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Memories of a Small Child
V-E DAY MAY 8, 1945
on the curb clutching my doll, watching and listening to the comforting sounds
of the neighbourhood children playing “Mother May I”, Hopscotch and Dodge Ball.
Too little to play these games, I was content to be allowed to just sit and
watch. Now and then there would be the squeak of a clothesline in the back
alley, or the familiar clip-clop of
the delivery horses’ hooves on the pavement, the snapping of reins or the
clucking and the shouts of “Woe-there!” from the deliverymen.
My mother told me that I often sat this way, as if waiting for something to happen. That something was the return of my daddy who I barely knew, as he had been called into the Canadian forces when I was just six months old. He was the dashing young stranger in uniform in the photograph on Mummy’s bedside table. He was the one I kissed and greeted every day, she told me, and to whom I told my tales of woe whenever I was in trouble. Though he never answered back, the smiling gentle-eyed man in the photo must have offered me a great deal of comfort.
I did recognize the khaki uniform however, and every now and then I’d burst into the house shouting to my mother that my daddy was coming up the street walking on crutches, or leaning on a cane. Since no such news had come, my mother knew it couldn’t possibly be my daddy. Still, she couldn’t help feeling a wave of panic, and invariably would run out to the front stoop to have a look. The young man in question was always one of the neighbourhood boys, one whose family was anxiously awaiting his return.
This day, May 8, 1945 turned out very differently from all the others. As I was sitting there just watching and listening, a sudden commotion arose. My mother came out onto the front stoop and shouted, “The war is over! The war is over!” repeating the words again and again. Within seconds all the neighbours were outside, all shouting the good news. “Elsie! Annie! Did you hear the news? The Nazis have surrendered!” What followed I will never forget, even though I was very young; still a couple of months away from my fourth birthday. Amid the confusion, I remember being scooped up and carried into the house, still clutching my doll. Inside, the deep voice in the big mahogany radio was blaring out the news of the Allied Forces’ Victory in Europe, repeating it over and over. My grandparents had brought out a collection of pots and pans and covers, of utensils and anything that would produce a sound; everyone, it seemed like a huge crowd to me, joined in a noisy parade that went up the long corridor, out the front door and onto the street, clanging and chanting over and over, “The war is over! The war is over!” Before long the sound of Montreal’s church bells added to the joy and confusion.
All over the city the streets were filled with similar scenes of rejoicing. A dear friend of mine, who was also a little child then, recently shared her memories of that day. She lived in what is now Old Montreal, facing the Bell Canada building. The surrounding streets were also filled with people dancing and chanting, and the Bell employees staged a spontaneous New York style tickertape parade. They came to the office windows and sent the contents of waste paper baskets flying and rolls of paper from adding machines streaming into the street below. What a scene this must have been!
I don’t remember much more of that day 70 years ago, except that it was filled with people and rejoicing. For me, it meant that this time my daddy was really coming home because everyone told me so. And I did go over to the photo, as I had every other day, and told the young stranger the good news.
Though Victory in Europe Day was celebrated on May 8, 1945, the history books tell us that the official surrender happened on May 7. Did these events take place in my life on the 7th or the 8th? It doesn’t really matter, does it?
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