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All Lit Up and Ready to Go

If you have been following me for awhile, you know I LOVE outdoor Christmas lights. Since I was a little kid, I found wonder in lighting up the blackness of winter. There was one wealthy family on the north side of Racine who started my fascination with outdoor white lights.  These pictures really don’t do the original display justice, but at least you can see what I’m talking about. Baby boomers enjoyed angels flying in the trees and a beautiful Austrian crystal waterfall captured the imagination. Often our parents had to wait in a long line of traffic to get a quick drive-by look. But we waited with patience because few families could afford ANY outside lights. After Mr. Wheary died, his family gifted these lights to the city and now they are displayed at the Racine Zoo along with other colorful lights.waterfall lights peace on earth

Another family has picked up the mantel to present the community with Christmas lights. They live in a subdivision called Jamestown, and I gotta tell you, this display is something special. It is lit from five to ten o’clock and for five hours you can sit in the car and watch lights synchronized to music which you can access on a radio station. Incredible.

A few years back I started putting lights outside myself. The first year I put them on backwards and had to go purchase a LONG extension cord to get them to work. Live and learn, right? Since then every year my display has gotten a bit more sophistication because I add a few more lights. I have no aspirations to become Mr. Wheary or Mike and Debbie at Jamestown, but the flicker of my small display warms my heart in the same way.

I know a lot of people cringe when Christmas has become so commercialized. But let’s get real. There are actually two Christmas celebrations — one at church and a secular one where we shower gifts on people we love. Some say the true meaning of Christmas is lost because people become a little nuts in December, but I will always have an inclination to tell my friends and family I love them by giving them a gift that is relevant to them.

It’s not how much you spend on a gift; it really is a reflection of your love for that person by buying or making a gift with some thoughtfulness. During the years Ken and I fell into financial dire straights, we went to a park and picked up pine cones to make homemade fire-starters for our friends with fireplaces and napkin holders for those who didn’t.

So now that I’ve rambled on about the day at hand, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday. Just remember the difference between the two.

When Disappointment Darkens Your Door

unhappy faceHow do you accept disappointments? Do you have a tantrum like a two year old? Do you yell at someone? Or do you swallow the hurt and deal with it another day?

Let’s face it. Life usually doesn’t fulfill our every expectation. In fact, I have come to the conclusion “life” finds way to stand in the way of most things these days.

Today Ken was supposed to go to his harmony club, and I had plans to see a friend. I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks, so I looked forward to reconnecting with her. BUT — When I heard Ken hit the bedroom floor, I instantly knew my plans for the day were dashed. I jumped up to see if he was hurt, and God willing he wasn’t. I swear that man has a legion of guardian angels who lay on the floor and break his falls. He hardly ever gets hurt. For me — not so much. About three months ago I leaned over in my office chair to pick up a paper from the floor — and WHAM! The chair slid out from underneath me, and I landed on my tail. I struggled to get up, and for at least a week, I felt like a kid who got hit with a wooden paddle. Anyway, I digress . . . Back to disappointment.

As soon as I expressed my disappointment — like a three year old — not a two year old — I am making some progress on this journey, I hated myself. Here the poor guy is struggling to pull himself up to stand and get into his wheelchair, and I’m cranking about my plans changing. What a bitch, right?

Well, yes. I’m a bitch –sometimes. But I never understood why a crabby women is named after a female dog. There I go again  . . . digressing.

I think it is important to express anger in a controlled way. Just like every process, care giving has it’s frustrations and disappointments –not to mention fear of what else is down the road. I know where I am with Ken is pretty stable for now, but the unknown future scares the life out of me. People say I shouldn’t borrow trouble. And they’re right. I shouldn’t think about what MIGHT happen and I should deal with the challenges as they appear. But that’s easier said than done.

When I’ve taken the appropriate amount of time to digest this disappointment, I will be my old self again. I’ll wear a smile and when asked how I am, I’ll say, “I’m fine.” After all, most people expect that response. They certainly don’t want a blow by blow of a disappointment that only changed my plans.

Fall Has Fallen

My Neighborhood in Autumn

My Neighborhood in Autumn

I live in an older neighborhood where trees are tall and colors in the fall are plentiful. Maybe it’s because I grew up rather poor, but I can never remember a time when fall color is something I didn’t revere.

As a child, all of the neighborhood kids raked leaves that had fallen in our yards and then arranged them in rectangles on the easement between the sidewalk and street. We pretended these rectangles of fallen leaves were our shops. We had a doctor, a barber, a bakery, a school, etc. Other rectangles served as our homes. We would play with no-cost leaves all day, visiting each other and our imaginations recreated the real world as we saw it as five and six year olds.

When I went to college, I drove down a county road which lead to campus. This road was flanked on both sides by old, large trees of several different varieties creating a breathtaking tunnel of dramatic Fall color. Rich oranges, reds, golds, and burgundies breathed a certain wonder as I drove to a day of classes on campus. It was a perfect way to begin every fall semester.

Now in retirement I still search out the color. Luckily I don’t have to go far because as you see in the photo above my neighborhood provides plenty of color. Oh, I still take a pilgrimage down to campus whenever I can, but I also can look out my window to witness the beauty of Fall which never disappoints.

If you live in a place where the seasons change, you are blessed. Just take a few minutes every day to become part of the Fall season. Recapture that childish joy of wonder because if you don’t winter will come and you would have missed the big show.

Solving The Retirement Puzzle

This morning we started our day by heading out to the hospital for Ken to have an EEG. The orders were for him to have no caffeine for eight hours, four hours of sleep, and clean hair. He did very well — but me? Well, I’ve gotten real good at “sleeping in” until eight o’clock so I was pretty groggy. We made our way like zombies to the garage and were soon on our way at 6:30 a.m.

Most of the world wakes before that, I know, but Ken and I have gotten very comfortable in our slow retirement life. Even though I’m employed by the state for Ken’s care, I consider myself retired. My time is my own; I don’t have to answer to a boss; and best of all I don’t have to commute for an hour one way any more. I’ll admit I’ve become pretty soft.

I never received a retirement party or gold watch and my employment ended before I was ready. I couldn’t buy a job in 2007 when all of this happened, but I think it was God’s way of telling me I was needed more at home than on any job away from home. I realized I had to swallow my pride and find my way at home. I realized I finally had time to write and publish seven  novels. I also tried painting and learned I’m not that bad. I had an opportunity to teach part-time. Best of all, I got to be with Ken. Sometimes our 24/7 arrangement can be stressful, but if we are able to have a few hours apart a couple of times per week, we do as well as any other couple.

People often ask me if I resent not getting to live out a more “traditional” retirement. I ask them what a traditional retirement is? They often mention travel and volunteering. Of course, Ken and I wish we could live out our dreams of traveling, but we did a lot of it before he got so sick. We missed Alaska and a river cruise in Europe, but that’s okay. We travel via the Travel Channel and Aerial America on television. Sure, we’d like to go to the places we visit via digital TV, but we’re content to live within our changing parameters.

My advice is to grow where you’re planted. If your first attempt doesn’t work out, try another. Some plants need to be moved to a different window if they don’t flourish at the first one.

Have a wonderful day. I think I’ll take a nap today.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 3

Paris, France – April—Marta searched her heart after receiving her mother’s letter. She finally admitted being with Emma made her happier than staying alone in a quiet town. She never loved anyone the way she loved Emma, and she wanted to be with her until the end of her days.

The war proved time can’t be wasted on trivial things. A happy life is a gift. Marta realized she needed to squeeze happiness into every breath she took. Like so many in Europe, Marta lost so much. Her parents and Leisel had died. She lost track of Heidi. She thought she replaced her old friends with new ones, but the relationships never grew deep roots. Her Montpellier friends proved to be closer to acquaintances than true friends.

She read her mother’s letter again and again. She needed to return to Paris.  If things didn’t work out with Emma, she could always return to the sleepy coastal town she loved. She said her goodbyes at Easter brunch that spring of 1945. Everyone wished Marta well, promising to visit Paris. They said it would be fun to enjoy the world’s greatest masterpieces at the Louvre together.

Marta bought a train ticket to Paris and once again left many of her belongings behind. She packed her clothes, a couple of her favorite paintings, and a picture of her parents. Through the war years, she learned material things are replaceable, but deep friendship and love of dear ones never would be replaced.

Chapter 4

Paris, France – April—Emma settled into a comfortable empty life. Her separation from Marta left deep scars. She hoped after a time, Marta might overcome her stubbornness and move back to Paris, but so much time had passed she lost hope of ever living with Marta again. Since returning to Paris, she expected her soul to come alive again, but it never did.

Emma filled her days with work and very few pleasures. Many of her former friends suffered fates worse than she during the war, and every time she learned of another tragedy, she realized how lucky she had been. The brave Resistance members loved her enough to risk their lives in order to release her from hell. She never thought she had been that important in the movement.

Pierre still lived in Paris. He narrowly escaped German imprisonment by fleeing to Spain, but after the liberation, he returned to the city. Emma often met him at her favorite cafe, and they would debate about France’s future, while they tried to forget the price they both paid to regain freedom.

On a beautiful April day, Emma found a letter from Marta in her box at the Post Office. She ripped open the envelope and read her familiar script.

April, 1945

My dear Emma,

I hope this letter finds you healthy and happy in your favorite city. After much soul searching, I am returning to Paris, and I hope you still want me. I will arrive on the 30th by train.

Because of our long separation, I realize you may not want me again because you went on and built a life with someone else. If that is the case, don’t come to the station to meet me. If I don’t find you on the platform, I will understand and accept my stubbornness cost me the greatest love of my life.

 All my love, Marta

 Emma cried. “Oh my dear Marta, of course I will welcome you . . . with flowers and chocolate! I cannot wait to hold you again.”

 

Chapter 6

London, England—On May 5th the streets of London filled up with people dancing, singing, and drinking. The city rejoiced with the rest of the Allied World. They crushed the evil German empire and everyone rejoiced. The German bombing of London for over 50 days made the world personal. Now the rubble soon would be carried away, but the city would never forget.

Danny and Heidi celebrated in the streets with everyone else. As he scanned the crowd, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He yelled at the top of his voice, “Johnny! Johnny! Schiller!” He grabbed Heidi’s hand and pulled her through the deafening crowd. “Johnny! Johnny! Schiller!” He repeated.

Katie pulled on Johnny’s arm. “A fly boy across the crowd is shouting your name, love.”

Johnny listened and looked around, but he didn’t recognize a familiar face.

“Johnny! Johnny Schiller! Over here!” Danny screamed as he pushed his way through the crowd.

Then Johnny saw him. “My God! Katie, that’s Danny from home!” He grabbed Katie’s hand and pulled her toward Danny’s direction.

“I’ll be damned!” Johnny said as he hugged his high school pal. “When did you get here?”

Danny shouted. “I wanted to come over and shoot down the evil ones! I asked around if anybody saw you, but I kept coming up empty. I figured you went home.” They hugged again while their wives looked on.

“I want you to meet someone.”  Danny yelled.

“Me, too.” Johnny said.

“You didn’t go and do something stupid like get married, did you?” Danny said with a grin.

“Yeah. And from the looks of your girlfriend, you did more than that!” Johnny laughed as he realized a pregnant girl held Danny’s hand.

“Johnny, please meet my wife, Heidi.”

“Hello, Heidi. Both of you, please meet my wife, Katie.” Johnny puffed out his chest as a proud smile crossed his face.

