Tag Archive | Apple Pie and Strudel Girls

It Happens Faster Than You Think

Hi Everybody! I hope those of you who followed me in the past are still willing to do so. I’ve been away to dedicate my time to writing three books. One is the second edition of my first attempt at a novel. During the past several years and six other books, I’ve learned a thing or two. I still like the story, but the writing—not so much. The second book is a sequel to “Finding Gessler.” And the third is the more difficult tale to tell—“Barbie and Ken, A love Story.” This book chronicles our journey through Multiple Sclerosis. So you get it—I’ve been busy.

But I had to write about an important subject—aging. This summer I will have a milestone birthday. Yes, I will turn 65. I think this birthday is tougher than turning any other milestone birthday like 18, 21, 30, 40, 50, 60 etc. Inside, I feel no different than I ever did, but for the first time outside, there are tell-tale signs—gray hair, glasses, and moving a bit slower. What I didn’t count on was the government and different professionals reminding me almost every day  I’m getting close to the big 65.

It started when my Medicare card arrived a month ago. Following that memorable event was a plethora of advertisements for Medicare supplement plans. Next came the phone calls from every insurance agency that sells the old fogy plans. Okay, I’m tough. I can take it. But when my family doctor came into the exam room saying, “So, Barbara, how’s the hip?” Weeks later, the optometrist said, “You’re eyes are in good health, but I do see the start of cataracts.”

It’s bad enough to look at my birth certificate and KNOW I’m getting older, but to have all these outside influences reinforcing the fact, well, it is a bit overwhelming. And considering my birthday is not until the end of July, what’s the rush?

For all of you who are younger than I am, don’t hurry to grow up. It happens sooner than you think. Just saying’.

The End

I know many of you enjoy (or at least tolerate) my words of “Wisdom” each day; I really don’t know how many of you stayed around to read the chapters of the second edition of APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS. I’m happy to tell you the book is finished, so today I’m giving you the final two chapters.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Here the sky is blue, the weather is unseasonably warm, and there’s football on the television again. So, enjoy.

#####

Chapter 8

Lacrosse, Wisconsin –September—On Friday, September 8, 1946 at five o’clock Josie and Mario set up their wedding rehearsal at St. Peter’s Church. Josie picked up Donna Jean and her husband, Antonio, at the train station in Mario’s new Ford coupe. When starlet “Sandra Simpson” formerly Donna Jean volunteered to sing at the wedding, Josie burst with happiness. Donna said wild horses couldn’t make her stay away from her best friend’s wedding.

When they found each other on the station platform, Donna dropped her suitcase and ran into Josie’s arms like some cheesy “B” movie. They hugged and cried. Then they laughed all the way home. Being together again seemed like old times.  The only thing that changed between them was the war made them grow up.

When Donna introduced Antonio love in her eyes, Josie realized Donna had found her prince charming. The man possessed drop-dead movie star good looks and a friendly demeanor. He towered over Donna at six foot four, and his gorgeous thick head of curly hair and dark eyes made every woman stare at him.

Josie wanted to hear everything about Donna’s Hollywood life and her upcoming movie debut. In fact, Donna rescheduled her filming schedule to get away for the wedding. The director consented to Donna’s request because she had become one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood.

The wedding rehearsal went without a hitch and afterward Josie, Donna, and Rosalie loved their reunion at Joe’s Diner. Even though they each acquired husbands over the past four years, deep down they remained the young girls who peddled Girl Scout cookies not that many years ago.

After the rehearsal dinner, Rosalie left for home with Angelo; Donna and Antonio went to the Holiday Inn, and Josie and Mario said goodnight on the porch for the very last time.

*****

The morning of September 9, 1946, Josie slipped on  the satin and lace wedding dress her mother sewed for her. The silky gown fit  over her willowy body like a glove. The classical simple dress matched Josie’s personality. The drop waist lace bodice met a flowing skirt of white satin. Dainty covered buttons draped down the back, along with a luxurious long train which started at the waist and flared out behind her. Subtle pleats in the side seams softened the line of the full skirt to enhance Josie’s small waist. A hoop skirt of starched netting supported the satin, giving the dress a bell shape. Josie insisted on wearing her mother’s wedding veil to complete her ensemble.

The wedding flowers came from the farm. Josie carried a bouquet of white gladiolas tied together with a soft pink ribbon. Her attendants dressed in a soft shade of pink satin and carried one pink gladiola stem with a white satin ribbon.

Josie filled up the backseat of her father’s new Buick with her full-skirted dress with no room to spare. At eleven o’clock. Josie returned to the church where she made her First Communion and wore her first veil. In about thirty minuted she would stand in front of friends and family to make promises to Mario, a man she loved unconditionally. The girls waited in the basement for Josie to make her entrance.

Rosalie gasped when she caught a glimpse of the bride coming down the basement steps to fellowship hall. “Oh, Josie! You’re so beautiful!”

Josie blushed before she hugged her friends.

Everyone in the Armani family played a part in the wedding. Rosalie agreed to be the matron of honor, even though she didn’t want the job because at eight months pregnant she complained to be, “as big as a blue whale.” But Josie wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Instead, she found a dress with a big pleat in the front to accommodate Rosalie’s baby bump. Mario’s beautiful sisters Mary and Beverly stood in as the two other attendants. Five-year- old Angelina made the prettiest flower girl while three-year-old AJ  waited with his sister and Mom to walk down the aisle as the ring bearer.

Upstairs Mario’s brother Jimmy stood in as the best man and Josie’s brother Johnny served as groomsman. Angelo and Bobby waited served as ushers to walk the guests down the aisle to the pews.

When the first chord of the wedding march sounded and the congregation rose, Josie took her first step toward a new life on the arm of her father. She smiled at all of her guests as she made her way down the aisle. Mario stood like a proud gladiator with his expansion chest filling with pride as his eyes met Josie’s eyes. After years of flirting with her, he finally won her over, and now she was his bride.

After Josie’s father lifted her veil and kissed her cheek, he took her hand and placed it in Mario’s hand. She beamed at her handsome Mario in his new navy blue suit . Donna’s voice filled the church with bell-like tones as she sang “Ave Maria.” Josie thought her friend must be touched by an angel to sing so beautifully. Her soul soared as Donna hit the high notes. Josie prayed. Thank you God! Thank you for bringing me home. Thank you for this beautiful wedding where I’m surrounded by my dearest friends and family.

The last four years had put terror in everyone’s heart.  Everyone lost and suffered during the war. Nobody was the same. But now the time had come to stop the mourning and begin living again. Josie let go of any lingering sadness of losing her kid brother and focused on the future. She stood beside her soul mate–a man strong enough and caring enough to capture her imagination, and now they were making promises to love, honor, and cherish each other forever.

Life didn’t get better than that.

 

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.

 

 

Getting Organized

I love organization where everything is in its place. But, I have a terrible time achieving such neatness. My girlfriends seem to be able to keep everything where it belongs, but for some reason my things move from room to room. I have dishes in the living room along with shoes I wore the day before. My painting supplies are all in one room, but getting more than me in that room is simply impossible.

I seem to work in a whirlwind. I remember one time when I worked in a corporate office, my boss assigned another woman to help me get my cube organized to make me more efficient. I guess somewhere there’s a rule somewhere that says “only touch a piece of paper once.” Any more touches breeds disorganization and wasted time. I never did get the knack of it. However, I also never missed a deadline. I told my boss I work more effective in organized chaos. She said, “Whatever works, Barb. Just keep hitting those deadlines.”

I believe part of me doesn’t want to work myself to death to keep everything in place because my mother was a fanatical housekeeper. She put keeping things clean ahead of everything else. One time she came into my bedroom with a white glove after I cleaned. She found a trace of dust under my bed and made me clean again. See what I mean?

I tell myself I am far too artistic to keep everything neat all the time. I also love my friends enough to put them first even if I scheduled the day to scrub the kitchen floor. I do have priorities.

I also live with two animals and a husband. I rest my case.

Even though my home is somewhat disheveled, I am organized in my writing. In fact, to keep the timeline correct in the second edition of “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” I keep a spreadsheet to make sure real history is weaved with the fiction element of the story properly.

The moral to this story: Everyone’s definition of organization is different. Make your world perfect for YOU.

######

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 24

London, England – Christmas Eve—On his wedding day, Danny decided to dress at the base to allow Heidi her privacy as she prepared to make marriage promises again. His wool chocolate brown dress uniform with brass buttons provided a stunning backdrop for his jacket ribbon bar and the silver wings he wore over his heart. He spit shined his black shoes so bright he saw his himself. He studied his reflection in the mirror before he left his room and realized the boy who came to England to fly planes and kill Germans had disappeared. In his place, a man who experienced friends falling from the sky, became a prisoner of war, and found the love of his life stared back at him..

At the flat Mrs. Smithe draped the lace and satin dress over Heidi’s slim figure. After Heidi gazed at her reflection in the mirror, she didn’t believe the beautiful woman smiling back at her could be the same girl who didn’t think she possessed a happy future after graduating from secondary school. A Jewish family and three long journeys changed her forever. The children made her an adult. Her only disappointment was the wonderful people who entered her life during the past five years could be with her now. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of her parents, Leisel, Marta, Dora, the Rabbi and Gavriella and Dominik.

A lace veil trimmed in pearls fell from a tiara Mrs. Smithe pinned on Heidi’s head.  She carried a bouquet of Christmas cactus flowers Mrs. Smith grew in her apartment.

“There, my dear.” Tears formed in the landlady’s eyes.

Heidi saw the older woman’s distress. “Oh, Mrs. Smithe. I knew I should not wear Catherine’s wedding dress. It causes you such pain.”

“Don’t be foolish, sweetie. I am not thinking of Catherine; I’m overcome by what a beautiful bride you are.” Mrs. Smithe dried a tear rolling down her cheek. “We better make sure the children are ready to go. We don’t want you to be late.”

Ruthie wore a pretty pink velvet dress Mrs. Smithe made from a pair of curtains she had at the window in one of the rentals. She even solicited her friends and neighbors to find suits to fit both boys. As Heidi and the children emerged from the apartment, no one would guess soldiers still fought and citizens still died. For the few hours they’d be in their wedding clothes, as their lives appeared normal.

