Birthday Cakes and Secrets

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 way by 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.

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“Smile please,” for the Yashica, at the Trevi Fountain, Rome.  Me with Dad and Sister (centre).  Have to check if Sis has the Palace picture (without the guards!)
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Dad, Mum, me (in rising order) on moving escalator in Zurich, Switzerland.  Instant focus with the new Instamatic captured moving subjects.  A new era in family photography.

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 …       

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Kodak Brownie.  A later version of Mum’s camera. (Courtesy Google images)

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!                                                                   

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Mum’s Yashica (courtesy Google images)
Latest in modern technology! Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash, wrist strap and film

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum often said she wanted to get an ‘unawares’ shot.

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Preoccupied with underwear. What Sis and I thought we heard Mum say.  We’d go into hysterics! 

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.

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Puzzled.  “Okay, so what IS it?”  Little sister and me with oldest cousin, Sri. 
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“Did you hear that?”  Sister (right) and me
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Sheer joy, unawares.  Sister (left) and me with Dad.

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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 …

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Me pretending to be Mum on the phone with one of her sisters 

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 …

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A gallery of our early lives, with love from Mum.

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 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 …

Who ARE these folks? (Dad has no idea. Dying to know!)

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.

Family.  Grandpas, grannies, aunties, uncles, cousins …                                                      

Cousins might not necessarily be immediate ‘first’ cousins.  Sometimes you might not be quite sure how you’re related!
Me (left) and Sister on a play date with Mali (centre), our THIRD cousin.  Her grandpa and ours were first cousins.
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Birthday parties – just the cousins were crowd enough. (Me, a baby in cousin Chris’ arms, far left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weddings were a huge deal, grand affairs.  Guest lists could run into the hundreds.  Your parents’ friends and business associates and in-laws’ in-laws might be invited. And the neighbours, of course.

No fib. Honest!

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The workers from Mum’s family’s firm at her wedding.  They arrive bearing a gift-wrapped china dinner set  (I own it now and use it on special occasions)
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Dad and Mum’s wedding

Little girls were dressed to the nines in scratchy, organdy dresses often ‘smocked’ by hand,  with stiff  ‘can can’ skirts underneath.  A nightmare to sit down in.  

Detested those cancans …

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Cancans and bows for Aunty Elizabeth’s engagement party.  Sister (left) and me outside Westholme, Kinross Avenue, Mum’s family home.

Engagements were solemn, formal family affairs, with a priest/ minister to officiate.

Pretty much as  binding as the marriage ceremony itself …

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All the cousins, uncles and aunts on Mum’s side at Aunty Elizabeth and Uncle Selva’s engagement.  Toddler Sister seated between the couple.  Cousin Shiro the only one still to be born.

You were as important to the aunties and uncles as their own offspring –

The aunties even cared enough to tell  you off as if you were their own!      

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She does!

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Sister (left) and me with Babby (Mum’s younger sister, Elizabeth), my godmother.  I lived with her family for two years while Dad worked in West Africa.  She sewed some of my clothes and treated me as her own. 
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Uncle Prince, my godfather, recently celebrated his 95th birthday.  (Mum’s sister Ruby’s husband).  He’d always visit, very late in the evening after work at his clinic,for as long as we were laid up in bed with sundry ailments.  He never billed patients who were financially in a bad way.  Treatment was free for clergy of all religions.

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Sister and me with Uncle Peter (Mum’s older brother) who lived with us for some of his bachelor years after Westholme, the old family home, was sold.  Sis and I hung around in his room whenever we got into trouble, until the situation cooled, knowing he would intervene if Mum hunted us down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chances are your best friend was a cousin, the one closest in age to you  –

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Me (lying on mat) and cousin Dileeni.  Besties since we were babes.
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Gotta have a sun hat!  Rarely apart.  Dileen (left) and me.

Such secrets you’d share!

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And she whispers in mine …
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I whisper in her ear …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You both could be flower girls together, several times over –

Two for the price of one!

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Little flower girls.  Dileeni (to bride’s right) and me at Babby and Uncle Selva’s wedding.
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Flowers girls again!  Me (left) and cousin Dileeni at Aunty Betty’s (Mum’s cousin’s) wedding
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… and again!  Dileeni (left) and me, experienced flower girls at our oldest cousin Sri’s wedding.

