Christmas 1953 was a quiet affair, no punishments for not eating marzipan! no being sent to my room on Christmas day. Nevertheless, it was also a strange time in my life, I was coping with a whole new set of circumstances, I was unsure of my future and where it might lead me.
As Christmas 1953 approached, I began assessing the many changes I’d experienced since leaving the Isle of Wight a year earlier. In June 1952 I had been an English schoolboy, under the strict control of my eldest sister and living far from family and home. Fifteen months later, I’m working for a living, smoking cigarettes, dating, dancing, and staying out late on weekends. It was a huge transformation. The harsh authority Lily had wielded over me was gone forever. I was feeling better about myself, and slowly regaining my self-esteem. There still remained a void in my life, however, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was a lingering feeling of not quite fitting in and truly belonging to a family.
In the years living with Lily and Ben I had never really felt a part of their family. Now, in Belfast, a similar situation seemed to exist, this time due to a compelling need I felt to compete for my father’s attention. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t quite reach him the way Jim or Anna did. I had a feeling I was not quite on the same level as my brother and sister.
As the youngest in the house, I also felt a constant need to play catch up. I actually had a closer relationship with Jackie, Anna’s husband. Jackie and I were both newcomers and outsiders, and this probably drew us together. However, this wasn’t the answer either because age and different interests made it impracticable for us to become close friends. Anytime I inadvertently upset Pop, he never confronted me directly, always having Anna do it for him. And this continued throughout his life. Some years later, I recall going to the bakery to pick him up with my motorcycle and sidecar. I was very proud of my BSA Golden Flash motorcycle, which I had recently purchased. I thought Pop would be equally impressed and grateful for a ride home. But after that one uneventful trip, he told Anna, “Don’t let that wee lad pick me up anymore”. He obviously didn’t trust my driving, but I don’t think he realized the hurt that caused me.
I noticed that although Anna and Lily were rivals, they also exhibited similar traits.Both tended to have a snobbish attitude toward others in poorer circumstances. For example, Anna didn’t` seem to hold Jackie’s family in very high regard. It appeared in particular that she didn’t like his mother. Once, when returning home from a Sunday dinner at his parent’s home, she complained how they had served margarine. She made an issue of the fact that we never used anything but the best butter. I found this hard to believe since we’d suffered hard times just like everyone else. I was sure margarine was no stranger on our table. I think Anna, who was married very young, was finally learning that Jackie didn’t have a lot of ambition. He seemed content at the factory, living in a mill house, and spending Friday nights in a pub with his dad and brothers. Anna wanted more, and it was starting to show in her actions. When Jim brought mates home, she tended to flirt with them and enjoyed their many compliments. I found her behaviour at times embarrassing, especially when she acted the part of the dumb girl. This was reminiscent of stars like Marilyn Monroe or Jane Mansfield. She would act naive, laughing at jokes and making expressions of innocent awe when a boy said something profound. Yet, in our family circle she was totally opposite, portraying herself as wise and knowledgeable. I found her differing personality changes sometimes difficult to cope with. May, meanwhile, was totally different, always maintaining a quiet demeanour and an easy-going outlook on life. In her home I felt I belonged and we were truly a family. Of all my sisters, she was the one I completely loved. She was a kind, generous soul, with the patience of a saint. I can’t recall a time when she was ever really angry with me. Even Cookie, considered a notorious outcast by most of the family, was always a good friend.
While striving to adjust to the different family personalities in my life, I did manage to make one very clear connection, and that was the realization of my great love for Belfast. .
God Bless and keep reading