Danny arranged for a car to pick up his family and bring them to the base where the Major, the Chaplain, and Danny waited. As soon as Heidi and the children entered the chapel, Danny’s jaw dropped. Heidi reminded him of a drawing of a princess he reembered in one of his sister’s childhood storybooks. At one time he believed Rosalie Lombardo was the most beautiful bride in the world, but now Heidi took that honor.

Ruthie ran to Danny. “Papa Danny, Mama looks pretty, huh?”

“Yes, sweetheart. Mama is the most beautiful bride in the world.”

“So kiss her!” Ruthie said.

Everyone laughed. Ruthie wrinkled her forehead not understanding why everyone laughed. Brides and grooms kissed in her story books, so why did people laugh at her?

Mrs. Smithe wore her “mother of the bride” dress she hid in the back of her closet after Catherine died. When Heidi asked her to be the matron of Honor, she pulled out the dress and could smile again. Major Jamison stood in as Danny’s best man along with David. The whole group gathered around the altar with Chaplain and the intimate wedding ceremony began.

“We are gathered here together to marry Daniel and Heidi in holy matrimony.”

Jacob yelled. “What is mat-tri-monee?”

Everyone turned toward the little boy in short pants, and said, “Shhhh.” The child looked down at his shoes and started to cry. Danny picked him up. “Everything is okay, son,” he whispered to Jacob. “I’ll tell you later.”

Jacob wiped his tears and smiled. “Okay, Daddy.”

Danny returned Jacob to the floor and held his hand as the ceremony continued.

The chaplain said, “Repeat after me, Daniel. “I, Daniel, take you Heidi to be my lawfully wedded wife  . . .

Chapter 25

Naples, Italy—As Christmas got closer, Josie wore a melancholy expression. This would be her third year of celebrating Christmas without snow and family. She became uncharacteristically nostalgic. As she gazed at the palm trees, she thought about Christmas back home. Sap on logs would crackle in the fireplace; a fresh pine scent would waft through the living room while the sweet aroma of cinnamon would come from the kitchen. Her mother always baked dozens of different cookies, but the entire family decorated sugar cookies together around the kitchen table. Christmas in Italy this year would come with cold winds, rain, canned turkey, and hydrated potato flakes.

Mario found her starting out into space in the courtyard. “Hi Sweetheart. Whatcha thinkin’?”

Josie turned toward him with glistening eyes. “About home. I envisioned my parents drinking eggnog in front of a fire as the snow fell and laid a beautiful white covering over the bare trees and brown grass.”

Mario sat beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. “Yeah. Christmastime here leaves something to be desired. I want to go home too. But seeing we can’t, how about we spice the holiday up a little?” He grinned.

“How?”

“Let’s go to Rome and celebrate Christmas Eve at the Vatican.”

“Don’t tease me, Mario.”

“I’m not teasing. We can go. It’s safe there now.”

“How will we get there, genius?”

“Details. Details.” A Cheshire cat smile crossed his broad face. “I got a buddy in the motor pool; he’s got a jeep all gassed up for us, Miss Smarty Pants.”

“You’re the only guy I ever met who can get the impossible done.”  Josie laughed. “Mario, I’m glad you didn’t give up pursuing me. I love being with you. You make me so happy.” She leaned over and put a peck of a kiss on his cheek.

Mario blushed. “Thanks, doll. I’m glad you appreciate me because I never worked so hard to get a date. Hell, I almost died to get one with you!” He chuckled as his eyes twinkled. “So is Rome a date?”

“I’d be nuts to turn down a trip to Rome. After I get home, I’ll probably never want to come to Italy again.”

“Only time will tell.” Mario said. “Life can be a constant surprise if you let it be.”

Josie smiled. “Amen!”

*****

On Christmas Eve morning, Josie and Mario took off for Rome. They remained silent as they whizzed through the hills and valleys of the countryside. As they got closer to the city, Josie expressed her fears of what they might find in the Eternal City. “Do you think the Krauts bombed Rome into oblivion?”

“Nah. They got in bed with Mussolini. I think the Italian dictator put down a few rules. I don’t think the Krauts are that barbarian.”

Josie said. “Really?  I think bombing hospitals is pretty barbarous.”

Mario answered.  “You’re right about that. I just hope Vatican Square didn’t appear on their radar.”

“Me, too.”

Once they passed Rome ‘s city limits Josie basked in the city’s beauty. The evening stayed warm and balmy. The stars burned bright and a full moon gave Vatican Square a warm glow. Mario and Josie waited with a throng of people in the courtyard for Pope Pius XII to appear on the balcony.

The Pope appeared through an open window and prayed the familiar prayers in Latin. A choir of beautiful voices sang out, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” and Josie thought about her little church back home where she sang the same song every Christmas Eve. In about eight hours her parents would celebrate Christmas with the same ceremony. For the first time in a long time, she thought about Peter. This would be the first Christmas without his funny sense of humor and sweet demeanor. Josie bowed her head and prayed for her parents because Christmas would be so difficult without any of their children close at hand.

Mario held Josie close. He loved everything about her. He loved her spunk, her courage, and her ability to banter with him. He loved the empathy she showed everyone. He loved her self-confidence and fearlessness. He bent down and kissed the top of her head as the Pope asked God for peace. Josie looked up at Mario with a tender smile.

After the Mass, people left the square, but Mario lingered. He didn’t want the magical night to end. He turned Josie to face him and placed a kiss on her lips. He whispered. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”

With tears in her eyes, Josie whispered. “Merry Christmas, my sweet Mario. Thank you for bringing me here. This Christmas turned out to be more special than I ever imagined.”

He handed her a small box.

“What’s this?”

He grinned. “A present, silly. Open it.”

“Mario—

He interrupted her. “Will you just open the GD present.”

“But we agreed to wait until tomorrow to exchange gifts.”

“Look at your watch. Miss Smarty Pants. Isn’t it after midnight?”

“Yes, but—

His voice took a tender tone. “I want you to remember this night forever. Please open the gift.”

“Okay. You win.”

Josie tipped open the lid of little wooden box to find a beautiful solitaire diamond perched in the center of a white gold band. “Mario! Oh my God! It’s beautiful!”

Before she said another word, Mario went down on one knee. “Josie, my love, will you be my wife?”

She said the one word he wanted to hear. “Yes. Oh God, yes!” She pulled him to his feet, wrapped her arms around him, and kissed him like never before.

His eyes glowed with love. “Let’s try the ring on for size.” He took the engagement ring in his thick fingers and slipped it onto her left-hand ring finger. The ring fit perfectly.

Josie couldn’t take her eye off the sparkling stone. “How did you ever buy such a beautiful thing?”

“Let’s just say, I know a guy, who knows a guy, okay?” He paused, “It helps to be Italian in Italy.”

She laughed and kissed again him, while happy strangers shared their joy with applause.

 

The Land of the Unknown

Every morning I get started with a cup of coffee while I watch the news. If I don’t have anything else “cooking” that day, I’ll watch “Let’s Make a Deal.” When they brought the show back with Wayne Brady as the host, it became a must see in daytime TV.  The format of the program showcases his incredible ability to improvise. I especially enjoy it when he sings a song which he makes up on the spot in any musical style to hint at the prize. What a talent!

Wouldn’t you just love to be selected to win prizes? All you have to do is decide whether you take the sure deal or the unknown deal. It amazes me when people typically choose the unknown prize. Time after time they turn down cash in their hands for a chance to win something worth more. Sometimes they walk away after being “zonked” and sometimes they walk away after winning a car. I often wonder what I would do.

I became a risk taker about twenty-five years ago when I walked away from a bad marriage with no job and no place to live. I decided I deserved a better life. During that time, I was able to travel because two terrific women called me into their lives as a friend and traveling companion. They both were travel agents, and I could go along on cruises with them for $35 a day. I didn’t have a steady job — I was freelance writing at the time — so I could go in a moments notice. I didn’t have the money, but I did have excellent credit. I never felt guilty about running up some debt because I figured these opportunities were put in my path because travel was something I always wanted. In two years, we took eight cruises together, plus I got to visit each woman at her home.

I did finally land a job with benefits, so now my traveling days were squeezed into a very small time frame of two weeks. I’ve never regretted taking this risk to travel because an opportunity like that never crossed my path again.

Because I didn’t put myself into a security box and broke out to discover the land of risk, I met people from around the world. I had the adventure of a life time as I visited most of the Caribbean islands and ports in Mexico. I even made it to Bermuda. By opening my world as I faced my fears , I became more confident. I stood up to my insecurities and conquered them. I empowered myself to feel the fear and do it anyway.

All of the positions I acquired in the corporate world were trail blazing too. The positions I filled were completely new. I had a new track to run on and I ran fast. Blazing a trail was fun! Because I took a chance on myself I did things I never thought I could accomplish — like writing eight novels. Like teaching English at the community college. Like being a guest speaker for the annual library fundraiser or speaking on radio about my stories.

So if I was picked as a participant on Lets Make a Deal, I probably would chose the unknown. If I ended up getting zonked, it still would be a once in a life time opportunity.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS

Chapter 22

London, England, December—Major Jamison instructed Danny to bring Heidi and the children to the base the morning after they landed in London. He needed to assess if Heidi made a good match for one of his pilots. Her being German certainly didn’t make his decision easy.

Three days after Heidi arrived in London, she spent several hours with the Major. He asked how she came to be in Switzerland. Heidi relayed the tale about her sojourn to Poland, then Budapest, and finally Switzerland over the four-years she served as the children’s nanny. She also told him about her work with the French Resistance aiding American and British pilots to return safely to their units.

After listening to her amazing story, Major Jamison interviewed the couple together. He concluded Danny made a good choice and approved them to be married. If the chaplain concurred, Heidi and Danny would be married again on the base chapel.

****

On December 15th Major Jamison requested Danny meet him at 1600 hours in his office. When Danny arrived, the major’s secretary announced his arrival over an intercom. “Sir, Lieutenant Peterson is here.”

“Send him in.”

Danny walked through the door which separated the two offices. “You asked to see me, sir?”

“At ease, lieutenant. Take a seat.”

Danny let out a deep breath.

The Major cracked a big smile. “This is for you.” He handed Danny an official looking envelope. Danny opened the envelope and scanned the document inside. A broad smile crossed his face.

“Sir, thank you, sir.”

“You found yourself a lovely woman, lieutenant. She is gentle with a very big heart. Be good to her.”

