Our house was a duplex. Aunt Annie, Carolyn, Jeanne, Billy and Phil and me, we all lived on one side. Uncle Gerald Christian, Aunt Ina, and my cousin Gerry lived on the other. It was this way all during the war.
Gerry and Billy were in the Navy in the Pacific. Gerry on a destroyer, Billy on a liberty ship. Billy served in the Solomon islands, and Guadacanal. No idea where Gerry served. I was a small boy, four to nine years old during the terrible conflict in Europe and with Japan in the Pacific.
The house was empty and lonely without them. I often touched the flag hanging in our front-door window, caressing it with my fingers wondering where in this world of war, Billy and Gerry were. I was very proud of them, and I missed them, especially Billy because he was my brother.
Jewitt Christian, Gerry’s first cousin on his Dad’s side, had a younger brother, Bobby. They lived three-and-a-half blocks away. Not much of a walk. Billy, Phil and Gerry often walked to their house to horse around and hang out. They came to our house just as often.
Bobby was a powerful man, physically. Somewhat of a kitchen gymnast, he could swing himself completely around the workout bar that he and my brothers built in our back yard. Bobby’s muscles bulged when he lifted the barbell that they all made out of two 2 ½ gallon cardboard ice cream containers, concrete, railroad spikes and a length of 1.5 inch galvanized pipe. Bobby had red hair and freckles. Jewitt’s hair was cold black, brown eyes for both men.
I call them men, here. They were maybe 17, 18, 19 years old. Jewitt was a cartoonist. He could draw the funniest pictures I ever saw. He later became an architect. To a very small boy, maybe four-years-old, these guys were men – real men!
You could take the alley path behind our house between Professor Weaver’s victory garden and ours, walk down behind the Smith’s and Davis’s house, dog-leg to the right, and come out on second avenue next to Mr. Perdue’s grocery store. Down second avenue to Boulevard Drive, and on down Boulevard to First avenue and they lived three houses down in the big, dark brown house with the white trim. It’s seventy years later now, but I can walk the whole way in my mind, and tell you every delicious detail, June bugs and all, but . . . well, that’s another story.
We traveled back and forth to Jewitt and Bobby’s house, walking. Problem was, the sidewalk wasn’t all that great. It had browned with age and roots from the trees had lifted whole sections of it above the Georgia red clay. It was hard walking for a four-year-old. Not only that, my brother Billy took what was for me great big strides. Great big strides. (Why do I feel the tears rise in my eyes?)
As I said, it was hard on my little legs. Sometimes, Billy would let me ride on his shoulders, but mostly I walked alongside, trying to keep up. I held on to Billy’s fingers for dear life. When the sidewalk was uneven, I tried to keep from tripping. Often, I did not not succeed and I could feel the instant when my grip on Billy’s finger slipped. I was headed for skinned knees for sure.
That’s when it happened.
That’s when Billy’s hand would instantly grab mine; and it held, lest I fall. His big hand with big fingers, always held. It all happened quicker than you can wink. No matter how broken and uneven the sidewalk, no matter my clumsy four-year-old legs, I wasn’t going to fall. Walking with Billy, I just wasn’t going to fall.
Later, I would come to understand that this is the way I walk with God. I try hard to hold on to him so I don’t trip and fall, but all the time, he is actually holding on to me. I may stumble on the broken pavement of life, but he is not going to let me fall.
VJ Day came and went. Japan had surrendered (watch video) to General Douglas MacArthur on the battleship Missouri. Billy and Gerry were coming home. By this time I was nine and in the fourth grade at East Lake grammar school.
I was terribly excited. We knew that Billy was on his way home but had no real idea of when that would be. Everything, all military information, was secret. Letters from Billy were always censored, with words, sometimes whole sentences, blacked out. But I watched for him every day, anticipating, hoping. Our house was situated on a small rise and the streetcar tracks were downslope two blocks away.
One day as I arrived home from school, I saw a sailor making his way up the street from the streetcar tracks. I knew it was a sailor because he was dressed in navy blue with a white hat and a white seabag slung over his shoulder Was it Billy? Was it Billy? My heart was in my throat. I ran inside and stood behind the flag of two blue stars hanging in the window of our front door. It seemed I stood there forever, never taking my eyes away from the street out front.
The sailor walked slowly into my view from where I stood behind the flag. He turned into our yard. It WAS Billy! I opened the door with a slam, cleared the four steps up to the porch in one leap, ran with all my might. He barely had time to put down his seabag before I leaped into his arms under the big magnolia.
Billy was home! He had defeated Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, or whoever it was. I was nine years old, I didn’t know or care.
Billy was home.
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