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More Madness and Mayhem

Friends Images

Well here we are again and herself and I have been out and about yet again causing madness and mayhem. Who do I mean by herself? My friend Elaine Cragg who I met when I was 11 years old and who has been my best friend and partner in crime ever since. She was the quiet one and I was the gobby one……surely not I hear you say! No matter what happened at school, even when it was most definitely not my fault, I always got the blame as she sat there looking innocent with her sweet smile and curly auburn hair. We were glued together all through school, literally. I won’t go into what happened the day we were pretending to be Siamese twins and had to do everything together. I will leave that up to your vivid imaginations. I wasn’t a naughty child, as such, just a bit crazy. Sigh…..things haven’t changed much. We hid in the cupboard to avoid a maths lesson one day and another time we were part of a school fayre and I dressed up as a gypsy. We made a tent out of coats and whatever else we could find. A big sign said roll up, roll up come and have your fortunes told by the amazing gypsy Suze. They were queuing  all the way up the hall. Naturally, me being me, I had dressed for the part with huge dangly earrings (ok, curtain rings but you have to improvise). I had a shawl on and my mothers headscarf. We switched the lights off and Elaine checked to see who was in the queue and whispered who each person was before they came in. I was in my absolute element. I so should have been sent to drama school. I was rocking back and forwards, side to side, waving my arms around as though in a trance. I looked up at the girl in front of me and smiled (my two front teeth were blacked out with black pen). I stopped and stared at her before leaning forward and holding my hands out towards her. ‘Come nearer and sit before me,’ I whispered. She opened her mouth, looked at me and ran out of the tent and along the corridor. Ooooh, I was doing well. Next came an older girl and I honestly have no recollection of what I told her but she ran out of the tent crying. That was the end of my fortune telling career. The coats were pulled off and I was hauled to the Head Mistresses office for causing upset. ‘I was just trying to be a good gypsy and tell fortunes,’ I told her. I remember her looking at me and she had her hand across her mouth, desperately trying not to laugh. Oh well I made somebody smile that day. Naturally, herself was standing there looking all innocent as usual.

One day the nit nurse arrived and we all had our heads thoroughly examined with the demon comb. My scalp was red raw. If I remember rightly this took part in the dining hall. Where was health and safety I ask you. Mind you that was the day tapioca was being served for pudding so the nits were probably throwing themselves at the front door trying to get out. Finally, it wasn’t me who got wrong. There she was fiddling with my hair saying in a silly voice ‘I’m Nitty Nora the dicky explorer.’ Unfortunately, a teacher was behind her and she was sent to stand in the corner of the dining room to face the wall. To this day I will never forget her little face. All red, flushed and ashamed. Then it happened, her legs went red. I was crying laughing shouting ‘Elaine look your legs have gone all red.’ We still howl laughing about that to this day and the grandchildren love our stories of how grandmas legs go red when she gets embarrassed.

I was very excited when we started trampoline lessons. Elaine and I were often partnered together and we were working out a routine to show everyone how good we were. It went wrong from the moment I took out my gym skirt in the changing room. My mother, was a bit of a one for using starch. Lots of it, tons. I took it out of my bag and heard Elaine burst of laughing. It was solid. Not a bit of floatiness about it. Just rock hard sticking out. There was much hilarity when I put it on to shouts of ‘give is a twirl pet.’ I did and it never moved. So I was sent off to borrow a pair of shorts from the spare equipment box. All went well we bounced, and sat and bounced back up and we twirled and smiled. ‘Very well done,’ said the teacher and asked me to demonstrate further on my own. I stood perfectly poised as everyone watched. I got higher and higher as my confidence grew, I could be in the circus I thought and imagined the roar of applause as I spun and twirled gracefully. My confidence had reached new heights and it was time for the finale and a front bounce. I bounced higher, one, two, three and forward bounce. Bang I went head first into the edge of the trampoline and whilst my nose got stuck in the springs my legs were still going, bouncing up and down behind me. The shame, the humiliation and the sound of Elaine laughing so hysterically she almost wet herself and got sent out of the gymnasium.

The best ever was when we were given a writing project. We had to make a poster.  Wait for it……she wrote.

Dog found. Answers to the name of Blackie????????

There was a stunned silence and I asked her, ‘how many names did you actually try pet before you got the right one.’  I remember we both burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. So naturally it was me who got sent out of the classroom to face the wall in the corridor.

In English class we were asked to write about out home life. My mum worked as a nanny and Elaine’s worked in the local pub part time. I dread to think what the teacher thought of Elaine’s exercise.

My Home Life – by Elaine Mutrie

My mam works in a place where all the men of the district go……….

Eeeeh you couldn’t make it up. I saw something on Facebook a few months ago and it said be as mad and crazy as you can growing up otherwise you will have nothing to talk and laugh about when you get older, or something like that. Well, it’s true, we never ever run out of things to talk about.

Goodness me, I have digressed. So anyway that is Elaine. When we left school we were told that we would grow apart and probably never see each other in later life. Wrong, Mrs Smartypants, here we still are, best friends for over fifty years and still causing trouble.

We both love Christmas and can usually be found scurrying round the shops buying more ornaments than we could possibly need but it’s such fun. We also love a good roast and love to go out for a good feed most Sundays. The first time we discovered the delights of the Walls End Pub was quite some time ago now. We will eat first then have a wander around the shops we said. Wrong. Bad idea. By the time we got to the shops we needed a shopping trolley each to carry our stomachs. We were stuffed, honestly if I had a pound for every time we said, ‘eeeh I couldn’t eat another bite before once more diving at the plates with our knives and forks we would be rich women.

Well the grandchildren are back at school and off we trotted to the shops BEFORE going for lunch. We walked into our favourite shop and stood there absolutely stunned.

‘No surely not,’ I said turning to Elaine.

She looked all around her.

‘You have got to be joking, it’s September for God sake, its not even the end of September. We haven’t had Halloween yet.’

We looked all around at the glittering shelves full of Christmas stock. Why on earth is it out now. It’s crazy. I love Christmas decoration shopping but I want the atmosphere that goes with it. Christmas songs playing in the background, cold crispy days and that festive feeling that comes with it alongside the memory of my mother telling me about the magic of Christmas. We were in flip flops and sun dresses for goodness sake. It was a boiling hot day and the sun was shining in a beautiful blue sky. It’s just wrong. We walked away with a look of disgust on our faces muttering all the while.

‘I refuse to buy anything Elaine.’

‘Ooooh me too, its beyond ridiculous.’

‘It is, it absolutely is.’

‘What are they thinking, it’s taking all the magic away, it’s just commercialisation.’

‘You’re not wrong Elaine, that’s exactly what it is.’

‘Let’s go and look at the gardening stuff.’

Off we floated in our dresses and flip flops to salivate over garden pots. Shock, horror, the gardening section was almost stripped bare.

‘Noooo, well would you look at that Elaine.’

‘For Heaven’s sake, this is ludicrous.’

‘Well that’s it then, no shopping for us today, I am not, I repeat I AM NOT buying or even looking at Christmas decorations today.

‘Me neither.’

‘Ridiculous.’

Herself stops in her tracks and her eyes glaze over.

‘Oooooooh look at that sparkly white Christmas Church.’

‘Ooooooh I say, well I suppose we could just wander down and look seeing as we’re here.’

So our flip flops make a slapping sound as we shuffle off to just take a look.

‘It’s not expensive,’ she says.

‘It’s not,’ I reply.

‘Ooooh it lights up.’

‘Never in the world, let me see that.’

We stand looking at the pretty white sparkly Christmas church.

‘There’s plenty of them, bet they sell well. We will have to come back when we do our Christmas shopping. I am not buying one today.’

‘Me neither, I’m skint this month.’

So we make our way out of the shop our stomachs rumbling ready for our Sunday roast. We only get as far as the tills and herself looks at me.

‘They might sell out quickly Susan, there might be none left.’

We look at each other with horrified expressions then race across the shop flip flopping all the way, knocking people left right and centre to get to the hundreds of white sparkly Christmas churches before they sell out.

So, there it is sitting in my cupboard on the stairs. I have already decided where it will sit when the decorating starts. I am afraid to say I am one of those who will put their decorations up in November to ensure I enjoy the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree in the dark as long as possible. I will remember my mam and all the things she did for the orphans at Christmas and I will feel blessed that I have a friend who has been at my side for over fifty years.

Christmas Church

We will be out again next week, I expect, for more madness and mayhem creating more precious memories that I will forever treasure.

Dare I say it…….oh go on then.  Happy Christmas everyone.

Suzanne Lambert

http://www.suzannelambert.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a burning desire to write, or a story to be told?

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The answer to that question is often, ‘yes, but where do I start.’

Our monthly creative writing classes are not only about writing, they are a bringing together of like-minded souls, socialising, interacting, inspiring and learning in a positive, encouraging and welcoming atmosphere. Writing can be immensely healing and therapeutic, transforming negative thoughts into positive actions. Many of our greatest love stories come from pain.

In 2018 our students had a wonderful year and are thoroughly enjoying their writing process. We have had some amazing work published in online magazines. Others are working on their biography, memoir, self-help therapy books, etc.

Our creative writing classes are held at 3 Park Villas, Wallsend every month.

Due to popular demand, I will be putting on an extra writing class and our first meeting will be on Thursday 31st January 2019. Some of the subjects covered will be:

  • Getting Started
  • Goal Setting
  • Setting up a Storyboard
  • Tapping into your creative source
  • Show Not Tell
  • Creating drama to enhance your storytelling
  • Character development
  • Tips on Editing/Literary Agents/Publishers

We meet at 6.30pm for an informal cuppa and a chat before moving into the training room at 7pm. The class finishes at 9pm.

The cost for the evening is £10.