“Now the war is over, when are you going home?” Johnny asked.

Danny said. “In a month. Unfortunately, the Major told me Heidi and the children won’t join me in the States for almost a year.”

Johnny’s forehead wrinkled. “Children? What children?”

“We adopted three orphans. Heidi got hired as their nanny and when both of their parents died, she took care for them ever since. When I fell in love with her, I got a packaged deal.”

Johnny grinned. “God, Danny. When you do something, you always pull out all the stops, don’t you?”

“Yup.” He laughed.

Johnny laughed, “You’re incredible. Man it’s so good to see you!”  The two men hugged and slapped each other on the back. “I’m just glad you joined the best outfit in the war.” Johnny laughed. “What did you fly?”

“B-17s. And you?”

“Mustang P-51. I served in the Eighth.”

“You didn’t fly with crazy Baker, did you?”

“Yeah. You’re looking at his wing man.”

“Man oh man! I can’t wait to hear your stories! The most exciting thing I did was get captured by the Swiss. “Danny laughed.

“Stories can wait. I just want to be happy with my girl in my arms and my feet on the ground.”

Danny asked, “Me, too! Did they tell you when you’re going home?”

“I got orders to fly home in June. We’re not sure when Katie will join me. Let’s get together later and make some plans so the girls can get acquainted before we leave. I assume Heidi is emigrating like Katie.”

Danny said. “Sound good! Let’s go get a beer!”

The foursome headed to the nearest pub, and for the rest of the night they celebrated the end of the war.

Chapter 7

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – May—The radio announcement that reported Germany had surrendered unconditionally sent people around the world dancing in the streets. Six long years of  hardship and rationing would cease and people finally could think about building a future.

Angelo and Rosalie left the children at home with a neighborhood girl and met their parents at Lombardo’s restaurant to celebrate. Bobby went along and looked for Bianca. He found her at Eduardo’s jammed restaurant helping her parents cater to happy patrons. Bobby put on an apron and carried heavy serving trays laden with huge servings of lasagna, spaghetti, manicotti, and other Italian specialties. Bianca thanked him for his help with a kiss on his cheek. Beer and wine flowed freely and by sunset the downtown area came alive.

A neighborhood band set up on the town square and blasted big band tunes. Men and women in and out of uniform danced in the streets. Angelo thought Tony must have seen the future when he was unconscious. His older brother told Angelo it was not his time to die and encouraged him not to give up when Angelo laid in a coma on Guadalcanal. Today he was so glad he came back from the dead to hold the woman he loved in his arms again. He kissed and hugged Rosalie until she brushed him off. Her embarrassment showed in her pinkish cheeks. Angelo didn’t care who witnessed his love for her. He realized he never would ever take life for granted ever again.

Josie and Mario missed the impromptu party. According to a letter Rosalie received they might be home in a month to get married.  They also signed a contract to build a new home in Pleasant Hills.

Around ten o’clock, Bobby and Bianca joined Angelo and Rosalie along with other friends and family in the street. Lacrosse streets were a sea of smiles. Every light was lit and people didn’t want the night to end.

 

 

Making a Choice – Drama or Thankfulness?

Yesterday was about as perfect as it gets. For some people the simple events of taking a drive, doing a little shopping, having lunch with a good friend, and driving home would be taken for granted as an ordinary day. But when you face the daily rigors of care taking having a relaxing day with a friend becomes a terrific day. It’s all about perspective and living a thankful life.

So much is said about living a “thankful” life. Some therapists even suggest keeping a thankful diary. Why? It is a way to recognize how wonderful life can be. When you’re thankful, you don’t think about missing out on something.

Many people sleepwalk through their lives and slug their way through the day. They put unnecessary drama in their lives and whirl around to get attention. Little do they realize they are only wasting their energy on nonsense. I hate living in a world like that, so I work every day to avoid it.

I’ve shared some of the bad days Ken has experienced, and I admit his deteriorating condition does affect me. The bad days are hard, and that’s because I love him. And sometimes I love it. But most of the time we work through the stress together and go on. Through the twenty years we’ve been together we’ve become part of each other.  Every day I search for ways to make his life easier and happier. Other people look at us staying at home almost every day and they wonder why we aren’t nuts. After all, this 24/7 togetherness even for healthy people can be enough to make you go crazy.

We’ve had to accept our retirement dreams are dashed, but our story is much more prevalent than people realize.  Our friends are examples of couples who face this challenge every day. Cathy nurses Jim who has a rare blood disease. Linda watched Patrick lie in a hospital bed for a few months as he succumbed to the ravages of diabetes. Kay who has experienced seeing her husband Marc collapse with heart disease. We all muddle through the tough days and give thanks for days when our partner feels well. The only other choice is to run away, but that isn’t a true option. None of us could live with ourselves if we gave into that impulse.

Being thankful for the good things — like a day when we can get out just for a car ride — keeps the awful days in perspective. Discovering the peace that exists in all of us helps take the disappoints in strides. We live in a sea of patience and dismiss the small stuff. Before you realize it, everything is the small stuff.

Have a wonderful, thankful day everyone!

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 19

Naples, Italy-October 1944—Ten months went by since Josie and Mario found each other at the Naples hospital. In the fall, Josie returned to the operating room, and once again, she experienced the satisfaction this work gave her. Mario remained in the army and found contentment in his new assignment as a hospital orderly, assisting medical personnel, cleaning bedpans, and removing other disgusting messes from the sick and injured. Mario rationalized his duty as payback because others performed such chores for him.

With Mario rejected for further combat, Josie relaxed around him and allowed a deeper relationship take hold. Every afternoon they met and strolled through the compound hand in hand. Mario showed her how laughter worked to ease a tension-filled day. Every night when they still possessed enough energy, the couple went to the USO club to dance. Mario glided around the dance floor holding Josie in his tight frame. As they floated to the music, the world drifted away for a few minutes.

When the music stopped, Mario led Josie to a small table at the periphery of the dance floor. He became uncharacteristically solemn.  “Josie, I need to say something.”

Josie breathed deep as she recovered from the exuberance of the dance. “OK, soldier; tell me what’s on your mind.”

Mario too a deep breath. “I gave up the chance to go home several months ago, did you realize that?”

She put on a mischievous grin because she knew the answer. “So, why didn’t you go home?”

“Because what I want is right here.” He moved closer to her.

“Oh.” She thought her heart skipped a beat.

“I recognize I’m a clown a lot of the time, but I need you to take me seriously right now.”

His eyes in the candlelight told her something very important was about to happen. “Sure, Mario. Just tell me.”

“I love you, Josie. That’s why I stayed.”

She gazed into his big brown eyes and whispered. “I know.”

He leaned back on his chair. “Then why did you bust my balls to tell you in so many words?”

“Every girl needs her guy to tell her he loves her, silly.” A grin crossed her face. “And besides, I get a kick out of seeing a big guy like you squirm.”

“You devil!” Mario pulled her to his chest and held her like a bear. He kissed her with passion leaving her breathless.

“Oh, Mario!” She melted. “I love you, too!” She returned his kiss.

His huge dark eyes brightened. “Let’s get married.”

“Is that a proposal?”

“It’s the best I got.”

“All righty then.” She smiled up at him.

“Is that a YES?” he said.

“It’s the best I got.”

The music started again. This time it was a waltz. Mario pulled Josie onto the dance floor. She cuddled into his body. She felt secure and happy in his arms. For the rest of the evening they never missed a beat dancing.

Chapter 20

Switzerland-October—Heidi missed Danny so much she found smiling difficult. She wanted to cry but she only allowed herself to shed any tears when the children went to sleep because they also suffered yet another loss in their young lives. They got too upset whenever Heidi showed her sadness.

When Heidi picked up the mail every day, she prayed she would receive a letter from Danny. To her delight, today she found an envelope addressed in his familiar handwriting and another letter with a Budapest return address. Why would Dominik write to her?

Dear Heidi,

 I am back at home and things are crazy with the Nazis in power. They restricted the Jews from interacting with other citizens. Worst yet, they deport train loads of people every day. 

I talked until I got hoarse to persuade the Rabbi to take his family away from here, but he refused to leave. As you know, he felt it was his God-directed responsibility to protect the Jews. I am sad to tell you he and his family got captured in August and placed on a train. I learned through the grapevine the train was bound for Auschwitz in Poland. I guess there’s a work camp there, but nobody knows for sure what is going on there.

I cried as I witness the Germans separating the men from the women and children before they got on the train. Gavrelia screamed when she was pulled away from the Rabbi. A Nazi hit her in the face with the butt of his gun as he pushed the Rabbi toward the men’s line. 

A rumor circles around town the Rabbi escaped the train by sawing open the lock on the train carriage. Supposedly he hid an emery wire in a loaf of bread, and jumped from the train.  As you might imagine I am not privy to his true fate or if Gavrelia and the children are safe. All we can do is pray.

When I learn more, I will write. I hope you and the children are still out of harm’s way.

 Your friend, Dominik

Heidi cried as she read about the Rabbi who protected her and the children for two years being sent away from his home. Her mind raced with tragic scenarios. If he did jump from the train, where is he? And to think any Nazi bully would harm a gentle person like Gavrelia was hard to swallow. Gavrelia and the children must be terrified to be separated from the Rabbi.

Heidi knew the Nazis hated every Jew—even the children she adopted. Her heart raced when she thought they might be taken away. Why did her countrymen have to be so cruel?  She brushed away her tears for the Weismann family and opened the second letter hoping Danny’s news was happier.

 

My sweet Heidi,

I am safe in England again. My original unit went home, but I will remain here doing desk duty for a few months.

 I must tell you some bad news. The U. S. Army Air Corps claims our marriage is not legal, and I will not be able to bring you to the States unless we go through proper military channels. As you might guess, I got heartsick hearing such a thing. I am married to you in my heart and somehow I will bring you home.

Major Jamison informed me American servicemen need the permission of their commanding officers to marry any European woman while he is serving in the military.

The good news is, Major Jamison is making arrangements to bring you and the children to England. I am searching for a flat for all of us, and in a few short weeks we can marry again. You will be contacted by the Resistance, and they will bring you to me.

I am so sorry we must go through this military nonsense, but I will never be sorry to repeat my promise to love and cherish you forever. We’ll be together soon, my sweet darling.

I love you so much, Danny 

P. S. This time I will give you a proper wedding ring.

Heidi fingered the homemade wedding ring Danny made for her out of an old car part off the Rolls Royce. The car provided safe passage for her and the children from Warsaw to Switzerland, so no matter how beautiful a “proper” ring might be, it would never be as dear to her as the one he made with his own hands.

Heidi drew a deep breath and ran her hand over Danny’s letter. She wondered how much time would pass before she would feel his embrace again.

Chapter 21

Zurich, Switzerland – October—The librarian knocked on Heidi’s door a week after Danny’s letter arrived. She handed Heidi a small envelope and left without a word. The clandestine correspondence held the instructions Heidi would follow to get to the Americans in England. Because the Allied forces achieved a confident foothold throughout France as the army pushed the Germans back to Berlin, Heidi’s instructions differed from the path Danny had followed. Her journey traveled through the mountains to Lyon by car. They would be shuttled to a train depot to then board a train destined Paris. Afterward, a plane would carry them to London.

Heidi wanted to be with Danny as soon as possible, but she feared what another perilous journey would do to the children.

