Tags

, , , , ,

All Theodore Barcroft Moonemalle’s children who survived married and had children of their own, at least two in all four instances. Hardly any of his sister Ada’s children married. Five died in infancy or childhood, and two when they were young men. The three eldest never married, though the son, Edward Junior, Sonny, was certainly not celibate, his Burgher mistress supposedly the most respectable of his liaisons. Apart from being extremely handsome, unlike his more epicene younger brothers, he had captained the Thomian cricket team in 1907, the year in which ‘Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceyon’ was published. As in modern times, I suppose that is a position of advantage after which there is no looking back.  

His two older sisters, Eva and Ida, on the other hand, were models of respectability. As women of the middle classes they doubtless had to be. Women of grander pedigree however could get away with looser behavior, the de Liveras who had a Kurunagala connection for instance being supposedly well known in this regard. Regrettably, I never found out from my grandmother what precisely her version was of Richard de Zoysa’s grandmother’s origins. The story I had from Richard was that an English couple had been travelling by ship via Colombo, and died suddenly, leaving an infant girl who was obligingly looked after by the de Livera sisters. I suppose the story would have struck anyone less naïve than me as unlikely, but I was not prepared for my grandmother, when I asked her about the pair in relation to the story I had been told, saying primly that that was what had been reported. She refused to be drawn further.    

Eva and Ida could not have got away with that sort of behavior, and I don’t suppose they would have wanted to. Ida, once, when I ventured to ask her about romance in her youth, indicated that there had a very long time ago been a Frenchman who had been interested, but her family had not thought this proper. Whether he was also interesting was not I suppose something she could admit to, saying only when I asked her what she felt that of course her parents’ views had to be obeyed. Later I was to reflect on the fact that a young lady from the Bandaranaike family had married an Italian, called Roversi if I remember right, but that too would have been the prerogative of the highest in the land.

So Eva and Ida did good works with the Girl Guides and maintained their own establishment in the North Wing of Old Place, with its bay window looking out on the massive mara tree that towered over the house when I first knew it. Next to it there was a little cottage, known as the annexe, which was Young Edward’s sole inheritance when he was cut off by his father. He had settled down in Kuliyapitiya, where he had a good practice as a lawyer, and I always assumed that he had been buried there, for there is no grave for him alongside those of his parents, and Eva and Ida and George and Hugh and Brian, and Ella Grace and Arthur, who had died at a few months each a year apart in the early eighteen nineties, and are buried in the same grave. The twins, Herbert and Mabel, had died when even younger, which is I presume the reason their graves cannot be found. They would not have been baptized, and so could not lie in consecrated ground.  In the great scheme of things I suppose that matters not a jot, but I have always felt that it suggests an appalling harshness about the Church, which I hope more modern and humane thinking will overcome.

The two sisters turned up trumps when their brother fell ill. They are supposed to have gone to Kuliyapitiya and fetched him back, in a horse and carriage I would like to think, so he could be nursed in the annexe during his last days. He would doubtless have benefited from their care, though he might not have appreciated it, since he had evidently led a life of perfect indulgence while in Kuliyapitiya. The story went that, when luxuries were rationed during the war, and one’s allowance was based on previous consumption, he had been allocated six bottles of whiskey and several slabs of chocolate each month. Still, under the tender loving care of his sisters, and doubtless a more strict regime, he lasted into his sixties. He and Eva died within a few months of each other, sadly before I was born.

Ida survived more than twenty years longer, dying early in 1972 at the age of 83, a few months after her younger brother Leo. She had been blind all the time I knew her, and spent much of her time listening to the radio, in the days when short wave crackled incessantly. There was much crackling, for she much preferred the BBC to everything else, and above all those immensely clever games with words in which erudite and whimsical Britishers specialized in the old days. She was immensely cheerful for someone so handicapped (she also had diabetes badly, and required daily injections of insulin), and would sometimes break into peels of almost girlish laughter if something took her fancy.

Of course she was well looked after, with a Burgher companion as well as a cook and a maid. Dr Upen de Zylwa came in daily to give her her injections, and an old Burgher friend called Dorothy Auwardt was in attendance most days of the week to help her with her correspondence.  Dorothy could not spell, and her grammar was shaky, which alternately caused Ida amusement or irritation when she found out. This was not often, and I suspect poor Queen Mary, or the equerry who dealt with her correspondence, would have had to put up with several serious solecisms in the annual missives Aunt Ida sent.

She and Eva would go up to Nureliya, as she still called it, to stay at the Grosvenor Hotel each April for the season. After Eva died, these excursions stopped, but occasionally she would come down to Colombo to stay with my grandmother. Of an evening, beautifully groomed, in an elegant long dress, she would move to the side verandah to take the air, and I can still picture her, dressed in yellow satin, savouring the scents of the garden.

When I went away to Oxford I assumed I would not see her again, but I was startled by how soon they both died, Leo while I was still on my way. I thought I knew all there was to know about them, and perhaps there is little more to find out, but increasingly now I wonder about all the aspects I will never now know, which no one will ever think of after my memories too have vanished.

There has however been one entertaining snippet that Ena, daughter of their cousin Lucille, supplied recently. Her husband, Osmund de Zylwa, was a dashing young police officer, and it seemed the two sisters used to entertain him and his colleagues to tea. Ena has a marvelous story of how social activity after tea consisted of games of blow football. I have no idea of the rules of this game, but I have visions of Ossie and Sydney de Zoysa cheering as the two old ladies puffed energetically.

Advertisements