To book your place or for further information, please email me at scmlambert@yahoo.co.uk

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Suzanne Lambert

http://www.suzannelambert.com

 

 

A Day in the life of Suzanne Lambert

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Sooooo excited for my spa day with my wonderful friend Elaine Cragg who bought this experience for my birthday back in June. I am all packed and waiting for the look of surprise when I arrive with my suitcase for one day. Mock not, I was a girl guide and I am always prepared for every eventuality. I have a medical kit which is packed for every medical procedure possible from athlete’s foot to open heart surgery.  Honestly, I really have.

So I will be swanning around in my undies and dressing gown for most of the day (don’t try and picture that…….. it’s not an image you want to dwell on).  I have my bathing costume packed so I can float around like a beached whale, a smile of contentment on my face before lying down on the massage treatment table ready to drift off into the land of deep relaxation.

Flashback now to the last time I got onto one of those tables finding it extremely difficult to relax.  Why oh why are the beds so damn narrow?  I was trying to keep my arms by my side which I found quite uncomfortable, however, surrounded by the beautiful peaceful music and the scent of aromatherapy oils, I eventually drifted off.  I woke with a shock as my arms fell off the treatment table and I jumped up and almost nutted the therapist who dropped her oils on the floor.  She was good, very good. All she did was smile and ask me once more to relax so she could continue.  This time I clamped my hands under my rather good sized bottom and tried to relax.  It wasn’t easy.  Then came the next bit, you know what I mean I’m sure, when they hold the towel up in front of them to cover your modesty and look away before asking you to turn over.  Now I struggle to turn over in my double bed never mind on something that resembles a ruler.  And so it began.  The shuffling.  By now all relaxation was long gone and I heaved myself onto my front. I was sure I heard a stifled giggle behind the towel.  Now if you’re big busted like me it’s a problem.  If I go a bra size bigger I will be looking for something that resembles two bin lids and a piece of rope.  They have a face hole for your comfort, so why, before now, has someone not invented boob holes.  Good idea?  Might get myself on Dragons Den.  Anyway, a bit more sliding and shuffling, and I eventually landed and the towel was expertly laid over me.  It was then I passed wind.  There was towel movement, I just know it.  Is there any greater shame.  We all do it, some of us are highly and utterly embarrassed about it yet it happens and sometimes there is nothing, absolutely nothing that we can do about it.  Fortunately, the scent of the aromatherapy oils was stronger.  Bless her.  She muttered something in her sweet, gentle little voice about it all being perfectly natural.  She wanted me to relax.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there forever.

Maybe I should have shared this story with Elaine before tomorrow so she knows what she’s in for.

I am absolutely thrilled to be spending a whole day lounging around, laughing with my friend of over fifty years, eating, drinking and talking none stop.  I have decided on this occasion to keep my clothes on for the massage (well most of them) and have a neck, head and face massage.  I should be safe with that.  However, you know me, anything could happen.

Happy Friday everyone, I will return next week to let you know how it all went.

Suzanne Lambert

http://www.suzannelambert.com

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Eve Miracle

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When the first snowfall of winter arrives and all hope is lost, it is then that the greatest miracles occur.

Father Michael O’Brien sat down at his desk and stared at the blank screen in front of him for the third time that day.  He was well known for his sermons and people came from miles around to hear them.  He always strived to talk about real people, their challenges and joys.  He loved nothing more than to hear his congregation laugh, humour he told them was a God given gift and the sound of laughter brought joy to the world.  Father Michael sighed.  The world news today was anything but joyful.  All around there seemed to be nothing but hatred and destruction and his heart felt heavy.  This year two of his parishioners, Mr & Mrs Wilson, had lost their child and there was talk of the local community school closing.  They would fight that one together, Father Michael had no intention of letting that happen.  He had given up trying to write this morning and gone along to the homeless shelter to try and bring solace reminding them to go along to the community centre on Christmas Day where there would be a wonderful dinner and a gift for each and every one of them.  They were good people in the little village of Merrywell.  Most of them came to church every Sunday and where many other churches were empty, Father Michael was always happy to see full benches every week.  On Christmas Eve the church would be packed to the rafters and extra chairs would have to be brought in, yet there would still be people standing.  When the congregation raised their voices in song it always brought a warmth to Father Michael’s heart.

Somehow this year he felt as though there was a sadness, apathy and a lack of hope running through the community.  Mr & Mrs Wilson had continued to attend Mass but the haunted look in their eyes and the hushed whispers of the congregation each time they arrived, saddened him immensely.  ‘Why Father,’ they had asked.  Nothing he told them had helped.  Their grief was too deep.  Mrs Wilson was now expecting another child and finally he had seen a spark of light in their eyes.  Hope for a happier life was everything, he thought.  Christmas Eve was the celebration of the birth of Christ maybe he should focus on that this year and give it a new twist.  Father Michael placed his fingers on the keyboard and waited for inspiration.  After five minutes he gave up and decided he would have a cup of tea.  He walked towards the kitchen but paused when he was halfway across the room.  ‘Why not,’ he told the cross of Our Lord above the sideboard.  Reaching for the whiskey decanter he poured himself a good measure of Jack Daniels and went back to the computer.  Sipping his drink he prayed silently.  It’s Christmas Eve Lord, a little inspiration would be wonderful.  He had actually written his Christmas sermon two weeks ago but felt it was a little dull.  Not what his congregation were used to.  This sermon was the most important one of the year.  It should be meaningful, emotional and passionate.  It must be about love, family and all that comes in between.  Half an hour later Father Michael was no further forward.  He had talked about all those things for so many years it was becoming old hat.  Maybe if he had another whisky.  Mrs Dawson his housekeeper was out for the afternoon so there was nobody to tut tut and shake their head at him.  He always ensured Mrs Dawson was out when he wrote his sermon.  What he would do without her he didn’t know but oh my, what a clatter she made around the house.  He found her constant stream of chatter most amusing but not when he was writing his sermon.  He rather wished she was here to distract him, at least it would be an excuse to do something else.  Father Michael closed his eyes for a moment and put aside the horrors that the world had brought this year and thought about all the goodness in the world.  He had been introduced to Facebook by one of his parishioners who told him how important she thought it was that he kept up with new technology and what was happening.  He was no fuddy duddy he told her and promised that he would glance at it now and again.  Father Michael never broke a promise and earlier in the week he had opened it up and didn’t like what he saw at all.  He shook his head in sadness at all the arguments and criticism.  Why on earth would I need to see this he thought?  He would never look at it again.  It was then a video came on that caught his attention telling him about the young man who was going around giving free haircuts to the homeless and it brought a tear to his eye.  He’d sat for two hours that night and read about all the goodness in the world.  Video after video of people doing great and wonderful things that others would never have heard of had it not been for the power of Facebook.  Families were posting pictures of beautifully decorated Christmas trees with piles of presents around them.  Father Michael’s heart warmed when he saw a photo of Mr & Mrs Wilson standing in front of their tree thanking everyone in the community for getting them through the worst year of their life and said they would never forget their little Lily but it was time to move forward and this time next year would be happy occasion for them all.  The light seemed to catch the photograph and it was almost as through the Angel on the top of their Christmas tree was smiling down on them.  It had taken Father Michael a few moments to pull himself together and he’d had to dab his eyes and blow his nose.  He picked up his phone and began scrolling through Facebook, the sermon completely forgotten.  He still had the one he’d done last week, maybe he would just use that after all.  The next post showed a roaring fire with a glass of sherry and a mince pie sitting on the hearth.  Father Michael looked at his empty glass, it was still only 3pm.  ‘Just a small one,’ he said, then made his way into the kitchen.  There was a tray covered with a tea towel and underneath were the most delicious home baked mince pies.  He smiled remembering the time he had bought a packet of mince pies from the local shops.  The horrified look on Mrs Dawson’s face had been quite terrifying.  She hadn’t spoken to him for days and the banging and clattering around the house became louder.  He had learnt his lesson well and this year waited for them to arrive.

Father Michael sat down on his comfortable chair in front of the fire.  He took a bite of his mince pie and closed his eyes to savour the moment. ‘Better than ever,’ he muttered with his mouth half full.   If Mrs Dawson had been watching she would have been delighted.  When every last crumb had been enjoyed he reached for his whisky.  The heat of the fire and the crackling and spitting of logs filled the room and Father Michael’s eyes became heavy.  His mind drifted off to that Christmas Eve so many years ago.  I wonder what happened to them, he thought as the glass slipped out of his hand.  Father Michael slept.

June Harrison looked around the shelter hoping Norah would come along tonight.  It was freezing cold out there and heavy snow was forecast for later this evening.  June had been a volunteer at the shelter for fifteen years and knew all the regulars by name.  The first time she saw Norah she had been taken aback by her striking blue eyes and dark hair.  Although now streaked with grey June’s first thought was that Norah must have been quite a beauty in her day.  She carried a sadness with her far heavier than the big old suitcase she always dragged around.  June was worried that Norah wouldn’t survive another cold winter. She couldn’t actually be that old, she thought but it was difficult to tell when someone had lived on the streets for a long time.  Last year it hadn’t snowed, instead the rain had been torrential and still Norah hadn’t come.  June knew why and exactly where she would be.  Every Christmas Eve Norah would make her way to the doorway of the old toy shop on the high street and settle herself down.  On the opposite side of the street Fullers book shop had a huge Christmas tree in the window and the lights would twinkle until 12pm when they would switch off.  Old Mr Fuller owned the shop and lived in a small flat above it.  He had first seen Norah twenty years ago and she had come back every Christmas Eve since.  Every year he watched her settle in the doorway opposite his shop watching his window.  Ten years ago he decided the leave the Christmas tree lights on until 12pm so she had something pretty to look at then last year he put a television in the window.  He had recorded all the Christmas movies for her to watch and this year he’d left a pillow, blanket, flask of tea, sandwiches and a mince pie.  He had been closed since 4pm but had waited knowing she would arrive on the dot of 5pm as she always did.  When Norah arrived he smiled as she looked up at the window and waved. Once more he wondered why she came every year, refusing to go anywhere warmer.  ‘Christmas Eve is my remembering time,’ she would say with a smile.  Her blue eyes would twinkle for just a moment before once more misting over.  ‘Like to be on my own with my memories tonight,’ she would say to anyone offering help.  Tomorrow June would welcome her with open arms and give her a nice hot dinner but tonight she needed to be alone, as always.  Norah settled down with a happy heart thinking of the lovely warm blanket and hot tea she had to look forward to.  At 6pm while watching The Polar Express the first flakes of snow along with Norah’s tears dropped to the ground together.