“Yes sir.” Danny saluted again.

The major returned his gesture. “If you might need a best man, lieutenant, I am available.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”

“Dismissed. Lieutenant.”

Danny left the Major’s office with a broad smile. He ran to meet the bus to tell Heidi the news. He ran three blocks to the flat, taking two steps at a time up the three floors to their flat. The children were playing a game of marbles on the parlor carpet while Heidi prepared supper in the tiny kitchen.

David yelled. “Mutter, Papa Danny is home!”

Danny came up behind Heidi who stirred a pot of soup.  He put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head before he turned her around to look her in the eye. “I got the official papers, sweetheart. We can get married!”

“When?”

“As soon as we can arrange the wedding.”

Heidi’s eyes glistened. “Oh, Daniel how wonderful!” She hugged him.

Ruthie came into the kitchen and pulled on Danny’s arm. “Danny, come see what we did today!” She led him to the parlor where a scrawny pine tree stood in the corner. The children had made ornaments out of colored paper. The also hung pine cones with butcher string on the tree. The tree was the saddest little Christmas tree Danny ever laid eyes on, but he made a big fuss over the children’s efforts. “Will you look at that?  Did you kids do this?”

In chorus they said, “We did Daddy!”

He hugged all of them at the same time. “I think your tree is the grandest one of all!” Danny winked at Heidi.

Heidi called the family to the supper table where bowls of potato soup waited for them. Danny vowed after the war was over, he’d never eat potato soup or powered eggs again. He promised himself a sixteen ounce T-bone as soon as he returned home. His mouth watered at the thought of real meat.

Danny started the dinner conversation. “Your mom and I want to tell you some news.”

David said between sips of hot soup. “What is that Daddy?”

“We’re getting married—again.” He smiled.

“Why?” Ruthie put her spoon down and stared at Danny.

“It turns out the army wants us to repeat the ceremony again.”

Ruthie appeared puzzled. “Why?”

Danny answered her. “The army ordered me and your mom to through the ceremony again because we had so much fun the first time. David, will you be my best man?”

“Sure!”

Heidi perked up. “And Ruthie will you be a bridesmaid?”

“Sure!”

David asked. “What about Jacob? What can he do?”

Danny rubbed his chin like he sported a goatee. “I’ll need to think about that, David. What do you think he should do?”

“Be quiet?”

Everyone laughed.

Danny turned to Heidi. “When do you want to do the deed?”

“Oh, that is easy. Christmas Eve—the happiest day of the year.”

Danny smiled. “I cannot think of a more perfect time. Shall I arrange the date with the Chaplain?”

“Yes.” She smiled as her throat tightened and her eyes watered. “Oh Danny! This is so wonderful.”

“You just wait, sweetheart. Things will only get better and better.”

*****

Heidi and her landlady. Mrs. Smithe, became close friends since she and the children moved into the boarding house. When Mrs. Smithe learned Heidi’s background, her love and admiration for the young girl, who saved three innocent, sweet Jewish children forsaking her own happiness, grew by leaps and bounds.

After Danny’s good news, Heidi couldn’t wait to tell Mrs. Smithe they would go through their wedding ceremony again to make their union legal in the eyes of the army. Heidi visited Mrs. Smithe for their afternoon tea the following day. Mrs. Smithe served Heidi tea into a rose-covered china cup.

“So, why the big happy face today, my dear?”

“Danny and I are approved by the military to get married!”

“That didn’t take long. I’m glad they didn’t make you wait too long to satisfy their silly requirements.” Mrs. Smithe sipped her tea. “Did you think about what you will wear to marry that handsome man of yours?”

“No really. We packed in such a hurry when we left Switzerland; I left my only dress behind. What I wear doesn’t matter.” Heidi lowered her eyes to the table.

“Doesn’t matter! Poppycock! You need to wear a beautiful dress  on your wedding day. You will remember this day for the rest of your life. I think every girl should look like the Queen of England when she gives her life to a special man.” Mrs. Smithe got out of her chair. “Wait Here.” She scurried back to her bedroom and came out with a garment bag. “This dress was supposed to be my daughter’s wedding dress.” Tears welled in Mrs. Smithe’s eyes. “She died during the Blitz and never got a chance to wear it.” Her voice quavered.

“Oh, I could not, Mrs. Smithe. If I wore your daughter’s dress, it would be too painful for you. You are too generous.” Heidi hung her head. “After all, I am German and–

Mrs. Smithe cut her off. “Never think I blame you for my daughter’s death. You are not a Nazi, Heidi. A Nazi belief never entered your head. You are a wonderful, unselfish girl who got trapped in a hideous situation. My God, David, Ruthie, and Jacob probably would have died at the hands of those Nazi thugs. I read accounts of the beatings and torture Jews endured by those barbarians.” Mrs. Smithe took a deep breath. “I also realize my daughter Catherine will be honored if you wear the dress.”

Heidi’s eyes glistened. She got up and hugged Mrs. Smithe. “Thank you.”

“You will be a beautiful bride, my dear.” The older woman said. “Now, you must try on the dress so I can make the necessary alterations.” Mrs. Smithe pulled down the zipper on the garment bag to reveal a beautiful white satin dress with lace and pearls.

Heidi put her hand to her mouth. She had never seen such a beautiful gown.

Chapter 13

Montpellier, France – December—A couple of months had  passed since Emma’s departure from Montpellier. Marta experienced conflicting emotions of anger and loss, and she didn’t possess an answer as to what to do. She confessed she had a whole in her heart, but she also was upset Emma would leave the way she did. Marta received several letters from Emma begging her to come back to Paris. She wrote she found a good job at the Post Office which provided enough money for both of them, so Marta could continue painting. In another letter she wrote she rented their old flat.

Marta still didn’t want to return to Paris. She made a home for herself in Montpellier and acquired a group of new friends—other artists and writers–who seemed to understand her soul. But as Christmas approached, Marta admitted celebrating the holiday without snow on the ground or an evergreen tree in the house would be sad.  On top of the absence of snow and a Christmas tree, none of her new friends understood Marta’s traditions.

Marta loved the peace and beautiful surroundings of the little coastal town, but she also longed to see the decorated store windows in the big department stores. She missed hearing carolers singing Christmas songs on the street corners and vendors selling roasted chestnuts. She enjoyed the friendship of the artists in Montpellier, but her heart ached for Emma. Was it  her pride and stubbornness keeping her in Montpellier? Or did she keep herself insulated in the south of France because maybe Emma went on with her life with someone else.

After a long day at work, Marta found two letters from Emma in her mailbox. She filled a small tub with warm water and Epsom salts, poured herself a glass of chardonnay, and then sat down in her favorite chair putting her tired sore feet in warm water. Marta opened one of the letters, only to find another envelope inside with the familiar handwriting of her mother.

December, 1944

Dear Marta,

Merry Christmas, my dear daughter. I pray you are safe. I hope you receive this letter because it will be the last one you will get from me. Our beautiful city is shaken from its foundation. Berlin is in a million pieces. The apocalypse is here. Bombers come day and night. We run and crouch in crowded air raid shelters because we elected a ruthless dictator who will not admit the war is lost. When we come out of the shelter, all that is left is columns of black smoke and debris. Corpses litter the street with their dead eyes stare into oblivion.  

I always prayed we would meet again before I die, but our beautiful home is now destroyed, I lost everything. I no longer possess a photograph of you or your father. Our old life does not exist.  Everything is gone. I am so glad you will never witness the dirty wretch I am. People are going mad, and I fear I might join them. Everyday someone in the neighborhood commits suicide.

Hitler broadcasts over the radio we must fight on. The SS goes through the streets and shoots little boys who hide from serving in the army. Insanity is rampant.

On the east side of the city limits, the Russians are closing in. Time is short before they enter the city and the real nightmare will commence. The Soviets hate us. With no food, no water, and no shelter, I am not strong enough to care any more. I wait for death to come.

I do not think the world will ever forgive the German people for this war, and we must all share a collective guilt for this devastation,  even though so many women never directly played a part in the events Hitler and his Nazis dropped upon us.

I will love you always, my dear daughter, but I cannot go on. Writing this letter took of all my strength.

Find happiness my sweet. I love you. Mutter

Marta sobbed. Her mother succumbed to death because her happy life didn’t exist any longer. Marta feared what the Red Army planned to do as they entered Berlin. Marta realized she had made the right decision to run from Berlin, but she never considered what her absence would do to her mother. She lost her husband at Stalingrad, and Marta could not return home to mourn with her mother. Now her mother waited alone for death to come.

After Marta composed herself, she tore open Emma’s letter.

 My dearest Marta,

Merry Christmas, darling! I keep hoping you will change your mind and return to Paris so we can continue our life together, but it seems my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Would it help if you knew I put up a Christmas tree for you? Would it help to know I pray for your return?   Yes darling, I do pray. My years in prison made me realize how important prayer is.

Do you remember the first Christmas we shared? Remember our little tree which looked like an unclothed orphan? Somehow you made it beautiful with stings of old jewelry and other shiny bobbles we found at the thrift store. You are an artist in your soul, and I wish I understood earlier how much you need your art. I guess you are a bird without a song if you cannot paint.

Since the Nazis left Paris, happiness has returned. The newspapers predict the allies will win the war before the summer is over. I wish you would reconsider and share this “free” air in Paris. The skies are blue again, Cherie. The white snow on the boulevard covers winter’s ugliness, and the Eiffel Tower is lit again in the French colors. Remember our first New Year’s at the Eiffel? You looked so beautiful in that white wool suit and your luscious lips covered in that bright red lipstick. Just thinking about the sight of you makes my heart flutter.

I miss you terribly, Marta. I want you to realize I didn’t run from you; I ran from Montpelier. I felt myself dying in your sleepy little town. I love Paris as you love Montpelier, but I cannot be a complete person just living here without you.

Please rethink your decision, Marta. Paris is a beautiful city to paint too.  I will love you forever.

Emma

Marta set the letters aside and cried. She wept for the good German people who got hypnotized and duped by a mad man because they needed someone to lead them out of severe poverty after the First World War. She wept for her father who swallowed Nazi propaganda and paid for it with his life. She wept for her mother who now despaired and waited for death,. She also wept for herself because she realized she became a displaced person without any true home.

