One thing I’ve never told my blogging friends is my love of classical music. It started back in high school when our choir sang pieces by the old composers like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I had a dream someday I might sing on Broadway, but I listened to the dream dashers in my life and went on to work in an office instead of pursuing MY dreams in college.
Years went by and as a young mother, I was invited to join a semi-pro group of singers which performed entire movements by the same composers I enjoyed in high school. Up until then, I always had the best voice in the whole choir. Now I was surrounded by sopranos who could sing as well as I could.
After a year in the group, I figured it was time to let the director know I wanted to sing a solo in the Schubert Mass. He agreed and assigned me the Kyrie. I learned very quickly the piece required more skill than I possessed because every time I opened my mouth, unpleasant noises came out of me. As hard as I tried, I could not successfully sing the solo. Luckily, one of the women in the group was a voice teacher, so I asked her if she would take me on as a student. I knew getting help was necessary, but my ego got bruised admitting I didn’t know everything about singing.
Weeks of exercises, vocalises, and hours of practicing got me in shape to sing the Kyrie. When the big moment came, the first couple of bars were a little shaky, but after that, I relaxed and the high notes floated out on pitch. After the concert, the compliments came my way and I felt accomplished, but I wanted more chances to stand out so I continued my voice lessons.
At that point in my life, I needed to be recognized and my voice was the only tool I had. People wanted to listen to me, and that fact made me happy. I was something more than a daughter, wife, and mom. My voice let me be me. And if anyone ever criticized me, I felt wounded. Later on I confessed this fact with the director and he said, “Of course a negative comment would hurt you, Barb; it’s the artist in you; it’s your very soul.”
I don’t sing regularly any more; my arthritic hip doesn’t allow me to stand in one place for an entire hour. Instead I’ve carried my thirst to be special in my writing and in my art work. I “work” at both endeavors and luckily my soul has grown a thick enough skin to let the critics take their best shot because I know every time I sit at the keyboard or at the easel, whatever I produce will be better than it was in the past. It’s called growing. When you think you know it all, dive in and you’ll realize how little you really know.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)
North Africa-November—When Josie completed the training in Arizona, she left Camp Young feeling strong, confident, and ready to get to work. She easily adapted to Army life, attributing her easy assimilation to growing up on a farm where she experience hard work and waking in the early hours of the morning.
After four weeks of Army hardening, Josie’s orders sent her to an Army hospital in Topeka Kansas. She cared for retired and wounded veterans who returned home for rehabilitation. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, she would be one of sixty nurses attached to the 48th Surgical Hospital Unit. This would be her first job as a surgical nurse. She also was chosen to supervise the activities of ten other nurses. She called her mother as soon as she got her orders for deployment to North Africa.
“Hi, Mom!” Josie said with excitement in her voice.
“Josie, how wonderful! How are you, sweetheart?”
“I’m fine. I’m calling to tell you I received new orders.”
Mrs. Schneider held her breath. “Oh, that’s nice, dear.”
“I’m assigned to the 48th Surgical Hospital.” She took a deep breath before she uttered the next sentence. “We’re going Africa.”
“Please be happy for me, Mom. I finally get a chance to use my training. I’m going to be a surgical nurse!”
“You’re going to Africa? Isn’t it really hot there?”
“Of course the weather is hot in Africa; that’s why we trained in the Arizona desert for six weeks. I ship out in two weeks.”
Mrs. Schneider’s stomach churned. “Will you come home before you leave?”
Josie recognized a quiver in her mother’s voice. “Now, Mom. I’ll be fine. If I can survive boot camp, I can do anything.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Yes. The Army is sending me home for a few days before I ship out. I bet after being under your feet for a few days, you’ll be glad to send me packing after you see what the army has done to me.”
“You aren’t going to sound revelry, are you?” Her mother forced a laugh. “A bugle will scare the chickens!”
Josie smiled at her mother’s attempt at humor. “I love you, Mom. I’ll be home soon.”
“I love you too, Josie.” Her mother sat down on a kitchen chair and took deep breaths. She closed her eyes and forced herself not to think her little girl going to war.
New York – October—After flying from Kansas to New York City, Josie and sixty other nurses met at the dock where a transport ship would take them and hundreds of soldiers to the coast of North Africa. Once they boarded the ship, the nurses learned they would be part of the first wave of Operation TORCH to hit the beach in North Africa.
On the morning of November 8th, Josie climbed down an rope ladder on the side of the destroyer to a Higgins boat bobbing in the surf below. She and the other nurses were dressed in fatigues, army boots, and four-pound steel helmets. They were indistinguishable from the men except for the Red Cross patch they wore on their sleeve. Instead of a rifle and ammunition, each nurse carried a backpack of medical supplies, a small canvas bag with a shoulder strap called a musette bag, a gas mask, and a canteen filled with drinking water, which hung on a belt around her waist.