James Geoffrey Graham huddled around the fire with his friends.  It was a bitterly cold Christmas Eve but the atmosphere was merry.  One of the older men had a radio and it was blaring out Christmas carols.  Old Mac was in the corner singing at the top of his voice, one drink too many was to blame but he would fall asleep soon and they would all get some peace and quiet.  They were lucky down here in the old tunnel they were sheltered from the cold and there was always plenty of cardboard and blankets to go around.  James had a huge grey heavy overcoat which he’d had for many years.  His father had been right, it would last a lifetime.  It was probably the only thing his father had been right about.  James’ mouth tightened.  All these years and it still hurt as much now as it had back then.  However, he may be homeless but the group he had spent this last year with were the best ones ever.  Old Mac, Gerry, Joseph, young Mary and old Mary.  Somehow they had bonded and after some months began telling each other their stories.  It had brought a companionship James had never expected, never asked for.  These people were more family to him than the ones he had been born into.  They were kinder, more accepting than people out there in the real world.  He would be sad to move on but he had promised himself one more year looking for her.  Old Mac said she may not have survived but James knew different.  If she had died somehow he would have known.  He had to believe that, otherwise what was the point and yet this year he had begun to give up.  It had been a fruitless search so far.  He moved nearer to the fire and warmed his hands before making his way to the corner of the tunnel and settled down to remember.  Something he did this time every year.  He reached deep into the pockets of his old grey coat and his fingers wrapped around the little cross attached to the rosary beads that he had glued together.  They were his most precious possession.  As soon as he closed his eyes he saw her and it made him smile, as always.   It was Christmas Eve and time to remember her once more.  The smoke from the fire surrounded him and James slowly drifted back to the past.

He had loved her from the first moment he saw her singing in the choir in the town square.  There was something about those eyes.  Never had he seen eyes so blue and her jet black hair hung straight down her back.  Not a scrap of makeup spoilt that beautiful pale skin.  What a beauty he thought absolutely mesmerised.  He stood in the freezing cold in the big grey heavy coat his father had bought him.  ‘It cost a fortune,’ his father had said, ‘but only the best for my boy.  Got to be seen to be doing my best, eh lad.’  James was embarrassed and wished his dad wouldn’t keep talking about how much money they had and how well his business was doing.  ‘All yours one day James, don’t you forget that,’ he’d said before slapping him on the back.  James shuddered, he couldn’t imagine anything worse than spending the rest of his life working at his dad’s factory.  His mother always agreed with anything father said.  It was respectful, she told him.  He felt sorry for her always obeying his father’s wishes.  ‘Stand up for yourself mother,’ he told her one day, when his father had been particularly outspoken and critical.  His mother had told him in no uncertain terms to stop saying such things and that they should both be extremely grateful for the roof over their head, food on the table and no financial worries whatsoever.  She cared more about money that she did her son.  James wondered what it would feel like to be surrounded by love.  He would swop the money for love any day of the week.  He had stormed out of the house angry at his mother’s words and walked to the town centre to work off his temper.  It was four weeks to Christmas and there was a Carol Service going on in the town square.  He heard her voice before he saw her and it stopped him in his tracks.  For a whole hour he stood in the crowd watching her.  Feeling his eyes on her she looked up during the chorus of Silent Night and he winked. She immediately looked down but five minutes later looked up again.  James winked once more and saw her smile.  Who was she and how on earth was he going to get to know her.  He wanted the carol singing to go on all night, something was happening to his heart and he didn’t ever want it to stop.  The girl’s clothes had seen better days, nothing she was wearing was going to last a lifetime like James’ coat but he hardly noticed.  All he saw were those bright blue eyes.  Wonder what she’s called, he thought.  When the choir began singing the last chorus of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful,’ he knew the carol service was almost finished and hadn’t a clue what to do.  He had to do something, his heart was thumping.  He couldn’t just let her go.  Can you actually fall in love in an hour he wondered?  If this wasn’t love, whatever it was he would take it.  He clapped along with the crowd as the singers all took a bow.  She was packing up her song sheets in a carrier bag and pulling what looked like an old woollen hat on her head.  She was about to leave.  James took a deep breath and walked over to her smiling, feeling like a complete idiot.  He tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped.

‘Oh goodness you gave me a fright, do I know you.’

James smiled.  ‘Of course you do, I’m the man of your dreams.’

Norah raised her eyebrows.

‘Really?’

Norah turned away and continued to pack her song sheets away.  James felt his face burning with embarrassment.  He wasn’t doing very well at all.  He tapped her on the shoulder.

‘Sorry that was a bit cheesy.’

Norah’s eyes twinkled.

‘And just a little pathetic if you don’t mind me saying so.’

‘Sorry.’

‘Yes, so you said.’

Oh goodness, thought James, how can I put this right?

‘I don’t usually make such an idiot of myself, may I start again.’

She smiled back.  It gave him hope.

‘My name is James Graham and I’m pleased to meet you.  You have a lovely voice and the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen.’

Norah blushed slightly.

‘Thank you James.’

‘So what’s your name them.’

She looked back at him, her smile vanishing.

‘I really don’t like my name.’

‘Why on earth not.’

‘It’s not pretty, my friends are all called things like Lucinda, Marianne, and Josephine.’

He reached out to take her hand but she pulled away.  It was too soon.

‘Sorry,’ he said, it’s just you’re pretty enough for your name not to matter, just tell me.’

‘My name is Norah Pratt.  People I have known for a long time don’t make fun anymore but sometimes new people do.  I am rather tired of it to be honest.’

‘Well we will give you a new name,’ James replied, ‘you know what you remind me of with those bright blue eyes and long black hair.’

‘I can’t imagine,’ she replied.

‘Snow White.  I have decided I will call you Snow from now on.’

Norah began to roar with laughter causing the pom pom on her woollen hat to shake uncontrollably.

‘I have never heard anything so corny in my entire life.  You really are funny.’

James was at a total loss and opened his mouth twice and closed it again not knowing what to say.  Norah reached out and touched his hand.

‘Oh goodness James, have I hurt your feelings.’

James folded his arms, put on his best hurt expression and said ‘young lady I am crushed.’

There was a pause before they both burst out laughing.  What lovely kind eyes Norah thought and somehow she had a vague feeling she had seen him somewhere before.

James shivered, ‘would you like a hot chocolate Norah, we look a bit silly standing in the middle of the town square like this and I fear it’s going to start snowing any moment now.’

That had been the moment in James’ life when everything changed.  Everything that happened afterwards was caused by this single event.    If James had told her his full name then, Norah may have realised who he was.  By time she found out it would be too late and Norah Pratt would already be head over heels in love.  The first time Norah allowed James to walk her home he realised she lived on the run down council estate that his father always talked about and criticized.  He vowed at that moment to keep their relationship secret until he figured out what to do.  He loved her house it was always full of people laughing, telling jokes and her parents were the kindest people he had ever met.  Everyone was welcome in their house.  When Norah told him where she worked it was another blow and he knew he would have to pluck up the courage to tell her who he was.  James knew there were going to be difficulties ahead.  He could well imagine his world crashing around him when he announced to his father that his girlfriend was one of the lower paid employees at the factory. It was fortunate that James never visited the factory floor.  He made the excuse of spending Christmas Eve with friends and hurried over to Norah’s house.  He was handed a glass of sherry and Norah held out a Christmas cracker.  ‘Come on,’ she said, I won’t see you tomorrow let’s do this now.  On the count of three, one, two, three.’  There was a crack and the gift flew out of the cracker and James jumped up and caught it.  ‘What is it,’ Norah said trying to grab it out of his hand.  James’ heart was thumping.  ‘Grab your coat Norah,’ he said.  Hand in hand they ran out of the house and Norah’s mother watched them from the window.  ‘I have a feeling something very special is about to happen tonight,’ she whispered.

They walked and talked for what seemed like forever until they both realised they had walked out of the town into the small village of Merrywell.  ‘How pretty it is here,’ James said, let’s come every Christmas Eve.  They walked up to the huge Christmas tree and marvelled at the size of it and tried guessing how many coloured lights there were.  ‘Look over there,’ Norah said.  ‘How quaint.  They wandered over to the little toy shop and stood looking at all the toys in the window.  All hand crafted, the little sign in the front of the window said.  James pulled Norah into the doorway and took her face in his hands before kissing her gently.  Norah was quite sure the whole world could hear how loud her heart was beating.  She knew there and then she would love him for the rest of her life.  There would never be anyone else.  It was that simple.  James looked into her eyes and knew this was the girl for him, the one he would marry, have children with and nothing and no-one was going to stand in his way.  In the doorway of Harvey’s Toy Shop James went down on one knee and produced his gift from the Christmas cracker.  A plastic ring with a big pink diamond.

‘Will you marry me Norah Pratt.’

Norah found it hard to speak.  Sometimes that’s what happiness does, it’s so powerful it almost chokes you.  It was a moment or two before she managed to croak, ‘Yes.’

As the stars twinkled in the night sky James placed the little plastic ring on the third finger of her left hand.

Norah’s eyes filled with tears as she reached into her coat pocket.  She pulled out a little set of blue Rosary Beads that she always carried everywhere with her and held them out to James.  ‘Hold on to them James,’ she said.  ‘Let’s say a quick prayer that we will always love each other as we do now.’