When she told the children the plan, David spoke up. “Mutter, don’t worry. We will be fine. I will hold Ruthie’s hand, and I am sure Jacob will sleep the whole trip. I am not afraid to go.”

Heidi hugged David. “Thank you my dear son. I can always count on you.”

*****

When darkness enveloped the night, Heidi carried a sleepy Jacob to a car waiting for them in front of the house. As he promised, David held Ruthie’s hand and helped her get settled in the backseat. Heidi covered them with a blanket before the driver proceeded away from the residence which served them for almost a year.

“Mama, when will be with Papa Danny?” Ruthie asked.

“We must be patient, Ruthie. Our journey will be long, so you need to sleep. You do not want to be tired when we see Papa Danny, do you?”

“But Mama-

Heidi shot the child a “mother look” which told the child she wanted no argument.” We must follow instructions. I expect you to do as you are told. Understand?”

David and Ruthie nodded and remained silent until they climbed onto a train bound for Paris. At the station in the city of lights, an American sergeant put them in a jeep and drove to the airfield where the family boarded a cargo plane destined for London.

As the plane’s engines revved, Heidi held her breath. She couldn’t show her fear because she didn’t want the children to be afraid. David’s eyes widened as the powerful engines propelled the plane to the runway. Ruthie squealed with delight as the plane took flight. “Weeee! Mama, we are flying like birds!”

Heidi forced a smile and gritted her teeth as a peaceful Jacob slept in her arms. “Yes dear. We are.”

*****

The London flight passed quickly. A disappointed David whined, “Can’t we do go again, Mama?”

“No, not today David. Remember Danny is waiting for us.”

Heidi breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened, and she put her feet back on the ground again. Danny waited for them on the tarmac, and all of children ran toward his opened arms. He hugged and kissed everyone and then embraced Heidi. “I worried about you traveling all that way, darling.” He kissed Heidi tenderly. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“So am I.” Heidi melted into his embrace.

Me, too Papa Danny!” Ruthie hugged his leg. Danny patted her head.

Jacob put up his chubby arms. “Uppie Dada!”

He kissed the child.

David stood off to the side. Danny handed Jacob to Heidi and walked toward the boy. “Hey sport! Where’s my hug?”

David’s face lit up and he hugged Danny around the waist.

Danny heard the boy whimper. “What’s going on, son? Don’t be sad.”

“I thought you left us forever . . . like my real Mama and Papa.” David cried.

Danny hugged him. “I promise I will never leave you, and I keep my promises. You’re my boy, and I’m very proud of you. When we get home, we’re going to live in a nice house, and you can even get a puppy if you want one. But that will be our secret, okay? I need to clear adding a puppy to our family with your mother.”

David wiped his tears with the back of his hand. Danny put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and they both walked toward Heidi and the other two children. Heidi’s heart swelled as she witnessed Danny’s gentleness.

“How did you kids like the airplane ride?”

David spoke first. “I pretended you flew us here and you let me sit in the front.  When we lifted up from the ground my tummy jumped. The only other time I felt like that was when Heidi drove the car fast up and down the hills!”

Danny laughed. “And what about you, Ruthie?”

“I shivered on the airplane, Papa. The train was funner.”

Danny laughed. Heidi wrote she taught the children some English, but he recognized they needed a lot more practice.”

“Let’s get going.” Danny hugged Heidi again, picked up their small duffle bag and couldn’t wait to begin their future.

Even though Heidi flew to a different country, she felt at home in Danny’s arms. Marrying him would never be a mistake, and the time they spent apart only intensified her love for him.

Danny led them to a jeep and drove his family to a small flat he rented. They climbed up three flights of stairs, and Danny opened the door which revealed a clean, safe apartment. With all the devastation in London, finding a place on the far west side of the city with a bomb shelter across the street took weeks to find.

Beside a small kitchen, two beds folded up into the walls during the day and served as a living space. Danny hoped Heidi wouldn’t be too disappointed with his choice.

“It is lovely, sweetheart.” She kissed his cheek.

“It’s the best I could do. Flats are scarce. I hope the place isn’t too small.”

Heidi didn’t care about the size of the apartment. For the first time since she left Germany, she felt at home. “We’ll make due.”

 

 

Watered Down Dreams

 

I never was a person who had a clear plan for my life. As a child, I wanted to be a “Mouseketeer” or a pretty lady who rode on a 4th of July float in the parade. One of these dreams came true. Wanna guess which one? That’s right. At eighteen I wore a white flowing gown on a float filled with live petunias that attracted bees. There I was a Greek Goddess standing by a garden trellis swatting away the little buggers, but nobody said portraying a goddess would be easy.

In high school, I wanted to sing on Broadway. My other option was to write a best seller. Guess which one of these two came true. Well, the answer is none. I did sing in a local choral group and many times got the solos; and I did write seven novels, all of them published, but none of them has become a best seller. Yet.

When I got a little older, I decided I wanted to marry a good, kind man. The first one didn’t work out, but on the second try I’m happy to say I found one. Ken and I had four or five fun-filled years–two years of dating and another three before he got sick. I dreamed we’d sail into the sunset and travel in retirement, but that can’t happen because he’s too weak to even travel to Chicago these days.

People applaud me for my efforts, but I don’t feel worry of their praise. In my mind, reality has watered down my dreams and I feel like I missed the boat of what I really wanted to achieve. So like a harnessed plow horse, I keep plugging away. I realize most of my good years are in the rear view mirror, and as I gaze ahead I wonder what is next.

These thoughts haunt me because Ken had a terrible weekend. I had to call the fire department three times to have the men pick him up from the floor. He even toppled over in the garage, hitting his head on the pavement. A quick forming lump and a bit of blood freaked me out. The good news is — it was just a bump.

Such episodes make me feel inadequate in the caregiver department. Nobody signs up for this situation. It just happens, and I suppose when you find yourself in such a place, one does get to the point when life is too heavy. Love you have for the person for whom you are caring wanes even when it’s the last thing you want to do. When the person needing help is a spouse, the dynamics of the marriage change forever. And always being in the shadow of another brings darkness, doesn’t it?

I’ll search for the light, but seeing I don’t know what direction to search, it will take me some time. Eventually I’ll have enough information to make a good decision for him and for me, and it’s coming sooner than later.

Until then, I’m sending you a couple more chapters of the second edition of Apple Pie and Strudel Girls. We’re nearing the end, so stay with me.

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 9

Naples, Italy – March—Josie found working in the wards satisfying in a different way; instead of the excitement of the operating room, she found her nurturing side as she helped wounded soldiers make the journey back to health. By the end of March the weather turned pleasant enough to wheel her patients outside to enjoy the sunshine. Somehow the outdoors lifted their depressed spirits better than any medication in a syringe or a bottle. Mario especially looked forward to his time with Josie. He healed enough to get out of bed and walk short distances with a cane, but he would never be fit for combat again.

The more time he spent with Josie, he confirmed to himself he didn’t want to live without her in his life. She, on the other hand, didn’t show she might be ready to listen to his serious intentions. For the time being, he stayed satisfied to admit she prevailed as the checkers champ, while he taught her the finer points of poker.

As Josie finished her shift, she picked up her mail and discovered she received three letters. One from Anna, Johnny, and Rosalie. After months of not getting any mail at all. Josie almost skipped to her quarters to read the news from her friends.

Dear Josie,

Hope this letter finds you with your “head down.” A rumor circled around the camp a field evac center in Italy got bombed. Please, if you’re reading this letter, write to me as soon as you can so I can relax.

Since we last met, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.  Our pilot got lost in a storm and crashed somewhere in Albania behind German lines. I got stranded with four wounded patients and only one corpsman. The pilot died in the crash. I thought about you during those first minutes, asking myself, “What would Josie do?” And I got my answer right away. Josie would pray. So I did. Yes–this kid finally believes.

In a couple of minutes, my prayer seemed to be fast-tracked. A band of Albanian resistance fighters came to our rescue, although at the time, I thought I might be a goner. The leader called himself Jack. I wish I could send you a picture. A colorful turban hid Jack’s long grimy hair. His face sported, a full scraggly beard, and he dressed like something straight out of an Allie-Baba movie. His body odor was ripe. I don’t think he bathed in a month, but he turned out to be our guardian angel. Through his knowledge of the area and his cleverness to solve problems along the way, we walked eight hundred miles through mountain wilderness back to our lines.

This is an adventure I never want to repeat. The good news is everyone lived. No fatalities. Everyone suffered frostbite. Mike, my corpsman lost a couple of toes, and he developed pneumonia. I kept trotting from a bad case of dysentery.  A month later I returned to the air. Most people think I’m crazy not to ask for a transfer.

For my efforts, I received a raise and a promotion to First Lieutenant. I suppose you’re a general by now, but pretend to be impressed, okay? (Ha,ha) I never acquired the knack of out-performing you, but I hope this experience at least ties with your escapades.

Write soon if you can, and I’ll look forward to meeting you again in peace time. Sending you my love and respect,

 Your friend, Anna

As Josie read Anna’s tale, she didn’t think she possessed the strength or fortitude to make such a horrendous journey. Walking eight hundred miles through the snowy mountains seemed impossible.  Josie considered herself a tomboy, but Anna proved she always had more gas in her tank than Josie ever did. What a story! She looked forward to sharing Anna’s letter with Mario who bragged about walking the length of Italy.

She opened Rosalie’s letter next.

Dear Josie,

 Here I am in the safety of my home with two beautiful babies. (I’m sending you a new picture to brag a little). If you came home for Christmas, I’d be as happy as a pig in slop. (Can you tell your Dad has rubbed off on me?)

My good mood got a boost when I found Angelo on my doorstep. He returned home just before Christmas with a medical discharge. He got severely burned and wounded on a Pacific Island. (I can’t tell you where because of the censors.) Angelo suffered so much. For awhile the doctors only gave him a thirty percent chance he would live because he stayed in a coma for weeks after surgery. He lay on a field hospital cot for weeks because the air strip needed to be completed before they could send him to a better hospital.

The most amazing thing happened to him while he lay asleep. Angelo told me he went to a quiet, peaceful place during those two weeks. He recalled he jumped on the wings of a butterfly and flew home to check on me and the babies. He also said he saw Tony again. They laughed together, but then Tony told Angelo his time with him expired because I needed him at home. After Tony walked away from him, Angelo woke up.  Isn’t that incredible?

When Angelo saw the Blue Star flag I hung in the front window, he cried. Then I showed him the scrapbook of stories I cut out of the newspaper about his unit.  We made up a silly ceremony and retired the banner laying it to rest in my war scrapbook. We put both in the attic, hoping never to go through such a long separation again.

Angelo’s walks with a cane, and he still suffers terrible pain in his leg, but he’s still my sweet Angelo. He’s so proud of our kids and spoils them rotten. Even though they are so small, I can tell they love having their Daddy home again.

Angelo’s boss gave him his job back, but instead of doing all the hard labor, he made Angelo a foreman. He got a big pay raise because the factory received a huge government contract. It’s such a relief to not worry about money. I really got scared I might lose our house, but Donna chipped in rent money, and we muddled through together. She’s such a doll. I really miss her.

 Besides bringing home a bum leg and a lot of scars, Angelo brought home his young friend Bobby. Honestly Josie, he’s just a kid. He enlisted in the Marines at sixteen years old! Can you imagine that? He’s living upstairs in Donna’s old room for the time being. He tells everybody he found his feminine side because he sleeps a pink bedroom. (ha, ha)

Bobby never experienced a loving family before and I think Angelo believes God sent him a little brother to help ease the loss of Tony. He’s a decent kid, and he loves little Angelo. He calls him “AJ,” and I think the new nickname will stick.

