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THE ROAMER: All sorts of memories decorate our thoughts at Christmas time

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With the Christmas season now in full swing, readers’ memories of yuletides of yore have started arriving in Roamer’s mailbox. Please keep them coming, via the address at the end of the column.

This is a season of contrasts – of cold weather and warm hearts, of happy thoughts and sad memories, of joyful family reunions and of loneliness and homelessness.

Amongst the many joys of Christmas are the traditional seasonal decorations which, with their bright lights and merry messages, can sometimes accentuate the contrasts. Whilst visiting a resident in a Belfast nursing home last week I noticed an extremely ill elderly man lying still in his bed with eyes that were closed to the world.

He was breathing with difficulty, aided by an oxygen mask, and there were a number of tubes and monitors linked to his arms.

The curtains were drawn and the room was darkened, but on his bedside table was a little Christmas tree in a pot, its tiny green branches bedecked with little red ribbons that sparkled through the darkness.

The world rejoices and celebrates Christ’s nativity, but for many there is sadness and pain as well.

What are the memories of Christmases past for people who are suffering while all around them is the relentless hustle and bustle of the festive season?

Thankfully, memories more often than not bring warmth and comfort to soothe the sadness, and we can relive the happier Christmases of times past by reminiscing. Roamer was driving through Northern Ireland on Christmas morning over 30 years ago, and came to an army checkpoint, a ubiquitous feature on our roads back then.

It was a small country checkpoint - a low, square brick building with a slit-window and a tin roof, all ominously draped with sandbags.

The soldiers were presumably on duty inside their ‘pill box’ as the gate across the road was lowered, so I had to stop.

The first thing I noticed was a Christmas tree on the tin roof, and then, as I opened the window of my car, a large plastic tube emerged from the slit-window in the check point. It was a drain pipe, and as it was pushed into my car a hearty English voice echoed through the pipe. “Ho ho ho!”

Through the narrow slit-window I noticed the uniformed shoulders of the Santa-Squaddie, holly on his military epaulettes, and instead of a beret he was wearing a red Santa-hat! Another contrast of Christmas, even amidst tight security during the Troubles, even on Christmas morning itself, the joy of the season couldn’t be repressed.

For a moment the plastic pipe looked like a gun! I wondered if the army checkpoint had been attacked, and maybe a terrorist was inside intent on hijacking my car! Then came Santa’s happy “Ho ho ho!” and I knew all was well with the world.

I wonder how many of us remember the old railway station in Belfast’s Great Victoria Street, packed to capacity at rush hour with commuters racing to get home.

The station building has passed and gone, replaced with a modern arcade with shops and restaurants and digital notice boards flashing with information about arrivals and departures.

Today regular contributor Selwyn Johnston shares a seasonal scene with us from over half a century ago, of the old GNR station in 1961, when the main concourse was transformed by a large church.

“Perhaps some of your readers may remember this scene,” Selwyn hoped, “with the large church displayed in front of the station’s booking office.”

As people pushed and jostled to get their tickets, and to board their trains, the glimpse of a church, framed with Christmas trees and holly, brought the real meaning of the season into their busy lives. Curiously, the booking office is deserted in the photo, perhaps to give the photographer a panoramic view of the scene.

If any News Letter readers have old photos or memories like Selwyn’s, please send them to Roamer, and they’ll be shared and enjoyed here over the next few weeks.

“I am compiling a few memories for my grandchildren,” writes Moneymore reader Iris Stewart, “about what times were like when I was growing up.”

Whilst searching through some old books and documents, Iris “came across this poem in my Mother-in-law’s Bible, and I’m wondering if any of your readers have ever heard of it. Was it learnt and recited in school?” she asks.

Most of our deepest memories of Christmas are from childhood days, and Iris’s recently discovered poem is entitled Would you like to go back to your childhood?:

When dreams of your youth have all vanished,

And sorrows have darkened your way,

And sunshine of morning has faded,

And mists are now closing the day.

Would you like to go back to your childhood?

And throw cares and worries behind,

Once more feel the hand of dear mother,

And hear her sweet voice, ever kind.

Would you like to enjoy childhood’s pleasures?

As the old home looms up in your view.

Would you now part with all earthly treasures?

And begin to live life all anew.

When the heart aches, and keen disappointment,

Crush the energy out of your soul,

Would you like to turn back to your childhood,

And start for a different goal?

You have tried to build earthly mansions,

And satisfy yearning and wealth,

You have seen all your fine treasures vanish,

As the thief of time enters with stealth.

Would you like to go back to your childhood?

And get a fresh version of life.

And see through the eyes of your mother,

That selfishness always means strife.

The prizes of earth always glitter,

But gold dust will scatter a-pace.

The winds and the tides carry driftwood,

And blow sorrow back in your face.

Would you like to go back to your childhood?

And again wash your soul white as snow.

Would you gladden the heart of dear mother,

And go where she wants you to go?

 
 
 

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