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A Memorial Day in 1945: (Uncle) Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

"Don't we mourn the dead on Memorial Day with volleyball and sunscreen?  Don't We the People commemorate the Fourth of July by setting meat and bottle rockets on fire?"

- Sarah Vowell, from Take the Cannoli

[This installment comes from a longhand essay written 10 years ago by my Mother, which I originally posted in August 2006.  I re-read it on Memorial Day, and thought I'd move it up.  Mom originally wrote it to submit to Readers Digest's 'Life in These United States;' something we didn't know until we found it in a notebook that we found after her death in 1998.]

Do You Remember?

This summer I returned to the beach where my family summered when I was young.  My brother and his wife still have a summer home there, and my children and I rented a cottage a few doors away.

While we were there, my brother and I reminisced about the "old days."  One day in particular:  VJ Day 1945.  Here we were, on the same beach, 51 years later and could picture it as clearly as if it were re-enacted before our eyes.

366478-437125-thumbnail.jpgJack was 9; I was 6.  It was a regular summer day when all of a sudden -- everything changed.  I didn't remember exactly how we found out the news, but Jack said there were neighbors with a short-wave radio because they had family in Europe.  My first recollection of the announcement was of our friend's Mom, walking down the middle of our small street with a spaghetti pan and large spoon as a drum, crying "The War is Over!"  As she walked by other houses, she was joined by more people, especially children, and all uf us had willing Moms to lend a pan and a spoon to this wonderful parade.

Then the Dads got in on the action and decided there would be a bonfire and singing on the beach that night to celebrate.  Our cottage was one of those on the shorefront, so it would be right outside!

We both laughed as we remembered Mom encouraging Dad to add some cardboard-like "wardrobes," which tended to lean and whose doors could never be opened without the whole thing tipping dangerously over our heads, for the fire.  Dad not only agreed, he took the shortcut and sent them sailing out the second floor windows.

We had very special company that week:  Our Aunt Kay and Uncle Tommy.  Uncle Tommy was in the Army and home on furlough after serving in Europe.  He was now waiting for expected orders to the Pacific.  He and Aunt Kay were younger than Mom and Dad and very glamorous to me.  Aunk Kay was very pretty and Uncle Tom was 6'4" and just the most handsome soldier I could imagine.  Jack and I both were very proud to go to Church and walk in next to Uncle Tommy, so tall and distinguished in his uniform!

Now the war was over!  This meant Uncle Tommy would not have to go back!

But where was he?

In all the hubub of getting the bonfire ready and people laughing, crying and already singing on the beach, where was Uncle Tom?

I ran upstairs to the guestroom and I shall never, never forget what I saw next:  Uncle Tommy was kneeling beside the bed with his head down and his hands folded.  I had been calling out his name -- but when I saw him, I knew I should be quieter.

366478-437128-thumbnail.jpgI hugged him -- my hero -- and said, "Uncle Tommy there's a party because the war is over.  Why aren't your coming?  It's for you!"

Ne nodded and smiled a little and said, "I know, honey.  But first I wanted to remember and say a prayer for all my buddies who didn't make it home."


[I grew up with this story.  So did my sisters and our brother, Tommy.  But mercilessly... that's where it ends.  Just when I want to reach out for more, all that's left are vapors.  You see, Readers Digest only wanted 500 words.  It remains, however, a family story that marks our Memorial Day.]

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