“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.
“My dear Beatrice …” Mum read aloud from the letter in her hand.
Postman has just delivered the mail …
Sister and I dared not meet each other’s eye. Bit our lips to keep from giggling.
“I don’t think you will recall me. I was a friend of your cousins, Daisy and Rosie, and have met you in their company on a few occasions in our young days.”
Mum’s voice rose to a squeak. “I write to you now regarding my son …”
Sister and I held our breath. Our lips trembled with mirth.
“He is a good boy. Very sober and steady (no vices whatsoever). He graduated as a doctor …..”
Sister swallowed hard. Her shoulders shook. I covered my mouth with my hand.
“We have heard about the goodness of your daughters. People all say they are good and smart, clever girls …”
No vices whatsoever/ the goodness of your daughters … good grief … who even writes like that?
Mum eyes continued to scan the handwritten lines. “I would be so happy to hear from you regarding this matter if your elder girl is still unattached. My friend, Mrs. M. tells me she is 22 years of age. In fact, your sister, Ruby …”
I’m the ‘elder girl’ …
“You may remember the times we shared as children.” Mum began to look puzzled.
Her jaw finally dropped when she came to the end of the letter. “PS: We prefer a spacious house in Colombo with garden and attached baths.”
Dowry details! Eek …
We could almost read Mum’s thoughts –
“I don’t remember this lady,” Mum mumbled almost to herself, and ran to the phone to dial Aunty Ruby’s number.
“Hello, how are you dear? I just received a strange letter … sounds a little eccentric … who are these people?”
Sister and I held our sides and roared. We laughed ourselves into stitches.
It all began some months before, when a close school friend of Mum’s asked if she would contact a certain family (who had an eligible son) regarding a formal proposal of marriage for their youngest daughter.
Girl in question was pretty, a recent university graduate, now on the Marriage Market. Parents were anxious to have her fixed up and settled.
True story, honest (down to the phraseology)! Absolutely no embellishment …
Older sister of said Young Lady got entangled with Completely Unacceptable Young Man and eloped when well-to-do Daddy refused to give his consent. Daddy disowned her. A year later, when First Grandchild was born, Starving Couple were ushered back into the family fold.
Get the picture?God forbid that history should repeat itself, right? Okay, so stage is set …
Mum obliged and our home served as venue for introduction between Sweet Young Thing and Very Acceptable Beau.
Cousin Ranji was staying over that weekend. She, Sister and I eavesdropped from behind the drawing room drapes.
No TV in Sri Lanka then. This was far better, delicious entertainment, served up on a platter …
Young Pair sat at one end of the room to get acquainted. Mothers made small talk close by.
Recipes and stuff …
Two dads at farthest corner.
Mum and Dad sat in on the powwow – being it was their home and all. Awkward …
Things suddenly grew ugly. Raised daddy-voices.
Dirty dowry matters …
Young Man’s father haggled for more.
Sweet Young Thing’s father finally agreed to throw in a lorry along with the house and land.
Or something like that …
Cousin Ranji, Sis and I are horrified.
We’ve travelled back into antiquity …
Deadlock. Evening concludes in chilly huff.
But no one counted on Young Pair falling madly in love.
Completely unexpected turn of events …
Now unacceptable, Young Man contacted and romanced Sweet Young Thing on the sly.
Mum politely declined when asked to intervene.
Sweet Young Thing phones to weep on Mum’s shoulder …
Romeo and Juliet elope to overseas destination. Daddy disowns Little Girl, then throws arms wide open when she returns from honeymoon with baby on the way.
Yay! Forgive and forget …
Found out later that Rejected Romeo and one of the cousins were co-workers at the time of Nebulous Nuptial Goings On. They were quite good friends and I’d met him at one of her birthday parties.
Only in Sri Lanka …
Found an old scrapbook of letters and cards written by Sister, cousins and me when we were children. Carefully dated and captioned by Mum.