James had never been a great church goer but he was prepared to do anything Norah wanted to make her happy.  In the shop doorway as the toy soldiers looked on they each held on to the rosary beads.  James wasn’t sure what he was supposed to say but took a deep breath, looked into Norah’s eyes and said.

‘Let’s get married straight away, as soon as possible.’

‘What’s the hurry silly,’ Norah replied.

James grabbed her hands.

‘I want to know that tonight, on Christmas Eve, we have made a vow to each other that nobody can ever break.’

‘Why whoever would want to James, I don’t understand.’

‘Please Norah,’ he begged.

It was just at that moment the soft gentle snow turned to hailstone and together hand in hand they ran down the street screaming with laughter.  ‘Where we going,’ James shouted.  About ten minutes later soaked to the skin, and not caring in the least, Norah stopped and pointed.  ‘There,’ she said.  Through the pelting hail James saw a beautiful church all lit up and looking like something out of a picture postcard.  ‘We getting married tonight Norah?’  ‘Don’t be silly, she said, of course not, were just going to see Father Michael.’  Norah hoped with all her heart the church would be open, midnight mass was still a few hours away.  She reached for the handle pausing for a moment then turned it.  ‘Thank goodness,’ she whispered.  There was silence inside the church and the candles flickered in the semi darkness.  There was a faint whiff of furniture polish and incense along with a beautiful sense of peace.  Their footsteps on the stone floor were the only sounds as they walked towards the figure kneeling in the front bench.  Father Michael turned as they reached him.  He had known Norah all her life, had christened her in fact.  There was a blush to her cheeks and the eyes everyone always commented on sparkled brighter than any of the stars in the sky tonight.  Father Michael stood up.

‘Well now who is this young man Norah?’

‘This is James, Father.’

They shook hands and Norah continued.

‘We want to be married.’

‘Married Norah.’

‘Yes please.’

‘Tonight?’

‘Heavens no Father,’ Norah said with a giggle.  It’s just James insists on making a vow tonight that we will be married soon and nothing will get in our way.  Can we do that here Father?’

Father Michael was taken aback.  ‘Well what an unusual request but yes of course you can.  Would you like to come and kneel at the altar?

James and Norah knelt at the altar and held on to the rosary beads as they shyly looked at each other.  Father Michael looked at them both, never had he seen and felt such love between two young people. Christmas magic he supposed.

They bowed their heads as Father Michael blessed them both and prayed for their future together then asked if either of them would like to say something in the presence of Our Lord.

James looked up at the cross hanging above the altar then turned to Norah.

‘Mrs James Geoffrey Graham to be, I promise that from this moment on I will love you till the day I die.  Is that a good enough,’ he whispered.

‘Perfect,’ replied Father Michael before turning to Norah.  ‘And would you like to say something.’

There was a frozen look on Norah’s face that James had never seen before.  Shock.  Suddenly there was total silence all around them.  Even the candles appeared to have stopped flickering as the Holy statues looked on and waited.

Father Michael touched Norah on the shoulder.

‘Is there something wrong?’

Every bit of colour had drained from Norah’s face.  She let go of the rosary beads and stood up before turning to look at James.

‘James Geoffrey Graham, you are James Geoffrey Graham.’

Light dawned and James closed his eyes realising what he had done.  Norah looked at him horrified.

‘My boss at the factory is called James Geoffrey Graham.  I never even gave it a second thought, you’re his son.  You are the bosses son, oh dear God why didn’t you tell me James.’

James began to panic.  ‘Because it doesn’t matter Norah, really it doesn’t.’  Norah looked furious.

‘So if it doesn’t matter why not tell me before now.  You do know your father will never allow this to happen and when exactly did you intend telling him.  If you are so sure of us why didn’t you say something weeks ago?  Don’t answer that.  I’ll tell you why James Geoffrey Graham, because you’re ashamed of me.  Norah Pratt from the council estate.’

‘No, no no Norah, stop please, it was because I didn’t want my father spoiling it.  I love you, surely you can see that.  Please this is not how tonight was supposed to be.’

James grabbed Norah’s hand.  ‘It will be alright I promise I will make it alright.’  Norah took a step backwards.

‘No James this will never be alright, I would never have gone out with you if I had known who you were.  You kept me secret from your family knowing perfectly well I would never be accepted.  If you really loved me you would have told them, and me, straight away.  Now I know why you kept putting off taking me to meet your parents.’

‘It’s not like that at all,’ James pleaded.  I wouldn’t be here now tonight if I didn’t love you.  We’ll make it work Norah, please.’

Norah was shaking her head and her eyes were filling with tears.  ‘James, I am one of your father’s lowest paid employees and I live on a council estate.  I know your father and I know how terrified we all are when he is on the warpath.  I can well imagine what he would say if he found out about us.  I can’t believe after the time we have been together you never told me.’

Father Michael reached out to Norah but she held her hands up.

‘Sorry Father, we have wasted your time.’

James watched as Norah took off the ring and handed it to him.  James shook his head in disbelief.  Tears now pouring down her face Norah threw the ring on the ground and as she turned to run caught the rosary beads which snapped and began bouncing like tiny marbles all around them.

Hastily James fell to the ground gathering all the little beads almost as though he wanted to hold onto every last tiny piece of the girl he loved with all his heart.  His sobs echoing around the walls of the church were something Father Michael never forgot.

James didn’t even know he was crying again until Old Mac came and put an arm around his shoulder offering him a swig of whisky.  James gulped down a few mouthfuls then shivered.  It was always the same every year when he remembered her on Christmas Eve.  Where was she now, he wondered?  Naturally he had gone to her home but was told that on no account would she see him and only two weeks after Christmas he discovered she had left the factory and nobody would tell him where she was.  He wrote letters to her home which were always returned and when, as a last resort, he went to see Father Michael the following Christmas Eve he was told the family had moved away.

One year later his father had a massive heart attack and James sold the business.  There were debts that nobody had known about which he managed to settle from the sale.  The house was huge, far too big for only two people, but his fathers will meant the house was his but he was unable to sell it. James only stayed because he hoped and prayed Norah would come back one day and he vowed he would be here waiting.

Every Christmas Eve after that James visited Father Michael to ask if he had heard anything about where she might be.   It was ten years before he found anything out and was shocked to learn that Norah’s parents had died and Norah, utterly broken hearted, had been rendered homeless.  A member of the congregation said she had seen her at a soup kitchen a few miles away.  That Christmas Eve James packed up all his belongings in a huge rug sack, put on his big grey coat along with warm gloves, hat and scarf, ensured his mother would be looked after and set out to find her.  That was twenty years ago and he was amazed how easy it was to live on the streets when you felt completely broken and alone.  Unexpectedly, there was a comradeship which he never expected to find.  There had even been friendship and understanding amongst some of those he’d met.  James never stayed for more than a year in the same place.  He was so sure he would find her one day but this year he was beginning to lose hope.  He found it hard to believe how many homeless people there were out there.  He had visited his mother four years after leaving and the look of disgust on her face when she saw him still angered him now.  He returned last year wondering if his mother was still alive, feeling guilty one moment and angry with her the next.  Never once had she shown him an ounce of love or compassion.  The house was falling into disrepair and it was in semi darkness.  Only a huge lantern in the window gave any light.  He stood for a moment watching before turning away and deciding he would never return again.  The house was his but he would never live in it.  He was happier in the tunnel with his friends around the fire.

His thoughts turned back to Norah.  Maybe Old Mac was right and she had not survived.  Why on earth had she been reduced to living on the streets, he wondered.  He had broken her heart, that’s why.  James sat up straight, he would never give up looking for her.  He would visit yet another soup kitchen tonight hoping she was there.  He had travelled far and wide over the years visiting what felt like hundreds of soup kitchens and shelters. Twice he had been back to the soup kitchen in Merrywell on Christmas Eve hoping she might want to be near home but she was never there. Tonight he would try one last time.  He owed it to her.  James shivered, it was freezing cold tonight.  There was a carol service playing on the radio and Old Mary began to sing.  It brought a lump to James’ throat and new tears to his eyes.  He reached into the deep pockets of his grey coat and his fingers curled around the plastic ring and rosary beads.  As the snow began to fall James Geoffrey Graham began to pray.

A few miles away, Norah sat forward and watched as the little boy on the Polar Express opened the pretty box from Santa with the reindeer’s bell inside.  Suddenly her shoulders began to shake as the tears ran down her lined face creating a damp patch on the lovely thick blanket wrapped around her.  There would be no Christmas magic for her this year or any other come to that.  No hope of a better life one day.  Not without James.  How stupid she had been running off like that and refusing to see him.  It wasn’t his fault that he was born into a family of wealth.  Her feelings of inferiority and knowing her station in life were to blame.  How ridiculous those words sounded now.  Norah looked up and watched as Santa Clause the movie began and huddled further down inside her blanket.  It was beyond ridiculous to fall in love within a matter of weeks and keep that love alive for so many years for someone she would never see again.  She wouldn’t do this anymore on Christmas Eve.  This would be the last time she would come here, it was too painful to remember.  Norah turned to look at the little toy soldiers in the shop window and whispered ‘Happy Christmas,’ as she did every year and settled down to watch another Christmas movie.

As the stars shone in the night sky over the town of Merrywell the little Nativity Scene in the town centre was lit up by the fairy lights surrounding it.  There was a gust of wind and the straw blew around the crib where baby Jesus lay.  Mother Mary looked lovingly at her child and in the stillness there was a sense of Christmas magic.