After she dried her eyes when she couldn’t cry any more, Marta experienced an epiphany. She realized her choices made her as alone as her mother. She needed to make changes. The last thing she wanted for her life was to live as a sad, angry, old woman who lived in regret.

 

 

 

Oil Changes and Other Adventures

Since Ken’s fall last Sunday, I’ve been a space cadet. I knew I was upset when he went down in the garage and his noggin hit the  pavement, but I never dreamed I’d become stupid

Here’s one thing that happened the following week. I won’t bore you with all of my ridiculous behavior.

I needed to get the car in for an oil change and tire rotation before the end of September because I had a coupon from the dealership which saved me about $40. I called my friend Pam to pick me up so we could have a cup of coffee while the car waited its turn to have a transfusion and tire adjustment.

We both took off from my house and traveled west. I pulled into the driveway of the garage and thought, “This doesn’t look right. Oh well, I haven’t been out here for quite a while, maybe they did some rennovations to the building.” I drove through the unfamiliar entrance and got out of the car to talk to the intake manager. It went like this:

“Good afternoon, Miss.” (I love it when they don’t call me “ma’am.”) “What can we do for you today?”

I answered. “I have a 2:30 appointment for an oil change and tire rotation.”

“Name?”

“Barbara McCloskey.”

“How do you spell that?”

“M C C L O S K E Y.”

He rattled a few keys on the computer and his face went blank. “Your not in the computer.”

“I called yesterday and talked to Patty.”

“We don’t have a Patty on staff.”

Now I really thought I lost my mind. “I don’t understand. I talked at Patty at Palmen Service Department and signed up to bring my car in at 2:30.”

He still wore a blank expression. “Palmen?”

“Yes.”

“Ma’am (oh god, now I’m ma’am.) You’re at Boucher. Palmen is two block that way.” He pointed east.

“Well that explains everything, huh?” I actually didn’t blush. “I’m at the wrong dealership. Chalk it up to a senior moment.”

I got in my car and exited the service bay. In my rear view mirror, I saw him laughing as he talked to one of his colleagues. Great! Now I won the reputation of a crazy lady.

A few seconds later I pulled into the right dealership. Honked the horn to get them to open the door. Drove in. Got out and repeated the process.

The guy says, “Your name in not in the computer.”

“I talked to Patty yesterday and made the appointment.”

“We have two Pattys.”

“Good. I talked to one of them.”

“Hmmmm.” The guy tapped on the computer a bit. “We can fit you in.”

“I have a coupon for the oil change and tire rotation.”

“All right.”

I dug in my purse. My husband calls the thing my black hole, and today he was right on. I had no coupon. Then I remembered I left it on my desk. “When I come back, I’ll bring the coupon.”

He must have sensed I was having a bad day. “That will be fine, ma’am.”

I smiled and called Pam because she was nowhere to be seen. “Hi, my friend. Where are you?”

“The question is where are you?”

“I’m at Palmen where I’m supposed to be.”

“I saw you drive into Boucher and then I lost you.”

“Just come to Palmen, and I’ll wait outside for you.”

“Okay.” She hung up.

Two seconds later, we made contact. I opened the passenger’s door and plopped down in the seat. “I need a drink. Not coffee.”

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 17

London, England – August—Danny and other American escapees boarded a U. S. Army truck to travel to Lyon. They stayed for a week before being flown to London. Debriefing took place at SHAEF headquarters at Grosvenor House. Danny requested he be allowed to rejoin his flying group, but learned they all went home a month ago. Instead, he was to report to Major Jamison in London for his new assignment. The first order of business, though, was to retrieve his footlocker that had been put in storage in Liverpool. Danny flew a B-17 to Liverpool. There the returning POWs were directed to storage building which housed the personal belongings of airmen who hadn’t returned to their units. When the sergeant in charge opened the door, Danny’s mouth dropped. Thousands of foot lockers filled the old facility. Row upon row of lockers stacked to the ceiling told the true cost of war. After the men found their lockers, they went to the mess hall for a typical breakfast of powered eggs and toast. There was little chatter during the flight back to London.

Danny waited about an hour at headquarters for new orders before he was escorted into Major Jamison’s office.

“I understand the Swiss held you prisoner after you crashed.” The major said as he lit his pipe.

“Yes sir.”

“Is it true they gave you freedom to roam the towns, attend concerts, and other activities without guards being present?”

“Yes sir. If an airman needs to be a prisoner, Switzerland is the place to be.”

“How did you escape?”

“I gathered civilian clothes a piece at a time and hid my costume in the floorboards of the barracks. When I had all I needed, I had a waitress I grew to know buy me a train ticket to Zurich. I learned the librarian had ties to the French Resistance. She put me in touch with another woman who made arrangement for my escape.”

“How long did that take?”

Danny gulped. If he told the truth about how long his time in Switzerland really was, the major would think he was a deserter.   “A couple of months.”

“When did you get captured?”

“In February, sir.” Danny then said, “Why do I need to repeat this, sir?  I covered this in my debriefing.”

“I understand. But I need to know for myself. Why so long to get back here?”

Beads of sweat formed on Danny’s forehead. “Well, it took a while to get hooked up with the Marquis.”

The Major pressed Danny further because he sensed the whole story remained untold.  Six months seems like a very long time lieutenant.”

“Yes sir.”

“Can you explain the delay?”

“Well,” Danny’s lying skills left a lot to be desire, so he took a deep breath and confessed. “The young woman who helped me took in three Jewish orphans, and well, uh, she needed some help. The place she lived in needed a lot of work, and well, uh, I fixed up the place a little.”

“That’s quite an unusual story, lieutenant.” The Major drummed his fingers on the desk. “Did you consider deserting, airman?”

“No sir. Never.” Danny stared the major meeting the superior officer’s eyes.

“I still don’t understand the six month delay to get back here.”

“I confess. I fell in love.” Danny remained straight as an arrow in the hard oak chair. “I got married.”

The Major exploded and propelled himself out of his chair. “You what?”

Danny repeated. “I got married, sir.”

Major Jamison got up from his chair and paced around the room like a hungry lion. “Why on earth would you do such a thing? Didn’t you think an American airman might need permission of his CO to marry a foreigner while in the service?”

Danny gulped. “No, sir. I didn’t.”

“I’m sorry, son, but your marriage to this girl is not legal.”

Now Danny stood. “What?”

The Major and Danny stood face to face. “You’re not legally married in the eyes of the Air Corps.”

Danny didn’t believe what he heard. “How do I make the marriage legal? Heidi means the world to me.”

“I can’t believe you did such a stupid thing!” The major realized he lost control of his temper and lowered his voice. “The proper procedure is to bring her to England. Then I must meet her and sign off on the marriage. Only then you can marry her. Afterward, you’ll be sent home, and she will remain in England until the war is over to be sent to the States.”

“Oh my God.” Danny’s first thought was Heidi. How would find the words to tell her that their marriage wasn’t valid. Danny’s voice quavered. “I never guessed getting married to someone needed any permission.”

“The problem is you didn’t think!” The Major said. “Is she Swiss?”

“No, sir. She’s German.”

“Jesus God! That makes this situation even more ridiculous. You can’t marry the enemy, airman!” The Major yelled.

Danny looked at his shoes. He sensed if he looked at the Major he might cry.

The Major returned to his chair. “Sit down, lieutenant. Let’s take a breath.”

Danny obeyed, but he avoided the Major’s eyes.

“I must say, this is the most interesting predicament I’ve faced. I understand a young guy falling in love with a pretty girl. I’m not dead yet.” The Major chuckled. “But the marry a German? What are you, nuts?”

Danny got the courage to look him in the eye. “No sir.”

The major leaned back into his chair as his mind worked for a solution. ““Give me some time, and I’ll try to work this out.”

“You’ll help me?”

“I’ll explore the options. Getting permission depends upon this girl. I want to listen to her story. But if you say a word about this, and I end up with a reputation of being a softie, I will skin you myself!” The Major said with a harsh tone.

“Yes sir.”

“Let me make a few calls. Come back on Friday.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you sir.” Danny rose and saluted.

The Major returned his salute and then picked up the phone. “James, get me Colonel Chadwick.”

*****

The next three days seemed like three years. Danny killed time by celebrating Armistice Day in London at Westminster Abbey. He went into the pubs at night. He wandered the streets of London and witnessed the devastation the Germans inflicted on the city and wondered how he would react if the Germans had bombed Lacrosse. Then he thought of the cities across Europe which had suffered the same tragedy by the hands of American bombers.

On Friday Danny returned to the Major’s office. He learned the major made arrangements with the French resistance to bring Heidi and the family to Annecy. The Major told Danny he would inform him when her plane landed in London. That afternoon, Danny went into London to look for a proper wedding ring.

Chapter 18

Montpelier, South of France, September—The enticement of returning to Paris proved to be strong for Emma. She tried working as a clerk, but everyday the hours dragged by and she found no joy in her work. She spent her days wondering how different Paris might be. She romanticized her return to the apartment she and Marta shared before the war. She wanted to breathe freedom again in the city she loved. The only solution seemed to be to leave the sleepy little town she and Marta called home for the past several months.

Emma realized Marta wanted to make a  new home in the south of France, but she couldn’t. She didn’t want to appear as ungrateful and selfish because she knew without Marta’s loving care she never would have recovered fully from the torture she endured. Every discussion they had about returning to Paris ending in an argument. Marta loved living in a quiet paradise. Emma equated the little town as another prison.

After Emma packed her few belongings she wrote a goodbye note.

Dear Marta,

You are my eternal lover, but I am finding living here is killing me softly. I want to enjoy a free Paris, so I will go ahead and find an apartment for the two of us and write when I am settled.

It is true the war caused both of us so much hardship, but now it is time to put the terrors of war behind us. I possess no illusions about returning to politics. I promise. I performed my duty to my adopted country, and now all I want is to return to my adopted home.

I am sorry to take the coward’s way out by leaving you this note, but I cannot face your tears or anger.

I hope you’ll forgive me for leaving you this way. Please follow me back to Paris.

All my love, Emma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table For One?

When Ken has bad days with  his MS, I have a lot of conflicting emotions. How long will we be together? How long will we be able to enjoy each other’s company over a nice meal at home or at a restaurant? The thought of eating alone again is not pleasant.

