Encounters with myself … others … Life !
Dad, I remember so clearly you singing to Romany and me … in a soft voice with your fingers striking imaginary keys “Toora Lama Lama ….Toora La ma Lama … can you hear the rain? ……..Toora … lama.. lama …Toora lama … lama …. Can you hear the rain?
I cannot remember the rest of it – or even if there was anything other than “Toora lama lama”. ( Googling it now I realise it was probably an adaptation of the Irish lullaby Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Raloo) but it was always gentle and soothing. Although we did not fully understand our feelings then, we felt comforted and secure. It brought a sense of peace and of “being” – one with nature and the rain – just to hear that verse being repeated so gently and softly whilst we fell asleep.
I also remember your singing “How much is that daaaaaawgie in the WIN…DOW”; you made us feel so compassionate for the little dog.
And will not easily forget the stories under the “Big Tent”, formed by your holding up two corners of the bed-sheet with your hand and stretching the rest over your knees, creating a mighty space for us little ones. When Toora Lama was sung in the “Big Tent” we would “hear” the rain pattering on the bed-sheet.
In the tent, we also felt safe from the wicked elves in the song
“..Up the airy mountain; down the rushy glen; We dare not go a hunting for fear of little men…”
The pictures of those wicked looking little elves in green jackets, red pointed hats and shoes had an impact of awe and fright but also excitement and danger to see what they were up to, rushing up the mountain like that. The rhythm of the
“V folk …. V Folk” tat tarat tara …. Green Jacket, Red Cap and White owls feather …”.
still brings back the trepidation felt in hearing of their exploits. We however never felt any real fear because you were with us.
Note : looking for an image of the elves, I came across the exact one and a commentary on this very same “‘scary -rhyme” in Echostains.wordpress.com blog. He gives the entire lyrics. My Dad did not know all of them but no wonder we sensed the same scary but exciting theme that Echostains mentions. You can read full lyrics and comments here … https://Echostains.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/scary-rhymes)
2. OUR GUARDIAN ANGEL
I realise now that – except for the cock-bird who used to “try” to attack us, and the time when we had to shut the garage door one night, we did not have any real fears as children because of the picture of the Guardian Angel that you gave us Mum. Do you remember it? It showed a little girl and a boy picking flowers on the edge of a cliff with a Guardian Angel watching to keep them from falling.
You always reminded us that God had given each one a Guardian Angel (at our right shoulder) to look after us and this gave us so much of comfort and implicit trust that we were being protected.
It also helped us to “be good” because we wanted the Guardian Angel to win in all skirmishes with the Bad Angel (on our left shoulder) trying to lead us into danger.
3. EVEN THE DEVILS ARE CLIMBING TREES!!
Speaking of Devils – Dad had an absolutely unique way of using them to influence our behaviour. Whenever we were playing outside in the blazing hot afternoon sun, he would call us indoors with the comment that it is so hot on the ground that “even the devils are climbing trees!” The quite imaginative picture this painted would impress on us the heat of the noonday sun and often successfully draw us indoors…. after all if “THEY” can’t stand it …..!!!!
Another quite funny but very effective reference was usually made to the “Devil twisting his tail and laughing”. Whenever we got into mischief we would hear Dad say “Oh (long drawn out ooooh) I can see him”. We’d naturally ask “Who?”. He would respond with “oooooh he’s twisting his tail and laughing”. After a couple of these reminders we decided that we did not want to make that particular one laugh.
Image of Devil from Kings Cross Church blog http://kxcblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/ on a post mentioning the presence of evil in the world … concepts our parents taught us with simple family stories.
4. AESOPS FABLES
I recognise now that we were influenced and guided along the way through imaginative stories and well known fables from a much loved book – Aesop’s Fables. It is surprising now to think how this book which held “moral of the story” anecdotes had such an appeal for us. There seems to be a “longing to be good” planted deep in each child and wise parents nurture that seed.
Mum used a very ingenious method, which today some may call manipulation, but it was very effective. She had a “magic mirror” which would tell her everything that we did. Growing up with “Mirror, Mirror on the wall” stories that our generation grew up with (Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Red Riding Hood) it was not far fetched to us at all that mum’s mirror would tell her everything we did. There were so many occasions when we waited with bated breath wondering if our actions would make “mirror” which only she could see and hear , tell tales – and the “mirror” always passed the test. For example we would break a glass or get into a fight and wait to see if the mirror told tales – and it always did. We found out much later that she always spoke to the domestic (helper) before speaking to the mirror! At other times our guilty faces prompted a knowing “I know what you did” which would elicit apologies and explanations. Parents!
