On the second and fourth Mondays, Ken enjoys a group called Harmony Club. This is a chance for him to be with other people, have a good lunch, and enjoy outside entertainment as well as a hot session of Bingo.
While he’s away, I usually do something with a friend. It’s not much. Perhaps a lunch together or a cup of coffee at a local cafe. If I’m too exhausted for that, I’ll just take a day alone and paint. At the very least, Ken’s group participation gives us a break from each other.
This is the sixth year we’ve been going through this MS Journey and we’ve both come to the conclusion that a day apart is a good thing. We both recharge our batteries doing something for ourselves. If you’re a caregiver for someone, please don’t neglect this important element. It’s not selfish to take time for yourself. And remember, the few hours spent apart is good for both parties.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)
Sicily, Italy – September—Lately a short day in Josie’s life turned out to be twelve intensive hours, The staff of specialists in the Operating Room, including neurosurgeons, general surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons worked around the clock. The hospital at Salerno served over three hundred patients in a twenty-four hour period. Every day two hundred patients evacuated to North Africa for further treatment. Most patients went by train to the coast where they would be put on hospital ships for the trip to England. Only the most critical patients got evacuated by plane.
The battles produced patients with wounds of all kinds, but the latest disaster didn’t come from a bullet. The wet, tropical climate of Sicily promoted a high mosquito population, and the tiny enemy brought down soldiers almost as effectively as German artillery.
Before the war doctors prescribed quinine to treat malaria, but the Japanese controlled the quinine producing areas, so a new drug called atabrine became the substitute to treat the symptoms of high fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and at the very worse, comas. Atabrine proved to be a good anti-malarial drug, and best of all, the drug showed no serious toxic effects. Like quinine, though, Atabrine didn’t cure malaria with one course of treatment, but if given in small doses, the clinical symptoms could be suppressed enough to keep soldiers on their feet. The only troublesome side effect was a yellowing of the skin while the patient took the drug. The skin color returned to normal after the completed course of treatment.
With the outbreak of malaria, the nurses hung mosquito netting over the cots to combat the pesky carriers and to control the spread of the disease throughout the hospital. The netting looked like Spanish moss invaded the space, but this light weight fabric helped to keep patients safe from the infections. The unprotected doctors and nurses often succumbed to malaria which caused a larger problem. The over-worked medical staff stretched to the outer limits when even one nurse or doctor fell ill, and a busy hospital like the one in Salerno needed every available hand.
When she didn’t assist in surgery, Josie went from soldier to soldier and from tent to tent, making sure the wounded men received the care they needed. As Josie made her rounds on a rainy, hot day, a soldier called out as she stood reviewing charts, “Josie? Am I hallucinating?”
Josie stared at a big man with black curly hair waving at her. She studied his face. His dark cow-like eyes and long eye lashes looked familiar. “How do you know my name, soldier?”
“Don’t you recognize me?” He paused and gave her a wide teasing smile. “I must look really bad.”
All of a sudden Josie realized the identity of the man who called to her. She scurried to his bedside. “Oh my God! Mario from Autolite?”
“In the flesh!” Mario smiled a toothy grin.
“Oh my God!” She paused. “Why are you here?”
“Well, when the skeeters bite, a person can get something called malaria. I just made my way back from coma-land.”
“I’m so sorry you got such a bad case. We’ll get you on your feet soon; I promise.” Josie said with a warm smile.
“Don’t work too hard to get rid of me.” Mario teased. “The brass will just throw me back into the field. Just the sight of your pretty face makes me feel better. All of a sudden I want to take you dancing.”
Josie remembered the one night she danced with Mario when she celebrated Donna’s promotion. “Mario, I think you’re more Irish than Italian! You certainly kissed the Blarney stone somewhere along the line!”
“I only tell the truth, Josie my girl.” He grinned because he loved bantering with her.
She laughed. “You’re one in a million, that’s for sure.”
“Yes, ma’am. And don’t you forget it.” He paused and stared at her uniform collar. “Hey, when did you get your stars?”
“In North Africa. But don’t worry; I won’t make you salute me, private.”
“Will you come back and visit me again, miss first lieutenant?”
“So you can give me malaria?” Josie teased. “Not a chance.”
Mario dropped his eyes to the floor. “Have a heart. If I promise not to share my malaria will you come back? Then I can tell you how pretty you are and maybe get you to play a game of cribbage with me.” He raised his eyes to search her smiling face.
“I promise to put you on my over-full itinerary for the day, Mario. Okay?” She patted him on the hand and left. Only a dozen more tents to go.
Montpelier, France-October—Four months had passed since Marta went to Montpelier. Through love and care Emma grew stronger and healthier. She remained frail, but her sunken cheeks filled out and a pink hue replaced the sickly yellow tone of her skin. Emma gained a few pounds, even though eating a full meal still proved impossible. At least her shoulder blades didn’t poke out through her dresses any more and her eyes even twinkled once in a while.
