“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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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!
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
[ To get caught up on this story Click here for OUR PRESENT PAST (1) / CLICK HEREFOR OUR PRESENT PAST (2) ]
Pink streaks of dawn stained the sky when the overnight train from Jaffna ground to a halt at the Fort railway station in Colombo. Clutching his small bag of belongings, the boy stepped out of his carriage,overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of the waking metropolis. Aunt Rebecca Ponnamma was waiting on the platform, her husband — Uncle Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam — at her side. She waved to catch her nephew’s eye. Rebecca Ponnamma wrapped her arms around her dead sister’s boy and Shadrak heaved a quiet sigh of relief. This was his mother’s flesh and blood. His own. He was home.
Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers was an intelligent young woman, as beautiful as she was bright. She conversed fluently in English, a bright star at Uduvil Girls’ College where she was awarded a Queen’s Scholarship in 1901 when she obtained her Calcutta University Matriculation Certificate.
School teacher, evangelist, lifelong friend and ally of Dr. Mary Rutnam, Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers was a woman beyond her time.
In 1904 Rebecca married Samuel Alfred Chellathurai Perinpanayagam who was a first cousin. They were both grandchildren of Kadirgamar and Harriet (Theivenei) Danvers. (Kadirgamar Danvers was the first in the family line to convert to Christianity). The couple moved to Colombo where Samuel Alfred was employed by the British firm, Messrs Boustead Brothers. They settled in the then fashionable suburb of Kotahena, where they purchased a home in Silversmith Street (now Bandaranaike Mawatha)
Shadrak found shelter in the kind maternal presence of his aunt and was happy in the home in Kotahena. Barely into his teens, the boy was apprenticed to the British firm, Hoare and Company. Here he was initiated into the hardware business. The job called for hard manual labour and his duties often included heaving heavy bags around on his back. Young though he was, and now a cog in the wheel of big city life, Shadrak never gave up the daily discipline of a quiet early morning time alone in prayer and scripture-reading. He clung with steadfast determination to the early discipline of his grandmother’s teaching,From time to time he paused to open the twelfth-birthday letter from his granny to refresh his memory and savour the words of the blessing scrawled in Tamil script.Continue reading “Anna Goes To School (Our Present Past 3)”→
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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“Tell me about Singapore,” I said. “During the war. When you were a child.”Dad set his fork down, a rush of memories spilling into his eyes.
“My father was a radio communications officer. He worked for the British government in Singapore …”
“He was a highly intelligent man, but he had a volatile temper! He was my hero, though it was frightening to live with someone like that. He flew into a rage one day and struck me with the radio wires he was working with. My mother had to apply a hot fomentation on my back for days until the marks subsided.I don’t remember my mother ever cuddling or kissing me. But there was plenty of food. A laden table. She was a good cook. My father was a hospitable man. The house was always filled with people and she fed them gladly.
“We lived in a sprawling home on Mount Rosie, surrounded by a large compound. I remember climbing fruit trees and playing for hours outside.”
“The Japanese considered their monarch a god. They worshipped him as such.
The West was distracted by Hitler and Stalin. It was the perfect time for the Japanese to leap in with their own agenda. They worked their way through the East, carving out an empire …”
“When the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, the Americans got involved. This was the beginning of the Pacific War.”
“The tanks rolled into Singapore.
It was one of the worst defeats in British military history …
“Pretty much everyone was labelled a traitor. They shipped them off to POW camps. By the thousands.”
“So how did Grandpa survive, Dad?” I asked.Dad’s tone was matter-of-fact. “My father worked for the Japanese,” he said.My jaw dropped.
“After the surrender of Singapore, the Japanese generals stood at our doorstep with drawn swords. They threatened to cut off his head if he didn’t work for them. There was no other option.” “On our way to school, we’d see rows of traitors’ heads impaled on the walls.”
“The Japs began losing ground after America entered the war with a powerful fleet of fighter planes and bombers. I remember them. There were the B-27s, B-23s, B-24s and B-26s.”