When I got divorced over twenty years ago, eating diner alone was one of the hardest things I had to accept. Up until that time, the evening meal was the only time when everyone was present. We discussed the day’s events and talked about what would happen the next day. Contributing to the conversation was necessary. When I was quiet as a child, my parents assumed something was wrong in my world. Now a court decreed dining with my family was over. I hated it. In fact, I never really adjusted willingly.

Have you ever wondered why humans prefer eating together? Coming from an extended family of gregarious Italians sharing a big meal with a crowd is part of my DNA.

If I go back to my communication theory I learned in college, I can explain it this way:  We are born into a culture which teaches us its underlying truths and traditions. When we get old enough, we reinforce those traditions and beliefs and pass them on to our own children. Simple? I don’t think so. From our first meal to our last, we prefer to share the experience with another. Is it our social conditioning which makes it so? Or is it that we’ve never been taught to eat alone? All we’re doing is refueling, right?

There are probably more single people in our culture than ever before. I assume most of them eat alone most nights. I wander if they miss family meals or have willingly adjusted to their status. Have they adjusted to dining alone or do they  “text” friends while they devour calories? Do they sit in front of the television just to have other voices present as they nibble? Or do they have a pet standing by to talk to and share their meal? Do they go to restaurants and bring a book signally to other patrons they are intellectual not pathetic?

From what I’ve read on the subject, people in big cities like New York find it easier to eat alone in restaurants. Isn’t that curious? Why is  it when more people are packed together in a concentrated area like Manhattan they can shut out other people at meal time? Sound backwards to me. But then again, people living in big cities are more guarded for survival sake, so on some level it makes sense.

 

Perhaps I find eating alone so tough because I’ve been taught to do otherwise says I’m lacking something socially. My Italian American lineage has ingrained to believe meals are communal activities. Let’s face it. Solitary meals leave us exposed.  People perceive you as a poor soul who has no friends, while you’re trying to show you are confident and quite comfortable in your own company.

Most of us at one time in our lives must face the fact we will be alone at meal times — unless of course, you’re the lucky one who gets to die first. Even Jesus had a “Last Supper.”

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 15

Montpellier, France-August—After several months in the south of France, Emma regained most of her strength. Her clear emerald green eyes sparkled again which told Marta her spirit also healed. Emma walked to the town square every day and took on the household chores while Marta worked as a waitress at the corner cafe. Emma admitted the time they spent in the South of France gave her a chance to rest and find herself again, but her good health recaptured her innate desire to do something more meaningful than household chores. She wanted to work again. She needed excitement, and she yearned to go back to Paris.

Every evening after supper,  Marta and Emma listened to a small radio Marta bought from one of their workmates. The device received few channels, but one station they did receive originated from England. Radio Free Europe reported accurate information about the war, instead of biased German or Allied propaganda. As cool summer breeze floated through the window, an excited radio announcer proclaimed, “The Nazis are out of Paris! Allied soldiers overtook the city today. General de Gaulle, the leader of the Marquis, led the exiled troops back into the city. Everyone danced in the streets. Wine flowed freely while young girls kissed their liberators. ”

Emma jumped from her chair. Her eyes sparkled like they did when she first showed Paris to Marta.  “Do you realize what this means, Cherie?”

Marta smiled at Emma’s exuberance. “No, what does this mean?”

“We can go home! We can go home!”

“Back to Paris?” Marta paused and chose her words carefully. “Why would we leave here? I love this lovely town. The weather is moderate. We are close to the sea. Our apartment is comfortable. I thought you enjoyed being here. Why do you want to upset the peace we found?”

Emma’s face fell like Marta had let the air out of her balloon. “I agree this place has been wonderful. You nursed me back from oblivion and brought joy back into my life again. But do you not want to return to art, music, theater, movies and all the rest of the things this little town does not offer?”

“No. I’m sorry, Emma. The slower pace suits me. I like the people here. I made friends here. I got a chance to rediscover my love of painting here. I am not anxious to return to the bustle and rudeness of the city. And besides, to travel right now would be dangerous.”

Emma tried again with a note of pleading in her voice.  “Would you consider moving after the war is over?”

“I will think about it Emma.”

Emma’s voice soften like melting ice cream. “I love you, Cherie, You realize that, don’t you?”

“Of course. What a question.”

“I realize Pierre moved heaven and hell to free me from that German prison. I also am thankful he brought me here to you. Every day you proved your love for me in every touch and kindness. I do appreciate all you did for me. But this sleepy little town is,” she hesitated. “Too safe and too quiet. I need to be active again.  I need a purpose, so I can be your partner, not your burden.”

Marta raised one eyebrow as she stared at Emma. “First of all, you are not or ever were a burden. You can find work here.”

“Like what? Fishing?” Emma’s voice cut like a sharp knife. Instantly she wanted to take back her sarcastic words.

Marta replied. “Emma. I recognize you are a fighter, and I sense your restlessness. But the war made us both endure so many hardships. I rather like not thinking about terror every minute. This place freed me from the ugliness. Paris would bring all those horrid memories back.”

“Are you saying, ‘No’?”

Marta dropped her eyes and said in a soft tone. “I am saying I cannot endure another big change. Not now. I am happy here. Please try to understand.”

Emma sat down. She said nothing. It was clear Marta had traded her fire for adventure for complacency.

Chapter 16

Switzerland, July—Danny stayed with Heidi and her children for a couple of months. He didn’t want to go back to combat flying, but he also didn’t want to be labeled a deserter. His friendship with Heidi grew into flourishing love.

At the breakfast table Heidi confronted him. “Daniel, I am running out of projects for you. I appreciate all you do for me, but someday you need to leave and go back to the Americans.”

“I thought your “Honey Do” list would never be completed.” He said with a mischievous smile.

“Honey do? What is this?”

“At home husbands call a wife’s list of chores a “Honey Do List” . . . Like honey do this, and honey do that.”

Heidi laughed. “That is very funny, Daniel.”

He put his hand over Heidi’s hand which rested on the table. “Heidi, I don’t want to leave you.”

She searched his sincere eyes. “I do not want you to go either, Daniel. But it is selfish to keep you here. Everyone will miss you, but the Americans expect you to escape.”  Heidi’s eyes dropped to the floor.

Danny  stood and pulled her into his arms. “I realize I need to go back to my unit, but since coming here, I am torn. I want to stay and protect all of you.”

“You must realize I do not need protection.”

“I see you can take care of yourself, but I found something special here with you.”

“We are happy you are here, Danny.”

“Heidi, I am in love with you.”

Heidi’s eyes welled with tears. “I love you, too, Daniel.”

Danny said softly, “I want to kiss you.”

“So kiss me.” She raised her chin and he kissed her lips. Gently at first, but then his kisses grew with his passion.

She pulled away as her sense of self-preservation kicked in.  “Daniel,” she whispered. “We should not do this.”

“Why not?”

Her voice quivered. “Because you will go away, and I will be alone again. I cannot bear to lose you.

“Never. I want you to be my wife and go back to the states with me.”

“And the children?”

“Of course! I understand  you and the children are a package deal, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s get married and then I will go back to my unit.”

“It is too soon, Danny.”

“Too soon for what? Hasn’t this war proven life is too short to waste time? Say you’ll be my wife, Heidi.”

Heidi searched his honest face and pleading eyes. “Yes. I love you, Danny.” She kissed him long and deep.

He lifted her off the ground in his joy and squeezed her tightly. “Oh God, Heidi. I love you so!”

They laughed in each others arms.

He said, “Let’s get married tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

*****

Danny and Heidi married the next day in the local minister’s parlor. Heidi put on a white dress she wore when she graduated from secondary school. The dress didn’t fit well because she lost weight, but she didn’t possess anything else appropriate for the occasion. David picked a bouquet of wild flowers from the hills behind their house and presented them to his mother before they all walked to church.

Danny didn’t own a suit, so he wore the clothes he wore when he escaped from prison. He fashioned a ring from an old car part he hammered and polished. He vowed to buy Heidi a proper wedding ring as soon as he returned to the States.

The minister’s wife and a deacon served as witnesses. The children stood by as attendants, and Heidi thought her wedding to Danny was the most precious memory in her life. The ceremony was simple, but tender. As the couple stood in front of the minister and repeated their promises to each other, she thanked God for bringing him to her.

*****

Three days later, Danny said goodbye to Heidi and the children. The French resistance would help him return to the Americans, but leaving Heidi and the children felt like someone cut out his heart.

“I will write as often as I can.” He said with tears as he tried to say goodbye.

She whispered, “Please be careful.” She clung to him not wanting to let go. “Take care of yourself for me.” She forced a smile through her tears. Danny was the first boy she ever loved and now she needed to let him go.

Danny kissed her one last time. “We’ll be together soon. I promise.”

She gave him a brave smile. He opened the door and disappeared into the night.  Heidi closed the door and sobbed.

The sound of Heidi crying propelled David from his bed. He rushed downstairs and found her sitting on the floor. “Mutter, what is wrong?”

“Danny left to go back to the Americans.”

“He told me yesterday he would leave. I begged him not to go, but he said he must return because he stayed too long already; he did not want to go.”

She looked into his innocent face and nodded. “You are so wise for someone so young.” The two of them cried in each other’s arms fearing they might not see the man they loved again.

*****

Danny met the librarian at the edge of town. She drove him to the next leg of the journey where she introduced him to a man dressed as a pauper in the next town.  The man directed Danny to a house where two British soldiers waited. The Brits had escaped from a German work camp in Austria. They waited in darkness for a covered lorry which would take them to Geneva. They got off the truck and followed their guide to a wooded area. They walked about two miles before they got to a small stream.

The peasant guide said, “I must go now. Wait here quietly. I will bring the Marquis to take you back to the allied lines.”

The escapees waited in the darkness for hours before their guide returned. He searched for a shallow spot along the stream and motioned for the others to follow him across the icy water wearing their shoes. On the far shore, the guide turned them over to the Marquis—eight strong, grubby men, all armed with machine guns. Brief introductions were made before these tough looking men led Danny and the Brits to a ramshackle shack hidden in thick woods. Here they slept for a few hours waiting for daylight.

As soon as the sun rose, a Marquis member shook the escapees awake. In darkness Danny and the Brits couldn’t see these men who were to take them to the allies. Now, however, the rugged, battle-toughened men appeared more like grubby barbarians than saviors.

