Monday , June 17 2024

Belfast Child- Chapter 7- Life Without Dad

Although my little universe had been turned upside down and torn apart, I done what I had always done in a crisis and pushed things to the back of my mind and tried to get on with life. I thought of dad, mum and Shep every day and although the pain never left me, I gradually learned to live with it and was able to enjoy myself at times. I had always been close to my cousins, especially Wee Sam and I quickly settled into my new environment. When I had first arrived Uncle Sam was still in jail on UDA related charges, but I took to Aunt Gerry like a duck to water. I had always been fond of Aunt Gerry and although she was only my Auntie through marriage she had taken me in and from the moment I arrived she made me feel at home and treated me like one of her own children. I remember the first night I spent there and when it was time for the children to go to bed, my cousins lined up to kiss their mother goodnight before they went to bed. As I was unaccustomed to a mother’s love, I lingered in the background not quite knowing what to do. Before I knew what was happening, Gerry was motioning me over and kissed me like the others before sending us off to bed. This small gesture filled me with joy and I went to bed feeling almost happy and knew I was going to enjoy living here under the care of Aunt Gerry. But that night, as I lay awake in the bed I shared with Wee Sam, my heart was breaking with missing dad so very much and I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I would never see him again. I was still having the nightmare where he was still alive up in the attic and in the morning the reality of my situation tore my soul apart. On the other hand I was missing mum more and more and yet I had no one to turn too. Seeing my cousins surrounded by such love reminded me what was missing in my own life and I longed for mum to come and rescue us and take us away to build a family again.

In the months since dads death I had heard various rumours and snippets of conversation from the adults in the family and I had come to the conclusion that mum had not died in a car crash and was alive somewhere in the world. Although this information filled me with hope and something to cling too , I knew that I could never speak about mum to anyone , other than my brother and sisters and even then I was told to shut up and stop causing trouble. Although we were a very close family and I was as happy as I could be in the situation we were in, there was an unspoken rule that mum was never, ever to be discussed and so as usual I bottled it all up inside me and tried to make the best of what I had.

Also to my horror I eventually found out that mum definitely was a Catholic and this knowledge both shamed and enraged me. I was so very proud of my Protestant heritage and to learn that I was half Catholic added to the misery of my situation. The more I thought about it, the more disgusted I was with the situation. I felt I had a dirty little secret and if the truth was ever to come out I would be ostracised from my peers and the community I now belonged in. My hatred of Catholic’s increased tenfold and I became ultra Loyalist in my view and outlook to life.

Gradually I began to hate mum and thought less and less of her as I came to terms with the awful truth about how dad married a Catholic. How was I ever going to get over the shame of knowing that I had Catholic blood running through my veins. Through all this anger, shame and confusion in the back of my mind I knew I still loved and wanted mum, but things had become so complicated I was unable to deal with the situation and resolved to put it to the back of my mind and never think about it again.

At first Wee Sam and I got on brilliantly and spent every-spare minute together, getting up to all sorts of mischief. We were in the same year at school and after the bell went, along with David and Pickle we would head towards the glens and spend hours playing by the river and trying to catch the rainbow trout as they swam down river. Half way up the glen there was a natural bowl shaped area of the river called The Spoon and in the summer , we along with other children would strip off to our underpants and spend hours swimming and playing in the water. One day when we were swimming in The Spoon the water suddenly changed colour and started flowing a dead red colour. This frightened the life out of us, we all thought it was blood and legged it out of the water as fast as our legs would carry us..

We ran home and told Aunt Gerry and although she couldn’t throw any light on the situation, she told us to keep away from the river for the time being which of course we ignored. About a week later, after school we all rushed up to The Spoon again and stood transfixed as we watched the river flowing a deep shade of purple. We all stepped back from the bank and pondered what might be making this strange event happen and came to the conclusion that it was a magic river, possibly evil and we should avoid it all costs. From that day on we renamed the river Rainbow River and every time we returned the water would be a different colour of the Rainbow River and remained a magical place.

Then one day months later we heard through the grapevine that the reason for the river changing colour was that there was a clothes factory further up the Glen and they had been fined for emptying their waste into the river. We all felt a bit sheepish about our earlier fears and before long we were once again spending large parts of our spare time swimming in Rainbow River.

Gradually Wee Sam and I began to clash and were constantly arguing and fighting with each other. Although I had no fear and wouldn’t let anyone pick on me, Wee Sam was a better fighter than me and although we fought constantly we never really hurt each other and soon made up after the latest scrap. Eventually Aunt Gerry got tired of our bickering and one day ordered us out to the front garden to sort out our differences once and for all. I remember that it was a summer’s day and swelteringly hot and we both took our tops off before getting laid into each other.

The fight was going well and a large crowd had started to gather around the garden to watch the action. Suddenly the crowds parted like the Red Sea and who should walk through, none other than Reverend Lewis. Telling the crowds the fun was over and to go back about their own business , he went had had a quiet word with an embarrassed Aunt Gerry, before giving me a severe look and telling me to behave myself if I wanted to get into heaven one day. Reverend Lewis always seemed to turn up at the most inappropriate times and that night in bed I prayed extra hard for God to forgive me and give me another chance to prove that I was worthy of a place in heaven. I sincerely believed in Jesus and looked forward to the day I would be reunited with Dad and Shep in heaven and we could spend eternity together. Every night before I went to sleep I would kneel at the bottom of my bed and say my prayers. I never forgot to mention the poor and needy and always asked God to send dad back so we could be a family again, but this was the one prayer that could never be answered and deep down I knew it was hopeless even asking God for this.

About John Chambers

John Chambers is from Belfast , but now lives in the North West of England. He is the author of Belfast Child, which is about his life growing up within the heartlands of Loyalist West Belfast and his life long search for my missing Catholic mother. He also blogs and posts articles mainly on Current Affairs, War & History and posts daily on key events in the Troubles and Deaths due to the conflict in N.I. You can follow him at

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