The Chinese and Japanese were hostile to each other. If the Chinese had been for the Japanese, the Americans would never have won the war.”
“I remember watching the Japanese bombers flying overhead in formation with anti-aircraft units hot in pursuit.”“The air raid sirens could go off at any time of day and you were supposed to seek shelter immediately in the bunker, under a staircase, or under furniture. Our bunker was in the basement of the house.”
“I remember the dog fights in the air, when the Japanese bombers came in V-formation and the American fighter planes went after them.”
“I stood outside one day and watched as a Japanese plane got shot down. It caught fire and made a nose-dive to the ground. It crashed into our compound, its tail pointing upwards. There was a huge crater in the ground.
After the flames burned out, the gardener ran up. He was an eccentric Indian man. We were all convinced he was mad. He dragged the dead airman out, pulled off his boots and pillaged the corpse. He pocketed the wrist watch and searched for gold fillings in the teeth. Then I saw the allied planes pass overhead – massive aircraft, gleaming in the sun. You could hear them from miles away.”
“One day my father was shaving upstairs, when a shell came flying in through the bathroom window and rolled down the staircase. Thank God it didn’t explode. Our home was like a refugee camp for the Ceylon Tamil community – injured boys and girls were brought there. Providentially, Mount Rosie was never bombed.”
“We attended an Anglo-Chinese school. There was a Tamil priest on the teaching staff. The Singaporean teachers were compelled to learn Japanese and then teach it to their students.”“Our formal schooling was sporadic through the war years. English was forbidden.
My father taught us in the basement bunker at night.
We had to memorize poetry and I was able to read far beyond my years.I remember reciting The boy stood on the burning deck …
The Japanese soldiers had funny uniforms – long, long khaki shorts and hats with elongations at the back from the brims, covering their necks.”
“The officers wore white shirt, khaki jacket and leather boots.I remember coming down the hill, one particular day, where the school was situated. There were steps going up the hill to the school building. The students were all lined up on either side of the road to greet and wave flags at visiting Japanese army dignitaries. They came in a convoy of lorries and military vehicles. A boy standing across the street called out to me. Without thinking, I dashed across the road to reach him, cutting through the oncoming parade. A lorry hit me and I was knocked unconscious. They drove on. They didn’t stop. The entire convoy passed over me.
When the parade was done, the Tamil priest — the teacher from my school – picked me up and took me to the government hospital. Miraculously, there was no serious injury and I recovered.”“How old were you, Dad?” I queried.“I must have been about 7 or 8.”“That was nothing short of divine providence,” I commented.Dad nodded. “Yes,” he said. “And I used to collect all the shells and metal fragments I found lying around. That was my hobby.”
“My mother carried her jewellery in a pouch tied around her waist, under her saree. She finally buried it all outside in the garden. When the war was over she wasn’t able to find the spot to dig it back up.”“You mean she lost all her jewellery?” I asked.Dad shrugged. “Many people buried their valuables and never found them again.”“The Americans bombed Singapore before the Japs surrendered. I remember Singapore harbour up in flames.”
D-Day came and the Germans surrendered, but the Japanese hung on until the American bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That was when they finally gave in.
“Japan would never had surrendered if not for the atom bomb. America was the only nuclear power in the world at the time. The bombs were dropped two days apart.”
My father had a radio hidden in the basement. He tuned in at night to listen to the BBC news. There was no other way of knowing how the war was progressing. Suddenly one day, the war was over. Everything fell silent. The Japanese forces vanished.
“A Ceylonese Burgher gentleman who was a friend of my father’s – his name was Mr. Garth, an educated man, slightly brownish in complexion — ended up in a Japanese POW camp. After we knew for sure that the war was over, my father took me with him to the POW camp. I remember sitting in the car as we drove there. The camp was a place of the living dead. Men, women and children had been starved and made to do hard labour. We found Mr. Garth. He had been a prisoner for four years. He was plain skin and bones. We brought him back home. My mother had cooked a good meal and set it on the table. Mr. Garth sat and stared at the food for quite awhile. Then he ate slowly, savouring every mouthful. He saved the boiled egg for the last.”