Edith Graham sat in her drawing room staring into the crackling log fire.  She tried squeezing her eyes tightly shut to stop the flow of tears yet still they came as she knew they would.  It was her punishment to sit on Christmas Eve and look back over all her mistakes.  Edith couldn’t remember the first time she’d realised how many bad choices she had made.  Looking up at the mantelpiece she stared at her wedding photograph.  How proud she had been to be marrying James that day.  He was going far he told her.  Edith Graham would never be short of money, or have to work and when they had children she would stay at home and ensure the house was run efficiently.  He would make rules which must be obeyed.  It was for her own good he ensured wagging his finger.  When their son James was born Edith was told in no uncertain terms not to namby pamby him.  She would be doing him a disservice.  She must ensure he grew up to follow in his father’s footsteps, if he was to be successful.  Edith couldn’t imagine for a moment why she had agreed.  James, after all, turned out to be a far kinder, loving and stronger person than his father had ever been.  It always terrified her when James stood up to his father knowing he would blame her and her soft ways as he always put it.  Edith walked over to the mantelpiece and lifted the photograph down.  ‘Look at my stupid simpering face,’ she said and threw it across the room feeling pleased when it shattered on the wooden floor.  Bending her head and allowing the tears to continue flowing her shoulders began shaking as she remembered the time her son had returned to see her.  James must have seen the shock on her face.  Her hand had flown to her mouth when she realised this dirty person standing on her doorstep was actually her own son.  That had been her chance to make everything better, to throw her arms around him, bring him in, offer him food and drink and sit him in front of the fire.  She had done none of these things just stood staring at him unable to speak.  The anger and disgust in his face as he turned from her and walked away was one she would never forget.  Why hadn’t she run after him, made him come back instead of standing there like a fool shocked to the core?  When she had eventually found her voice she had screamed his name and ran down the driveway but it was too late, he was gone.

The fire was growing cold and Edith shivered.  She deserved to be cold in this horrible old house which had seen better days.  Edith didn’t care if it fell down around her.  She was sick of the do gooders who came bearing gifts of food and coal to ensure she was surviving.  It gave her some satisfaction to suffer.  Edith stood up and put another log on the fire and watched as the flames roared once more.  She closed her eyes and prayed.  ‘Just in case he comes home God, and he’s cold.’  Edith then went to get the lantern to place in the window.  As she lit the candle the lantern glowed and flickered in the darkness.  As she did every year on Christmas Eve, Edith stood looking out of the window and prayed for forgiveness.  She would stand here until midnight waiting and watching, just in case.  ‘Please God she prayed, bring him home.’

The people of the soup kitchen began handing out hot meals to the homeless people of the surrounding towns and villages.  There was a festive atmosphere and lots of them knew each other and were huddled together in groups enjoying a very different Christmas Eve to the many people sitting around their Christmas trees waiting excitedly for Christmas morning.  James sat alone watching and waiting.  Father Michael wasn’t here this year.   Maybe he had left the parish, he must be near seventy years old now.  Some hours later James continued to scan the faces of the people and knew she wasn’t coming.

His legs felt as though they were made of lead tonight as he made his way through the snow that was now falling.  It looked absolutely magical but it failed to warm his heart.  He found himself walking the same way they had gone all those years ago.  In his mind he could see them running to the little toy shop doorway, holding hands, so much in love.  That’s what he could do tonight before leaving this place never to return.  Go back to where it had all started and think about her.  Maybe if there was a God she would hear him and know he had kept his promise to love her for the rest of his life.  He hoped the old toy shop was still there and wasn’t a block of flats now like so many other places.  It was the flickering of a television set in the book shop that first caught his attention and he stopped to watch Santa who seemed to be surrounded by elves making toys.  It should have made him smile but it only saddened him further.  Maybe he would sit in the toy shop doorway and watch it for a while.  James made his way down the street and was disappointed to see someone else huddled in the doorway.  He was about to turn away when his heart began to beat fast.  It couldn’t be, surely not.  He stared at the heap of blankets in the doorway and found when he tried to take a step forward he couldn’t move.  He seemed to be glued to the pavement.  If it wasn’t her he didn’t think his heart would take it.  It was some minutes before he took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and began to walk towards the heap of blankets in the doorway.

Norah heard footsteps walking towards her and hoped there wasn’t going to be any trouble.  She peeped out from her blanket to see what looked like a homeless person walking towards her and she breathed a sigh of relief.  She could spot a homeless person a mile off and they had never posed any threat to her in all her years on the streets.  Mind you he needn’t think he could share her doorway, this was hers and always had been.  Nobody else ever came here on Christmas Eve.  Norah watched as the man came nearer then stood looking down on her.  It was the coat she recognised first before she looked into the eyes of the man she had loved and lost so many years ago.  Neither one of them spoke until quite suddenly James dropped to his knees.  Reaching out with shaking and freezing cold fingers he took Norah’s face in his hands.  As Santa and the elves and the little toys soldiers looked on Norah flung her arms around James’ neck and they held on to each other not noticing that the snow had now turned to hail just as it had all those years ago.  When eventually they pulled apart they still didn’t speak, just simply stared at each other.  There was a twinkle in Norah’s eyes and she smiled before sitting back and crossing her arms.  ‘What took you so long,’ she said.  James stood up and began to roar with laughter then reached down and pulled Norah up and together they began dancing in the hailstone.  Suddenly James stopped and grabbed her hands.

‘Norah.’

‘Yes James.’

‘I think it’s time to finish what we started.’

Norah laughed.

‘We can’t James, look at the state of us.’

‘I don’t care,’ James replied and if Father Michael is the same person he always was he won’t care either.’

Norah shook her head.

‘Oh James it was thirty years ago, he might not be there anymore.’

‘Well then,’ said James, ‘we will have to pray for a miracle Mrs James Geoffrey Graham to be.’

A grin spread over Norah’s face and hand in hand they walked to the church exactly as they had done thirty years ago tonight.  James prayed all the way for the church to be open and was relieved to see all the lights on.  The door however was locked and his heart sunk.  They were now soaked to the skin and probably looked like a couple of dirty drowned rats but James wasn’t about to give up.  He knocked on the door and they both stood still and waited.  Norah looked up at James, a worried expression on her face but James raised his fist and knocked again. He had found her and from now on everything would be alright he told her.  They both jumped when they heard the bolt being pulled back and a much older and frailer Father Michael pulled the heavy oak door open.  His first thought was that these people were looking for the soup kitchen and was about to give directions when he saw those beautiful blue eyes that he had never forgotten and gasped.

‘Norah?’

‘Hello Father Michael.’

‘Heavens above, come in, come in and warm yourselves,’ he said.  I have the heating on for Midnight Mass and the congregation won’t be here for at least another two hours.  Hardly able to believe what was happening he led them to the front pew and listened as they told their story.  Never in his entire life had he been so moved.

‘We want to finish what we started Father, we want to be married,’ said James.

Norah nodded her head.  ‘No certificates and stuff, just the two of us tonight making our vows to each other,’ can we do that Father?’

‘Come to the altar,’ Father Michael said.

Kneeling down James reached into his coat pocket and produced the rosary beads.  ‘You kept them,’ Norah whispered.

With the candles flickering, no flowers or music, Norah and James stood side by side and took their marriage vows and Father Michael felt a joy in his heart he hadn’t known for a long time.  This was a true Christmas miracle if ever he saw one.

When it came to the giving of rings Father Michael stopped not sure how to progress.  Was there something here in the church they could use but he needn’t have worried.  Once more James reached into his pocket and pulled out the plastic ring.  Norah’s laughter echoed all around the church walls.

Father Michael blessed the couple standing in front of him and couldn’t remember a wedding where he felt more love between two people.  He offered to give them both a hot meal before leaving and asked them if they had anywhere to go.  ‘It’s alright Father we will be fine,’ James replied.  I will look after her believe me.  Father Michael refused to let them go without filling a bag of food for them and stood for quite some time watching them leave looking like the happiest two people in the world. He closed the church door and slowly made his way back to the little flat attached to the church.  He walked over to the table in his study and crumpled up the sermon he had written then began preparing for Midnight Mass.

James thought he would burst with happiness as they walked hand in hand through the snow storm.  ‘Where are we going James,’ Norah asked.  ‘Wait and see,’ he said with a determined look on his face.  Fortunately the hail began to cease and pretty little snow flakes fell gently from the sky.  Norah grabbed James’ hand tightly when they stood together at the huge iron gates that led to the driveway.  She wasn’t sure this was a good idea at all and began to feel a little frightened.  The first thing they both noticed was the huge lantern standing in the window, the flickering flame looking so pretty and welcoming in the darkness.  As they got nearer James realised there was someone standing behind it looking out at them and he stopped.

Edith Graham almost dropped to her knees when she saw the two people approaching the house.  She knew without a shadow of a doubt it was her son.  All she wanted at that moment was to run out and greet them both but she was older and slower now.  Leaning on her walking stick she walked as quickly as possible, her heart beating faster than it had ever done before.  Her fingers shaking she reached for the handle and opened the door.  Edith looked at her son and the woman who was with him.  She let go of her stick which clattered on the stone floor and opened her arms.

In Merrywell village church, Father Michael looked out over his congregation.  The ladies of the parish council had excelled themselves this year and the church looked splendid.  A beautiful Nativity scene was set up on the right hand side of the altar and there were beautiful garlands and flower displays all around the church.  It had been the perfect setting for tonight.  The congregation raised their voices in song and Father Michael knew this would be his last year as Parish Priest and it had been absolutely perfect in every way.  His heart was full as he made his way up the steps to the pulpit.  Every eye was on him and there was a total hush as everyone waited for Father Michael’s Christmas sermon.  This year there was no rustling of papers, no notes to read from.   Father Michael smiled and with no shame let the tears fall from his eyes.

‘Tonight, he said, I am going to tell you all a true story about the miracle of Christmas…….

 

May I wish you all a very happy Christmas if anyone would like to read more of my stories you can access my blog via my website http://www.suzannelambert.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White Magic

white magic 1

Little Freddy Miller was the first one up in the dormitory.  All the other children at the orphanage were snuggled up under their blankets dreaming of Santa creeping around putting exciting goodies in the stockings that would hang at the end of their beds on Christmas Eve.  Freddy shivered and pulled his warm dressing gown around him putting his feet into the slippers by his bedside.  He walked over to the window and paused for a moment before pulling the curtains open.  He gasped, it was white magic just like Aunty Nancy told him it would be.  Freddy smiled, he had only been at the orphanage six months and he already loved her very much indeed.  They all did.