Sis and I wrote little notes and longer letters all the time.
Hilarious notes from Sister …
Mostly to Mum.
So when it came time to play a prank on a long-suffering mother, inspired by recent events, one would automatically resort to letter-writing.
“My dear Beatrice …”
Poor Mum. We teased her unmercifully and she was always such a good sport about it. Don’t think Sister or I ever ‘fessed up or divulged the source of the written proposal of marriage that once came my way.
And now I’ve two daughters of my own.
Full circle. What goes around surely comes around!
The memories flooded in when eyes wandered over the yellowed sheet of notepaper taped to the fraying page of Mum’s scrapbook.
With sister’s heavily disguised handwriting on it. She must have figured it out …
Thankful for Mum’s sentimentality that induced her save all this stuff.
Pure gold …
Like these home-made cards from her nieces –
A definite artistic bent in the family …
— and the self portrait I drew.
A fairly good likeness of my gawky pre-teen self …
Sister needs to work on her spelling in this one –
On the first family trip to England, Mum had us pose in front of Buckingham Palace while she attempted to take a picture of Dad, Sister and me against the backdrop of the Changing of the Guards.
The guards had changed and gone their wayby the time the picture focused to satisfaction. Sister and I teased her about it for years to come.
Smile please …
Everyone was using pocket cameras.Sis and I were embarrassed by the ghastly contraption Mum still wielded with pride!
We flew on to Singapore where Dad bought us girls a Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash bulbs.
Colour pictures … yay, finally!
Shudder to think of the environmental impact from all the used flash bulbs we gleefully dumped in the trash can.
Mum discovered the joys of photography around age 12 when she got a gift of a Brownie camera.
She still had it when Sis and I were kids …
Mum’s crisp black-and-white photos display an instinct for capturing the ‘moment’ and an unerring eye for placing and composition.
When sister and I were little, Mum acquired the Yashica, also sort of box-camera-ish.
Sleeker, less ‘primitive’, more sophisticated …
It took ages to focus with Mum staring into the open Yashica ‘box’ in her hands, at an upside down image.
She’d murmur, “Smile, smile” through fixed grin and puckered brow, our features remaining in frozen limbo until we heard the click and a cheerful ‘thank you’!
Felt like forever!
Mum often said she wanted to get an ‘unawares’ shot.
Sister and I heard … underwears!
We hadn’t the foggiest notion what she meant.
She caught us unawares all right. The delightful album-memories bear testimony to the fact.
Mum’s was the era of stay-at-home mothers. Those who were in the professions were nevertheless the proud masters of the housewifely arts. They cooked, sewed, hung for hours on the telephone with other women, shared recipes, discussed the current price of important commodities like sugar, rice and eggs, wrote lengthy, polite letters and never forgot birthdays and anniversaries.
At family concerts we kids ‘did’ Mum and aunties talking on the phone …
When Sister and I got married, we each received a special gift from Mum. An album of photographs – mostly black and white photos and some washed out Kodak and Polariod colour pictures – each one tailored to document our lives from birth to early adulthood.
All meticulously labelled …
With Mum’s unexpected passing two years ago, I lost my best friend and discovered a treasure trove of old pictures while cleaning out cupboards and putting things in order for Dad.
Eyes popped out of my head as a pictorial record of family history unfolded …
Entered a new realm. Memories of bygone days surfaced from boxes, dusty files and disintegrating albums.
Mum’s voice recounting fragments of family legends echoing in the recesses of my mind …
The past came alive in a way that didn’t seem possible. Moments in time frozen on faded bits of glossy paper, pictures worth thousands of words.
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.
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, 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.
PS: If you happen to be a branch/ twig/clipping of the Samuel/ Newton/ Perinpanayagam family trees and have old pictures/information, I’d love to hear from you.
And I’d be delighted to share what I’ve gathered, with you.
All pictures in this post are clicks on Ipad and phone.