The war ended in September 1945.
“The British returned.Many Ceylon Tamils who lived in Burma had walked to South India to escape the invasion. They were found and rescued.Everything was in a mess. A new administrative system had to be set up. All residents of Singapore had to get their British citizenship renewed. Those who were not originally from Singapore were given the option of staying or receiving a free passage back to the country of their birth. Mother wanted to stay, but Father had no choice. He had worked for the Japanese during the war years and was declared a traitor to the British Empire. His name was on a formal list of Traitors To The Empire that appeared in the newspapers directly after the war ended.The British arranged for our repatriation. We travelled in a massive ship which had been used as a troop carrier during the war. It was called the SS Arundel Castle.”
Our passage was paid and they provided us with clothing and food. With a load of over one thousand passengers – all Ceylon Tamils – the vessel set sail soon after the war was over. The voyage lasted five to six days before we docked at Colombo harbour. I remember being loaded onto a boat and coming ashore, where there was a big reception committee awaiting the home-comers.
My mother’s sister’s daughter — my cousin, Mabel — came to meet us at the dock. We slept the night at her home in Maradana and caught the train to Batticoloa the next day.”
At breakfast the next morning, a heavy-eyed Dad informed me that he hadn’t had much sleep the previous night. “The horrible scenes kept playing in my head,” he said. I picked another subject for that evening’s conversation. A year and a half in later, after the birth of his youngest child — a son — Grandpa James returned to Singapore. He approached the British authorities in anticipation of being reinstated into his former civil service post. Representatives of His Majesty’s government grimly reminded my grandfather that his name was etched on the infamous traitor list. They concurred that Grandpa’s only other choice would have led to the instant annihilation of himself and his young family. They graciously granted him a pension for his service to the British Empire. Then they showed him the door.Grandpa sailed back to his native Ceylon. He disembarked at the port of Colombo and rode the railway back to Batticoloa in the east, where his wife had inherited extensive acreages of profitable paddy land.
The new baby symbolized the end of an era in their lives.Old dreams dead and buried, life commenced anew and in earnest. The three youngsters, foreigners in the land of their parents’ birth, were constrained to learn a fifth language. English, Malay, Chinese, Japanese and now … Tamil.
If Grandpa was granted his pardon, if Granny obtained her heart’s desire, Dad wouldn’t have met Mum and allied himself with a new country and people. And I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.
An interesting thought which strengthens my conviction in the knowledge that life is directed by an unseen hand. A hand that masterfully orchestrates circumstances in such a manner as to bring an undeniable destiny to pass. With one hundred percent accuracy.
Until next time,
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Life changed with the grisly demise of her husband, Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. In ways Mary Chellamma never imagined. The breadwinner struck down in his prime, she was left alone to raise month-old twins amongst six young children. There was neither time, nor expertise to tend the land which was the family’s only source of income.
Mary turned in desperation to her brother-in-law, her husband’s brother, who cultivated rice and raised cattle on the adjoining property. He agreed to take on the management of her farm. Mary was relieved to be rid of the burden.
Blood is thicker than water, after all, and they were neighbours …
Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers – Mary’s mother, the children’s maternal grandmother – a widow herself, lived in her own home, a stone’s throw away. This pious woman was a bottomless reservoir of strength.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw evangelical activity at its height in northern Ceylon. The numerous schools and hospitals in the region bore witness to the presence and commitment of the American and British missionaries. Mary Chellammah, a young woman still, found employment with the CMS Missionaries in the area, who offered her a position as nurse’s aide at the local missions hospital.
Disaster struck again. Neighbour-brother-in-law turned perfidious predator and assumed ownership of the widow’s property. By unscrupulous means he had changes were made to the the title deeds and the cattle were re-branded accordingly.
