.
You sent me –
and I sent these –
Isn’t this fun?
Our house was always the ‘go to’ house at Christmas. I used to make rolls and shape them in the form of wreaths and Christmas trees. Decorate them, of course, and wrap them in clear, cellophane with fancy ribbons. That is a thing of the past now, but Christmas still comes and goes!
Rush hour traffic is in full swing and Dad’s just waking up when we get home.
Everything’s spick and span, crisp linen in the guest room, a fresh breeze and the sun streaming in through the open balcony doors.
A resounding emptiness, though. A sort of hollow ache as the eye alights on an empty rocking chair, the laptop idling under a dustcloth and the vacant seat beside Dad’s easy chair in front of the living room TV.
Dad drove us to Independent Square in the evening to catch some fresh air. I struggled to keep awake.
This is my Dad, Judy.
He was a strikingly handsome man in his day.
Independence Square is a great place for people-watching. I got unobtrusively busy with my camera.
A change of scene the next evening, when Dad headed for Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park). An imposing statue of Queen Victoria appears to have materialized out of nowhere.
There’s a different ambiance in this space, besides the gnarly, mammoth trees, probably planted in Victorian times —
… it’s the lovers cuddling beneath the colossal branches!
For as far as the eye can see …
Maybe because someone forgot to put up a sign like this one —
Tongue in cheek, of course …
Around six o’clock, dusk begins to fall and uniformed decency police appear to guard the morals of the nation. The amorous pairs are shooed out of the park.
Don’t laugh, Judy. I’m not fibbing – honest!
Three-wheeler tuk tuks swarm all over the city like a plague of locusts. They are the quickest and most precarious mode of transport in this traffic-choked city. The captions adorning the bodywork often had me chuckling —
So why is this one stuffed into the open doorway of an empty showroom?
Still good old tuk tuks are the go-to mode of emergency transport, I’ve often resorted to myself. A wild ride. Kids find it a hoot.
Uber is the latest trend, though, and so much cheaper with heavenly airconditioned vehicles …
I was up all night for the first ten days, Jet lag kills me. It gets worse with the passage of time.
The early walks with Aunty Rom were my day’s highlight.
In spite of these urgings –
and the necessary tools left lying around —
… and these willing workers
— the streets looked uncared for, garbage piled up in corners, picked over by crows and stray dogs.
A disappointing regression since the government changed hands.
The supervised disposal of crow’s nests has been abadondoned, Aunty Rom tells me.
Animal rights activists or government cutbacks. Don’t recall …
The morning walks energized me, Judy. I began each day embracing the essence of the city with all its quirks and complexities.