One of my friends retired in June and has returned home. She kept her house here because she realized her true life was here. For ten years she traveled for her work and lived in a house about 60 miles from Racine. If she was not traveling over the weekend, she always came home. Her original plan for her house here was to have her daughter live in the house allowing her to stay the weekends. That plan only worked for a couple of months. By now her daughter found the man she wanted to spend her life with, so needless to say, the boyfriend wasn’t nuts to have his future mother-in-law on the premises. They decided to move out and buy their own home, and now my friend had two houses. Two sets of taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc.
Jackie spent the summer packing and unpacking from one house to the other. She nearly killed herself in the process. Her only oasis of peace was to spend time with Ken and me. The only way I could help her was to provide a safe place and a good meal when she had too much of her own life.
Now her life is simmering down. She is in her house here once again. The moving and unpacking is almost done. Now she’s asking herself “What’s my next step?” As her unofficial counselor, I’m encouraging her to find something that makes her happy. She loves to dance and has an innate ability to make her surroundings beautiful. I always have said if Jackie hung a weed on the wall it would look great.
Some people have the luxury of preparing for their retirement. Jackie and I didn’t have such a choice. She got pushed out of her job, and I chose to stay home with Ken. Just the other day Ken said, “It sure is fun to see you and Jackie enjoying your retirement together.” Perhaps we’ve both found our plan of retirement simply by doing things together.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 7
Hollywood, California – January—Donna’s final USO show took place on a stage in a muddy field about a mile and a half from the combat zone. By now she performed dozens of these field shows. Thirteen months with the Foxhole Circuit put her in situations she never imagined, and this final show was bittersweet. She wanted to go home, but she realized she never could repeat the satisfaction she got peering into the eyes of brave boys and their nurses. Weary troops had a chance to escape hell for a couple of hours while they watched Hollywood stars perform for them. Bob Hope’s comedy made them laugh, and Donna’s voice crawled into their souls. The faces of grimy, scruffy GIs transformed as Donna led them home to the girls waiting for them.
Everyone talked about how wonderful it will be to celebrate Christmas with their families this year. The band anticipated having a traditional Christmas in Chicago with snow on the ground, lighted Christmas trees, and the animated figures in the Marshall Field windows. Only Donna didn’t possess a family she wanted to see again.
As the performers packed to fly from the South Pacific to the United States, Mr. Hope requested Donna visit him before they got on the plane.For as long as she performed with Hope’s troupe, Donna rarely spoke to the big star face-to-face. The muscles in her shoulders and neck tightened as she stood outside his tent with a “Headquarters” sign pinned on the canvas.
She opened the tent flaps and poked her head in. “You requested to see me, Mr. Hope?”
“Yes, Donna.” He lit a cigar. “Come in and sit down.”
Donna followed his order.
“I want to personally thank you for your service with us. You’re a real trooper. You impressed me how you took everything in stride; you never complained about the horrid conditions we bumped into on this gig. Plus, you got a great set up pipes.” He puffed on a large cigar. “I think other people should get a chance to listen to you sing. Not many voices touch others the way yours does.” He paused and leaned into his desk. “You possess such a natural stage presence it’s incredible. Believe me; such a quality is rare. You act like you were born on the stage. Nothing fazes you and having a thick skin is what Hollywood demands. I admire your guts and your talent.”
Donna blushed. “Thank you.”
“No thanks necessary. You worked hard, kid. You deserve to hear this.”
“You’re not in the army, my dear. Relax.” Mr. Hope smiled and took another long drag on his cigar and expelled smoke like a chimney. “Donna, you’re a rising star, and I’d like to help your career by cutting through some of the show biz nonsense for you. Come to California, and I’ll arrange for you to meet my agent. I’m sure a recording contract and possibly a movie deal are just around the corner for you.”
Donna’s eyes widened as her jaw dropped. “You wouldn’t kid me, would you? This isn’t some practical joke the girls set up, is it?”
Hope laughed from his belly. “You girls must be real kidders.” He took another long drag on the cigar. “I’m dead serious when it comes to business. I’m on the level. What do you say?”
“Me in Hollywood? I’ve dreamed about this since I was a little girl. I can’t think of anything better!” Donna stood and wanted to do a happy dance. “But what about the rest of the girls?”