Grandma Harriet – Paatti to the little ones – was a woman of prayer and unshakeable faith. She was known to sit in her house for hours by herself, lost in prayer. Her hands one upon the other, palms facing heavenwards, she pleaded with tears for heaven’s favour.
Subramaniam Vethanayagam (S.V.) Chelliah, her oldest grandson, looked in through an open window one day, and heard the old lady praying out loud in Tamil: “Heavenly Father, what am I to do about these children? Open the windows of heaven and bless them, I pray.” (“Aandavaney, intha sinna kulanthaihalodu naan enne seivan? Vaananthin palahanhelai thiranthu intha chiruvarhalai aasirwathiyum.”)
Irreverently tickled by the pious woman’s fervour, Chelliah summoned his brothers and sisters to witness the peep-show. The amused youngsters gawked at their grandmother while she made her petition to the unseen Almighty.
“Look at how her hands are open and reaching upwards,” he snorted with laughter. “She’s waiting for heaven to open and blessings to fall into them.”
The yield from the land continued to be purloined by the greedy uncle. Mary and her little ones lived in a home, which, according to the doctored deeds, was theirs no more.
Life was a struggle.
The stuff that ugly fairy tales are made of …
When the twins – Solomon and Anna – were six years old, Mary Chellammah took ill and was confined to her bed. Grandma Harriet, who carried on as best she could, was out of earshot when young Chelliah complained, “The food is not good (chaapadu chari illai).”
“Be patient, my son,” his ailing mother urged. “I’ll be up and about to cook tasty meals for my children (porungo rasa, naan elumbitu wanthu, nalai chamaichchu kudukiren pillaihalukku)”
Mary was unable to keep her promise. Fate struck another foul blow when she succumbed to her illness and died a short while later. The six fatherless offspring of Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel were now orphans.
Grandma Harriet – was left to raise the children on her own.
The children became unofficial wards of the Anglican Church.
Elizabeth Thangamma, who showed no particular interest in academic learning, was constrained to give up her schooling in order to remain at home and help cook and care for her siblings.
The boys were fostered out to benevolent families in Jaffna, sixty miles north of Vavuniya. The providential intervention of the church enabled them to continue their education at the reputed CMS Missions boys’ school, St. John’s College , Chundikuli (Jaffna).
On Shadrack Chinniah’s twelfth birthday he received a letter from his grandmother (who remained in Vavuniya with his sisters), mailed to his new address in Jaffna. The single sheet of notepaper was laced with weighty words of blessing written in the Tamil language.
Granny wrote: May you, little one, go from strength to strength, and become a millionaire (Chinnavan aigiramum siriyavan palaththa seemanum aavaan).
This birthday proved to be a milestone marking the end of Shadrack’s formal schooling. He bade farewell to Saint John’s College where he learned to read, write and speak with the polish and ability of a highly educated individual. His dreams lay beyond the confines of the arid northern province, far away in the colonial metropolis of Colombo.
The landscape shifted from dusty-dry to lush-verdant as the tracks snaked inland and the train rattled on its way, two hundred miles down to the capital city in the south of Ceylon.
In his shirt pocket, pressed to his heart, was the precious birthday letter.
The memory of his mother grazed his thoughts. The grim ghost of his uncle’s unthinkable actions haunted these quiet moments.
Shadrak pressed his face to the train window. Coconut-thatch huts and green fields flew by. The new life beckoned.
She chuckled. “Okay. How much information do you have already?”
“Bits and pieces. There’s a newspaper clipping …”
“What does it say?”
“According to Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote an article which was published in the Morning Star, a young man named Kadirgamar Danvers from Tellipalai was baptized into the Christian faith in 1835. The villagers, angered by the conversion, burned the local church down. Danvers fled to the village of Panditherruppu, where he met and married Anna Saveriyal.”
“There was a lot of missionary activity in Panditherruppu at the time. They were more tolerant towards the converts,” she explained.