The boats sped to the beach and dropped the ramps in waist-high water; soldiered ran ahead firing as the nurses followed them onto the beach. Gunfire whizzed by, and the unarmed nurses got down on their bellies and crawled on their elbows to the nearest sand dune. Josie huddled with five other nurses as the enemy snipers shot at anything moving. The girls lay pinned down for hours with no escape. When darkness fell, a handsome lieutenant and his patrol escorted them to an abandoned shack along the shoreline where casualties of the day waited for treatment. Josie gasped she got close to the shack they used as a hospital. Thoughts swam in her head. “How are we ever going to keep instruments sterile in such a place? Will our supplies be enough? How in the world am I going to organize such a dump?”
When they entered the “hospital” the odors of filth, dirt, blood, and urine lingered in the air. Seeing the deplorable conditions made several nurses gag and vomit. They soon learned the building had no electricity and running water. Worse yet, the medical supplies they ferried in on their backs didn’t provide nearly enough to properly treat every wounded man. Josie looked beyond the horrid conditions and took command. She assigned two nurses to cover the blown out windows with rough green army blankets to prevent snipers from picking them off in any light. Next she triaged the wounded, and at her direction corpsmen moved the most severely wounded upstairs to the make-shift operating room. The rest of the wounded laid in pools of their blood on the concrete floor while nurses bandaged what they could while rats and other vermin nosed about. Some men cried out, but others bit their lips trying not to cry out in pain. None of them complained. They understood help finally was within reach, and they thanked the nurses for any kindness or pain relief.
Doctors operated by flashlights held by corpsmen in the make-shift operating room. Surgical nurses stood beside doctors for hours repairing what they could with the limited supplies they carried ashore. When the doctors closed the wounds of one soldier, another wounded GI took his place. Surgery went on through the night. As the sun rose, six more soldiers held on for their turn on the table. But supplies dwindled. Morphine and either got to critical levels. The continued fighting on the beach prohibited getting the much needed supplies to the hospital. In the meantime medical personnel did their best to keep the men alive.
The doctors and nurses hung on for two days. With no sleep for forty-eight hours, Josie collapsed where she stood. A sergeant hoisted her willowy frame and laid her down on a blanket in the hallway. As she slept, a surging anger fired combative dreams. Why would any nation inflict such suffering and misery on so many?
Anrath, Germany – December—Prisoners at the Anrath facility toiled sixty hours per week, while civilian workers only worked forty. They worked in abhorrent conditions. Rayon dust produced breathing problems. Vapors from the highly acidic material nearly blinded workers. If a civilian worker complained, she received treatment immediately, but prisoners did not get such care. German overseers forced prisoners to stay at their machines until they went totally blind.
As Emma toiled, the wardress stood in front of Emma and announced, “You received a letter from Paris, frauline.” She waved the envelope. In a glance Emma recognized Marta’s distinct handwriting. She lunged at the wardress and tried to snatch the letter from her. The witch pulled back and laughed. “You cannot read this, frauline. Remember no letters allowed. I just wanted to tell you that you got mail.”
Emma slumped back into her chair. She lowered her head as her vision blurred with tears. Up until now, nothing defeated her, but seeing Marta’s letter and not being able to read her words defeated her to the point of not caring any more.
Viscose burns were a constant source of agony for the women who worked in the rayon factory. Civilians received gloves to protect their hands, while the prisoners received none. Working with bare hands produced cuts and blisters. Emma’s left hand developed six viscose wounds and her right hand suffered from three. The acid ate into her untreated wounds, making them swell and blister. She endured excruciating pain, and if she complained, the guards would beat her.
The wounds on Emma’s hands got worse as the weeks passed, but the factory doctor still considered her fit to work. She needed water to make a dressing for her wounds, but prisoners received no water for wounds or thirst.
After returning to her cell after a ten-hour day, Emma tore a strip of cloth from her work dress hem and soaked the fabric with her own urine. Then she wrapped the wet rags around her hands. Much to her surprise, the pain eased, and she fell fast asleep. After that first night, Emma repeated the process every night. In a few days, her hands began to heal. The improvement empowered her to fight on. She outwitted the cruelty of everyone in power at the prison. Her cleverness brought a small miracle.
Weeks after Emma’s hands healed, her eyes got so bad from the vapors, she not only experienced blurred vision but suffered debilitating stabbing pains in her irritated eyes. Splitting headaches accompanied the lingering neck pains. Then blindness and the pain made it impossible for her to work. Emma complained to wardress and didn’t care if she received a beating. Her reflection in the store windows attested she appeared half dead already.
The overseer shook his head and dragged her to the factory medic. The doctor probed her eyelids with filthy fingers. He deemed Emma unfit for work, but instead of receiving treatment for her injuries, she found herself in a group of women who suffered the same injuries. The pitiful women sobbed in pain; Emma wanted to cry with them, but her pride wouldn’t let her. Worst of all, the time away from her machine gave Emma time to think. Of course, her first thought wondered what Marta wrote in her letter. Part of her wished to ignore the letter’s existence, but she consoled herself that now with inflamed eyes, she probably couldn’t read it anyway.