Things are almost back to normal, except for rationing, air raid practices, and blackouts, of course. (ha, ha)

I miss you and Donna so much. I hope you’ll come home REAL soon.

 Love you always,

Rosie

After Josie finished reading Rosalie’s letter, she thought about her role as a wife of a veteran and a mother of two babies. Sweet Rosie. She’s a veteran, but she’ll never get any credit for her contribution to the war effort. No one will give her a medal for the personal hardship and loneliness she endured. And no one will honor her for having a baby without her husband standing by. She sacrificed as much as any of us. Josie sighed and picked up the letter from Johnny. She hoped he completed his thirty-five missions and went home.

Dear Josie,

Hi, kid! Hope you’re up to no good for a change, but somehow I doubt it. You’re the type who makes up sins when you go to confession. 

Things here are stepping up. The new planes are a dream and our new Captain is crazier than my old friend Graham. I fly as Baker’s wing man and we’re a winning combination.

When Alistair and Graham died in combat, I never thought I would fly with anybody with the same talent, but the Captain gives Graham a run for his money. He challenges me every day.

We finally own the skies over Europe and are pounding the hell out of the Krauts. Turnabout is fair play, right? I believe this war is coming to a painful climax–like when you get a pimple and the damn thing needs to be squeezed. (ha, ha)

At least I hope so. I’m weary of flying mission after mission and wondering who will come back . . . the worst part is, not knowing the fate of the fliers –are they dead or POWs? Rumors of German prison conditions make me think the better choice of the two is death.

I want to tell you some good news and bad news. Mary and I broke off our engagement. Being separated for three years took its toll on both of us. I got close to Alistair’s widow, and Mary admitted she didn’t feel the same about me either.

The more Katie and I wrote and the few times we saw each other developed into something serious. I didn’t plan this. But Katie is beautiful and smart, and someday soon, we’ll marry before the war is over so I can take her home with me after the Krauts surrender.

You’ll never guess what I found in a pub last week. Peter! He’s part of a million other “yanks.” You can imagine how much fun we got out of sharing a couple of beers together, although, I can say one thing-I’ll be glad when I get home and drink a COLD beer-these crazy Brits drink their pints of “bitter” warm. As long as I live, I’ll never get used to that.

Well, that’s all the news. Hope you’re safe and well.

Love,

Johnny

Josie reread each letter before she put all the letters in the cigar box where she kept all her correspondence. She realized a common thread ran through all of the letters. The war changed everybody, but somehow life goes on. She heart broke for Mary because being Johnny’s fiancé meant something very special to her.  Josie realized even the best relationship gets tough when it must endure a long separation. Rosalie’s letter once again showed a lively spark which disappeared after Angelo left. Thank God he made it home. The two of them should enjoy a long happy life together; after all they loved each other since freshman year in high school.

The letters did more for Josie’s spirits than any counseling session. She planned to share her news from home with Mario because he enjoyed hearing stories about her friends. Josie told him so much about about Rosalie, Angelo, and Donna he considered them an extended family.

Her assignment in the convalescent wards brought Josie and Mario close. He cajoled her and she bantered back. They laughed together, and once in a while shared a tender moment of silence. When he told her he never would face combat again, she rejoiced. Lately, she didn’t want to think of living without him in her life.

Chapter 10

Normandy, France-June—Peter and millions of other American boys realized the invasion of Europe couldn’t be far off. As they went through daily drills, a crusty sergeant made sure his men understood there were no rules in combat. As they crawled on their bellies under barbed wire, the sergeant yelled. “If you get a chance to kill a Kraut by shooting him in the back, you shoot. If you can blow him up with a grenade, throw the grenade. If you can kill him with a bayonet, you stab him. You kill the son-of-a-bitch the quickest and most effective way you can. If you don’t, I guarantee you won’t live to tell the story. Remember this: The enemy’s main desire is to kill YOU!”

Every day and every training session the drill sergeants yelled such words of wisdom to toughen up the troops. As the soldiers practiced climbing ropes, the sergeant drilled them. “Jerry will trick and cheat you. There are no ethics in war, boys. If you don’t beat Jerry at his own game, you won’t live to appreciate your own nobleness.”

As Peter drilled and practiced his role in the upcoming invasion, he wondered if he could really kill anyone. As a child, he learned in catechism class “Thou shall not kill.”  He understood killing was a sin. Killing puts you in prison. But now he found himself with a rifle in his hand surrounded by people who expected him to use it.

One day, he got enough nerve to ask his sergeant about his dilemma. The crusty drill sergeant recognized Peter struggled. “Kid. Listen. I won’t say this twice. You are not a killer. We are here to do a job. Our superiors expect success. We must give one hundred and ten percent all of the time. Nothing but your best effort is required. Any man who witnesses and sniffs the ugliness of war wants no more of it–GUARANTEED.  Don’t believe anyone who says war is glorious. The truth is exactly the opposite. War is grimy, dusty, noisy, and disgusting. Once you come under fire, you’ll witness unbelievable sights. Believe me, the only guys picking fights after this war, will be the cowards who want others to think they were tough combat men. When the truth is, they peed their pants the minute a bullet whizzed by ’em. Believe me, private, the surest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry. You mark my words.”

After listening to the sergeant ‘s war philosophies day in and day out, Peter accepted his logic. Americans got permission to shoot the enemy because they didn’t start this fight. The Germans did. But by god, the allies planned to finish it.

Peter just wanted to get the invasion over, so he could enjoy his Mom’s good cooking and run the farm again with his dad. He never thought going home again would be so important to him.

*****

On June 4th orders came down the chain of command the invasion would commence at 0300 hours. Peter and his buddies dressed in their combat gear and waited on deck for the order to disembark. The ship rolled so much in the heavy surf; standing upright on the deck proved to be nearly impossible. The sky stayed black even after sun-up. Rain pelted down like a fire hose sprayed them at a close distance. But no one thought bad weather might prevent the biggest invasion in history.

The high swells in the English Channel bounced the Higgins boats like bathtub toys. GIs became so violently sick before getting to shore they didn’t stand a chance facing an enemy as savvy as the Germans. After the brass witnessed a few futile attempts to get the boats ashore, they called off the invasion.

The storm on June 4th turned out to be the worst storm in the area for over one hundred years, and Peter and his crew returned to port, cold, wet and even more anxious than when they woke that morning.

*****

Two days later, the weather cleared, and the seas calmed enough to go forward with the invasion. The soldiers climbed down the ropes to the waiting landing craft boats in the dark. The men crunched together while they kept their heads down to avoid the bullets whizzing by them. Small subs slithered through the seas to protect the landing craft. Large balloons shaped like blimps hovered over the LCVPs to protect the men from German Stuka bombers diving and strafing them.

As the boats got closer to the beach, the Germans knocked out the balloons with rapid fire. Peter cut the cable to the balloon with bullets skimming his head; he belly-flopped into the pile of men in the bottom of the boat. Lying on his back, Peter gazed at a flock of barrage balloons filling the sky. In a strange way, he felt like a kid at the country fair who just lost his helium balloon.

The battleships behind the landing crafts fired shells from their fifteen-inch guns over the heads of the men in the smaller boats. Every once in a while a huge explosion erupted, and the men in the landing boats realized an American battleship successfully hit one of the Kraut’s ammo dumps. Peter’s throat grew dry and constricted. He couldn’t  utter a sound. His heart pounded in his ears and  his pulse raised.

Everyone stared ahead too afraid this might be the end. No one spoke.

Peter silently prayed. “Please, Lord let me get to the beach. Help me live through this.”

The ramps dropped and Sergeant Castle let his team into the waist-high water. The fifty pound backpacks pulled many of the smaller guys down into the sea. Some sunk like rocks, as rip currents pulled them out into the ocean drowning many of them. Sharp iron anti-boat rails impaled others as they jumped into the water.

Disregarding his personal danger, Peter pulled man after man onto the beach. He returned to the surf again and again to help floundering comrades.

Pillboxes and concrete bunkers six-feet thick lined the coast above the beach. Machine guns rat-ta-tat accompanied the screams of dying men. Larger guns shot shell after shell at the landing crews. The concussion of the shells knocked floundering men off their field. Grenades fell on the Americans who made it to the beach and waited for the rest of their units at the base of the bluff. Herr Rommel had done his best to deter an Allied invasion. But the Americans pushed on. The mission was to take control of the beach and surrounding area.

Confusion and agony covered the men on Omaha beach. The ear-splitting barrage of bullets and shells exploding deafened the landing soldiers. The infantry quickly found out the earlier naval gunfire and pre-landing air bombardments did nothing to softened German defenses. If men didn’t fall dead from bombs or bullets, a mine buried on the beach might do the job.

Shells whined over each wave of troops attempting to land. Great splashes erupted as they exploded in the water. Peter ran to the beach pumping his legs on the wet sand. He fell on his belly on the cold gravel beach. With so many bullets, shrapnel fragments, and explosions all around him, he touched his leg and arm to assure he remained alive. Then he fought to get to his feet firing his weapon blindly as he advanced.

The nightmarish scene didn’t seem real. The sea turned redder as the battle went on. Dead men lay where they dropped, and because Peter saved three men from drowning, he got separated from his unit. Through the fire and smoke, he scanned the beach for his sergeant. He yelled his name again and again, but received no answer. Screams of wounded men and exploding shells drowned out his shouts. Mayhem prevailed. With every step, Peter prayed. “God be with me. God be with me. Please don’t let me die here! I want to go home. I want to go home. Please Lord, be with me.”

As he moved forward a searing pain ripped through Peter’s belly. Blood oozed out a wound which nearly cut him in half. He gasped from the pain and collapsed. He put pressure on his wound and crawled behind a corpse. He said one more prayer and passed out.

Peter lay unconscious while a medic packed his wounds with gauze dressings and gave him a shot of morphine. The eighteen year old opened his eyes for a second to stare at a grimy face with a wide handlebar mustached say, “You’ll be okay mate. The worst part will be when we move ya.”

Corpsmen lifted Peter onto a stretcher and ran to a waiting LCVP which ferried the wounded to the off-shore hospital ships. The wounded men needed to be transferred from the Higgins boats to the hospital ship by hand. The men lifting the wounded needed to keep the stretcher level hoisting their patient over their heads or the patient would slip off the stretcher into the icy waters of the Channel. Choppy seas and exploding shells made the transfers a monumental task.

Once aboard the hospital ship, medical personnel triaged the wounded men. Peter lost a tremendous amount of blood so his critical condition moved him to the head of the queue for surgery. Nurses worked furiously to keep him alive until the doctors brought him into surgery. Finding veins to start IV’s in both arms for the plasma and saline proved to be difficult, but after injections of penicillin and morphine, Peter lay semi-conscious as medical personnel buzzed around him.

He listened to a doctor say, “We’re going to put you to sleep, now son.”

Peter tried to nod but blinking his eyes turned out to be the only movement he could make. The doctor put a rubber mask over his face and the effect of the drug put him into a deep sleep. He drifted into a quiet zone. No more bombs exploding. No more bullets ripping through flesh. No more pain. No more screaming. He traveled to a very white and peaceful place. A sense of calm washed over him. He loved the silence. Then a familiar person walked toward him.  Tony Armani held out his arms to embrace Peter. “Hey old, buddy. Good to see you again.”