Aunty Nancy had eyes in the back of her head, the children told him and he suspected they were right.  Somehow, she always knew everything.  She was great fun and always found time to play with them and her stories were wonderful.  One day after reading them a story she said, ‘I have a special secret.’  The children all gathered around.  ‘Did you know, she said, ‘I have magic knees and can balance one hundred children on them without dropping even one?’  There was great excitement as the children clambered up onto her knees and Nancy’s laughter bounced off the nursery walls and all the way down the long corridors.

Freddy was missing his mummy and daddy very much indeed and wished they weren’t in Heaven.  Yesterday when Aunty Nancy told them a Christmas story in the nursery playroom, Freddy had begun to cry and immediately found himself swept up onto her knees and his eyes dabbed with the corner of her pinny.  ‘Do mummies and daddy’s forget about us when they are in Heaven,’ he asked.  The children all looked at her waiting and Nancy felt as though her heart would break.  She had taken them all over to the window and told them to look up at the stars and see how brightly they were shining.  ‘Your mummies and daddies are the brightest stars in the sky and look down on you every single day.  They whisper words of love when you sleep and their love is wrapped around each and every one of you just like your big winter coats. ‘Is that why I feel warm when I put my coat on,’ Josephine asked.  ‘Indeed it is,’ Nancy said, with a twinkle in her eye.

Freddy wasn’t sure about that and shook his head.  ‘What is it,’ Nancy asked.  ‘Yes tell us Freddy,’ the children asked, gathering round him.  Freddy looked around then jumped down off Nancy’s knee to sit down in the middle of them.  ‘Well, it’s just that daddy said I would grow up to be very special indeed.  He would see to it.  If Daddy is a star in the sky then he won’t be able to reach down here and help me to be special.’  Nancy squeezed her eyes tight shut to stop tears from falling.  No matter how hard she worked to give them the love they needed, there was so often a piece of them that hurt no matter what she did.  All her stories of love, the songs she sang, the games they played together, somehow just wasn’t enough.  Every year at this time Nancy prayed for a little drop of Christmas magic.  This year she prayed for it to descend on them in bucket loads.  There were no worries this Christmas, the donations of gifts for the children had been plentiful.  Nancy knew the children would be very happy on Christmas morning.  Still she worried about little Freddy who still wore his grief for all to see.  He didn’t smile nearly as often as the other children and rarely joined in the games in the playground.  He was always happy to sit on the side-lines and watch the others.  Martha was the one who could always swing the highest, little Billy was the fastest at running races, Norman could climb the big oak tree quicker than anyone else and George could ride a bike faster than Freddy could ever imagine.  Round and round the playground he would go and next week Aunty Nancy was going to take the stabilisers off.  Freddy couldn’t imagine anything more special than riding a bike without stabilisers.  He wasn’t good at anything so there was no point in trying.  Especially as daddy couldn’t help him to be special anymore.  Aunty Nancy had dried his eyes but inside his tears were still falling even though nobody could see them.

Little Freddy Miller was wrong, Aunty Nancy always knew when a child was crying whether their tears were visible or not.  Every time a child cried she would reach for the corner of her pinny ready to dab their sorrows away.  ‘It’s a magic pinny,’ she would tell them.  ‘Come along now, don’t you feel better already.’  Looking up into Nancy’s blue eyes the children would experience a warmth and kindness spreading through them.  ‘There now,’ she would say, ‘off you go, run along and play.’  Freddy remembered having his eyes dabbed with the magic pinny.  The pain had gone away for a little while but it kept coming back when he remembered about not being special anymore.

Nancy sat in her bedroom and as the moon shone through her window a sliver of light fell onto the Holy pictures stuck in her dressing table mirror.  ‘I could do with a bit of help here, if you don’t mind,’ she whispered.  ‘Come along now, you and I both know you can create miracles.  Yes I know it’s almost Christmas but just one more touch of Christmas magic would be rather wonderful.  I’ll leave it with you then, shall I?’  The light twinkled on the picture of the Madonna and child and it almost looked as though she was smiling.

It was the night before Christmas Eve and all the children were enjoying a splendid cup of hot cocoa as they sat in bed waiting for Nancy to read them a story.  She sat on a chair in the middle of the room, as she always did, and began to tell the story of the happiest star in the sky.  Nancy never read from books, her head was always full of stories that would cheer the children up or help them with something they were struggling with.  Nancy smiled as she remembered being evacuated with the children during the Second World War.  She had told them all the story of the Pied Piper.  The children had danced in a line behind her all the way up the driveway on their way to the railway station.  In Nancy’s story, however, the children were led to a land made of sweets.  ‘No good begging for nightmares,’ she had said.

Tonight as the children snuggled under their blankets, the man in the moon looked down on them.  The stars in the night sky twinkled as the children began to drift off to sleep.  Only Freddy was still awake and staring out of the window that looked down upon the playground.  Nancy walked over and knelt beside him.

‘The stars are very twinkly tonight, Aunty Nancy.’

‘They are indeed Freddy.’

‘What do you think that means?’

Nancy looked up into the clear night sky.

‘I rather think it means there is going to be a very hard frost in the morning.’

‘Oh,’ said Freddy with a disappointed look on his face which Nancy hadn’t missed.

‘Mind you on the other hand, it could mean something very special is about to happen.’

Freddy grinned.

‘You think so?’

Nancy wondered what on earth had made her say such a ridiculous thing.  She was going to have to think of something quick or Freddy wouldn’t believe how special he was.  Every one of her children were special.  She knew their characters, their little ways and never in all her life working at the orphanage had she let a child down and she wasn’t going to start now.

Freddy tugged at Nancy’s pinny.

‘What is going to happen to make me special?’

Oh Lord help me, thought Nancy.   She lifted Freddy up into her arms, carried him to bed and tucked him in.  Freddy continued to look at Nancy, waiting.  She sat down on the little chair next to him and smiled.  ‘Tonight Freddy, the stars will shine brighter than ever and the Angels will send a blanket of white frost and in the morning the playground and the big oak tree will look absolutely enchanting.  The sun will come out and it will look as though the whole playground has been covered in glitter.  The whiter it is the more magical it will look.  It’s called white magic and when you see it anything can happen.  Sometimes Freddy Christmas magic comes creeping up on us when we least expect it.  One thing, those bright stars were most definitely shining for you tonight I am quite sure of it.’  Freddy’s smile brought joy to Nancy’s heart and she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek before making her way back to her bedroom.  She stood for a while looking out of her window before reaching into the pocket of her pinny.  Her fingers curled around the little cross and she lifted it out and looked at it.  ‘Unusual request,’ she said.  ‘A good hard white sparkly frost in the morning would be wonderful thank you.’

Nancy finished her chores, checked on the children one last time and went into the television room to switch off the tree lights.  Walking over to the radio, she sat down and waited for the weather report.  Five minutes later she looked up at the fairy sitting on top of the Christmas tree and said ‘all is well.’  She made her way along the corridors switching all the big lights off and putting the night lights on.  When she eventually got to bed she was glad to snuggle down under her heavy blankets.  It was a freezing cold night.  Oh well, I was the one who prayed for freezing frost, she thought.

The next morning Freddy leapt out of bed and was thrilled when he looked out of the window.  Aunty Nancy was never wrong and everywhere was white and sparkly.  The great oak tree shone like nothing he had ever seen before.  The white magic had arrived just as Aunty Nancy had said.  There was suddenly a strange feeling that Freddy couldn’t quite understand.  It wasn’t something he had ever felt before.  It was almost like someone had taken his hand and squeezed it saying, there, there, from this moment on everything will be just as it should be.  Today was going to be the start of something very special indeed.  Freddy ran back to bed and waited for his special day to start.

The noise of 20 young children getting into coats, hats and scarves without garrotting themselves on the string attached to their mittens was no mean feat.  It was only 10am and Nancy was exhausted with it all.  Sister Mary Joseph was as excited as the children and had got herself tangled up in Josephine’s mittens.  ‘Heavens,’ called out Nancy, ‘you’re worse than the children sister.’ She’d laughed at the state she was in and hurried over to help.  As the children thundered down the nursery stairs she hoped the magical look of the playground was enough to cheer Freddy up today.  The children burst through the door into the playground ignoring all shouts of ‘be careful you don’t slip.’  Nancy watched as Freddy skidded into the middle of the playground, not sitting watching the others play as usual.  Good sign, she thought.  She watched mesmerised as Freddy began skating around with squeals of wheeeeee.  Some of the children looked on, others joined in.  Freddy was in his element.  Nancy couldn’t believe the balance this child had.  Whilst others were constantly sliding and falling down little Freddy’s face was full of concentration as he slid, spun and jumped around the frosty playground.  ‘Well I never,’ she said to herself.  ‘Look how clever Freddy is,’ Josephine shouted and all the children began watching him and clapping.  Nancy couldn’t remember a time when she had been so cold, yet felt nothing but warmth flooding through her.  ‘White magic indeed,’ she whispered.

As soon as lunch was over Nancy left the children with the staff and hurried out to the shops hoping and praying she had enough money to buy what she wanted.  Everywhere was packed with last minute shoppers and the Salvation Army choir were singing in the main street.  Nancy would normally have stopped to listen but not today.  She was beginning to lose hope when the very last shop had exactly what she was looking for.  Buying special gifts for one particular child was not something Nancy would normally do.  She would have to make it up to the others somehow but this was important and must be done.  Later that night she wrapped her gift and placed a big silver star on the top of it.