“According to Rev. Canagaratnam, Kadirgamar Danvers and Anna had seven children. One of them was Solomon Danvers,who trained as a medical practitioner under the famous Dr. Green of Manipay. An old Bible geneology that came into my possession recently, makes mention of only four offspring.”
The children of Kadirgamar and Anna Danvers (as recorded in the Bible of Solomon Samuel, their great grandson) –
David Danvers (married Harriet Theivanei)
Solomon Danvers (married Thangam Vethanayagam)
Jane Elizabeth Danvers (married Joshua Perinpanayagam)
Gabriel Danvers (married Mary Santiago)
David Danvers (son of Kadirgamar and Anna) married Harriet Theivanei.
The children of David and Harriet Danvers –
Mary Chellammah Danvers (married Vethanayagam Samuel)
Elizabeth Annamma Danvers (married Jacob Arumainayagam)
Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers (married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam)
“Mary Chellammah married Vethanayagam Samuel, who was your great grandfather,” she said. “Her sister, Rebecca Ponnamma, married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam. Samuel Alfred’s father was Joshua Perinpanayagam, who married Jane Elizabeth Danvers, (the daughter of Kadirgamar and Anna), David Danvers’ sister.”
My head begins to swim in a muddle of recurring last names …
“Ah … so that’s the Perinpanayagam connection. And Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam were first cousins,” I commented. “There’s a connection to the Newtons, too, I noticed …”
“There have been Danvers/Perinpanayagam/ Newton marriages over a few generations,” she replied. “My mother told me the old stories. Now I can pass them on to you and they won’t die with me. I’m so happy you are doing this.”
Her eyes grew misty.
I’m visiting the Colombo home of Aunty Paranidhi, Mum’s cousin. We’ve just met for the first time. She responds with ease to my barrage of questions …
My journey of inquiry commenced shortly after Mum’s funeral in 2015, when I came across a battered copy of a formal family portrait from the 1930’s.
Faded photos on relatives’ Facebook pages – fascinating pictures of men and women from generations gone by – fanned curiosity to a compelling flame.
The search began.
I embarked on a voyage of e-mails, long distance calls and some stamped, addressed pieces of snail mail. Pictures, obituary notices, genealogies and newspaper clippings poured in from all corners of the globe. Through Facebook introductions, Whats App texts and hand-written letters, relatives contacted each other on my behalf, and people I’d only heard of by name leapt onto the ancestry bandwagon.
An inundation of images and information descended on me. Tantalizing clues, fascinating glimpses into a bygone colonial culture and whispers of a skeleton or two in the ancestral cupboards. Riveting. The stuff bestselling novels are made of.
The first stop on the trail led me to Wellawatte (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Aunty Paranidhi. Her eyesight is almost non-existent, but her mind is razor-sharp, her recollection flawless. I see pieces of my mother in the facial features. The family resemblance is evident.
My pen flies across the pages of the notebook I balance on my lap …
“So Mary Chellammah – David and Harriet Danvers’ daughter – was given in marriage to Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. He was a farmer who owned land in Urumbrai –
Vethanayagam Samuel and Mary Chellammah had six children –
Sarah Chinnamah (married David Sinniah Kanagaratnam)
Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah (married Annam)
Shadrack Chinniah Samuel (married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton)
Elizabeth Thangamma (married Godwin Wesley Sittampalam)
Anna Chinnathangam (married Albert Kanthapoo)
Solomon Chinnatamby Samuel (married Mercy Atputhanayagam Gnanaratnam)
“Aunty Renee found handwritten notes in her father’s Bible – that’s the Bible I mentioned. She sent me scanned copies of the geneologies recorded on the fly leaf. My heart almost stopped when I saw how the entries confirm the details set out in Uncle Donald’s article. Just imagine, how information from a source in Australia confirms the data acquired from another source in Western Canada! Within weeks of each other. It has to be providence!”
“Your interest is inspiring,” she commented. “No one seems to care about these things these days. Renee is Solomon Chinnathamby’s daughter. He had ten children. She is my first cousin.”