No need to wonder why Getting Married and Having A Baby used to be our favourite dress up games!

We created our own entertainment, inspired by the Enid Blyton books we devoured. An active imagination and a bunch of henchmen was all a handful of cousins required. 

We all loved to read.

No one called you a nerd or geek.  It’s what kids did …

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This little girl reminded me of myself as a kid. 
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Puppy posing with some favourites from my childhood
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Sister and me with my doll, Cynthia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endless doll’s tea parties – 

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Dileeni (right) and me
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Sis and me With Baby Cousin Shiro and my dolls Cynthia, Diana and Minerva (Mum named them, probably)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never seemed to outgrow the toys and board games.  Played with them for years.

Those were the days …

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Me with cousins’ toys.  We all shared.

Don’t recall ever being bored as a child.

Two cousins, Sister and I once crawled into our pretend kitchen, a curtained alcove under a desk space, to melt squares of chocolate over a burning candle.

Melted  chocolate is delicious spread over Marie biscuits …

We could have set the house on fire.

When best friend/ cousin set up a lab at home, you  followed suit. 

My lab sat on a rickety table in a corner of the kitchen …

Best friend/ cousin obtained test tubes from her dad’s clinic.  Litmus paper too.  And needle-less syringes.  She always shared.

We performed acid/base watch-the-colour-change litmus experiments with vinegar and lime juice …

There were those school-holiday cousin sleepovers, Monopoly games that went on for days, birthday parties and breathtaking birthday cakes –

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Sister and Me with my 7th birthday Humpty Dumpty cake made by Mum.  She handcrafted Humpty Dumpty out of parchment icing and painted him in with food colouring.

Rocking horses and fluffy pets –

Piano lessons and picnics, seaside frolics, Sunday School.  And cousins, cousins, cousins –

A kinder, gentler time, a different world.  No TV.  

Innocent and enchanted …

Though a late bloomer, I think I’ve inherited Mum’s love of photography and her desire to record the precious, never-to-be-replicated moments. 

And like Mum, I’m in less than a handful of photographs in my immense digital library!

So thankful for this gift of photo-memories from the past. 

Much to remember, much to write about.   That’s what next times are for.

So until next time,

sincerely

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Cousin Dileeni (left) and me.  Still close friends though we live at opposite ends of the world.

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Faith We Follow

“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.  img_8482

Pearl, Ruby, Peter, Dan, Beatrice, Elizabeth …  

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“All six of us” (1976).  Seated (left to right): Beatrice, Pearl, Ruby, Elizabeth.  Standing (extreme left): Peter, (extreme right): Dan, the brothers-in-law behind their wives -(Left to right: Prins, Sub, Prince, Selva)

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.”

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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?

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Gifted teller of jokes and stories,  writer, mimic par excellence.  Mum loved to laugh.    

 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.

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They did!

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.     

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Lo-o-ong 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.

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George  (Geo Uncle, poet, man of letters) and Malar Perinpanayagam on holiday in hill country with Beatrice (Mum)  She spent a lot of time with them in their early married life.

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.

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Lest we forget!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.         

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Miss Mercy Newton, second daughter of Charles and Rose Newton of Chundikuli, Jaffna

Shadrach and Mercy set up home in Colombo, sleepy metropolis of colonial Ceylon.  

He founded the iconic engineering firm, Samuel Sons.  

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Samuel Sons, founded 1922.  70th anniversary commemorative mug.  Uncle Peter, an artist, designed the logo.

                                 

 

 

 

The union produced six children.

  A seventh, Mum remembers as Bertie, succumbs to an untimely demise as an infant …                                                       

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Shadrach & Mercy Samuel and offspring.  Left to right:  Ruby, Pearl (seated), Dan (seated) and Peter.  Baby Beatrice held by Dad.  (Elizabeth was born a year or two later)

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.

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Looking good!  Aunty Rajes Perinpanayagam celebrates 90 years (2015)  Husband and I made a detour on a summer road trip, to attend the surprise party at her son’s home in Connecticut

The siblings grew closer to one another.                         img_20150805_222918

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.”