Though we often broke things, Mum and Dad did not mind those misdemeanours as much as our quarrels. In fact, we recollect clearly the terrible guilt we felt when in fooling around one day we broke a most beautiful large white porcelain vase with a painting on it that they had brought back all the way from Spain. We did not have many “pieces of art” so we remember this piece very clearly and the amazing response of love when it was shattered. “You did not mean to do it … it was an accident and material things can be replaced !!” Wow. How lucky we were that love pervaded our home and that we were taught not to place value on material things.
The principle was extended to encourage us to value learning. Mum used to always say “Silver and Gold will vanish away but learning once gotten will never decay.”
To get back to imaginative stories … the yellow, hardcover Aesop’s Fables taught us many valuable lessons. The old man with the sticks (who gave each of his quarrelling sons a stick which they broke easily enough although none of them could break the bundle) taught us that no-one can break a united family. “United we stand, divided we fall” was a family motto.
And the story of the boy who bit his mother’s ear just before going to the gallows was very much a part of our disciplining process. Mum invariably preceded any correction with “I don’t want you to bite my ear one day” and the reference to the unfortunate son was sufficient reminder of how fortunate we were to have parents who corrected us.
The story referred to a boy about to be hanged for a crime, and who, when asked if he had any final words, asked for his mother. Reaching out as if to kiss her goodbye he then bit her ear asking why she did not stop him from stealing as a child.
Mum would read these stories from Aesop’s Fables to us each evening and the “morale of the story” always stuck with us. It is a good practice for parents to adopt.
5. THE BLACK BOARD
When we were older, Dad employed another quite resourceful method to teach us lessons in living. He placed a small Black-Board at the end of the corridor with a message on it reminding us of a desirable quality. Since this corridor led to all bedrooms and the kitchen, we could not help absorbing the message which would generally remain for a week before being replaced with another.
One message remained longer than usual; I think Dad may have recognised an inherent weakness which I am still struggling to overcome. He would often remind us that “Procrastination is the thief of time.” I admit that the weakness to postpone has robbed me of not only time, but money and energy and am determined to conquer this bad habit. For Dad’s sake!.
Another statement which found its way to the blackboard was very embarrassing …“Whatever I do I will not forget to flush the toilet!” Oh Dad … did you have to put that one up on the board!
As we got older, the black-board gave way to dialogue and memorable statements repeatedly drummed into us to help us when we entered the commercial world. “Toe the Line”, “Be Assertive”, “Act older that you are”; advice which proved invaluable to us in our careers.
6. GUTS & COURAGE
I must mention here that we did not at that time fully appreciate the depth of Dad’s advice, or the guiding principles on which it was based. I got an inkling of his own career during a cocktail party at my first job at Lloyd Serendib. The Managing Director, Vijitha Seneviratne, a guiding light in my early career, introduced me to a lawyer who, on hearing my name, asked me whether I was related to Tilbert Rasquinho. On hearing I was his daughter, he then turned to Vijitha and said “I represented her father in a milestone case. He took W & S to court and won”. Vijitha joked “I better be careful then”.
Only now can I appreciate the magnitude of what Dad did way back then in 1960. It is still unheard of even now, in Sri Lanka, for an employee to take an employer to court. Disputes are settled amicably, or through arbitration, or the employee bows out “gracefully” without challenging inequity. My Dad however – a Sri Lankan working as a Sales Representative for a multi-national firm in the still “colonial Ceylon” – filed action against a well known firm for inequitable treatment in allocation of sales areas. And he won. And then he left the firm with his head held high.
But for all that, he was not a proud man. In fact, he was quite humble in many ways. He always treated others with so much of respect that sometimes we would get annoyed with him. Now I humbly acknowledge that he had learnt the secret that truly it is only great men who can be so humble.
Dad, you made so much of our careers and were always so proud of us that foolish and vain as we are we never appreciated what you had achieved: not just with your stand for justice but with your brilliant ideas, your patents and inventions. I never did tell you how proud I am of you. You taught me how to handle myself in the work place and I still did not learn enough to be like you. I am happy though because I think a little bit of your creativity has rubbed off on me; I “think” more like you than any of your other children. I hope that one day if I am as great as you I will then also be as humble. I’m still learning Dad…….
7. STILL LEARNING
And Mum, I’m still learning what you taught and what you continue to teach. You used to always tell us that what is inside is more important than what is outside. Those lessons stuck. I am still working to improve what’s inside of me, to mould my character and my traits, to refine this very human vessel! The journey will continue as long as life continues for we are imperfect human beings striving towards our ultimate goal.
But meantime we live in this world and have to cope with others, including our siblings; and life is fun and for the living. And oh the wonderful memories we have: beautiful ones, funny ones, absolutely hilarious ones.
…………………to be continued ….