Besides making sure Emma got fresh food and enough rest, Marta took Emma for a short walk in the sunshine once a day. After existing in darkness for so many months, Emma often complained her eyes hurt in the bright light. Marta remedied that problem with a pair of sunglasses she found at the local dry goods store.
Marta took a waitressing job in a cafe few blocks from their apartment. Even though the rent was free, their food was not. Pierre’s Resistance friends allowed them to stay in the apartment for the duration of the war. Emma was a hero in their eyes because sacrificed so much to protect so many others in the movement.
In her spare time, Marta wrote to a trusted neighbor in Paris, and asked her to ship their things to a P. O. Box in Montpelier. She also contacted her Paris landlord by letter and gave up her apartment. She didn’t want to do either chore because doing these things put an end to her happy times in Paris. She loved her job at the Louvre and the city’s unique ambiance, but she vowed she wouldn’t go back until every Nazi vacated Paris and went back to Germany. The peacefulness of the sleepy coastal town gave Marta a sense of safety she needed.
On her days off, Marta took Emma to the Mediterranean where they would sit and enjoy the rhythm of the jewel blue waves rolling onto the shore. They strolled hand-in-hand down the soft sand and let the salt air fill their lungs. Their new home in Montpelier sat nestled between the sea, vineyards, and the mountains, so no matter what direction they gazed, the scenery was breathtaking. As they got more familiar with their new surroundings, Marta and Emma ventured farther into town. A large square surrounded by stores offered everything they required. Emma’s favorite thing to do was to enjoy a cool drink while sitting on a bench under an old olive tree. She eyed villagers negotiating with the farmers at the market. Children played games of tag and statue maker under the shade trees lining the broad boulevards. Living here made allowed her to think perhaps the war was over.
Marta went to church every morning before going to work. She thanked God for Emma’s safe return. She thanked the Blessed Virgin for the people who risked their lives to rescue her, and she prayed to St. Christopher for Emma’s safe passage back to France. Their reunion brought her happiness.
Careful planning by the Resistance brought them to this beautiful place where the terror and ugliness of the war remained hundreds of miles away.Since coming to Montpelier she and Emma relaxed back into a comfortable life, even though their new identities were a bit of an adjustment. Calling each other Emily and Mary and never speaking of their life in Paris seemed a small price to pay for a clean slate of safety.
Salerno, Italy – October—Mario’s discharge from the hospital occurred two weeks after his first visit with Josie. Doctors got his malaria under control and deemed him fit for combat. The yellow hue in his skin had almost disappeared, and he regained his strength and vigor a bit more everyday. But before Mario left the hospital, he wanted to say goodbye to Josie. She highlighted his days with her visits and humor, and Mario wanted to tell her how much he appreciated her attention when she was so overworked. Not only did she keep him company, she always double checked he received the proper treatment. Since their first encounter at the Autolite factory, Mario realized how special she was to him. He hoped to kiss her goodbye just in case the worst happened.
When it was time for Mario to leave, Josie was in surgery and couldn’t be disturbed, so instead of giving her a kiss, he left a note with one of the other nurses.
Later that evening, Josie retreated from the hospital sweaty and hungry. Her ankles swelled from the heat and humidity, and her back ached from standing so many hours without a break. On nights like this, she wondered if she ever would feel rested again. But when she thought about the boys losing limbs or needing serious operations to remove shrapnel from his brain or other vital organs, she told herself her little aches and fatigue didn’t compare.
One of her nurses approached her in the mess tent. “Josie. Some guy left a note for you.” She handed Josie a folded piece of paper.
“Who?” Josie said.
“He didn’t give me his name.” The nurse answered. “He just asked me to give you the note.”
Josie put the note in her pocket and finished her meal. She dragged herself back to her tent and collapsed on her cot. She fell asleep fully dressed.
At 0600 Josie woke for another stressful day. She sat up on her cot and then remembered the note.
My sweet Josie,
I tried to say goodbye before I left, but no soap. As usual, you were working too hard to save another GI. God’s got a special place in mind for you. I hope you realize how special you are.
Thank you for taking such good care of me. I’ll miss beating you at cribbage, but most of all I’ll miss your pretty face everyday. (And that’s no malarkey.)
We’re headed north for more fun. As usual I don’t know where I’m going, but when the Army says “MARCH,” you march. I’m sad I missed kissing you goodbye. I really wanted to tell you what you mean to me in person, but I guess I’ll wait until we meet again.
When you close your beautiful eyes tonight, I hope you’ll dream of me. When you think of me, please say a prayer we will dance again.
Josie smiled before she cried. She read the letter again before she put it in her locker with her other valuables. She missed Mario already. His hospital stay brought them close. She enjoyed his gift to gab and the ability to make her laugh.
Before heading back to duty, she said a prayer for his safety and vowed to repeat the process every night when she went to bed. She secretly wanted to dance with that man for the rest of her life.