The group ate a light breakfast of fruit and hard cheese before the leader announced it was time to go. They walked for a couple of hours before getting to a steep hill. The Marquis flanked the escapees on both sides to protect them from any enemy soldiers who might still be in the area. Danny struggled to make the climb, breathing heavier as the altitude went higher. He prayed as he struggled to breathe. “Oh God, please keep Heidi and the children safe, and help me get up this damn mountain alive.”

The trek uphill brought them to an abandoned German barracks. After a supper of bread and thin potato soup, Danny sat outside on the porch with one of the rescuers. Danny offered him a cigarette. The man took it and smiled. “Merci.” He lit the cigarette and took a long drag relaxing his back against the building.

Danny smiled as he thought, “How surprising a cigarette is always an ice-breaker, even when the tobacco is so bad.”

*****

The group headed out in the early morning to a nearby town called Annecy due south of Geneva. On the south side of the town a crystal clear mountain lake and a large hotel appeared. In peace time the place served vacationers as a resort, but now the structure housed American military personnel who aided escaped prisoners get back to their units. Danny received new clothes and a new pair of boots. The Brits were transferred to another installation nearby. Danny was assigned a private room for the evening with the knowledge he would be debriefed in the morning after a good meal and a night’s sleep. Danny used the time to write to Heidi.

Heidi, my love–

I arrived safely at my destination. Now the danger we encounter are bedbug bites that itch like crazy.

I cannot predict when we will be together again, but I can’t wait to start our life in America. From the reports I am hearing, the war cannot last much longer. The Marquis told us the Russians are closing in from the east and the Allies keep pushing toward Berlin.

On our way here, we saw German prisoners harnessed to a heavy wagon. Earlier in the war SS troops confiscated all of the draft animals in the village, so the French thought hitching the POW’s up to the wagon was poetic justice.

From here, I’ll be transferred to England. I will keep you informed on what comes next. I miss you all so much already. We will be together soon. 

I’m sending all my love to you and the children,

Danny

 

 

Feedbac

Don’t Censor Creativity

Today on CBS Morning Show the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert came on the show to talk about her new book BIG MAGIC – CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR. The discussion with the morning show staff was about how we censor creativity by hanging on to fear. The program got me thinking.

I’ve always had a curiosity about the world around me. I asked “Why” way more than my mother ever wanted me to. Most of the time her answer was “because that’s the way it is.” In six short words she quashed my imagination. When my girls asked why, you can bet I never answered them with a “because statement.” I’d give them an answer and then asked them, “Why do you think it is so?” I tried to get them to think creatively about their curiosities.

When it was time to decide on a career, my mother encouraged me to find an office job. She brainwashed me into thinking I didn’t have enough talent to do anything else, and besides, I would have skills to “fall back on.” Seeing no way to get to college at eighteen, I succumbed to her idea of success and spent seven years typing, filing and taking shorthand.

My office skills helped me throughout my life, but as I look back, I realize what a dope I was to let someone else live my life.  If I could talk to that sixteen year old girl who gave into her mother’s wisdom I would say: Run! Find your own path. Nurture your talents don’t bury them. It will work out.

But to be completely honest, my mother wasn’t to blame for my choice. Yes, she had a hand in it, but I allowed it to happen. I lived in the same fear she did. I hated making mistakes. Little did I realize it is one’s own mistakes that allow growth. Now I live in my creative self, but it took many years to get here, and I suppose most people take too many years to value the creativity inside of them.

If you’re young and reading this post, don’t wait for the “right” time to allow your creativity bloom. Nurture it now. Value it now. Dream and create. It’s why we were put here. Live in the moment and let the fear fall away. It’s not an easy way to live, but it’s the most exciting and fulfilling  journey.

Oh, and by the way, I bought the book just to make sure I’m on the right path.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 12

Normandy, France-June—For years General Rommel had troops reinforce two thousand miles of French coastline with bunkers, guns, and other deterrents to hinder a land invasion in France. The Germans believed their thorough preparation would discourage any Allied land invasion. The hubris of the German hierarchy believe no army would defeat them.

The Germans believed the most logical place to land was Calais in the north because this location was the closest city to England on the English Channel. All intercepted intelligence reports pointed to Calais. Consequently, the Nazis positioned their superior Panzer tank units in Calais, which proved to be a hundred miles from the attack occurring at Normandy. Hitler held the troops in Calais because he believed another wave of allied forces would attack there.

Rommel believed the allies would not attack in the terrible weather that hit France on June 4th so he went home to celebrate his wife’s birthday. He believed even if their precautions and fortifications failed, the weather always stood by as a good ally. Strong winds and a thick cloud cover would keep Allied aircraft at bay.

*****

Franz Reinhart realized he received “puff” assignments throughout the war. After Leisel died, though, his situation changed.  When Colonel Fuchs learned his daughter Leisel received abuse and indifference from Franz, he disowned his son-in-law. On top of that, Marta’s father died at Stalingrad, so Franz no longer received favors from a high ranking officer.

When Franz received new orders transferring him from Paris to the Normandy area, he grumbled. The few small skirmishes with the French resistance gave him a taste of combat, but the fighters proved to be more of a nuisance than any real threat. Only his communication talents saved him. He won him the job of radio operator, which also kept him off the front lines.

At 0400 hours on June 6, 1944 his commanding officer shook him awake. “Aufstehen! Aufstehen!” As Franz shook the cobwebs of slumber from his head, he wondered what had Captain Heinz in such a tizzy. Then he heard the distinctive whine of enemy planes overhead. His commander screamed at him again. “Get up! Get up! Something is happening. Get on the radio.”

Franz pulled on his pants and shirt and ran barefoot to the communications building. Excitable chatter screamed over the wireless. “Parachutists are landing! Gliders are landing! Landing craft approaching! My God! The sea is filled with so many ships; we do not have enough soldiers to fight them!” Franz couldn’t believe this catastrophe. Surely, the officers must be exaggerating!

By mid-morning no more communications came in because allied forces either jammed the signal, or worse, they cut the cables. Units lost the capability to coordinate their movements. Infantrymen streamed past Franz’s location and ran toward the coast. The unit scout reported a few bunkers in the Normandy sector got blown to bits.

Franz and the rest of the unit followed the German infantry to the coast. His anger bubbled up because Captain Heinz ordered him to go out to the cold, forsaken beachhead. His job required him to man the radio; a man with his rank should not be reduced to a grunt soldier. His vanity protested.  “But Commander, would it not be wiser to move inland and take the village nearby? Such a location would be more appropriate to plan a counter attack. ”

The colonel’s face looked as if it would explode. “How do you suggest we do that without radios? You imbecile! Are you questioning my orders, lieutenant?”

Captain Heinz did not like to be challenged by any underling. Franz hung his head. “No, sir.”

“Then move out.” The Commander growled like an attacking wolf.

Ja; doch.” Franz saluted and ran after his superior. He felt like a scared child when his father threatened him with a spanking if he didn’t obey. He thought as he ran: “I should not be ordered to fight in a concrete bunker. What am I to do? I never operated a big gun! This can’t be happening!”

As soon as Franz got to the beach, the high commander ordered everyone to shoot blindly down toward the beach. With the radios out, confusion reigned. Conflicting commands went around him. Franz’s brain froze when he realized the beach crawled with wave after wave of infantrymen. Now he understood his orders to “Tet sie alle!”  Kill them all!

The hammering of the big guns, the stink of sulfur, and the stench of death engulfed the beach. Thousands of Americans bounded from their landing craft and opened fire. Everyone screamed at each other. The roar of guns and cries of agony from wounded Americans and comrades told the story of the battle.

Franz tightened his grip on a stationary machine gun; he breathed deep and pulled the trigger. The recoil of the gun threw him backward.  He fired again and thought the weapon came alive like a restrained elephant giving into its instinct to stampede. It took all of his strength to control the weapon.

Abruptly, the gun ceased to fire. Franz panicked not knowing what to do. His hands shook.  His CO screamed at him to reload. He never loaded a gun bigger than a rifle. He clumsily feed the brass string of shells into the chamber and pulled the trigger. As he fumbled, the Commander cursed him. Franz wet himself. His failure to fire allowed the Americans to penetrate the bunker.

The last thing Franz remembered was a thump of metal hitting concrete. He spun around to see a grenade. A second later,  shrapnel from the exploding weapon ripped open a large wound in his groin severing his femoral artery. A white-hot pain flashed through his body and he passed out. Franz cried out with pain. He fell into a fetal position as his life drained away.

Chapter 13

Normandy, France-June—Johnny learned a lot from Captain Baker. Except for unusual incidents, they recognized most aerial victories required two men. The wingman concept proved to be a lifesaver and an effective enemy destroyer. Through months of flying together, they developed a technique of interchanging roles of number one and wingman as the situation demanded. Their bond grew so strong they anticipated each other’s next move.

Up until D-Day, the fighter pilots of the Eighth Air Force focused on destroying the Luftwaffe. The fighters still escorted the B-17’s so the boys in the bombers were protected before and after hitting their targets, but on June 6th, the fighters’ assignment changed. Now they provided support and protection for the men on the ground.

Everyone knew the invasion would be a hell of a fight. They all needed to remain focused.  Johnny needed to push the thought his kid brother fought on the ground to the back of his mind. Every man was a small cog in a very big machine. Johnny flew his fortieth mission on D-Day, and as soon as he completed his assignment, he planned to marry Katie. War taught him time is finite, and a guy needed to enjoy happiness wherever he could find it.

Chapter 14

South Pacific, Summer—Donna and the girls toured tent cities in fields and beachheads for months. Performing in such dangerous places didn’t faze Donna. She loved the spotlight. Standing alone in the darkness made her feel alive and powerful. She realized she held the audience in the palm of her hand as she poured out raw emotion with her voice. Once inside their souls, she brought a glimpse of home to tearful soldiers.

Donna told a reporter from the “The Stars and Stripes” newspaper: “The boys are my heroes, and I give them all I possess during every show. When I sing “I’ll be Seeing You in All the Familiar Places,” I dive into their hearts and take them back to their girls back home. Performing in these shows is important to everyone in the band because we can provide a little fun and a short escape from this ugly war.”

The exposure Donna gave the band would never happen in any other situation. The girls vowed they would stay together for the duration of the war, but after seeing Mr. Hope and the other professionals perform, Donna secretly wanted to take a run in Hollywood after she got home.