“Yes, I know. I remember great uncle Solomon Samuel and the annual Christmas visits to his home in Mutwal. ”
“Anna and Solomon were twins,” she continued. “Shadrack Chinniah was your grandfather. Anna Chinnathangam was my mother. And Rebecca Chinnammah was the mother of Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote the article you told me about. He was my cousin and your mother’s.”
“According to the genealogy in the Bible, Anna Saveriyal – Kadirgamar Danvers’ wife – was a Bible Woman,” I noted.
“Bible women worked among the women in the village. They visited the homes, shared the gospel of their faith and cared for them,” she explained.
“I remember your mother,” I said. “We called her Asai Granny. She came to stay with us once when I was about seven years old. I remember the glasses and the white hair knotted at the back of her head. She taught me how to make a rag rug with strips of leftover material and a hairpin. I never forgot that.”
Aunty picks up the threads of her narrative …
“Vethanayagam Samuel, a successful farmer, wanted more land. After the birth of his two oldest children, he relocated his family to Vavuniya in the undeveloped Vanni region of the northern province of Jaffna. In those days, people of the Vanni were considered wild and uncouth, even the British avoided the area, so land was dirt cheap. Samuel disposed of his property in Urumbirai, and with the proceeds from the sale, invested in several acres in Vavuniya. He built a house for his growing family and began to cultivate the land.
Once established and beginning to prosper, Samuel encouraged his brother and family move to Vavuniya and make a new life for themselves. The brother sold his land in Urumbrai and purchased the stretch of property adjoining Samuel’s fields. The families became neighbours.
Vethanayagam Samuel distinguished himself as a prominent citizen and earned the respect of his peers. He was appointed chairman of the village council, which was a position of authority and responsibility.
The were no proper roads in the region. Daily journeys on foot could involve traversing stretches of jungle inhabited by snakes and wild animals. Legend has it that Samuel was skilled in the art of herbal medicine and would venture into the jungle in search of plants for his potions.
The farming life called for disciplined manual labour. The older children, still all under ten, had to wake up at dawn each day to perform assigned chores.
Sarah Chinnammah had the unenviable job of cleaning out the cattle shed. One morning she pretended to be asleep and refused to be roused. Her father, whose task it was to wake her up, finally declared, “If my child is really asleep, her feet will move.”
Rebecca reacted as expected and wiggled her toes. She received a spanking for her naughtiness and was shooed out of bed to complete her daily task.
The twins – Anna and Solomon – were born in Vavuniya. During the pregnancy, an astrologer made a grim proclamation. He declared that the birth would not be a good omen and would bring about the untimely demise of both parents (Samuel and Mary).
Solomon showed no signs of life when he was born. The midwife placed the tiny body on a banana leaf outside on the open verandah of the home and rushed back inside to attend to the mother who had gone into labour with a second baby – a twin – whose appearance was an unexpected surprise. Rebecca, the oldest child, sat beside the lifeless form of her new little brother, shedding tears over the loss. Providence intervened when a fly settled on the infant, who shuddered in response and began to bawl loudly as if nothing had been the matter.
Custom dictated that on the thirty-first day after the delivery of a chid, a traditional ceremony of cleansing (thudakku kaliththal in Tamil) must be carried out. The woman who had given birth would take a ritual herbal bath and the house had to be washed and cleaned from top to bottom.
Vethanayagam Samuel and his wife were about to begin the task of house-cleansing when a message came from the village counsel. Samuel was needed to arbitrate on a matter involving a dispute. Samuel sent word asking to be excused. He requested that the vice chairman to act on his behalf.
A second summons came. The matter was urgent, they said. His presence was mandatory.
Samuel left home on the mission of mediation, assuring his wife he would return in an hour. He conferred with both parties and reached a verdict. The disgruntled man who hadn’t been favoured by the decision, reached for a weapon concealed in his clothing and struck a heavy blow. Samuel’s head split open. Never pausing to retaliate, Samuel re-tied his turban and headed home. Blood gushed down from the wound in his head.
