The snow fell softly over Manhattan as Lillian Drooms hurried home. She was still smiling from her meeting with Mrs. Huntington and the art director of children’s books. Her drawings had been well received and Mrs. Huntington hinted that Lillian had a good chance at being selected to illustrate a children’s adventure series – she would love nothing more! She lifted her face to the sky and inhaled deeply. Happiness and Christmas were in the air. Wanting to catch even more of the holiday spirit, Lillian decided to walk up Fifth Avenue and cross through Central Park on her way home.
The crowds thickened as she neared and then turned onto the avenue. All around her, the sense of excitement was palpable – in the carolers and newspaper boys, the honking and braking of traffic, the calls from the vendors: “Hot chestnuts! Pretzels here!” Workers rushed from jobs, couples walked arm-in-arm, shoppers ducked in and out of stores – their arms laden with packages and shopping bags – and groups of servicemen explored Manhattan while they awaited their final train or bus ride home.
Lillian took a moment to look around her at the bustling city, so alive! And this was just one avenue. She knew that the harbor and piers, and Grand Central and Penn Station all bustled with returning soldiers. The roads into and around New York City were crowded as never before – the city was bursting at its seams. At long last, the war was over! And this first Christmas after the war was sure to be a memorable one.
Bumped and jostled by the throng of people, Lillian tucked herself into a doorway to take in the post-war Christmas euphoria. The very air tingled with promise and future, and she smiled out at the swirl of commotion. She observed the faces passing by, all united by a sense of cheerfulness and gratitude. A soldier and a young woman strolled by, briefly stopping to embrace and kiss. A family, with the father in uniform, stopped to buy bags of roasted peanuts at a street cart festooned with red and green bows. An older couple laughed as they nearly collided with a ho-ho-hoing Santa Claus bell ringer. Across the street, a group of WACs – such smart, confident women – chatted with a group of GIs. Further down the block, a cluster of sailors pointed and gawked at the skyscrapers of Rockefeller Center.
Lillian stepped back out into the stream of people but continued to look all about her. The signs of Christmas were everywhere – wreaths, red ribbons, and garlands of shimmery tinsel appeared in nearly all the windows and doors. After the gray of war, everything vibrated in color. Was it her imagination? Was it her own happiness coloring the world? No, indeed, the dresses in the department store windows boasted brighter shades, young women sported bolder makeup, brighter lipstick that suited their flashing smiles. And the lights! Strings of colored bulbs shone everywhere – outlining windows and doorways and awnings. It was the first time Christmas lights were used freely since before the war and no one was holding back.
The war was over, Christmas was in the air, and Charles would be home soon! Out of habit, Lillian checked her thoughts, not trusting to such perfect happiness. She would muster the calm and pragmatism that had gotten her through the war years. Charles was not home yet – in fact, she hadn’t heard from him for several weeks. It could be January or February or later before his arrival. But he would be home – and he would never have to leave her again.
The smile she tried to suppress burst into bloom again at the thought that Charles would soon see his daughter. They were a family of five! It was hard to keep such happiness tamped down.
Lillian stopped at a street vendor on the corner to buy a bag of roasted chestnuts for Tommy and Gabriel. At the newsstand next to the cart, she glanced at the front page of a newspaper featuring Operation Santa Claus, the joint-military effort to bring as many servicemen home before Christmas. And that included Charles!
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