Peter stared at his brother’s old friend. “Where are we, Tony?”

“Some people call this place heaven. Come on. I want you to meet some other guys.” Tony put his arm around Peter’s shoulder, and they walked toward a bright light together. ”

 

 

 

To Age or Not to Age

Yesterday my friend Jackie and I took a couple of hours to do some shopping. It wasn’t like old times because primarily we were doing grocery shopping, not looking for cute outfits to wear to the office. Jackie has just retired and she is mentally and physically exhausted because she moved back home after living in another place for ten years. And I’m very happy because now I have another friend to “play with” as we go through this retiring chapter together.

This time in our lives feels so weird. We know when we look in a mirror we have grown older, but inside we still feel like young adults. It isn’t until we move around too much we really recognize we aren’t young at all.

This state of mind is hard to explain to someone younger. They see a pudgy woman with gray hair and think of me as old. I guess that’s okay because most of the time they go out of their way to be helpful. That’s one perk of growing older. The downside of the perception is I don’t think like a senior. I’m still willing to give something new a try. I wrote my first novel after age 55 and I never splashed paint on a canvas until I was almost 60. Even now as I write these numbers, I’m cringing inside. How did this happen?

Whenever I utter that phrase, “how did this happen?” Ken says, “You just kept getting up each morning.” And I guess he’s right. Aging seems to take place in the body, while the mind is less affected. Wouldn’t you like to take what you have learned and put it in a different, younger, body with no aches and pains? I think about that a lot. But then again, it’s probably good I can’t transform into a younger self because I know I’d get into trouble.

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 3

Switzerland, January — The first leg of the hundred and thirty-five mile trip to Vienna, Austria proved to be perilous. The route Dominik decided to travel took them through winding, ice-covered mountain roads. Heidi held her breath most of the way. She closed her eyes  because the sheer sight of the skinny curving roads with no guard rails made her sick to her stomach. The children behaved like angels as they traveled the slippery roads. They understood Heidi wanted them to be quiet by looking at her concerned face. They played quietly with toys Heidi made for them–sock puppets and trucks she carved from soaps.

Once Dominik and Heidi got to Vienna, they needed to find shelter. Dominik rented a hotel room.

“We are lucky, frauline. One room is vacant, but there is a minor problem.” Dominik smirked. “The room only provides two beds.”

“Perhaps we can ask them for a crib for Jacob?” Heidi suggested.

“I tried. No cribs are available.” Dominik dropped his head and looked at his feet felling like he failed her. “I will sleep on the floor.”

“Don’t be silly, Dominik. Of all of us, you need the bed the most. We’ve gotten this far because of you. Driving all that way in such conditions must be exhausting.”

David spoke up, “Dominik, we can share one bed and Heidi, Ruthie and Jacob can sleep in the other.”

Heidi smiled at the boy who became her son. “That is a good idea, David.” Then she turned to Dominik. “It appears there are two good men who can make good decisions.”

Dominik laughed. He rubbed the top of David’s head. “We sure do.”

*****

Dominik acted like a gentle father with the children. He respected Heidi as she mothered the three orphans with genuine love and affection. He also took his cue from her as they passed all the German checkpoints through Austria.

Only one frightening moment happened during their journey. A Nazi Captain at the checkpoint crossing into Switzerland questioned the validity of their papers. However, with the Allies gathering strength across Europe, the officer received orders from his superiors to let the “family” of German citizens be on their way. Heidi breathed deeply when the Captain raised the gate to let them go.

She snuggled beside Dominik, and he placed a kiss on her cheek. “We will be safe, now.” He put the car in first gear and drove through the checkpoint. Heidi relaxed back into the seat realizing they just narrowly escaped capture. People traveling with false papers suffered  long jail sentences.

Dominick laughed. “You worry too much frauline.

Heidi stared at him with disbelief. “Men! You can’t tell me you weren’t concerned.”

Dominik laughed. “No I can’t.”

The distance from Vienna to Zurich was three hundred sixty seven miles. The second half of their trek took another two days to maneuver through the many winding paths others called roads. Their petrol and food supply dwindled, and they needed to find permanent shelter as soon as possible.  After their stay in the hotel, Dominik rented a furnished house for the family. He considered his mission completed. He did his best to save Heidi and the children in less than a week.

When Heidi woke and went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the children, she found a note on the dining table.

Dearest Heidi,

I am a coward not to tell you what I am about to do face-to-face. I tried to bring up my intentions many times, but when I studied your innocent face the words in this note didn’t come out of my mouth.

 I left this morning to return to Budapest. I believe my duty now is to help the Rabbi and his family gets out of the city. He did his best to protect the Jews up until now, but I fear his time is running out. I do not trust the agreement the Rabbi made with Eichman to keep the Jews out of harm’s way. When dealing with the devil, agreements will eventually be broken.

 You will be safe now and I can leave with a clear conscience. I hope you understand.

 Your friend, Dominik

Heidi gasped as she read the note. She wondered how she alone could provide for the children. No job. Little money. No help. How would she survive now? Then she remembered the jewels Dora sewed into the hem of their coats.

Chapter 4

England, February—While his brother Peter waded through the English Channel surf to hone his skills for the upcoming invasion, Johnny and the other American pilots now served under the command of a new general. Unlike the commanders before him, this officer possessed very different ideas on how fighter planes should be used in battle. Instead of escorting the bombers to their destinations, the new officer commanded the fighter pilots to use the planes as fighting machines. He ordered the pilots to challenge the enemy and shot them out of the sky.

Captain Don Baker became the commanding officer attached to the 4th Fighter Group. Baker was known in pilots’ circles to be the George S. Patton Jr. in a P-51 Mustang. The captain proved his genius in the cockpit, but he also proved to be a poor shot. Rumors flew he couldn’t hit a Messerschmitt if it flew into his propeller.  The first morning he took command, Baker gathered his pilots in the meeting room. “Gentlemen, now that I’m here, the Fourth fighter Group will be the top unit in the Eighth Air Force. We are here to fight. We’re here to win. If anybody doesn’t believe that, I suggest you transfer to another group. I’m going to fly the arse off each one of you. Those who keep up with me, good; those who don’t, find another unit.”

For two months, Baker kept his promise. He pushed his pilots to the edge, teaching them to engage the Luftwaffe in a deadly game of aerial “chicken.”  Baker counted on the German pilots to break off first.  Now the group flew like a pack of  hungry wolves with one objective–kill the enemy. Backer repeated the litany of their mission; “The fewer Luftwaffe in the air, the fewer Germans to fight–the quicker we go home.”

After flying with Captain Baker, Johnny likened his piloting skills to playing a game of three-dimensional chess at speeds of four hundred miles per hour.  Baker possessed an explosive personality. If a pilot got on his bad side, the poor guy would get transferred.be packing his duffle bag for parts unknown. His unpredictability and flying by the seat of his pants often got him praise or a dressing down by his superiors.

Johnny admired Baker. The man expected his pilots bring their “A” game every time they sat in the cockpit. He offered a challenge in the air, and on the ground he was easy to drink with and easy to kid around with. He made Johnny feel alive again. After so many missions of escorting bombers back and forth from their missions, Baker was a breath of fresh air.

The Eighth Air Force and the RAF encountered intense action in January and February in 1944. Bad weather didn’t hold off a succession of missions which went deeper into Germany.  “Big Week” occurred on February 20,. The Eighth Air Corps sent out a thousand fighters while the British put everything plane in their air service into the sky. The mission targeted a dozen German aircraft factories in central and eastern Germany, along with those in western Poland. They flew menacingly in broad daylight, and this mission would be the biggest air battle the world ever witnessed.

Johnny flew as Baker’s wingman in one of the new American P-51 Mustangs. The powerful plane responded quicker than the P-47 plus it carried enough fuel to accompany bombers during the entire mission. The rein of the Luftwaffe controlling the European skies ceased when the P-51 came into battle. The Germans Messerschmitts didn’t match up with the more powerful American plane.

Unlike previous attempts “Big Week” took the first successful step toward ally air control over Europe.

 

Chapter 5

Anzio, Italy — February 11—A rare sunny day offered a welcomed break for Josie and three other nurses. In celebration of the break in the weather, they skipped down to the beach in a designated safety zone. The nurses relaxed in the sunshine with a cigarette. Josie leaned against a large tree and closed her eyes until she heard a disturbing sound. The distinct whine of a German Stuka grew louder and threatened their safe zone. The nurses stood together near the large olive tree and searched the sky for the intruder.

They witnessed a British Spitfire chasing a Messerschmitt across the sky. The two planes dove and climbed in a dog fight. The British plane soared up and veered to the east, while the Messerschmitt fell from the sky. A tail of smoke emitted from the spiraling German plane, and seconds later a parachute opened. As the Luftwaffe pilot drifted down, the nurses heard the whistle of bombs falling. A thunderous explosion shook the ground, and within seconds the nurses realized before the German pilot bailed out, he dropped his payload of bombs near the hospital.

The nurses sprinted back to the hospital and stared at curls of smoke rising from the tents.  Dismembered and burned patients, doctors, nurses, and corpsmen covered the area. Josie vomited when she saw the corpses of her friends. After composing herself, her leadership skills took over and she began to bark orders to the surviving nurses.

“Find any survivors. Treat them as best as you can. Julie Ann find a radio and get some help up here, Get to it girls.”

The girls scattered and searched each tent. The putrid odor of sulfur stung their eyes, as the sweet, metallic stench of blood permeated everything.  Blankets turned black from the blood of patients who bled out. Only a few feeble cries for help fractured the eerie silence of death. Josie likened the scene to one of her nightmares, but this situation was real.

One of her favorite corpsman, Billy O’Donnell lay with a gaping whole in his chest. Josie checked his pulse and realized he still lived.  Air escaped through his chest wound with every painful breath he took. Josie frantically searched overturned drawers and broken cabinets for instruments and dressings to help him. She clamped his arteries with hemostats as he gasped for breath. Then she stuffed a large wad of gauze into the wound hoping to stop the bleeding. She securely taped the dressing to keep the bandage in place. She searched for a chest tube but found none.

For a second, the young man opened his eyes as she worked. He smiled at her and whispered. “I’m so glad you’re here, Josie. Now I know I’ll be all right.” He slipped back into unconsciousness.

Josie did everything possible to save him, Stretcher barriers appeared out of nowhere. They lifted Billy and ran with his critical condition to the adjacent hospital. Afterward all of the survivors were carried away for treatment at the other hospital at Anzio, Josie cried.

*****

A few hours after the attack the surviving medical personnel of the 95th received orders to transfer to Naples. Renovating the bombed Evacuation Hospital was impossible. The operating room stood in shambles. Most equipment, including the X-ray machine and generator, lay in pieces. The holey canvas tents appeared like cheap mosquito netting. Everything had been reduced to a pile of junk.

In the evening, the survivors of the Nettuno hospital honored their dead workmates with a service lead by the Chaplin at the site of the devastation. A background of exploding shells and other fire seemed appropriate to say goodbye to their brave friends who lost their young lives in a senseless and illegal bombing. Josie prayed and reminisced about the few good times she shared with the deceased members of her team. She walked away with a sense of guilt because she lived through the ordeal and now she would leave this horrid place when so many of her friends must stay forever. Walking away from the burial site she thought this one stroll through hell would last her a lifetime.

