Su Lum: Slumming
On Sunday night, watching the crowds of people who had spontaneously gathered at the White House, at Ground Zero in New York City, and in other communities around the nation celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, I was reminded of VE Day in Boonton, New Jersey.It was May 8, 1945 when Germany surrendered. I was 9 and World War II had been going on since I was 5 – almost all of my conscious, remembered lifetime. My formative years were spared the bombings, rubble, terror and death that my European and Asian counterparts experienced, but The War dominated everything and there seemed there would never be an end to it.I still have some of the family’s old ration books that told us how much butter, meat, sugar, coffee and cigarettes we were allowed. Every car bore a sticker that determined how much gasoline we could buy. I know it wasn’t much, because we could never drive farther than the school and the train station to send my father off to work, my mother stopping off en route at the A&P to buy our scarce provisions.We had a large Victory Garden, canned the veggies (this was before freezers held more than an ice tray), stripped the apple tree, cracked nasty black walnuts and pickled everything from watermelon rinds to peaches.At school, we had air-raid drills, marching into the halls and sitting with our knees to our chins for what seemed like hours, scrunched until our bones were aching, kind of an early version of “duck and cover” but with torture. On the other hand, we never had to don gas masks like the English kids.At home we closed off the living room to save on heat and when the sirens went off at night we ran to pull down the black shades that had been installed on every window for the Blackouts, so that when the Nazis flew over Boonton, New Jersey, they would see nothing but a dark expanse with nobody home.That no one ever flew over Boonton, New Jersey, was not the point. The point was that we would be ready if it happened. This was a war against evil and everyone was involved. Every able-bodied man had joined the armed forces; we recycled everything, including bacon fat, for the war effort, and even the kids went into the fields picking milkweed pods to make life preservers and saved up their dimes for stamps in their war bond booklets.We heard the announcement on the radio – Germany had surrendered. A few months later, Japan would cave, but that was an anti-climax, tainted by the force of the atom bomb. This was HITLER, Satan himself before we even knew the truth of the holocaust.Hearing the news, my father suggested that we get in the car and drive into town. I remember my mother demurring but assenting. It was totally uncharacteristic of my father to step out of the straight and narrow, but he was following a human instinct (for want of a better word) to gather with other people in the face of an enormous human event. And my father was right. We drove the two miles into Boonton proper and found the streets swarming with people, screaming, crying, pounding on our car as we passed by, in a state of joyful hysteria.I saw that spirit again Sunday night when people amassed as if pulled by magnets to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. That didn’t happen when Saddam Hussein was pulled up out of his hole – that was pathetic, making him open his mouth and show his teeth (what was that about?), and he never had had weapons of mass destruction.But Osama bin Laden, that was another story. Osama bid Laden was the Boogeyman who blew up the Twin Towers and makes us take off our clothes in the airport, all the while taunting the world with videos and tapes sent out from his secret hiding places, nyah, nyah, I’m still alive – can’t catch me, I’m the Boogeyman. I was sorry they buried him at sea because I think even the Peaceniks among us wanted to see his head on a stake. I understand the reasoning behind it, but still.I wish that bin Laden’s death would, like Germany’s surrender, mean the end of the war but of course it won’t. But we can still cheer.
Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks “Obama Offs Osama” is a sweet tongue-twister. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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