Mr. Hope said, “This is only about you. Nobody else. Their great girls, but their kind are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. You’re the rare gem everybody wants to find.”
Donna’s happiness faded as she searched Mr. Hope’s eyes. “How am I going to break the news to the girls? I can’t pass up this opportunity!”
“Don’t worry about them, kid.”
“But, Mr. Hope, they’re my friends. We’ve been through thick and thin together the past year. I can’t dump them.”
“Loyalty. Another good quality. If they’re true friends, they’ll be happy for you.” He said.
“I’ll need to get back to you, Mr. Hope.”
“Just remember, an offer like this doesn’t come along every day, Donna.”
“I realize that. Thank you.” Donna left on rubbery legs with her head spinning. She just received an opportunity of a lifetime, but the chance to go to Hollywood included some negative conditions.
Donna entered the tent where the rest of the band waited to find out what Mr. Hope wanted.
Candy spoke first. “Hey, Donna. What’s up? Why the long face?”
“Yeah, what did Mr. Hope want with you?” Jeannie asked.
“He wanted to thank me for joining the troupe.”
Marilyn stared at her. “And?”
Donna choked up and didn’t speak.
Marilyn put her arm around Donna’s shoulder. “The girls are yanking your chain, Donna. We aren’t stupid. Didn’t you get wind of the rumors? We understand Mr. Hope intends to take you under his wing.”
Donna searched each girl’s face. “You guys! You know?”
They smiled at her. “Of course we know. No one around here keeps secrets.”
“This is such a big decision.” Donna sat down on her cot fearing her legs wouldn’t support her any more.
Jeanie said. “What decision? You say, yes. You can’t turn down an offer of a lifetime!”
“You’re happy for me?”
“Yes, silly.” Marilyn said. “You deserve a break, kid. When you performed in that downpour in the Philippines when you were suffering with malaria—that was epic. Your courage impressed Mr. Hope. He called you a trooper. You’ll never get higher praise than that.”
Jeanie jumped on the cheering bandwagon. “Yeah, Donna. Don’t be a goat. Give Hollywood a chance.”
Donna smiled. With the band’s blessing, she went back to Mr. Hope and told him to book her ticket to California.
Lacrosse, Wisconsin – January—During the time Bobby lived with the Rosie and Angelo he experience what a good family was all about. Even their extended family welcomed him, and Gina and AJ loved their “Uncle Bobby.” Bobby was never a bother. Rosalie loved his willingness to help around the house and watch the babies. Bobby didn’t need to wear a false face with Angelo and Rosalie. Best of all he accepted himself as he was—warts and all.
By 1945 both men fully recovered from their war injuries. They both endured daily pain, but neither of them complained. They left too many of their army buddies buried on a foreign rock in the Pacific. They realized how lucky they both had been. Angelo usually met Bobby at Joe’s Diner for a cup of coffee after work. Once they got home, the children never gave them a chance to talk.
Bobby stirred the cream into his coffee. “I look at it this way, Ang. The war will be over soon and millions of guys will come home. Once they’re home they’ll marry their sweethearts and have a few kids. Right?”
“I guess you’re the exception to the rule?” Angelo teased his friend who still didn’t ask a girl for a date since they came home.
Bobby grinned. “You need to understand, my friend, I’m not an ordinary catch. The girl who’ll snag me will be extra special. Not just pretty, but smart too.” Bobby expanded his chest and pointed to his heart.
“Stop bullshitting. If my baby sister Bianca lifted her little finger in your direction, you’ll melt like butter on a summer day.” Angelo laughed.
“Yeah, yeah.” Bobby blushed. “Don’t change the subject.”
Angelo took a swig of his coffee. “What subject?”
“Boy, you’re a wise ass today. Shut up and listen. GI’s coming home will need two things . . . a job, and a place to raise a family. We can give ’em both.”
“How do we do that, genius?”
Bobby grinned. “Oh ye of little faith. We start a construction company and build houses.”
Angelo stared at his friend like he grew another head.
“Right. What you’re talking about requires money—lots and lots of money we don’t have unless you’re hiding a rich uncle someplace.”