He passed a pond (kulam) as he walked, and saw the family dhoby (washerman) scrubbing his way through a pile of villgers’ clothing.
Samuel stepped in to cool off and dipped his head in the water. The dhoby, concerned to see how the water turned crimson from the blood, reached for some fresh-washed clothing spread out on the ground to dry. Samuel shed his blood-stained linen, donning the clean sarong (veshti) and turban offered by the dhoby. He walked into the house to his waiting wife, stepped over the threshold and announced that he was ready to start cleaning. Then, barely pausing for breath, Vethanayagam Samuel collapsed at her feet and died.
In an instant Mary Chellammah Samuel found herself a widow with six young children on her hands. Rebecca – the oldest – was 10, the twins – Solomon and Anna – were barely a month old.
Rebecca Chinnammah, a child herself, had to take charge of a brood of fatherless siblings while her mother attempted to salvage the pieces of their shattered lives.
Fascinated by the art of decoupage as portrayed on Pinterest, I began to look for forlorn bits of this and that at garage sales and thrift stores. Ideas for their transformation simmered and stewed until the magic moment arrived some weeks ago.
The relentless force of it carried me through a fortnight of sanding, painting, gluing, lacquering.
Exhibit One –
A handcrafted stool lurking on a pile of junk in a country thrift store. One word: hideous. The darling drawer with the dangly handle was my undoing.
A coat of Dollarama paint, two favourite hymns on the top and all around …
Et voila ! A quirky stool to tuck into a corner. For occasional extra seating …
Exhibits 2 & 3 – Plain brown wood straight-backed chair and child’s rocking chair –
Forgot to take pre-painted ‘before’ pictures …
There’s a story to tell …
I’d hunted fruitlessly for wrapping paper or paper napkins with an old fashioned sort of rose design.
Months go by …
A week before Easter my friend, Gail presented me with a bouquet of lilies. The bridal blooms were done up in a layer of tissue paper printed all over with … red roses. The exact kind I was looking for. The attached card was from the florist at the mall up the street.
Woo hoo! Can’t wait to get going. Transformation time. Decoupage, here I come …
Pleasing finale. Tissue paper roses on garage sale salvage …
That old flip-top table could do with a matching makeover.
Rose-covered table to set off the seats. Lovely …
Gail’s tissue paper yielded just enough for the two chairs – nothing left over.
Flash of inspiration. The mall florist might have a sheet or two to spare.
So I went.
Me: I received a bouquet of flowers from your store some days back. It was wrapped in an unusual tissue paper with a beautiful rose print on it …
Pretty straight forward, huh?
Florist guy: Yeah. I know the one you mean. You know what’s weird, though?
…. We never ordered that kind. We never have. Don’t know why they came here.
Opens drawer and fishes around …
…They’re all gone. Guess the girls used them up. And we won’t …
Me: … be getting anymore.
Florist Guy: Weird, huh? As I said, we never ordered it. We only use the plain kind.
Weird all right …
Roses on two chairs AND a table would have been overkill anyway.
So I covered the table top with white lace, edged with baby ribbon.
Love the finished effect …
I paused to ponder on theTale of the Florist and the Tissue Paper
A light went on –
There’s a dream waiting to come alive in every rejected thing and there’s a dream-bringer who makes it happen. At the top of the chain is the Dreamgiver who creates the dream, orchestrates and manipulates events to make it all come true …
This poor monstrosity has lived in the basement since forever –
Just had another idea for a fabulous furniture facelift.
Watch out for the next Cinderella table-metamorphosis story coming to this blog!
I love breathing new life into dull, dead things. Adore the thought of being prompted by a dream-giver.
So there’s really no such thing as junk …
Thankful for beauty-basking-beneath-ugly-if-you-only-choose-to-look.
Thankful for dreams.
There’s always another dream. And then the next one.And the next.
Can’t stop dreaming, no matter what!
Until next time,
P.s. ‘Crafty’ weekend guests offer invaluable input. Thank you Roshini!
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