In Nazareth House Orphanage, Christmas Eve was, as always, a rather noisy affair.  The children were over excited, two of them had been sick after eating far too much chocolate and it was way past bed time when Nancy finally got them settled.  There was still the dining room to prepare for Christmas breakfast and the stockings would be placed at the bottom of the children’s beds around about midnight after which Nancy would eventually get to bed.  The nuns were downstairs having their Christmas Eve supper to which Nancy had been invited but declined.  After all the hustle and bustle she wanted to put on her new nighty and dressing gown then sit in the little kitchenette with a nice cup of tea and enjoy one or maybe two of cooks homemade mince pies.

Today had turned out rather well and Freddy’s face when he discovered all the children watching him and clapping had been the greatest gift Nancy could have hoped for this Christmas. Today she had seen a spark of hope in his eyes and it filled her with joy.  It was exactly midnight when Nancy along with Sister Mary Joseph crept along the corridor laden with stockings to hang at the bottom of the children’s beds.  Nancy very carefully laid the special gift at the bottom of Freddy’s bed.  As the moonlight shone through the window it caught the little star Nancy had stuck to the wrapping paper and it twinkled.  Nancy watched Freddy sleeping for a moment then made her way back to her room.  She lay for a few moments then reached out to switch off her bedside lamp.  ‘There’s magic afoot,’ she whispered.

The chapel bells rang out at 6am to herald the start of Christmas day and the children jumped out of bed.  Naturally, Nancy had been up, dressed and ready for some time.  She watched as the children delved into their stockings shrieking in delight at each new surprise.  Freddy was sitting looking at the gift at the bottom of his bed wondering what on earth it was.

‘Aunty Nancy,’ he called.

‘Yes Freddy.’

‘There’s a present at the bottom of my bed and it’s wrapped up.’

‘Never in the world,’ said Nancy.  ‘Whatever next.’

‘Freddy has got a present,’ Josephine shouted.  ‘It’s got a star on like the ones in the sky.’

Stockings forgotten the children all hurried over and gathered around Freddy’s bed.

‘Open it, open it,’ they chorused.

Freddy looked up at Nancy.

‘Is it for me do you think.’

‘Well it’s your bed Freddy,’ she replied smiling.

There was hardly a sound as Freddy reached out and pulled the special gift towards him.  The children leaned forward and watched as he began to unwrap the paper and they all gasped as the little star fell off the bed just as the precious gift was unveiled.  No one spoke for a few moments then Freddy leapt up and jumped off the bed to reveal to the world an ice skate in each hand.

‘Mummy and daddy must have been watching me skating on the white magic Aunty Nancy.’

‘Yes I expect that’s it,’ she replied.

‘Nobody else knew how good I was at skating,’ he shouted.

‘Indeed,’ replied Nancy.

There were further screams and chaotic excitement when Nancy told them she would be taking them all to the local ice rink next week as a special treat.

Many white magic years later Freddy Miller looked down at the skates in the corner of his room and smiled.  They were old, worn and tattered and he would never ever part with them.  They were the reason he was here today.  He could hear the roar of crowds in the distance and the tanoy in his room told him he had five minutes.  He finished lacing up his new boots and stood up.  He checked himself in the mirror and decided he would do.  An old tatty star sat in a photo frame on the table.  It was his lucky charm and went everywhere with him.  There was a knock on the door and he called out he was ready.  As he made his way along the corridor and out into the rink he heard his name being announced and Freddy Miller made his way out onto the ice to represent the United Kingdom in the Winter Olympics Figure Skating Championships.  As the music started Freddy turned to face the corner of the rink where an elderly lady sat in a wheelchair covered in a warm tartan blanket.  He blew her a kiss, bowed and then began to dance over the ice as people watched mesmerised.

Nancy’s fingers gripped the tartan blanket.  The crowd roared as he seemed to fly through the air spinning, jumping, twisting, landing perfectly with grace every single time.  Nancy watched yet saw none of it.  What Nancy saw was a young child skating around the playground on a cold and frosty morning, children clapping and cheering on that long ago Christmas day when little Freddy Miller received one of the greatest gifts of all.  Hope.

Merry Christmas to you all.  If you would like to read more of my stories please visit my website http://www.suzannelambert.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soldier and The Angel

soldier and angel

If the angels descended from Heaven and gathered all the tears shed by those fighting on the  battlefields and their families,  I fear the world would have to make place for a new ocean the depth of which could never be measured.

There were many incredible stories that were brought home from the battlefields, some of which are legendary.  I invite you to sit back and relax as I share some of these with you today.

As we stop for a moment today in silence at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, we think not only of the moment gunfire ceased but of all those sons, brothers, husbands for whom it was too late.  They would never return home to the welcoming arms of their loved ones.  While people danced and cheered all around the streets and homes of Great Britain others wept bitterly in grief.

The brave heroes who returned home dreaming of peace and solitude could never have known that it would be in the silence of the night the roar of the battle would be at its loudest.  They would carry the horrors of their experiences for many years to come.

Over 50 years later some of these brave soldiers would be interviewed on television and the pain in their eyes would show the world that they had never forgotten what they had seen.  They would wear their medals with pride and talking about their comrades would still bring tears to their eyes.

There are many incredible and amazing war stories one of the most famous being the legend of The Angel of Mons.  Many men and boys who had never given God, Heaven or the Angels a second thought, in moments of terror, prayed that there was a God watching over them.  During the retreat at the Battle of Mons one young soldier cried out to St George for help.  Arthur Machen, who fought at the Battle of Mons, was a writer and felt inspired to write the story which was printed in The Evening News.  It told of how the young soldier’s prayers had summoned the Bowman from the battle of Agincourt and how their ghostly appearance could be seen by those on the battlefield.

It mattered not that Arthur Machen told everyone it was a fictional story because it was something to hold on to.  Thinking there were angels protecting them on the battlefield boosted morale.  If you do research it seems there are many other stories of soldiers that believed they saw angelic beings through the ghostly gunfire but those men are long gone and unable to confirm what they saw.

Did St George and the Bowman really turn up that day protecting and shielding our brave soldiers and bringing solace to the dying?  I really would like to believe so, wouldn’t you?

Whilst reading about The Angel of Mons I came across another beautiful story of a man named George who in World War 2 found himself lost with 2 comrades in a jeep behind enemy lines.  I watched this man tell his story and it brought tears to my eyes.  George had fought in the Battle of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.  He was a 20 year old baseball player and had been married only 6 months when he kissed his wife goodbye.  His wife prayed all during the war for his safe return and it seems her prayers were answered.  It was George’s job to deliver supplies to the soldiers on the front line and being lost in a combat zone was not a great position to be in.  One can only imagine the fear that overcame him as he continued to drive on a long straight road, open fields on either side of him not knowing whether or not he was going in the right direction.  Suddenly, a voice in his ear said, ‘turn around, turn around.’ George, paused only momentarily before continuing to drive straight ahead.  It was then he saw an American soldier standing in the road ahead of him.  That’s strange, thought George, why would a lone American soldier be standing there, was it a trap?  George bravely went forward and stopped to ask the soldier for directions.  ‘Turn around,’ the soldier said.  ‘You do not want to see what is ahead of you.’  George thanked the soldier and turned the jeep around then decided to ask the soldier if he needed a lift but he was gone.  The soldier was nowhere to be seen.  All around were open fields and there was nowhere to hide.  George was 90 years old when he told this story and his smile is beautiful to see.  He believed then and believes now with all his heart that God sent an Angel to save him and his comrades from the Germans that were further down that road.  ‘When I meet the Lord,’ he said, I will ask to meet that Angel he sent me and say thank you.

My final, and beautiful story, is of Theo who was presented with a medal and citation at the embassy in Seoul by the South Korean Government in gratitude for what the men and young lads did for their country.  He too believed his life was saved by an angel and this is his incredible true story.

There was no mistaking the fear inside him today. Every single part of his body was shaking and he was afraid to open his eyes.  The swell of the sea didn’t help.  Theo had never been on a boat before and he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to again.  The Devonshire, it was called, and soon it would be landing on Korean soil.  There were so many of them and yet so little noise above the throb of the engines.  They were playing cards, writing or reading letters.  Theo was simply lying on his bunk looking up at the birthday card he had stuck above him to remind him of home.  Today was his 19th birthday and he was a little afraid he might not see his 20th.  Sign up voluntarily they had told him and you won’t be sent to Korea.  They lied.  19 years old, a man, old enough to fight and die for his country and his throat was aching with the need to cry which was something he could not and would not do.  He concentrated on the birthday card and began to plan his 20th birthday and his life ahead then closed his eyes and prayed for this fear inside him to go away and to give him the strength to stand alongside his fellow men and fight.   He also asked for help to keep his hands still enough not to shake when holding his rifle.  Please God, whispered Theo, before he finally fell asleep, if there are such things as Guardian Angels have a word with mine, I wouldn’t mind a friend along for the ride.

Theo was a night sniper and they had been asked for a volunteer to go into No Man’s Land to bring back a spy.  This is it, he thought looking around him, at the men who had left behind wives and children.  Theo stood up and volunteered.   Now it was time to see what he was really made of he thought as he cleaned his rifle over and over, anything to keep his mind occupied.  There was a strange silence considering there were so many of them in such a small space.  Each man had his own thoughts, fears and prayers.

Theo stood tall, rifle in hand.  No shaking now, no fear, no thoughts just a job to do, a journey to be undertaken.  If it was to be his last then every ounce of strength would be brought to the fore and he would die as others had before, and would do after him, in the name of War.  ‘Are you ready’ he had been asked?   ‘Yes Sir,’ was his reply.  What else was there to say?  The Commanding Officer nodded and Theo, head held high, turned to leave.

Theo’s bravado was short lived as he began his journey.  Both petrified, shaking and alone in the vast wilderness, tears began to fall.  Then in the silence of No Man’s Land, out of nowhere, a beautiful voice whispered in his ear, ‘if you can survive the next 48 hours you will be fine’.  Theo was stunned by what he felt was the sweetest voice he had ever heard.  Dear God, was he hallucinating through fear? No he was not, he would believe, he had to.  It helped.  He walked, crawled, a spark of warmth inside him believing he would be safe, the owner of the voice crawling beside him, giving him strength.

