“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. Mills, tells me she is 22 years of age. In fact, your sister, Ruby …”
I’m the ‘elder girl’, Mrs. Mills is Aunty Ruby’s sister-in-law …
“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 the family of Aunty Pearl’s neighbour (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 –
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.
One-woman musical. A bittersweet, poignant, sometimes irreverent look into life as she’s lived it. Script, lyrics and acting by Sharyn Stone, storyteller par excellence, poet, playwright.
She sang and played for me from the show’s musical score, over the phone last month, just before Christmas.
Almost picked up my feet and danced.
Had the privilege of reading an early draft.
Sparks of brilliance. Definitely going places.
Felt it in my bones …
This is Sharyn with her adorable sidekick, Joyce Romero (82 years young) and the comment accompanying the email she sent along with the picture –
and you thought leaf blowers were for the GARDEN??? Think AGAIN TWINNIE!
Aloha, Sweet Things!
A peep into the final scene of Old Girls (with permission, copyright Sharyn Stone):
STORYTELLER/SHARYN: What’s that old guy looking at? (Speaking to “old guy”) Yes? Do you need the machine
MIME/MALE GYM MEMBER, OLD: No, no thank you. It’s just that … well … I’ve been watching you for months now. You’re beautiful. And I just want to say how great it is to see Old Girls like you … Oops – that didn’t come out right
STORYTELLER/ SHARYN: Oh, ya think?
MIME/MALE GYM MEMBER, OLD: Old girls … like you … looking … Hot! And I don’t mean … sweaty. You are seriously … HOT. On the INSIDE. I mean …
YOUTH IS A STATE OF MIND.
I agree. One hundred percent.
Thrilled for you.
Your name in lights …
So here’s to all the dreamers who DARE to dream –
Thankful for the ability to keep dreaming in spite of naysayers, sneering sceptics. Despite what life’s flung my way –
”So what do you do with your time, Mom?” Daughter asks.
“You know me,” I reply. “I find things to do.”
Daughter’s voice, all the way down the line from Toronto to Colombo, is as clear as a bell. It’s a free call, thanks to Viber, What’s Ap and Magic Jack.
The suitcases come out of storage four weeks before. I pack in spite of an unhappy Puppy
and head for the airport and a month in Sri Lanka, to visit my Dad in the Land of Dreams.
Dad turned eighty on March 23rd. March 28th marked the first anniversary of Mum’s passing.
This is my dad, a good-looking octogenarian –
He’s adjusted remarkably well to being alone. I miss Mum.
April is the hottest month in Sri Lanka, with soaring temperatures and stifling humidity. A perpetual film of moisture clings to the skin.
It’s snowing in Toronto.
“Aren’t you bored, Mom?” Other Daughter enquires a week later.
Me bored? Never!
Meet the aunties who are not really my aunts. (In the Land of Dreams everyone is your aunty or uncle. It’s respectful.) Aunty Romola lives on the third floor, Aunty Amitha – her friend from Australia -lives round the corner.
The aunties and I walk every morning, just after dawn.
The Ipad and camera phone are an established part of my anatomy. The aunties are very forebearing.
Pause. Click. Pause again. Click. Aunties shrug and move on. Catch up at a trot …
“Our shadows. Look! Don’t move.”
Aunties strike a pose. Aim and tap.
“No backsides, please!” Aunty Romola warns.
I have the routine down pat –
“Excuse me!” (That’s me in one of three languages) “May I take your picture?” …
“They probably agree just because you’re a woman,” my friend Suresh says when I show him my cache of pictures.
I never thought of that.
Aunty Romola squeaks when she sees this one –
“That’s my friend Sharmini’s maid!” she says. “Where did you find her?”
I e-mail the picture to Aunty Rom, who sends it on toher friend, who chides the sweet old lady for posing for a stranger. “Don’t you know they do terrible things on the internet?”
The poor thing is horrified.
Aunty Rom looks over her shoulder. “Did you get that?”
Aunty Romola is beginning to see with my eyes …
She points again. “Get that!”
That is a line of tiny clothing hanging out to dry between a lamp post and a tree.
Not far away, a beggar family is asleep on the tiled threshold of an upscale store.
The city landscape is changing rapidy. A handful of remembered landmarks from my girlhood remain –
Lovely old colonial homes –
Are being torn down –
to make way for more high-rises-
This is Mr C.R. de Silva, a friendly retiree from Washington, DC. We often pass him and his wife on their morning stroll. Today he’s pruning the greenery hanging over his garden wall.
This charming gent delights and intrigues me with his impeccable English and private school accent –
(It must be over 40 degrees celsius inside the lottery ticket booth.) I ask about his family. He tells me he’s single and lives alone. He’s inclined to chat and I’d love to linger. The lights change, time to cross Duplication Road. The aunties urge me on.
