Sandy was seated on the porch, wearing an apron, folding clothes from a giant basket. She was a certified laundry fairy for three unkempt children. It was an average Tuesday, 1945.
There was a chicken boiling on the stove inside, freshly plucked. She’d made a mulberry pie with berries from the backyard tree.
A radio atop the pie safe was playing KFBI 1050 AM out of Wichita. Red Foley was singing “Smoke on the Water.”
Sandy had spent the whole day hanging clothes and bedsheets on a clothesline. She always washed linens on Tuesdays. Her mother had always washed linens on Tuesdays. It was what laundry fairies did.
Although, sometimes she wondered why she went to so much trouble keeping house when her husband, William, was still a few thousand miles away, fighting a cussed World War. He hadn’t been home in a year.
Sandy’s children asked her every day—every SINGLE day—“When’s daddy coming home, Mama?” And each time she answered, she would look into their little eyes and say, “I don’t know, sweetheart.”
War had been a part of their lives for so long, she couldn’t remember existence without fighting. War was in their drinking water. War was in every newspaper headline. Every radio advertisement. Every magazine ad.
“BRING HIM HOME SOONER—BUY WAR BONDS!”
“WAR BONDS—SAVE A BOY IF YOU HAVE A CONSCIENCE!”
“ENLIST TODAY—WORK FOR THE NAVY!”
“MEN, BEWARE OF LOOSE WOMEN—THEY MIGHT BE SPIES!”
“UNCLE SAM SAYS DON’T WASTE FOOD—TRY 14 RECIPES TO MAKE STALE BREAD TASTE DELICIOUS!”
Sandy folded a tiny pair of underwear belonging to her 4-year-old son and a shudder went through her. What if Daddy never did come home? Throngs of good men were dying overseas every day.
Just last week, her next door neighbor, Gladys, received a visit from the Western Union man who delivered news of her 19-year-old boy’s end. Another lady in church just lost her husband and brother on the same day.
Everyone in town was dreading a visit from the Western Union Messenger of Death.
And although Sandy never admitted it, she held her breath every time her phone rang or someone knocked on her door. You just never knew.
The sun was setting over Sedgwick County, Kansas, like an orange billiard ball. She was about to quit folding and call her kids for supper when…
She heard something.
It was shouting. In the distance. First, a woman’s voice, cheering. Then, more voices. Pretty soon, the whole neighborhood was filled with commotion. Screen doors slapped shut. People were chattering. Some were cheering, weeping, shouting, laughing, applauding.
Sandy’s phone rang. It was a neighbor. “Turn on your radio, Sandy!” the neighbor said. “Now!”
Sandy cranked up the volume.
The announcer spoke. “…This is Morgan Beatty in the NBC newsroom, in Washington, with important news. We are announcing that, as of thirty-one minutes ago, it is V-E Day in Europe and in America…”
The sounds of cheering outside got louder. There were the sounds of banging pots and pans, ringing in the distance. Faraway shotguns were sounding the report of victory.
Sandy began to cry. Not a small cry, either, but a big one. One of her children entered the kitchen and tried to speak to her, but all Sandy could do was mutter, “Oh, thank God,” between sobs. “Thank God.”
The radio announcer said:
“…Prime Minister Winston Churchill says, all German military forces will cease fighting at midnight tonight. No more men will die by the hands of German troops…”
She collapsed and wept.
Outside, someone was shooting fireworks across the neighborhood. Bells were clanging. Automotive horns were honking. Neighbors were doing the Foxtrot right in the street.
“My mother held us all close that night,” said Sandy’s daughter, Olivia, who still remembers the day vividly. “Mama told us, ‘Daddy’s coming home. Daddy’s coming home, sweetie.’”
Victory in Europe was by no means the end of the war. It would be four months until Japan surrendered to the Allies in Tokyo Bay. But it was a beginning. The beginning. It was the biggest day in many people’s lives.
V-E Day was observed yesterday. But you heard so little about it that you might have missed it. I did. People rarely talk about it anymore. It’s not mentioned on newscasts or in papers. Not many school kids know what happened 77 years ago, and the nation’s 24 V-E-Day memorials report fewer visitors each year. It’s just another date on the calendar.
But not all have forgotten, says Olivia. “I haven’t. It was the day I found out my daddy was coming home. I’ll never forget, not as long as I live.”
No. I don’t guess she will.