Who would have known that just days before, this magnificent city was under the dark cloud of war. Today it was radiant in all its former glory. The tree lined boulevard overflowed with joyful festivity. There were crowds of people still celebrating. Champagne was flowing freely.
The soldier woke up early that morning with a feeling of anticipation. Of what exactly, he wasn’t sure. Dressing quickly, he took to the streets of Paris, enjoying the calm before the city woke up. Remnants of the previous day’s celebration littered the sidewalks. There was a feeling of peace as the residents slept without the worry of being woken by air raids and gunfire. Even the animals sensed the calm. Cats returned their perches on windowsills and balconies.
It was such a contrast to the dark times that led up to this. He saw awful things. Survival was the focus that kept him going. He was resilient and didn’t let the atrocities consume him.
He would be going home soon and the possibility of seeing Tina brought him a thrill he hadn’t allowed himself to feel until now. He hoped she hadn’t met or married anyone during his time away. She broke off her former engagement while he was in heavy pursuit and now he prayed that she honored his request to wait for him to return. More than ever, he wanted to win this girl over and begin his life. The thought of her brought a spring to his step and a new excitement for home.
So engrossed with the thought of his future, he wondered aimlessly not noticing Paris had woken up. By the time he reached the Champs-Élysées, the crowds of people had returned to celebrate. Men, women and children on bicycles and on foot, gravitated towards the heart of the city. Soldiers continued to march down the famous boulevard, the lucky ones steeling a kiss from a jubilant French girl. The normally hard-to-get French allure had given way to abundant gratitude for life, shown in an unusual display of affection. The soldiers soaked it up, bringing hope and life back to them.
The shop owners opened their doors and windows, dusting off their displays, casually chatting outside as they welcomed back the community. Life returned to the caf’s and the aroma of freshly baked bread permeated the air.
Spotting an open table, the soldier falls in to place, ordering a cafe créme and a croissant. The cafe owner brings his breakfast then grasps his customer’s shoulder in excitement. Dropping in 3 chunks of sugar, the smell of the coffee hits his nose. He’s fully aware that this could be the best coffee he’s ever tasted and at the first sip, it is confirmed. It has been too long since he’s been able to relax and enjoy a cup. Sitting in a cafe in Paris with freshly baked pastries in front of him, he’s momentarily transported to another place. The warm, flaky pastry is consumed in record speed.
Feeling satisfied he sat back and watched the progression. Among the soldiers he caught a familiar glimpse of one that looked much like himself. He ran to the street to get a closer look. Calling out in disbelief, his older brother met his look with amazement. The two brothers stood staring, rooted in shock. They hugged for what seemed like an eternity, crying like little boys. Their embrace spoke volumes. Two of the four brothers, all serving in this war, were alive and together. They prayed the other two shared the same fate. They spent the rest of the day celebrating throughout Paris. The two brothers were alive, together and returning home.
I wrote this over four years ago after I gathered all available information about this remarkable story of my grandfather and his brother. My grandmother was still alive and she helped piece it all together. During our discussions she kept telling me that she knew there were photographs in an album my grandfather had made. My dad and I tore apart her storage unit and found the album in the bottom of a random box. These photos were perfectly preserved in a remarkable album. I’m amazed he took the time to create it and more amazed that it remains in perfect condition.
I’ve written more of their stories and will continue working the project. ?It is my hope to keep their memories alive.