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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.

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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.