The girls and other USO performers also visited the hospitals at most locations. With so many beautiful young boys suffering such debilitating wounds, Donna found it difficult to hold her tears back. Witnessing severe burns or missing limbs made her want to cry. Putting on a smile for these occasions was the toughest thing she did during the war, but if an autograph or a kiss on the cheek helped a man through the day, she was happy to do it. Donna’s charm washed over the men as she thanked all of them for what they gave to preserve American freedom. Staying calm and cheerful in the hospitals proved to be the hardest role she would ever play.

By the summer of 1944, the troupe traveled thirty thousand miles throughout the South Pacific. They performed shows in exotic sounding locations like Eniwetok, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, and Majuro. They traveled to twenty-three countries over thirteen months. The Foxhole Circuit produced some of the most seasoned veterans of the USO camp shows. The most difficult part of their travesl turned out to be keeping up with Bob Hope’s grueling pace. He was tireless and expected everyone else keep up. The troupe traveled on ships and planes through combat zones, performing at least two shows a day.

As the months went on, the girls grew weary of the travel, the dangers of war, and living in mosquito infested tents. The dirt, bugs, and snakes got old fast. Donna dreamed of getting her hair and nails done in a salon again.

When Mr. Hope announced they had completed their last show, all of the performers breathed a sigh of relief. They looked forward to warm beds and good food. They could retire their steel helmets with other trophies. Rationing and shortages would be easy after their field experiences. Their joy hid the guilt they experienced because when they headed home so many millions couldn’t.

 

 

 

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. ”

 

 

 

The Projects Are Complete!

For months I’ve been telling you about all of the projects Ken and I started after the first of the year. We were blessed with wonderfully talented people who did a great job with our kitchen, utility room, and of course, the Taj  Garage. The last piece of the picture was completed on Wednesday of this week. The landscaping of a portion of the backyard is done. All I have to do is water the grass seed and plants.

Easy. Right.

Early in the year I bought one of those new fangled hoses that are light weight. I knew 50 feet wasn’t quite long enough to reach the farthest place I needed to water, but I thought if I increased the water pressure, I might be able to get by.

Wrong.

I stretched the hose as far as it would go which resulted in a geyser right in the middle of the hose.

Damn.

I couldn’t repair the leak, so I headed off to hardware store to purchase a new hose. I hoped I could find a 100 ft. light-weight hose, but that would be too easy. The store didn’t possess any length longer than 50 ft. and they hoses couldn’t be put together. So, I grabbed the heavy 100 ft. hose and new nozzle. I headed home, hooked up the disappointing hose to the water supply and began an hour and half of wrestling with this long snake that came alive. It twisted and kinked whenever I pulled on it to reach the places that needed water. After I finally watered all of the planted areas, I went into the house hot, sweaty, and thirsty.

And just think — the landscaper said I should water twice a day. That’s kind of like a doctor telling you to take a vile medicine twice a day.

But the universe stepped in with an inch or two of rain during the night. And today, a light rain is falling, so my watering chores won’t come around tomorrow.

I think I’ll lift weights in the meantime, so when I wrestle with the beast tomorrow, I’ll be ready for a good battle.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 6

Naples, Italy, February—The hospital in Naples sat on the Mostra Fairgrounds at Bagnoli, some three or four miles from the heart of the city. The site offered numerous spacious stone buildings in fairly good shape. The location provided everything a hospital operation needed—running water, sewage facilities, and an electric power plant. Good highways and a rail connection provided easy transport for patients. Several buildings had suffered damage from bombings, and the retreating Germans destroyed several more, but the location offered far more advantages than drawbacks.

As Josie settled into her new surroundings, she heard a story of enemy planes hitting this hospital several weeks ago. Eleven people died in the attack and another fifty-five suffered serious wounds, but the medical staff continued to function without interruption. The story shook Josie because she hadn’t fully recovered from Nettuno, so she dreamed of the day when she could tell Donna that show business wasn’t the only profession where “the show must go on.”

*****

Naples kept Josie out of the line of fire, but she suffered nightmares and debilitating fatigue. Instead of jumping out of bed looking forward to the day, she dragged herself from hour to hour. She became indecisive. Her reaction time in the Operating Room slowed. She lost the ability to prioritize tasks. All of the talents she possessed which made her a superior manager seemed to vanish. At times she even felt disconnected from everyone and everything at the Naples Hospital.

During her two years of service in the nursing corps, she handled daily deaths of  the soldiers, but seeing her innocent colleagues mowed down by unprovoked enemy fire proved to be too heavy for her. She needed help, but her pride held her back. The day she froze in surgery and needed to be replaced by another nurse, she reported to her CO to discuss her problems.

“Sir, I realize my transfer request is coming at a horrible time, but I need some help.” Josie lowered her head and looked down at her boots. She held her tears back by biting her cheek. Admitting her inadequacy shamed her.

The Colonel touched the back of his neck before he leaned into the desk. “I will not transfer you, Josie; but I will put you on leave for a month or as long as you need. Your peers are concerned about you. I didn’t want to believe the surgeons because of your exemplary record.”

“I’m sorry to let you down, sir.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about. You endured too much war. You’re human, Josie. We all get tired when work gets too hard. I need you, but I think you need time to take care of yourself.”

“Please don’t send me to a mental hospital sir.”

He looked her directly in the eye. “I want you to visit my friend, Dr. Jacobsen. He’s a great guy to talk to.”

“The shrink? Really? I need a shrink?”

The Captain stood, walked around the desk and sat in a chair next to Josie.  “Lieutenant, you are a dynamo. Even in this state, you’re still one of my best nurses. This is not weakness in your character. Consulting with Dr. Jacobsen is not a punishment. Hell, I talk with him myself in tough times. Believe me when I tell you working with him will make a world of difference.” He smiled.

Josie mustered a weak smile. “Is that an order, sir?”

The Captain stared at her. “Do you want it to be?”

“No, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Stop by tomorrow. My assistant will handle the arrangements for you.”

“Is that all sir?”

The Captain patted her hand and stood. “I want you to take yourself off the operating team and concentrate on yourself. Get well, Josie. I need you back in tip-top shape. Only God knows how much longer this war will go on, and we need excellent nurses to take care of our boys.”

Josie stood, saluted him, and turned on her heel to leave. No matter what the Captain said, Josie walked away with a sense of failure.

*****

Every afternoon for over a week, Josie kept her appointment with the hospital psychiatrist to learn how to accept the events keeping her awake at night. Dr. Jacobsen also prescribed a mild sedative to help her sleep. Josie didn’t understand how talking about that awful afternoon would help cure anything, but within two weeks she slept through the night without a nightmare.

Being exiled from the operating room turned out to be the worst part of Josie’s rehabilitation. She loved the work, but she admitted the extra hours of sleep helped her recover. Every day the debilitating fatigue lessened. Slowly, the heavy load she carried lifted.

A couple of weeks after her treatment began, Josie went back to work in the convalescent hospital. She wanted to return to surgery, but the Dr. Jacobsen said she needed more time away from the pressures of the operating room.

Josie found a different satisfaction working with patients recovering from their war wounds. Most days just a smile or a simple touch seemed to bring them comfort. She wondered how many of them she met in the OR.

One day as she went through bed checks in a new ward, someone made a “wolf” whistle. She looked for its source and Mario grinned at her. “Hi doll.”

“Mario! My God! What are you doing in here?”

“I got hit at Anzio.”

She grabbed his chart which hung from the foot of his bed. “You appear to be doing well.”

“I’m better now. You’re a sight for sore eyes, kid.” Mario grinned like he just had been given the best gift in his entire life.

Josie blushed. “How are you getting along?”

“I got an infection after I got here, but I think things are turning around. That new penicillin stuff works wonders. What about you?”

“After the Krauts bombed my hospital, I got deported and ended up here.”

“You were at Nettuno? Jesus God!”

She put her hand on his. “I’m fine Mario. No Kraut bomb is going to get me down. After the attack I kind of went a little nuts, but the doctor says eventually the nightmares will go away. They gave me some time off, and I finally caught up on my sleep. I’m feeling much better.”

“Always the soldier.” Mario reached for her hand. “You’re an amazing girl, Josie; I hope you realize how special you are.”

“Just doing my job like everybody else.” She smiled and checked his pulse.

“After you finish your rounds, do you think you might come back and play a game of checkers with a poor wounded GI?”

“Not ready to dance yet, huh?” Josie smiled.

He belly laughed. “Oh, no, don’t do that!”

“Do what?”

“Make me laugh. It hurts!”

She laughed. “Does crying make you hurt too?”

“I don’t cry.” Mario sad with macho confidence.

“That remains to be seen.” Josie teased. “After I beat you at checkers, I bet you’ll weep like a baby.”

Mario laughed hard again and grabbed his ribs. He didn’t mind the pain because he finally got his first date with Josie.

Chapter 7

Switzerland – February—As one of the first peace-time draftees, Danny learned quickly he hated the Army; being a “grunt” for a year stateside made a miserable existence. He returned home and discovered everything in Lacrosse changed. His buddies enlisted or got drafted, and he now carried a sense of guilt. He needed to be more involved to end the war.

He tried factory work, but the hot, dirty, smelly environment became too dreary to carry on for more than two years. Finally, he decided to enlist in the Air Corps. He always wanted to fly and the thought of jumping into a fast fighter seemed like the perfect job; at least he wouldn’t be tramping through some swamp or hiking through snowy mountains. Danny thought becoming a pilot would be the best—he’d drop a few bombs, head back to base, and down a beer afterward.

On March 12, 1944 he strapped himself into his B-17 bomber to attack German targets along the Swiss border. Once over the target, the bombardier released the bomb payload, and Danny made a sharp right turn to get out of the German line of anti-aircraft fire. After a loud cracking sound, he realized he found some trouble.  The huge plane’s altitude dropped, and he and his crew found themselves alone in the sky.