On returning to base with the spy his Commanding Officer patted him on the shoulder.  ‘Well done Theo, it took you 48 hours exactly, good man.’  Theo was stunned.  That was exactly what the voice had said. Does that mean I will survive this horror he wondered as he shook the hands of his fellow men.  He talked long into the night about his adventures in No Man’s Land, except of course for the voice.  Theo was not ready to share that yet.  Would he ever tell anyone?  Maybe one day.

This war, they had said, would be over by Christmas 1950 and here they were in October 1952 still fighting.  Theo wanted so much to go home, they all did.  Home and family were what they talked about the most.  They all carried their precious photographs, talked to them, touched them and believed with their whole heart and soul they would return home soon.  They had to believe that.

There was no silence today, there was gunfire and smoke and Theo was moving forward his Commanding Officer at his side, simply focusing on one step in front of the other preparing for battle.  Through the deafening sound of gunfire the voice suddenly said in Theo’s ear.  ‘Flatten your officer now.’  Theo didn’t hesitate and jumped on top of his commanding officer flattening him to the ground.  Through screams threatening Court Marshall and what he would personally do to him another blast of gunfire rang out as both men lay still.  The backpack was blown away from Theo’s back and the lives of both men were saved.  Theo had to smile to himself wondering how on earth he was going to explain himself to his Commanding Officer, still not ready to share his secret voice.

He returned from the Korean War a changed man as were many others.  He got to celebrate his 20th birthday and many more still holding the secret of the voice until he met the girl he would marry and love for the rest of his life.  Finally, at last he told her of the voice knowing she would understand and believe him.  Theo and Sandra shared a love that was strong and would survive all that life threw at them, always there for each other, always supporting and caring.

It was many years later, Theo now in his late sixties had a job as a bus driver which he absolutely loved.  Today was going to be a wonderful day as he always looked forward to this particular job, taking the children from school on a coach trip to Northumberland.  Hearing the voices of the children singing songs all the way there and back, which they always did, never failed to lift his spirits.  He was so glad that the rota had been changed at the last minute and he had been called in to drive the bus today.  He was well known and all the children and teachers called ‘hello Theo,’ as they got on the bus ready for a fun day out. It was a clear bright day and perfect driving conditions.

‘Are we ready’ shouted Theo and laughed as all the children bounced about in their seats calling ‘yes Theo’ and cheering.  The children sang and the teachers all had happy smiles on their faces as they joined in too.  Theo was thinking what a beautiful part of the world Northumberland was with its green fields and pretty country lanes when suddenly through the sound of children’s voices he once more heard the sweet voice saying ‘pull into the hedge now.’  Theo was stunned for a moment and ignored the voice.  Surely, not again after all this time.  He waited for a couple of seconds until, for the first time ever, the voice shouted and Theo listened.  He immediately slowed down and pulled the bus tightly into the hedge on the side of the road.  There were shouts from the teachers. ‘Theo what’s wrong.  Are you ill?  Theo what is happening?  Their words were drowned by the sound of a roaring

engine as an enormous lorry thundered round the bend towards them, out of control on the wrong side of the narrow country lane missing the coach by inches.  As the children screamed and the teachers hugged and calmed the children Theo simply closed his eyes and said ‘Thank You.’

Theo was a hero and had fought many battles in his life and won.  He had asked for help that day so many years ago on his 19th birthday and been heard.

During his marriage he had suffered and recovered from a serious head injury.  He was nursed and loved by his wife Sandra.  They fought together to get him better and although he was never the same again, Sandra never stop loving him or believing in him.  He was her hero and they had faced all life’s challenges side by side.  There was no battle they could not face and win together.  Until now.

Theo was facing his final battle and he had never been so brave, so dignified.  This was not a battle that he was going to win.  Sandra sat by his side as he asked her ‘Sandra if we had to do it all again would you still marry me’.  ‘I would’, she whispered, ‘ Oh Theo yes, yes, yes.’  Sandra held her husband’s hand as Cancer claimed yet another victim and Theo slipped quietly away.

On 8th April 2009 the men of the Northumbrian Branch of the British Korean Association stood tall and dignified as they formed a guard of honour for Theo Holden.

War hero, husband, father, step-father, grandfather, friend, a good and honest man.

The voice had finally called him home.

There are many other stories of courage and angelic intervention and today as I stand in silence at 11am I will personally thank each and every one of those who brave souls who fought for our freedom.  I make a promise to you all that I will always remember you with empathy, compassion and gratitude.

In the words of Albert Pike, Ex Corde Locutiiones (1897)

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.

Thank you so much

Suzanne Lambert

 

 

The Spider and the Bride

spiderBride

Sometimes there are moments in life that take our breath away.  Moments that are so precious no matter what happens, how many years go by, they will stay with us and never be forgotten.  For me, I will never forget how I felt the moment my precious, beautiful child was placed in my arms.  I remember clearly the promises I made her as she lay staring up at me then suddenly I was overwhelmed and terrified at what life might throw at her.

It was Christmas 1990 and my daughter Gemah was three years old.  My mother, daughter and I sat down to watch Cinderalla for the first time together.  ‘Will I be a princess grandma and marry a prince,’ Gemah asked.   ‘Of course you will,’ grandma replied and we prayed with all our hearts that she would marry a man who would love her for who she was, take care of her and be a wonderful father to their children.

On the run up to Christmas we attended Mass as we always did each Sunday morning.  This particular morning we were up early curling Gemah’s hair and putting on her very best Sunday clothes.  Today the children of the parish would be taken into the hall to decide who would play what part in the Nativity.  Naturally, my mother and I knew Gemah would be chosen to be an angel.  She had fair wavy hair, bright blue eyes and was the most beautiful, gentle child in the whole world.  Mum and I talked about making angel wings and halo’s, beyond excited at seeing Gemah standing on the altar.  It was something we had dreamt about since the day she was born.  Our very own beautiful angel.

The previous year one of the younger children dressed as angel began waving and jumping up and down on the altar as soon as she saw her mother and stole the show when she shouted ‘love you mummy.’  Not a dry eye in the house that year.  ‘That will be us next year,’ I whispered to mum.

Today Gemah’s blonde hair had been brushed and curled and her pretty cream dressed matched the ivory sandals with pretty bows bought specially for the occasion.  Mass was over and the children were taken into the hall by the ladies who were organising the Christmas Nativity.

We sat together, mum and I, holding hands praying to Our Lady of Lourdes and waited.  After what seemed like hours the children returned and Gemah had a huge smile on her face as she ran to us.  I swung her up into my arms.

‘Tell me all about it my darling, what are you going to be.  An angel?  A star?  Oh my goodness are you Mary?

We waited and then Gemah turned and grinned at her grandma.

‘Oh grandma, I’m a spider!

‘Excuse me?’

‘A spider.’

My mother opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.  I managed to paste a smile on my face and asked once more.

‘A spider Gemah?’

‘Yes mammy.’

‘There is a spider in the nativity?’

‘Yes and I asked if I could be it, I really want to be the special spider mammy.’

So it came to be that for the next couple of weeks, rather than spending time making pretty gossamer wings and a halo, I was scouring the shops for a black balaclava and stuffing cotton wool into black tights to make spider legs.

When the morning came mum and I sat in the pews waiting for the nativity to start with smiles on our faces, laughing at the child who brought such joy to our hearts.  The music began and the children made their way down the aisle singing Away in a Manger.

We had to supress laughter as she made her way onto the altar waving her legs and swaying to the music before she began to weave her web to the songs the children were singing.  Our laughter quickly turned to tears and mum and I held hands and cried watching the child we loved so very much doing cartwheels on the altar steps.

As spiders go she was the most enchanting beautiful spider in the whole wide world.  She may not be the angelic being I had prayed for standing waving at her mummy but to me she was absolutely and utterly perfect and so many years later I can still see her standing on the altar smiling from ear to ear.  We were so proud of her and if hearts could burst with joy, ours certainly did that day.

28 years later, once more, I sat in church waiting to see my daughter walk down the aisle praying with all my heart that God would have given her grandma the day off to come and be with us that day.

I looked over at the man she was to marry.  Gemah and John had been together since they were fourteen years old and I thank God for him every day.  He is every mother’s dream of a son-in-law and I love him very much indeed.  The prayers mum and I made that Christmas day in 1990 had been answered.

On my knee sat my grandchildren Seamus and Finlay looking up me with smiles on their faces and my heart melted.

I heart whispers around me and I knew she was here.  John looked over at me and I reached for my first handkerchief of the day.

As I sat waiting. I remembered that day so long ago when I had dreamed of Gemah standing on the altar dressed as an angel then suddenly the music began.  I closed my eyes and willed myself not to cry then turned to look at her.

Wound into her bouquet were my mother’s rosary beads that Gemah had insisted on carrying along with the bible that belonged to John’s grandfather Brian.

My angel, my beautiful angel, floated down the aisle a vision in ivory.  She may not have been waving her arms shouting out to her mummy but it didn’t matter.  It had been worth the wait and I could not have been more proud.  I closed my eyes for a moment and felt as though my mother was standing beside me.

Gemah walked down the aisle on the arm of her father and stopped briefly when she reached my bench and looked into my eyes.  ‘Love you mam,’ she whispered.

I can still see her that day and hear her words of love.  My own beautiful angel.  I didn’t realise that the day she was born God gave me not only a daughter but a best friend for life whose encouragement, support and love makes this world a wonderful place to be.

Today is Gemah and John’s third wedding anniversary and I could not be more proud of them.  They are the most incredibly loving people and their kindness to me is never ending.  To them family is everything and the happy smiles on the faces of their children says it all.

How very proud grandma would be of you.  As am I my darlings.

Happy anniversary Gemah and John, with my heart and soul I love you both so very much and may God bless you and the angels watch over you and my precious grandchildren always.

Your loving mother