Bobby looked Angelo directly. “If I can get the money, would you be willing to take the risk?”
“Sure. Why not? I’ll humor you.” Then Angelo added. “How will we save the world? We’ll need seed money, land, equipment, permits. Need I go on?”
Bobby sighed and continued laying out his plan in a calm voice. “I didn’t tell you earlier because I didn’t want to raise my hopes. My grandfather died recently and left me an inheritance. Of course, my old man contested the will because he didn’t get everything. I howled when the judge threw him out of the court room and in plan English called him a greedy bastard. My grandfather willed me two hundred acres on the edge of town where we can build a subdivision of sweet little homes.”
“Boy you dream big, don’t you? Are you kidding me?” Angelo’s voice cracked like a teenager.
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” Bobby’s face went stone serious.
“For a guy who’s only nineteen years old, you sure have big dreams. Didn’t the Marines teach you anything? Don’t tease. I’ll be working in the factory for the rest of my life.”
Bobby shook his head as took a sip of his coffee. “It’s a doable dream, Ang. I have a plan.”
Angelo nodded. “Okay. I’ll humor you. Tell me what you have up your sleeve.”
Bobby smiled. “That’s better.” Out of a large brown envelope Bobby pulled out a plot drawing of his land, and a proposed blueprint of a basic house which could be built three different ways. “What do you think of this for a start?”
Angelo’s jaw dropped. “How did you—
Bobby interrupted him as he pulled out another document. “Here’s a proposal and business plan I wrote so we can go to the bank for a loan. We’ll use the land as collateral.”
Again, Angelo couldn’t believe what his young friend put together. “How did you do all this?”
Bobby laughed. “You thought I went out boozing every night, when I really went to the community college to get my high school diploma. After that I started a business degree. Only three more years to go!”
Angelo said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me if I flunked out. I didn’t do well in school before I joined the Marines.” Bobby hung his head.
“You dumb ass. Don’t you realize how proud I am of you just the way you are?”
Bobby remained silent. Nobody beside Angelo ever praised him.
Angelo leaned into the table and kept his voice low. “Listen, I’m not proud of my school career either. I never finished high school. I can do anything with my hands, but book learning–not exactly my cup of tea. Besides, I wanted to give Rosie a house for a wedding present, so I dropped out my senior year and went to work.”
Bobby’s jaw dropped open. “You? A high school drop-out like me? Holy cow! Here I thought I was the only dumb one.” Bobby teased.
“So, now you know better.” Angelo laughed.
“I guess we’re two peas in a pod, brother, but diploma or no diploma, you’re still the smartest guy I ever met.”
“Don’t go get all mushy on me.” Angelo picked up the blueprints. “You really thought this through. Why do you need me?”
Bobby said. “I trust you. You’re my best friend, plus you’re good with people. You can handle the work crew, and I can do the business end of things.” He put his finger up to beckon the waitress for a refill. “And besides, I’m not old enough to get the loan.”
“Ah, now the truth comes out!” Angelo teased.
“Aw, come on Ang, I want you to be my partner. I love you, man.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say, ‘yes’.”
Angelo smiled and stuck out his hand. “HELL YES!”
The two friends shook and sealed the deal.
The bank approved a business loan two weeks after Bobby and Angelo agreed to form their company. The loan provided enough money to buy heavy equipment, light tools, and building supplies to build three houses. Their fledgling new company took its first step toward success, but before they broke ground they ran into some technical issues. First, the city planning commission needed to approve the subdivision, so electricity, water, and sewer lines could be installed. Bobby presented the proposal with charts and graphs to sway the planners to approve the project. Then he showed them how such a development would not only provide much needed housing for GI’s coming home but also would provide jobs for them. On top of a marvelous presentation, the committee honored the personal sacrifices both Bobby and Angelo made in the war. The final vote to sanction the subdivision got a unanimous vote in favor. Arranging building permits and the necessary utilities went forward without a stutter.
Angelo hired returning veterans for his work crew, and in a few weeks, he built them into an efficient team. They held a ground breaking ceremony in April. The front page of the newspaper published a picture of Angelo, Rosie, and Bobby cutting a ribbon to the driveway with a huge scissors. The headline read: “GI’s Come Home to “Pleasant Hills.”