Trucks waited to take the remaining members of the 95th beach hospital to an LST waiting off shore.  They traveled through the deserted town of Nettuno where Josie’s nursing career in mainland  Italy began. Bulldozers had pushed bricks, stones, and plaster walls from demolished buildings into a large heap. The few survivors of the medical staff rode silently as they witnessed the rubble.

The silence broke when another shelling began. The truck came to an abrupt stop. Without thinking, everyone jumped off the vehicle and searched for nearby shelter. They found a shallow cellar for protection and laid down face first on the dirt floor. The attack lasted until seven o’clock in the evening. and when  the all-clear siren sounded, the shaken medical staff climbed back into the trucks and continued their journey toward the beach.

The driver sped toward the docks where a LST waited with its ramp lowered. The truck drove up the ramp and onto the landing craft, and before the trucks could be locked down, the motors of the LST rumbled pulling the huge landing craft away from the shore.

Josie cried in the darkness. She suffered fright, cold, and numbness as she stared at the hellish beach. She wondered if she would ever recover from what happened on that small piece of sand at Anzio. Then the guilt came again. Why did she live and so many others died?

*****

The fresh sea air and the rocking motion of the LST released some of the anxiety Josie lived with for so many tiring days. Sitting on the edge of life and death every day proved to be the toughest experience she ever encountered. In the distance, flashes of exploding shells reflected against the low-hanging clouds. Orange tracers from machines guns enhanced the light show and Josie thought if she didn’t realize these colorful lights brought death and suffering, she might consider them beautiful. When the beach they left behind slipped into the dark night, she thanked God for keeping her safe. The twenty days she served at Nettuno seemed like a life time.

The LST stopped beside a large ship, and the medical personnel climbed aboard. Sailors led the nurses from deck to deck until they reached the galley. Josie sniffed the scents emitting from the kitchen and her mouth watered. Pork chops? Really? She thought her mind must be playing tricks on her because she hadn’t eaten anything in the past twenty four hours. Since arriving at Anzio, she never consumed a hot meal.

Fifteen minutes later, Josie shared at a table with the three other nurses who survived the attack on the hospital. They savored a meal of pork chops, beans, bread, and apple pie for dessert. As long as she might live, Josie would never forget this meal at sea, and she would never again take simple good food for granted.

 

 

Critics and My Soul

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)

Chapter 22

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.”

“What?”

“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.

Chapter 23

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?

Chapter 24

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.

 

 

Computer Woes

I’m going to keep this post very short because I am struggling with two computers which are not behaving. I telll them one thing and they do another. It’s like coping with disobeying children. My old computer is locked saying its “Logging Off.” It’s been logging off for three hours now. I wish I could give it a pep pill, and order it to work.

My new little baby is also being stubborn. I’ve been trying to load my HP software for my printer/scanner/copier,  and I can’t get it to accept the software. Perhaps it’s too old? It works on my husband’s computer so I don’t know why I can’t bring it up on mine. Then I tried to set up an email address and got more frustration. Both chores should have been easy, but today its not. So, I’ve found the best course of action is to wait for another wave of patience and try again later.

If this strategy doesn’t work, I’ll be forced to contact the Geek Squad and pay them to straighten out these two bad boys.

######

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 16

Lacrosse, Wisconsin — August 7th—Exhaustion ruled Rosalie’s day. The heat stayed oppressive, and her due date sped by without stopping. She thanked God Gina still took an afternoon nap, so she could put her swollen ankles up on the ottoman while she listened to the afternoon soap operas on the radio. Rosalie also .planned their meals around the foods which would be available in the grocery store for that week. Rationing made meal preparation a science, but the government’s monthly meal-planning guides offered menus using the available food, and Rosalie found them helpful.  Rosalie made sure dinner was ready when Donna got home. Dining together was good for both of them. Rosalie didn’t need to face the hardest part of the day alone. And Donna’s first two weeks on the assembly line made for interesting conversation. Her keen ability to relate a story in a humorous ways kept Rosalie’s laughing. The other source of joy came from little Gina who gave both of them a constant source of entertainment as she learned how to talk.

As it turned out, Rosalie’s parents got so involved in the war effort they didn’t have time to help her. Eduardo volunteered to head up the scrap drive at their church and worked tirelessly hauling scrap metal, paper, and rubber to the recycling center. He also volunteered to be the block captain for air raid drills. Mama Lombardo ran the restaurant. Rationing deeply affected their menus, but Mama made an arrangement with Mrs. Schneider to get extra eggs from their farm to make pasta. So far, flour didn’t disappear from the grocery shelves.  When Mama wasn’t making pasta, she canned spaghetti sauce with the fresh tomatoes, peppers, and garlic they grew in their garden. Eduardo planted twice as many plants this year, anticipating shortages.  At night, she “rested” winding bandages for the soldiers with the Red Cross.

******

The first Saturday in August Donna planned a picnic at the riverfront to help Rosie cool off. Both girls needed a break from the stifling August heat wave. Donna drove Angelo’s truck because Rosalie’s pregnant body no longer fit behind the steering wheel. They parked at their favorite spot along the riverside park and all of a sudden Rosalie held her breath.

“Rosie, what’s going on?  Donna’s voice grew concern.

“Nothing. Just little twinge.” Rosie said.

“What kind of twinge?”

“It feels like a little tug across my belly.  I’m fine, let’s enjoy our picnic.” Rosalie grabbed the picnic basket and drew in a deep breath as she bent over. “Ow!”

“Tell me when the next one comes, okay? Promise me, even if the twinge is a little one, you’ll tell me.” Donna ordered.

“Why?”

Donna answered. “Because I want to time them. I think your twinges are the beginning of labor.”

“But, I don’t feel anything in my back like last time.”

“Of course, not silly. Labor isn’t in your back.”

“Gina’s labor was.”

Donna reminded her. “Every baby is different. Maybe this one wants to come into the world face down.”

Rosalie grabbed her belly. “Oh–Wow!”

Donna stood up on the blanket and picked up the picnic basket. “Come on!  We’re going. I’ll drop Gina off at the restaurant with your Mom, and then you and I are going to the hospital.”

Rosalie protested. She wanted to be at the beach all week. “But–”

“No buts, I’m not arguing with you.” Donna piled everything back into the truck, picked up Gina with a kiss, and got behind the wheel. “Get in the car, Rosie.”

Gina kicked and screamed, “No, Auntie Doe-Doe. Go Swim!”

Donna smiled at the sweet child. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Mommy needs to go to the hospital to bring your new sister or brother into the world..”

“No! Go swim!” Gina stomped her feet and cried until Auntie Doe-Doe gave her a gentle swat on her butt and wedged her between herself and Rosie. Gina cried all the way to the restaurant.

Donna took the wailing child into Lombardo’s restaurant and found Rosalie’s mother in the kitchen. When Mrs. Lombardo saw Donna with the distraught Gina, she wiped her hands on a towel and motioned to Donna to hand over the child. “Donna, what are you doing here? Come here, bambina. Nana will fix. Do you want a cookie?”

Donna gasped for a breath. “Rosie’s in labor. I’m taking her to the hospital.”

“Oh, my God!” Mrs. Lombardo said. “I must call Eduardo. You go. He will come to the hospital and meet you.”

“Okay.” Donna ran to the truck, patted Rosalie’s hand, and squealed the tires as she left the parking lot.

A nurse shortage required Rosie to be put in a labor ward with a dozen other women. Moans and screams echoed through the halls as mothers and sisters stood by trying to coach the woman in the bed through her agony. Only one man held his wife’s hand.

Rosie promised herself she wouldn’t scream this time; instead she planned to offer up her pain up God so He might protect Angelo.

Donna wiped the sweat off of Rosalie’s forehead and shared every labor pain as they ripped through Rosie’s body. She wondered if Angelo experienced the same helplessness she felt now. Donna held Rosalie’s hand and told her to squeeze hard when the pains came. After two hours, Rosalie appeared surprised.

“What’s wrong, Rosie?” Donna asked.

Rosalie whispered. “I feel like I need to poop!”

Donna said, “Do you mean you want to push?”

Rosie nodded yes.

“I’m going to get the doctor.” Donna ran from the ward and flagged down the only nurse in the hallway.

The nurse gave Rosalie a quick check. “Mrs. Armani, you’re ready to delivery your baby.” She helped Rosalie into a wheelchair and headed for the delivery room.

Like all good husbands, Donna got banished to the father’s waiting room.

Fifteen minutes later, the nurse came back with good news. Rosalie had a boy.

Donna stared at her. “A boy? What the hell are we going to do with a boy?”

The nurse gave her a strange look and took Donna back to Rosalie’s bedside.

“I hear Angelo put the stem on the apple!” Donna said.

“What?” Rosalie said with weariness.

“The baby’s a boy!” Donna exclaimed. “And everything is all right?”

“Everything is perfect.” Rosie whispered as a single tear rolled down her face. “I want Angelo, Donna. He needs to hold his son.”

“Oh, Rosie. What can I do?” Donna said as Rosalie cried and held her son close.

Donna bent down and peaked at the baby. In a soothing voice she spoke to the new mother. “Holy Cow! He’s about as big as a loaf of Wonder Bread! Can I hold the little tiger for a minute? You look so tired.” Donna consoled.

“Sure.” Rosalie handed the baby to Donna with a smile. “You’re his Auntie Doe-Doe after all.”

Donna cradled the new born with a surge of love she never experienced before. She peeled back the blanket to reveal a perfect baby. The nurses arranged his dark curly hair in a kewpie-doll twist on the top of his head. She counted his fingers and toes and noted he came with the right number of digits. “He looks just like his Daddy, Rosie.”

“I know. I see Angelo’s eyes when I gaze at him, so he’ll get his Daddy’s name, too.”

Donna whispered. “Welcome to the world, little Angelo.” She kissed the baby’s forehead. His newborn scent settled in her nose. Donna wondered at that moment whether she might want a baby of her own someday.

*****

Eduardo entered the room as Rosie slept, and Donna rocked the baby boy at the side of her bed.

Donna whispered, “Mr. Lombardo, come in.”

Eduardo crept into the quiet scene.

Donna pulled back the blanket to reveal the baby’s chubby face. “Meet your Grandson Angelo.”

Eduardo’s chest seemed to expand two sizes. “He looks just like his Papa.”

Donna smiled. “Yes he does.”

Eduardo faced Donna and said, “Thank you for taking care of my Rosie. I will always be indebted to you for your kindness.”

“No thanks is necessary, Mr. Lombardo. I love Rosie, too.”

Eduardo hugged Donna and finally understood why Rosalie considered her such a dear friend.

Chapter 17

Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands – South Pacific—On August 7, 1942 at 0600 hours the American Navy started shelling Guadalcanal Island. Intelligence told the Americans the Japanese intended to finish an airfield, so their planes didn’t need to rely on their aircraft carriers. The Americans needed Guadalcanal airfield to begin bombing Tokyo and other major cities in Japan. Angelo and his unit ate a hardy breakfast of Spam and powered eggs before the first marine division landed at 0730. Securing Red Beach seemed simple enough during the briefing, but most men on the ship never faced combat before. Most hid their fear in bravado or silence. Their unknown future proved to be more of a threat than the enemy.

Angelo fidgeted and paced the deck. After weeks of sea sickness, tedious work, night watches, plus drilling every waking hour, the time finally came to put his killing skills to work.

