It was 1945 and World War II was over. I was nine years old and the excitement was tremendous. People were outside their homes celebrating. It was a day to remember. What day was it? I don't remember and even if I did it wouldn't make much difference. My uncles had gone to war and it was over. My mother and all my relatives, it seemed, got together which was rare for our family.
I was a Canadian and the war had started for our country in 1939. We were a member of the British Commonwealth and as such were bound to take England's part and do our duty. The British Commonwealth consisted of the United Kingdom, England, Scotland, the Irish free state and others. In a nutshell, they were former colonies who united with Britian in a mutual agreement for all countires that belonged to the commonwealth. That agreement took us to war.
Most of my uncles that I knew went off to war. Including my favorite uncle. He would talk to me like I was the only person in his life. I was just little and in my childlike way looked forward to his visits and loved him dearly. He came to say goodbye one day and I didn't understand except for the fact that he would be going somewhere and wouldn't be back for a time. I remember fighting back the tears because I was told to be a be a big boy. I wanted my dad to be like him but that dream was never a reality and far from anything my dad could possibly produce.
I digress: He went to war and when I was a little older I was told he wouldn't be coming back. I went off by myself and the tears came and there was nothing I could do to stop them. I shuddered, finally lay still and thought about him as only kids can do. The twinkle in his eyes, that laughter he could so easily bring forth and his kind way sat on my chest like a heavy playmate. I stared off somewhere and remember how the sadness engulfed me. There were no answers to my questions that I found any comfort in.
Why won't he be coming back? "He was killed in the war," I was told.
Why? Who would want to hurt uncle Tommy?
Sure, all kids at my age knew about death but we never welcomed it in and made sure it kept it's distance. It was hard to explain war and even harder to tell a little kid that war brings its own pain and there is nothing we can do about those who don't come home. I was told years later that he was part of a tank crew. The tank was hit and he managed to get halfway out of the hatch opening only to die there in a foreign country. The circumstances were never explained to me. I never asked a lot of questions in those days but for my uncle the questions came and it made no difference. He was dead, it was done, and we had to think about other things.
I told myself I would never forget him but time went by and he became a pleasant memory. I wished I had done something special for him. I'm not sure what that would be but I have since learned that those thoughtful things were not part of some families. That would come later in my life.
Well, as I said at the beginning, the War was over. It was on the radio and it was everywhere. Horns were honking like it was New Years Eve. People were coming outside of their homes and hugging each other. The air was electrified with voices and it seemed as if nothing could contain the happiness everyone was feeling. Neighbors talked about their sons coming home and how they could hardly wait to hear from them. One lady jumped for joy and said: "At last my son is safe."
I have been part of celebrations throughout my life and yet never was there a feeling like that day. Tears, of course, but the tears were happy tears for most. Many just sat down and bawled and even as a kid I knew what that meant.
Neighbors were out in the street in force laughing, crying and clasping their hands as if in prayer. Those with the heaviest of tears just seemed to be releasing all the pain because of someone they had lost and I can remember going over to a lady and putting my arm around her neck and saying, "Don't cry, lady, the war is over." She hugged me so tight that I could hardly breathe and said, "Yes, it is finally over and the world will be better off." I have since understood that remark so much better but the war was not over for mankind. Peace never sat down very long without being interrupted by destructive forces of evil.
My uncle was a bright spot in my life and he was taken from me. I don't know what would have happened if he had come back. Would it have been the same? I like to think so. I believe he would have made a difference in my life as we were kindred spirits. Yet, I knew what the effect of wars had upon my other uncles and they were the same personalities but there were changes that showed the effects of war. My aunts would sometimes talk of it. I never got the full sense of it then but I can imagine they were wrestling with things that took more than they could explain. The reasons of war were lost to a kid but the effects for some of us were not ever forgotten nor should they be.
After the war there were happier days when the sounds of living bounced us back into thinking better thoughts. I have taken many a road since them with an uncle's memory cheering me on at times. Who knows when the final book is closed on my earthly life what a story my uncle will tell me of his other journey in the heavens. All things considered, I think it's better to end this way. This one is for you Uncle Tommy.