I remember how calm the radio voice was on May 8, 1945. The words flowed out of the front of the big Zenith radio in the living room with the news we had all been waiting to hear for months. We knew it was coming. Germany had surrendered to the Allies.

Then things went soft for the summer, the air was full of news, gossip, rumors. The Japanese were holding out.

The German defeat was celebrated, but for my mother, who had four boys in the Pacific, her sister Winnie, who had two soldier sons in the islands, and Mamie, who had two sons on subs in the Pacific, the waiting would go on until the Japanese gave up.

News came in daily. American subs and shipping vessels were being sunk by the Japanese while the sisters cooled by their electric fans and paid attention to the radio, clutching the ends of their aprons in one hand and their rosaries in the other.

My brothers were on the cruiser New Orleans, the battleship Massachusetts, and a couple of landing crafts. There was no news of those ships, no news of any kind from the Pacific.

So the sisters waited, and I waited with them for four long years.

On the sultry mornings of that last August, I helped my mother with the dishes, the laundry, bringing in the sheets and spreading them on the beds, even the four empty beds of the brothers.

Every two weeks during the war, she would change the sheets on their beds.

With her on one side of the bed holding the sheet and me holding the other, she would say, “You never know when it’s gonna be over, kid, and we want their beds to be ready when they come down the street.”

Each day, she and her sisters, each in their kitchens, would start the morning with coffee and coffee cake and scour the papers. First of the day was the Globe Democrat, afternoon was the Star Times, before supper the Post Dispatch hit the porch.

Mom kept them stacked in a corner of the kitchen as did her sisters.

After my chores with Mom, she’d give me a quarter for the day and an extra dime, because she knew I wouldn’t be home until four o’clock at least. She never worried about me. She knew my route.

I started up the street, stopping first at St. Mary and Joseph’s church to light four candles for my brothers. That was what the extra dime was for.

Then I was off, slowly moving up Minnesota Avenue’s hot sidewalks and melting streets, cutting through small fields and empty lots, tiptoeing through the many “Victory gardens” along the way.

I’d cut through Bellerive Park to Itaska Street to my first stop at Aunt Winnie’s.

I would sit with her for a bit, or help her bring in some vegetables from her Victory garden. Then I would be on my way up Itaska to Pennsylvania Avenue and Aunt Mamie’s house. But before I left, she’d have me check the iron mailbox on the porch bannister. Nothing today.

By that time of day, Mamie would be sitting on the swinging bench on her front porch reading the morning paper, a plate of fried chicken in her lap, a beer in her hand, watching the traffic and keeping one eye out for the mailman.

“How’s your mama, kid?” All the sisters called me “kid.”

“Fine.”

“And Winnie?”

“Fine.”

“Heard anything?”

I’d shake my head.

I’d stay with her in the cool shade, picking at a piece of chicken, for a long rest before moving on.

By the time the sun had moved across the elms on Chippewa Street, I had made it back down to Winnie’s again.

This day, Winnie was sitting in her rocking chair in her living room by the lace-curtained windows listening to one of her soap operas.

“You see Mamie?”

I nodded.

“There’s another Dr Pepper in the ice box if you want it.”

I did. I opened it and we sat there listening to, I don’t know, “My Gal Sunday”?

Suddenly, the organ music of the soap stopped and the radio crackled with a man’s voice. His exact words are lost somewhere in my old brain now, but Winnie’s words are still in my head.

“Oh my God, Jerry,  you better run straight home. Your mother may not be listening to the radio.

I ran until my side hurt and I had hit my front porch. Mom was sitting by the radio with tears in her eyes. She grabbed me up. The waiting was over.

Just before Christmas, my brother Jim was the first to enter the house, dropping his sea bag at my feet.

He hugged my mother for what seemed an hour as I hugged his leg. Jim fell asleep that night on clean sheets. By spring, the other three boys came down the street and fell asleep on theirs.

Mamie’s boys, Pete and Frankie, came home safely, as did Winnie’s Bill and John, and all went on with their lives.

August 1945. For the three sisters, the waiting was over.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

 

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