The only Marine who didn’t appear anxious was Angelo’s young friend Bobby.  He sat alone taking deep drags on a cigarette. His youth and inexperience blinded him from the realities of battle. Angelo guessed Bobby viewed their assignment as a game. Or, maybe Bobby didn’t give a damn if he died because he thought nobody loved him.

The Marines descended the net ladder to the Higgins boats which bobbed in the surf. When the unit filled the boat, the driver headed for shore. This time the ramp would lower. This time they all would run for the beach. This time they would encounter the enemy. Everyone stared ahead with their private thoughts.

After the ramp dropped close to the beach, the marines jumped into the waist-high water with guns held high. They expected bullets to impede them, but no shells or bullets greeted them.  Angelo breathed a sigh of relief. His first landing proved to be a cinch. No enemy. No casualties. No death. He looked up to the sky and said under his breath, “Rosie must be doing some hardcore praying.”

Bobby scowled with disappointed after the quiet landing. The sergeant in charge yelled, “Hey kid. Put your rifle down and get busy unloading supplies.” Bobby saluted and walked back into the water to accept supplies coming ashore.

The beach became cluttered with too many men and too much equipment. Chaos ensued because inexperienced steersmen in the landing boats didn’t get specific instructions as to where the supplies should be located, and men on the beach stood together with their hands in their pockets clueless what to do first.

A couple landing parties advanced inland toward their target—the Japanese airfield. Angelo served in one of the units selected to enter the jungle. The marines knew the Japanese were still on the island. But where? As the men advanced into the jungle thicket every sound seemed threatening. Angelo and his unit felt like they were stalking a ghost.

Once in the jungle, the men met an enemy they didn’t expect. The climate. The oppressive tropical heat and steamy humidity defeated the unprepared soldiers in many ways. Men who carried rocket launchers and other heavy supplies stumbled and collapsed from heat exhaustion in the first hour. The officers discovered the dampness and humidity raised havoc with the radios. Messages from the jungle to the beach didn’t get through. Worst of all, everyone suffered from dehydration which produced weakness, headaches and a powerful thirst none of them experienced before.

*****

While Angelo’s unit moved closer toward the airfield, Bobby and his unit continued to haul ammunition from the battery to the ammo dump near the beach. The first action the boys on the beach encountered happened at noon. An air raid siren warned the men to take cover when a few Japanese planes were sighted. Three planes strafed the Americans working on the beach, while a few more Japanese zeros dropped a payload of bombs near the ammo dump. On sea, the transport ship named the USS Elliot took the fire of a suicide bomber who flew his plane into the ship killing its crew and sinking the ship.

When darkness fell, a pesky sniper fired from the foreboding perimeter of the jungle. These small skirmishes sent a message to the American boys the Japanese still occupied the island, and they intended to fight to stay there. These tedious pesky attacks put fear into everyone on the beach. The boys got jumpy at the slight sound or movement. They wildly fired into the jungle even when they couldn’t see the enemy. The Japanese held a psychological edge over the untested Marines. Not being able to pinpointing the enemy’s location got to be unnerving causing the Americans to keep alert at all times. Bobby remembered the officer’s warning on the ship about being thankful for a clean rack and a good night’s sleep. He realized it might be a long time before he’d ever sleep in a real bed again.

The marines had to cut through the jungle in order to make a road to get to the airfield. The first day of swinging machetes cutting down the thicket of tropical plants took the sap out of the young soldiers. They fell into foxholes at sundown and slept until the morning sun poured the heat on them. The second day brought more of the same tedious work, but the second night, brought them the ugliness of a tropical storm.  A downpour went on for hours, making sleeping in foxholes impossible. Once the rain stopped, the marines emerged muddy, wet, and sticky. Even thought the Japanese hadn’t attacked, throngs of mosquitoes and ants did. Soldiers were peppered with irritating bites that burned and itched. Angelo never remembered a miserable time in his life.

Cutting through the thick jungle with sharp machetes proved to be slower than estimate;. it took three days to cover six miles. In some places, the dense tree canopy prohibited the sun from shining through, making the jungle even more foreboding. The deeper into the jungle they went, new animal sounds and different musty scents made every man wonder what was really in this place. A peculiar sweet, musty odor surfaced after the rain. As the unit slugged through the jungle, they discovered the source of the peculiar odor; it came from rotting coconuts which fell beneath unattended coconut groves.

With all of the challenges the jungle provided, the unquenchable thirst proved to be the worst. The small amount of water in their canteens needed to last until a water purification system could be installed on the banks of the Lunga River. Angelo’s dry lips cracked and his parched throat nearly choked him as he longed for a tall, cold glass of Rosie’s lemonade.

*****

Angelo’s unit arrived at the airfield on the third day of their trek through the jungle. The marines thought for sure they would encounter the Japanese as they secured the half-finished air strip, but the enemy still remained a ghost. The truth was the Japanese didn’t expect the American landing on Guadalcanal and they didn’t possess enough weapons or manpower to overcome a large landing party. The few soldiers that occupied the island retreated deep into the jungle. In their hasty retreat, they left behind several useful pieces of heavy equipment.  The Americans confiscated bulldozers, wheel loaders, and excavators and went to work to repair the runway. Completing this strategic airfield needed to be accomplished as quickly as possible so American planes could launch air attacks on other Japanese-controlled islands.

When Washington D. C. and Canberra in Australia learned the Marines captured the Guadalcanal airfield in such a short time, the brass celebrated. Little did they realize the Japanese possessed no intention of giving up the island without a fight.

*****

While Angelo labored in the jungle, Bobby experienced the war he dreamed about on “Red Beach.” A bomb fell from a Japanese plane, landing near his position. The island shook hard enough to make men fall, and the deafening explosion pierced his eardrums. Bobby escaped the bombing unhurt, but he now realized war was no game. His fertile imagination gained an inkling of what future attacks might hold in store for him.  Strikes like these put the Marines to work digging four-foot deep foxholes for protection. As days went by, it was not usual for men to lay in their foxholes thirteen or fourteen hours per day waiting for the enemy to appear again. Daylight bombings and night time skirmishes got to be tedious as they all wondered when the big fight would come.

Bobby hated night patrols, comparing this duty to fighting the boogie man in a bad dream. He wished he and Angelo hadn’t been separated because Bobby conceded he was stronger with Angelo at his side. When Bobby went off on an imaginary tangent, Angelo always brought him back to reality. Now he was alone. He stayed alert, cataloging his surroundings.  He learned to let flies, birds, and insects alert him to head for cover. Every time the air raid sirens sounded, he ran to his foxhole where small animals and insects already occupied were there. He called them his advanced warning system.

******

Because the Japanese Navy controlled the sea around Guadalcanal, the Marines on the island were trapped with no other American support. Japanese “zeros” took off from carriers and impeded progress the marines had made the day before.  Again, the Japanese held the psychological advantage. Marines working on the landing strip got frustrated and discouraged when one pass of a Japanese plane undid their hard work.

Like Bobby, Angelo made mental notes of his surroundings. He recognized the tat-tat-tat of sniper fire at night, and the high-pitch whine of the Japanese Zeros in the distance. Instead of watching the animals and insects like Bobby, Angelo believed if he stayed attentive to the sounds around him, he could anticipate the enemy’s attack and stay alive by heading for cover with time to spare.

Angelo operated an excavator or bulldozer, leveling the sandy, rocky land to complete the runway. As a little boy he dreamed about using such equipment, and this duty looked a lot easier than a host of other jobs on the island. Unfortunately, the loud grunts of the heavy equipment drowned out the very sounds he wanted to hear. Air raid sirens cut through the equipment noise, but they limited his time to head for cover.

On August 10th, the air raid sirens blasted and Angelo looked up. Three Japanese zeros appeared out of nowhere. He shouted and waved to his workmates “They’re coming! Run!”

All three men ran for the ditch beside the runway, but they couldn’t out run the bomb the plane dropped. The force of the blast threw all three of them into the air, leaving Angelo writhing in pain from shrapnel and burns. Body parts of the two other men littered the airfield. Angelo felt his life drifting away as he lay in his own blood.

After the bombing ceased, a small patrol of corpsmen accompanied by a medical officer jumped in a jeep ambulance to survey the airstrip for any wounded men. By the time they reached Angelo, the medic moved quickly to keep him alive. Blood poured from the shrapnel wounds all over his body. In an instant, the medic removed the sulfathiazole tablets in the medical kit, lifted Angelo’s head and forced him to swallow the pills. Then the medic sprinkled sulfathiazole crystals into the multiple wounds to help prevent infection. Two corpsmen stuffed sterile gauze into Angelo’s abdominal wound to stop the bleeding, and after a shot of morphine to ease the pain, the corpsmen lifted Angelo onto a canvas stretcher and secured him onto the ambulance.

The driver raced to the northeast end of the airfield where a make-shift wooden building served as a field hospital. They sprinted into the building with their unconscious patient. A doctor immediately started an IV and plasma flowed into Angelo’s right arm. Then he started another IV in his left arm to administer saline and other drugs necessary for surgery.

Angelo’s survival now depended upon whether the surgical team could win the race against the clock. If Angelo got through surgery, his will to live needed to take charge.

 

 

Happy Saturday?

One thing I struggle with since I “retired,” is realizing what day it is. With every day presenting itself primarily the same without a work schedule, Ken and I ask each other “What day is it?”

Years ago I would have thought such a question was ridiculous. But unscheduled time is something a person must absorb a little at a time. If a person doesn’t watch out, they will become lazy and never accomplish anything. Working outside the home provides a ready-made schedule. When you’re at home, the schedule is up to you. I’ve never been a buttoned-up scheduler, so I struggle with the concept. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact my time is my own. I can be as productive or as laid-back as I want. But that doesn’t say I’ll accomplish the goal on the right day of the week.

My computer and phone keep me on the correct date, but neither tell me what day of the week it is. I guess that’s why we have calendars–huh? Just match up the date to an old fashioned paper calendar and a retired person will stay on the right day.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 9

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – April—Angelo always handled the family finances, but now the responsibility of paying bills and keeping a checkbook balanced fell on Rosalie. She also assumed the sole responsibility for Gina and would face giving birth to another baby without her husband.

In April 1942, the government set up a program so no American would go hungry during the course of the war. The rationing program provided a booklet of stamps which gave the bearer the right to purchase certain foods. Rosalie quickly realized being in a war meant daily sacrifice for everyone. People living “in the lower 48 states” couldn’t escape the fact the United States was at war. In the post office posters released by the Office of War Information said, “Do with less, so they’ll get enough.” Another pleaded, “Be patriotic, sign your country’s pledge to save the food. Rosalie’s pregnant body and empty bed was her personal reminder of her personal sacrifice.

Almost overnight basic stables disappeared from the grocer store shelves. Sugar and coffee were the first items to go. Rosalie’s favorite Coca-Cola also vanished. Rosalie wondered how she could face another nauseating pregnancy without an ice-cold Coke to settle her stomach.

One afternoon Rosalie heard a knock at the back door while Gina was napping. She couldn’t imagine who would be calling her at this time of day. When she opened the door, Donna Jean stood smiling. “Donna, what on earth are you doing here? Aren’t you working today?”

“I took the day off to go to the school to sign up for the rationing program. I thought you might like to go with me. Are you well enough to go today?”

“Actually, I’m doing fine. You must be a mind reader.  I didn’t want to go alone.”

“Let’s go together. We’ll make the excursion fun.” Donna smiled.

