Pam (de Vos) Fernando was my mother’s best friend. They met as day girls at Bishop’s College in the early 1940s and forged their friendship when the school moved to Kandy during the war, forcing them to become boarders.
I can’t recall my actual first memory of Pam but there is a small photo in our family album that powerfully captures the meshing of our two families. It was taken by Pam’s father, Willie, outside our house at 90, Layard’s Road. It is of two couples, Pam and Pin and Joan and Aubrey - the men standing handsome and proud behind their beautiful young wives. In Pam’s arms, Druki, an alert five-month- old looks at the camera, whilst reaching across to the limp, sleeping bundle in Joan’s arms, me.
It was 1950 and our lives were just beginning. Pam was my godmother, and in my Baby book my mother had inscribed her name in her elegant script - “Mrs W. P. Fernando”- which now seems like such an onerous title for a carefree 23-year- old. Also noted is her gift to me, a yellow sapphire pendant, which has kept its place in my jewellery box for 61 years.
I remember Pam as being wonderfully generous and open hearted, lavishing tricycles and train sets on us for our birthdays and taking us on family holidays to Nuwara Eliya. Apart from her generosity she was possessed of a great energy which manifested itself in not only becoming the women’s golf champion of Ceylon but also the tireless organizer of exciting adventures for the children. She kept a Morris Minor station wagon that seemed to be for the express purpose of ferrying us, with ayah and chauffeur to numerous outings and parties, the park and Galle Face Green.
At the house in Horton Place there was always something going on. Birthday parties for her children, were huge affairs with “rollers” set up in great length so that we could slide down in wooden boxes, and elaborate merry-go-rounds on which we could spin forever.
There were endless games up and down the stairs but also a lot of reading took place, as Pam and Joan would weekly patronize The Corner Bookshop. We read the Madeleine series and also all the Babar books, which we loved. I can remember reading in Pam’s bed in the afternoon. Her bed was a special place - a vast, white haven that she used as an entertainment area. When it wasn’t being overrun by children it was a conversation pit. I can see Pam and my mother in endless conference, Pam at the head of the bed and Mum sprawled lazily at the foot having a good “katha”.
Our holidays in Nuwara Eliya were very special treats, lasting the month of April when the Colombo weather turned to intolerable heat. Dressed in “woollies” up in the cool hills we were indulged in different pastimes. Pam and Pin bought the lovely “Hill Cottage” and our holidays moved there. With its fretwork Tudor façade it looked like the England I had never seen but had inhabited through our reading.
Best of all for me were the stories that Pam would tell us in bed, especially about the boarding school days in Kandy which we never tired of - stories of secret midnight feasts, Pam always seeming to be the plucky ringleader who initiated these exploits. We marvelled at her daring. The tale I remembered all my life was the explanation of the origin of the etiquette of not lighting a third cigarette with one match. I could feel that British soldier being shot by the German sniper!
So that was our childhood with Pam, full of fun and the activity she promoted. I always see her in her slacks and a pink “hang out” shirt, her mass of hair tied back, freshly arrived from a game of golf. She would usually sit with her feet tucked up on the chair, couch or bed she was inhabiting and always seemed to dispense great wisdom. No problem was too small to be thoroughly considered and solved in a truly practical fashion.
In 1979 I visited Colombo with my ex-husband Henry and she opened her house in Alexandra Place and her heart to us in her usual fashion.
My recent memories of Pam stem from my visits “home” in 2009 and 2010. A heartbreakingly different figure, bedridden and dogged by Dementia. On the first visit she seemed to recall who I was, Druki prompting her with memories of her friend Joan and her own trip to Australia to visit us. Flickers of recognition came back as she emphatically declared - “Of course I didn’t like Australia….”
By the time I returned a year later she had suffered a stroke but was still verbal. When I appeared she cried with frustration as she desperately tried to bridge the gap between recognition and memory. Druki said she loved to sing so I dredged up the song we had sung so happily in our childhood and we sang Que Sera together every time I visited her.
Pam departed after a full life well lived, giving generously of her time and attention to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and many others besides. My own dear mother, Joan, her best friend, succumbed to be with her friend on the 20th September, last year.
I look at my friend Druki and see Pam in her, the way she smiles and shakes her head from side to side, the look of concentration as she solves a problem. Pam lives on in her and as we both take our places at the head of our generation the friendship of Pam and Joan burns brightly in us. I am so grateful.