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Friday, July 3, 2009

V E DAY, MAY 8,1945

An excerpt from my novel, S'mothered, about a 14 year old boy coming of age during
W W 11

I was getting ready for school on a Tuesday in May when I heard a commotion outside. Peeking through the window curtain, I saw a crowd was gathering. It was obvious something important had happened. The old woman up the block, the scary lady they called Calabraze was shouting to seven or eight people out on the street, I couldn’t make out what she was screaming about because of her heavy accent. I opened the window and could hear more clearly.

“Did anyone hear the news on the radio?” She shouted. “The war is over in Europe, the War is over, and President Truman is on the radio announcing it right now.”

Apparently, her neighbors also heard the bulletin on their radios and ran outside to tell others. Within a few minutes, ten or twenty more people joined in and everyone in my house started to scream “It’s V-E Day; it’s V-E Day!”

My Uncle Jimmy barged in from his apartment across the hall and shouted so loud I thought my eardrums would break “turn the radio on, Germany has surrendered, open the windows, look what’s going on!”

The crowd outside had swelled to about 50 people; they came from all directions to congregate on our corner. I put some water on my cowlick and flew down the stairs, taking them four at a time. I would often take them three at a time, but this was a four-step level of excitement. I would have been trampled on if I went slower. By now everyone in the house was following me down the stairs and out of the house. It was like a stampede I saw in a Gene Autry movie.

Outside now, I could not believe my eyes, the area in front of our house, the whole block was filled with hundreds of people and it was getting noisy, noisier than New Years Eve when many people came out at midnight and shot guns into the air.

Cars started to blow their horns, women were crying, men were laughing at first and then even they were crying, everyone was hugging everyone and the people who stayed in the house were throwing confetti out of windows. The only time I had ever seen men cry was at Grandpa’s wake. The confetti made it look like it was snowing but it was May, and even in New Jersey it didn’t snow in May.

Cars stopped and had their windows rolled down. They had turned their radios up as loud as they could; playing patriotic songs intermixed with broadcasts of people shouting from all over the country.

I looked up the block on both sides of the street. Every window was open with radios on window sills facing outward. Patriotic music was blasting from the radios and combining with the noise of wailing air raid sirens. Church bells were chiming mournfully and the noise level was getting louder every minute. It was surreal like nothing I had ever even imagined or had seen in the movies.

I was excited and scared at the same time, like I couldn’t tell if it was the end of the world or the beginning.

Then I saw the bus from the defense factory where my mother and aunts all worked, pull around the corner. I guessed the owner had closed the plant and sent everyone home. I saw my Aunt Vera jump out first, then Dorothy and then my mother. They ran through the crowd, hugged and kissed all the kids and me. We kids were all laughing but my aunts and even my mother cried.

All the pent up emotions, the years of anxiety which dragged so slowly they seemed like decades, the remembering of the G.I. who wouldn’t be coming home, the joy of realizing no more would die; apparently all of these feelings exploded at once on this cool cloudy morning in May on the streets of Rose Point.

Bedlam erupted but there was no need for cops. Some were sprinkled in the crowd .They weren’t there to maintain order; they were also celebrating and hugging.

People ran back into their homes, rummaged through boxes, cabinets and iceboxes and returned to the street party with New Years hats, noisemakers and horns. Others followed with bottles of beer and fruit and candy. Several men were carrying tables out into the street while the women were decorating them with festive tablecloths.

It was crazy, everything was there for anyone to take and eat and drink. It turned into a Fiesta, an espozolitzio, right before my eyes, with laughing and shouting, people dancing, men with women and women dancing with other women. Kids were dancing with adults, and then someone was dancing with my old Grandma.

And my old grandma was crying because her beloved husband wasn’t alive to see this glorious day. Six other women were weeping hysterically over six sons from our neighborhood who could not share in this celebration. The mangled bodies of their sons were buried in a cemetery somewhere in Europe.

It was 10 o’clock in the morning!

My Uncle Jimmy was dancing with his wife Dorothy and then with my mom, then with Gina, Jenny and Vera. Even my usually grouchy Uncle Joe was dancing with Aunt Lucy.

For one of the few times, I saw him smiling.

There were five times as many women as men. The men who hadn’t gone to war were dancing with two women at a time and before long huge circles were forming. Large groups of women and men and kids were all dancing with each other in and out of the circle. My cousin Larry and I were pushed inside the circle. I wasn’t shy anymore, thank God.

Some of the younger women, with boy friends or husbands overseas, ran back in the house and tried to send telegrams. It was impossible to get through. All the phone lines in the world were tied in knots. When my mother told me this, it dawned on me how incredible this event was. This was not just a block party in my neighborhood or in my hometown. All over the world, millions were celebrating just as they were right here.

I doubted I would ever again see something this spectacular. Maybe I was a little too young to grasp the full meaning of all this but the complete lack of anger and hostility was obvious to anyone who viewed it. For this brief moment in time, everyone loved everyone. No one avoided hugging someone because of his or her nationality: Polish, Irish, Italian, or Jewish. It wasn’t because everyone here was American. It was simply the war finally being over. A feeling of peaceful, joyous serenity had spread throughout the world and I watched a microcosm of it right here in front of my house.

I felt a little depressed, just for a second. ‘Wow,” I shouted aloud, while thinking to myself, Is this what the world could be like?”

The celebration continued throughout the day as word spread to other parts of town. When darkness arrived and the air grew chilly, the party broke up into smaller gatherings and moved indoors. Anyone could go into any home they wanted; it was a gigantic open house all over the town and apparently all over the country.

Some day I hoped I could tell my children what I witnessed today. For now, I just collapsed into bed and lay there, too excited to sleep.