“Right after Gina wakes up. She’s a holy terror if she doesn’t get her beauty sleep.” Rosalie laughed. “Come on in and share a cup of tea with me.”

“Sure.” Donna slipped into the kitchen and sat down. For the next thirty minutes the girls enjoyed each other’s company.

Gina woke up in a happy mood. When Rosalie brought her into the kitchen on her hip, the little girl reached for Donna.

Donna’s heart swelled. “Come here to your Auntie Donna.”

The baby cooed and giggled.

Rosalie looked at the two of them with a smile. “You know, you are the only one beside her Papa she goes to.”

“She probably knows I’d let her get away with murder.”

“Probably.” Rosalie laughed. “We’d better get going. I think the school is only open until three o’clock.”

Donna rose with the baby and followed Rosalie out to the garage. She pulled the baby stroller and Donna put the baby in the seat. The two girls jabbered on as they walked the four city blocks to the school to sign up for the program. When they arrived, they waited in line over an hour to register. Forms needed to be completed which required their name and family size, so people would receive the proper war ration coupon book.

Donna studied her coupon book as she left the school. “Boy, this really makes everything real, doesn’t it?”

Rosalie answered quietly. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, Rosie. Sometimes my mouth and brain don’t work together. With Angelo gone, you already realize how real the war is. I’m so sorry sweetie.”

“Oh, Donna. Don’t worry.  Angelo is coming home after boot camp in a few weeks and that’s what I’m focused on. I’m going to think positive from now on. No more nervous Nellie.”

“That’s the spirit.” Donna said. “I need to tell you something?”

“What?”

“I think you’re the bravest person in the world, Rosie. I would be scared to death to give birth without my husband standing beside me.”

Rosalie smiled. “I think the bravest person we both love is Josie.”

Donna put her hand on Rosie’s as they pushed the stroller together. “Yeah, you’re right. But your tops in my book. Lots of people don’t really approve of my choices, but you can always depend on me. You just ask, and I’ll do whatever you need.”

“You’re so sweet, Donna. Thank you.” Rosie said with a warm smile.

Rosie offered Donna a cool glass of ice water when they got back to the house. They examined their coupon books at the kitchen table. Different colored stamps stood for different types of food. Each stamp specified a certain number of points and an expiration date. A “Red Stamp” coupon allowed the purchase of all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and with some exceptions, cheese. A “Blue Stamp” covered canned, bottled, and frozen fruits and vegetables, plus juices, dried beans, and processed foods like soups, baby food, and ketchup.”

“This will take some getting used to.” Donna said.

“Yeah, but the program makes sense. Food rationing will make sure people don’t go hungry. No one can hoard food.” She sipped her water. “Now that spring is here, I want to plant a victory garden to supplement the rationing stamps.”

“That’s brave of you. My experience with farming is very limited.”

“Oh Donna, you’re so funny. A victory garden is not farming, silly, it’s gardening.” Rosalie said. “You want to help me? We can grow all kinds of fresh vegetables and then can them in the fall.”

“Are you trying to domestic me, sweetie?” Donna said with a grin.

Rosie grinned back. “One can try.”

“I’ll help, but you might not want my brown thumb around.” Donna took a sip of her water and changed the subject. “When we stood in line at the school, I spied a flyer on the bulletin board advertising a training session to learn how to shop wiser, conserve food, and plan nutritious meals. Would you like to go?”

“Sure. I can always learn new things.” Rosie said absentmindedly. Then she turned to Donna and said, “I want you to think about something.”

“What’s that?” Donna said.

“Would you consider moving in with me after Angelo ships out?”

Donna never expected a question like that. “Are you serious?”

“The whole upstairs could serve as an apartment. There’s a bedroom with a huge closet and another room you can use as your private living room.”

“Why would you want me around?”

“I can’t think of any other person I would like to live with. We’d both be safer together, and to be totally honest, I’m afraid I might lose the house because Angelo’s marine wages are nowhere near what he made at the factory. I can’t work because of this new baby coming–at least not for the foreseeable future. And–,”

Donna interrupted. “I’m honored you want me to live with you. My lease is up in July, so I can come then.”

Rosalie got up and hugged Donna. “You are the best friend, ever.”

Donna hugged her back. “That goes both way, Rosie.”

Chapter 10

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – June—Angelo came home unannounced before he needed to ship out for two years. He dressed in the Marine service uniform of green trousers with khaki web belt, short-sleeve button-up shirt, garrison and black shoes.  The marines shaved off his beautiful black curls along with his mustache. He peered through the back window to catch a glimpse of Rosalie before he knocked on the door. He saw her feeding Gina in her high chair, Angelo smiled and knocked for a second time.

She got up, wiped her hands on a dishrag, and opened the door. “Can I help you?”

The soldier smiled.

Rosalie stared at the stranger’s eyes before her face lit up.  “Angelo! You’re home!” She flew into his waiting arms.

“I’m home. I’m home.” He whispered as he held her baby-swollen body and kissed her. “Oh, Rosie. I missed you so much. Look at you!”

“Look at me-Look at YOU! They turned you into a grunt!” She laughed.

“You said it!”

She kissed him again and again. “Are you hungry?”

“You are such a good Italian girl.” He laughed.

The couple went into the kitchen hand in hand. Angelo moved toward Gina and tried to pick her up, but she screamed and kicked at him.

“What’s wrong?”

“She doesn’t remember you, Angelo. You look so different from when you left. Just give her a little time.” Rosalie said.

“She doesn’t remember me? I don’t believe it.”

“Babies sense of time is very different than ours.”

Rosalie thought ‘that’s what you get for leaving us.’ Instead she said, “Don’t worry. She’ll warm up to you.”

Angelo sat at the kitchen table disheartened. He waited six months to be with his family again and now his little girl, the apple of his soul, didn’t want to sit on his lap.

Rosalie picked up the baby. “Come here, sweet girl. This is Daddy. He loves you very much. You remember Daddy.” Rosie tried to put Gina in Angelo’s lap and again Gina screamed and clung to her mother. “I’m so sorry, Angelo.”

“I can’t believe she doesn’t remember me.” Angelo wanted to cry.

“A lot changed since you left us.” Rosie tried to change the subject. “Why don’t you call your parents and invite them over for tea and cannoli?”

“Sure.” Angelo picked up the phone and called his parents.

*****

Three days after Angelo’s return, Gina ran into the living room and eyed him from across the room. She stood on the fringe of the carpet. Gina appeared to be wondering where this stranger fit into her life.

Angelo put his arms out and kept his voice soft.  “Come to Daddy, sweetie.” Much to his surprise, Gina moved toward him. “Da-da?”

Angelo cried, “Yes. Da-da.” He picked her up and hugged her gently.

She put her chubby little arms around his hard body and cuddled into him.

Angelo held her close. “My sweet little Angelina. I love you so much.”

Gina gently slapped his face and smiled. “Da-da.”

Angelo’s heart soared. He kissed the top of her head as he prayed, “God please, no matter what happens, please let her remember me.”

He went to find Rosalie.  “Rosie! She finally remembers me!”

A slice of a smile crossed Rosalie’s face. “I’m happy for you, Angelo. I knew she would.”

*****

The week with Angelo being at home went way too fast. The day before he left, Rosalie approached him holding a large yellow envelope. Her stern face matched her determined eyes. Angelo never witnessed such seriousness in her before.

She handed him the envelope.” Angelo, I need you to sign some papers.”

“What papers?”

“Some legal papers. I learned wives with husbands in the service, especially a husband going off to war need to take legal steps before he leaves.” Rosie cleared her throat as her eyes filled with tears.

Angelo stared at her. “I’ll sign whatever you need, sweetheart.” He released the metal closure and pulled out the legal documents. The envelope contained a last will and testament, a power of attorney, and a deed to the house. “Geez, Rosie, is this really necessary?”

“Yes.” Her voice quivered. “Please sign the dang papers, Angelo. I must do this because of your choice to avenge Tony.” Rosalie’s true feelings rolled over her like a snowball going down a steep hill. “I don’t want to be alone, but I must. I don’t want to give birth alone, but I must. Just sign the GD papers, Angelo!” She took a deep breath pushing down the hidden implication of the documents.

Angelo signed the papers while Rosalie stood like a sentry next to him. Then he handed them back to her.

She said in a flat voice. “Thank you.” Without looking at the death documents, she slipped them into the envelope.

Angelo stood up and embraced her. “I realize my decision has made our lives harder, but I want you to realize I’m proud you’re taking steps to prepare for what might come.” He tipped her chin and placed a tender kiss on her lips. “I also want you to understand I will crawl on my belly for a thousand miles to come back home to you.  If you need these documents someday, well–” His voice cracked. “I love you Rosie. You’re the only girl for me.” He avoided her eyes, dropped his embrace, and headed for the backyard. He pulled a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket. He took a long drag before his eyes moistened. Rosie thinks I’m not coming home. Oh my God, what did I do?

*****

After the document encounter, Rosalie relaxed and cherished the little time left with Angelo. She attempted to remember his scent, his touch, and his kisses. They made love every night and fell asleep entwined. She woke during the night and listened to him breath. She stared at him sleeping peacefully and wondered what he would endure for the next two years. She prayed for his safe return home and put her head on his chest to listen to his heartbeat.  She went to sleep and dreamed the Marines didn’t want him after all.

Angelo’s mother came over way too often during Angelo’s one short week of leave. Rosalie understood her wanting to spend a lot of time with Angelo before he left, especially after losing Tony at Pearl Harbor. Angelo’s father vowed to protect Rosie. Gina, and the new baby; no one said goodbye. The word “goodbye” meant a finality nobody could face.

*****

 Rosie insisted she accompany Angelo to Chicago on a bus. She wanted to be with her husband as long as time would permit. Only God knew when he would be home again. She concentrated on saying “when” instead of “if.”

Angelo welcomed Rosalie’s company for the long bus ride to Chicago.  He needed to hold her as long as possible. He cradled her as she laid her head on his strong shoulder. Sitting so close together reminded him of their high school dating days when they sat in the car for hours watching the “submarine races” on the river. How did two years pass so quickly? High school seemed a lifetime ago.

As the bus roamed through one small town after another, Rosie and Angelo talked about everyday things– what she planned to do to keep busy, about names for the new baby, and how they imagined Gina might behave once the baby came. Rosie told him Donna would be moving into the house in July to help with the expenses and the new baby. Even though Angelo didn’t approve of Donna’s party girl reputation, he relaxed because she offered to stay with Rosie.

Rosie jabbered on about how she planned to can the vegetables growing in her victory garden and how her father helped her keep the plants healthy to make sure of a good harvest. Angelo recalled funny stories about different guys in his basic training group, and what life was like in a barracks full of guys from around the country. They avoided speaking about the war.

Rosalie walked Angelo to the gate where he boarded the airplane to fly to San Francisco. She kept her eyes fixed on him as Angelo walked to the plane across the tarmac. She held her breath as he walked up the ladder and disappeared into the belly of the plane. Rosie lost the battle of keeping her tears away. She waved until the plane taxied away and then let her tears of their unknown future roll down her cheeks. She boarded the bus which would take her back to Lacrosse and stared out the window for much of the trip. Her Angelo was headed for war against a ferocious enemy.

As Rosalie headed home, Angelo fastened his seat belt waiting for the plane to lift off for San Francisco. Through the small plane porthole, he prayed. “Oh God, please take care of her while I’m gone. Please give her an easy time when the baby comes. Please be with her always. I love her so much.”