I ask Dad about Dr Chinniah, who was my dentist when I was a girl (too long ago). Is he still in practice?
Aunty Romola and I bump into Dr. Chinniah on Galle Road.
Only in Sri Lanka!
Doyne and Sunitha are my neighbours in Canada –
during the cold months,
La dolce vita …
I partake of a sumptuous breakfast and warm Sri Lankan hospitality in their fabulous home.
This year Sri Lanka celebrates the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on April 13th and 14th. It’s all about the astrologically pre-determined auspicious time.
For days the metropolis of Colombo becomes a ghost-town. I stand in the middle of Galle Road, the capital’s normally traffic-choked main thoroughfare, to take pictures.
Overnight showers have done nothing to ease the stickiness. The streets glisten with pretty puddles.
Aunty Romola suggests we pop in at Aunty Christine-and-Uncle Chandi’s for a quick visit. Their home is along our route.
Aunty Christine is my cousin Dileeni’s mother-in-law and Aunty Rom’s cousin (and not my aunt at all!). It’s 7:15 am. They are a charming couple, gracious and welcoming, notwithstanding the early hour. They’ve been married for sixty plus years. I meet them for the first time. We stay for fifteen minutes.
Aunty Romola and I walk home holding cinnamon branches from Uncle Chandi’s well tended garden. They’ll serve as plant-props on Aunty ‘s balcony.
Dad sometimes takes an evening stroll at Independence Square.
and I accompany him. Dusk is falling when I happen upon this sweet old lady and her son.
She beams when he tells me her age. She’s ninety something years old.
This young family is happy to pose –
I click and I head towards the walking track to get this one –
and collide into my once-upon-a-time friend, Piyali. Piyali and I met (too many) years ago at a cooking class for young ladies. I’ve often wondered where she was.
We recognize each other instantly. I puff and pant to keep up as, never pausing, she sends me a friend request on Facebook and enters all my contact details into her phone. It’s boiling hot, I’m wilting.
I find out that Piyali’s in Colombo for a few days. She shuttles between Sri Lanka and Abu Dhabi, where her husband works. The timing of our meeting is amazing. She hasn’t changed one bit. She’s a mother-in-law now.
Dad showsme a copy of the family tree on his mother’s side. It dates back to 1670. I find Aunty Romola on it, so I guess she’s sort of an aunt after all!
Aunty Amitha messages me on Facebook . She’s back in Melbourne.
It’s spring again in Toronto. The suitcases are unpacked. I’m home.
Puppy is pleased.
I close my eyes and dream of Paradise. It’s such a long plane ride away.
There’s something about Sri Lanka. It’s …
To Paradise Island, land of endless summer, land of my birth –
Share the love, like this page and follw. Until next time …
There is the occasional time when discouragement slithers in under the guise of common sense, and hisses, “Sorry babe, it ain’t ever gonna happen!”
Such a weight of deflated dreams descended on me for no particular reason last week, right in the middle of grocery day. Feeling grim and bereft, I tossed items into a supermarket cart, and wandered around until I found myself looking at this enormous fabric creature perched on a stack of plastic storage bins –
It didn’t belong where I found it. Someone had set it down there, just in time for me and my mood. The red heart and goofy smile felt like a love letter of reassurance. My spirits rose. Cart and I continued on and rounded a corner. The caption on an outsize shirt shouted –
The load of doubt dissolved and I smiled in spite of myself. How could I help it when the very space around me seemed to conspire in my favour? [My friend, Rosalyne, calls this phenomenon Universal Synchronicity.)
It’s amazing how a single special moment can
My mum used to say,
Look at this –
Never too old …
I wouldn’t be able to bear it.
I took this picture last week –
, chuckling at memories of a friend who once told me her family tree was composed entirely of fruits and nuts! I grinned and remembered a recent moment at the bulk food store, when I unintentionally eavesdropped on a brief conversation.
“Could you tell me where the hazelnuts are?” a man asked.
, sir. In the nut aisle,” the assistant replied.
My mind boggled as I began to visualize the faces I’d find on the shelves of the nut aisle.
Pretty much anyone who thinks
, I suppose, and that would include me, for sure!
There are three kinds of people in this world –
(1) The (2) The non-dreamer
(3) The dream-killer
The dreamer – that’s you (if you’re a nut!)
The non-dreamer – the one who regrets his inability to dream big crazy dreams, and might enjoy living vicariously through you
The dream-killer — the practical, down-to-earth sort of person who feels duty-bound to tell you that it’s time to grow up and stop wasting your time.
Here’s the deal –
and believes in the dream.
Dear fellow nut, do you know you have a
At the end of life’s journey, I want to be able to say,