Christmas the perfect time for memories of childhood
The little boy must have been no more than five. His father was a tall well-built man, probably in his early 40s. They were both sitting across from me on the upper deck of a Dublin Bus travelling in to Dublin city centre last week. The little boy was all questions. He was looking out the window and asking his dad about everything he saw.
And then it came to their stop and dad had to help his little son down the stairs. It looked as if the child wanted to stay on the bus and he was in no doubt he could manage the stairs down to the lower deck but his father was not so sure and guided his passage down the stairs of the moving bus. Never too easy an exercise for the most agile of people. Of course the boy would have been sitting up in the front seat had it been free. I can imagine that would have been his dream trip.
I observed the two of them for about five minutes. Those five minutes brought me back a long time. I can remember exactly a similar situation: I was approximately the same age as the little boy and my father and I were going from our home over to visit his parents on the north side of the city. Dad would have been in his mid-40s and I about five or six. I can remember sitting in the front seat upstairs and looking at everything down below, all the time bombarding my father with all sorts of questions.
That little boy brought back fabulous memories for me. I felt my father was alive beside me on the bus and we were back travelling over to the north side of the city. Alas, my father is over 12 years dead, my mother died in 1988. Dad was 95 and my mother was 78.
How much of our parents are in us? How much of what we think and do is shaped by our parents. Certainly their influence on us is enormous. Have you ever found yourself doing things and then realising that is exactly what your mother or father did. At a younger age we may have railed against their foibles and as we get older we are doing exactly as they did.
And it would seem that the older we get the greater the temptation it is to copy the behaviour of our parents. So much reminds us of them.
Patrick Kavanagh in his poem 'Memory of my father' writes about the old men he sees and how they remind him of his father.
Christmas Day looms and every child in the country is on high alert in great expectation of the big day. It's a magic time of the year for children. I can imagine parents are always reminded of their own childhood Christmases when celebrating with their children. Grandparents too. It's the perfect time for them to relive their own childhoods.
Our memories bring us back to other times and other places. How real are they? How often do we find ourselves romanticising the past as if it were almost paradise on earth?
Last week I asked an elderly lady what age would she like to be. 'Once I'm happy and well it doesn't matter,' was her wise reply. It might well be a matter of living in the now and making the best of it.
That's what that little boy and dad were doing. But they also gave me a chance to wander back a few years and smile to myself.