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Grandpa’s was. (Photo of picture hanging in friend Evelyn’s home.  Painted by her niece.)

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.

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.

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Tomboy Beatrice.  How she was allowed to pose for a formal picture dressed like this is a mystery.

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.

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Dixie Daddy!
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Super Daddy Samuel …

 

 

 

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.

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All six of us …

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Picture of Dixie Daddy on Mum’s autograph album
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1954.  Grandpa’s signature in Mum’s album:  S.C. Samuel.  He wrote:  “Let kind thoughts, words, wishes and deeds and the spirits thereof be ours and of those around us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Church was an important part of family life.

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St. Paul’s Milagiriya, Colombo, where the Samuel family worshiped and most of the children and grandchildren (myself included) were married.  (Mum and Dad in bridal car, Beatrice’s wedding, 1961)
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Dad at St. Paul’s after morning service on his 80th birthday (2016)

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And faith.

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Malar Aunty wrote in Mum’s album in 1955: “Behind life’s darkest clouds, God’s love is always shining …”

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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.            

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Sisters:  (Standing left to right) Pearl, Ruby, Elizabeth.  (Seated)  Beatrice

Time marched on. 

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Pearl and Sub (Dr & Mrs J.T. Subramaniam)
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Ruby and Prince (Dr & Mrs R.P. Rajakone)

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pearl and Ruby married their doctors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter and Dan sailed off to the United Kingdom to pursue engineering degrees.

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Dashing sportsman, artist, dreamer.  Uncle Peter (left) engineering student in  England. (1950s)
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A brilliant mind.  Uncle Dan (front left),  also engineering student, England (1950s)

   

             

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Uncle Dan never married.  There were whispers of a mysterious Swedish lady who  broke his heart.

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum kept house for Grandpa and played doting aunty to a growing circle of adoring nieces and  nephews.

They called her Bety …

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The tribe of Samuel grandchildren at Mum and Dad’s engagement party.  Waiting to be born: Sister and Me, and Shiro (Babby’s daughter)

Tragedy struck again.  Grandpa Shadrach died unexpectedly, after routine surgery.  He was only 63.  Mum was 19 years old, Babby just 16.        

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Newspaper clipping.  Obituary notice.

Shadrach and Mercy united in death, buried side by side ….

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Together forever, Shadrach and Mercy (Anglican Section, Kanatte Cemetry, Colombo)

Mum and Babby clung to each other –

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Beatrice and Elizabeth outside Westholme, Kinross Avenue, the sprawling family home by the sea
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Babby wrote in Mum’s autograph album:  “There’s no friend like a sister, in calm or stormy weather …” (Signed: Beth)
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Babby, an artist like her mother, probably painted this page for Mum
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Mum’s signature on her autograph album.  Her maiden name.
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Dr Elizabeth Samuel.  Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 …

 

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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.

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Mum taught Sister and Me this hymn

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.

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Mum learned from Grandpa Shadrach. 

They prayed, things happened …

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Hanging in our home

               

   

   I learned from Mum.  

   Much older now, I’m an ardent              believer in  the mountain-moving        power of prayer.

     Faith we follow …

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Worked for Grandpa.  Worked for Mum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Elizabeth (left) and Beatrice (Babby and Bety).  Mum adored her baby sister.  Babby and Mum were close, right to the end of Mum’s life.

 

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 – 

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Appetizer.  Found the Newton/Perinpanayagam connection.  Thank you, Rajes Aunty!

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 –

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A snippet from a fairly lengthy document put together by Uncle Geo’s brother, Stephen Edgar R. Perinpanayagam.  

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.

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It was misty this morning in Toronto. 

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View from front door

Much brighter/warmer in the land of our birth.

Alas for ugly politics, economics:  the clans are scattered worldwide.

Appetite whetted.  Must know more.

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So which came first, the chicken or the egg?
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The pictures fascinate me

 

 

 

 

 

 

These roots go deep.

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Stay  tuned.  More stories to come as more dots are joined.

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Until then,

sincerely

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. 

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… grandchildren AND great grand children!

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And I’d be delighted to share what I’ve gathered, with you.  

Thank you!

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All pictures in this post are clicks on Ipad and phone.