Two Swiss fighters came out of nowhere and signaled Danny to follow them by waggling their wings. Two German ME-109s joined the party and led him to a landing field in Dubendorf near Zurich.  Landing a B-17 on such a short runway would be dicey, but he needed to land the plane before it crashed. Danny skidded off the runway and ended up plowing through a small wheat field. When the plane came to a stop, a truck full of Swiss soldiers with rifles surrounded the American crew. Danny and his crew lived through the attack and a perilous landing only to become prisoners of war. The crew raised their hands in defeat and Danny glanced back at the bullet riddled B-17. The plane suffered substantial damage to both the fuselage and both wings. Their uneventful landing appeared to be a miracle. Such damage should have caused the plane to dive or crash.

The Swiss Captain spoke in perfect English. “Welcome to Switzerland, gentlemen. Follow me.”

The American crew followed the Swiss soldiers with their hands up. They marched to a military barracks and for the first time during the war, Danny felt fear. Piloting a bomber was hazardous duty, but at least he was in control. As a POW, he relinquished control to his captors.  The Swiss confiscated the airmen’s escape kits and then led them to another building. They ate a good meal and took a cold shower before they went to sleep on cots in a barracks.

The next morning interrogations began. Laying awake all night, Danny mentally prepared himself to endure torture and only give his name, rank, and serial number. To his surprise, the Swiss asked a few questions which really didn’t matter. He didn’t believe they dismissed him so easily.

Within a week, the Swiss sent the crew away. As an officer, Danny took a train destined for Neuchatel—a section of Switzerland bordering France. After he got off the train, he boarded a cable car to the top of a heavily wooded mountain. Four guards with rifles led Danny and two other officers to a large chalet-style lodge.

A guard named Schnell said, “This will be your quarters for the next few weeks while you are quarantined. “You will not be confined. You are free to explore the grounds, if you wish.” Danny and the other prisoners gazed in disbelief.  They all believed they would face guard towers and barbed wire to keep them in prison.

On Sunday, the prisoners went down the mountain in the cable car to attend church services. Danny wandered through the woods during the day, and he laughed to himself as he tried to picture explaining his “confinement” to other guys held captive in harsh enemy prison camps. He spent a pleasant two weeks at Neuchatel. The only hardship he endured during his time there turned out to be boredom.

When their quarantine expired, the prisoners traveled by train through Bern where the train skirted the Aare River. Danny stared out the window enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery he ever saw. At the end of the trip, the prisoners found themselves lodged at the Palace Hotel directly across the street from the German embassy. A German eagle and swastika hung over the front door, and Danny wanted to rip the damn insignia off the building.

The atmosphere at the Palace seemed to be more like a hotel instead of a prison. Danny and the others ate in a dining room where a waiter named Otto served them. He and his fifteen year old assistant Fritz wore formal attire along.. The captive officers enjoyed the good food consisting of  brown bread with butter, seasonal vegetables, Swiss cheese, and a small portion of meat at every meal. Danny actually liked the coffee substitute called Ersatz coffee, which was made from roasted acorns, chicory or some other grain. Prisoners even enjoyed beer with their meals. A local brewery provided two types of the brew–a dark beer called Dunkel and a light beer called Hell. Danny preferred the light colored beer, but he learned to limit himself to one tankard per meal because the Swiss beer contained more alcohol than any beer at home.

During the day, prisoners explored the nearby town, The only rule they must follow was to be present for bed check at nine o’clock. If absent, they would be transferred to a more restrictive prison in Germany. Prisoners even attended concerts and plays during their stay in Switzerland. They enjoyed many comforts and liberties, but the Swiss guards constantly reminded them of their prisoner of war status.

Danny searched for ways to escape because the army expected every man held by the enemy to make an attempt to get back to his unit. On his hikes into town, Danny collected second-hand civilian clothing he hid under his prisoner’s uniform. He stored the clothes under a loose floorboard in the barracks. He hid the contraband from Ken his roommate because the man had a tendency to engage in gossip. Other prisoners bet Ken worked as snitch, alerting the guards of any suspicious behavior.  Possessing forbidden contraband would result in a transfer to a work camp deep into Germany.

Danny worked on his escape plan in his mind. He put most of it together, but he needed to understand the procedures passengers used to board a train. Every evening after diner, Danny took an evening stroll, but instead of heading back to the barracks, he made his way to the train station where he spied from the shadows. A guard stood at the train entrance checking identification papers of the passengers. Danny uncovered the one element he didn’t count on. After his surveillance, he returned to the barracks and lay awake trying to solve this unexpected problem. The answer came to him in a dream, and when he woke, he decided today he would make his escape.

*****

Danny completed his civilian disguise, but now he needed a way to buy a train ticket. He might not be able to forge identity papers, but he could sweet-talk his favorite waitress at the cafe to purchase a ticket for him.

Danny packed a duffle bag after the guards sat down for their morning card game. Most of the prisoners left the property, and they wouldn’t return until mealtime, so Danny stayed out of the line of sight and headed for the woods. He changed into his civilian clothes and headed for the train station. He made his move as the trained pulled away. He jumped aboard the moving train to avoid having to show any papers to a conductor. Two Swiss soldiers witnessed his escape attempt and ran to pluck him from the train. The older one caught hold of his sleeve, but Danny yanked his arm away and the soldier lost his grip and fell backward. Danny moved to a crowded car and took a seat. So far so good. He intended to get off the train in Zurich.

Danny blended with a sea of people as he left the train. He learned from the waitress about an underground organization in Zurich which helped American and British pilots get back to their outfits in France. He headed to the library because the librarian led the resistance group in the city.

He opened the old over-sized wooden door to the building and approached a woman sitting behind the information desk. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “I am Danny. I understand you reserved a book for me.”

She scowled and said under her breath. “I told them not to send me any more “evades.”

Danny remained silent and his face dropped.

The woman wrote a name and address a on a small piece of paper and slipped it into book. She whispered. “Follow the instructions.”

Danny nodded, sat down at a table and pretended to read. When he thought no one carried about his presence, he slipped the note into his pants pocket, and left the library.

Chapter 8

Zurich, Switzerland, March—Danny walked out of town and quickly found the address and name the librarian scribbled on the small piece of paper. The house turned out to be nothing more than a small shack compared to other dwellings in downtown Zurich.

Heidi got a message by courier to expect an American pilot needing safe passage into France. She held vigil for him at the one window facing the street. She spotted the American in an instant. The Brits walked with a rigid posture whereas Americans strolled. The man stepped on the porch and rang the bell.

Heidi waited a few seconds before opening the door. At first Danny thought he went to the wrong address because the female who answered appeared to be a teenager.

He said. “I am looking for frauline Heidi Schiller. The librarian sent me.”

“You found her.” The girl spoke perfect English.  “Please come in.”

Danny stepped into a sparsely furnished living room.

“Why do you want to see me?” The petite girl stared at him without blinking.

“My name is Lt. Daniel Peterson. I need to get back to France. Can you help me?”

“I can.” She paused, “When do you want to leave?”

Danny replied. “As soon as possible. I got shot down in February and lived in a Swiss prison since.”

Heidi learned about pilots the Swiss held, but this man turned out to be the first one who wanted to escape. “I am fluent in French, English and German.” She said with confidence. “I can get you through to Geneva where we will make contact with the Marquis.”

“The Marquis?”

“They are the French resistance group who will take you to France.”

“Okay.” He smiled. “What do I need to do?”

Heidi spoke very businesslike. “Hide.  You will need papers and a new identity which takes a few days. The price is one hundred American dollars.”

Danny wondered whether he should trust this woman-child because she presented herself so methodically. Her businesslike demeanor almost seemed false. “That’s a lot of money.” He said.

“I need to feed three children. That is my price.” She wore a determined look on her face. “How do you Americans say? Take it or leave it?”

Danny smiled at the spunky girl. “Well, if that’s the price, that’s the price.  I will need to go to the bank on Monday.” Danny smiled.

“Very well.” Heidi returned his smile. She thought this American possessed a kind face. “I’ll take you to your room.”

“My room?”

“Yes. You need a place to sleep until Monday, correct?”

“Yes ma’am, but-

She cut him off. “Just follow me.”

The Spartan upstairs bedroom she offered Danny was clean. The single bed looked inviting because he didn’t get any sleep for the past  thirty-six hours.  “Thank you.”

“You are welcome. Supper will be at six o’clock.” She turned and shut the door.

Danny shouted “thank you” before he dropped onto the bed and went right to sleep. He didn’t wake until nine o’clock that evening. He wandered downstairs and found Heidi sitting in a rocking chair in the living room.

“Lt. Peterson. You missed supper.”

“I’m sorry ma’am. I guess I needed sleep more than I thought. The bed is very comfortable. May I please get something to eat?”

“Of course,” she paused, “but next time you are late for supper, you will need to make your own meal.” She stood and Danny followed her into the kitchen like a lost puppy.

Heidi took out a loaf of brown crusty bread from the cupboard, and a wheel of cheddar cheese from the ice box. She spread butter on both sides of the bread, laid a slab of cheese between the bread and toasted the sandwich to a golden brown in a heavy iron skillet. The warm, fresh cheese aroma wafted through the kitchen, and Danny thought about his mother making grilled cheese sandwiches at home. The only thing missing was the Campbell’s tomato soup.

Heidi put the sandwich and a dill pickle in front of him along with a cold glass of milk. “A simple meal.”

“Thank you, Miss Heidi.” He bit into the melted cheese and savored the flavor.  “This is the best sandwich I ever ate.”

She smiled. “That is what you all say.”

Danny wondered how many other Americans she  rescued.

*****

The Monday following his arrival at Heidi’s house, Danny went to the Zurich bank and withdrew a hundred dollars from the account he established when he joined the Air Force. During the two days he lived in Heidi’s house, he grew curious about her; her husband must be Swiss or German so why did she help allied pilots escape?  Did he just walk into some trap? He returned to the house with the money and handed her the one hundred dollars.

She counted the money. “Thank you. We will leave as soon as I get instructions from the Marquis.”

“Heidi?” he said. “I don’t want to be nosy, but where is your husband?”

“I am not married.”

“But–the children?”

“The children are not my blood. I decided to care for them when their parents died.” She showed no emotion.

Danny stared at this strong girl. “You are very kind, Heidi.”

“Thank you.” She blushed, and he recognized her sharp exterior hid a kind soul.

“Can I help you in any way while we wait for the Marquis?”

“I thought you wanted to get back to your unit as quickly as possible.”

“I do, but perhaps you need some help too? One hundred dollars is not enough money to be putting your life in jeopardy.”

“I do this resistance work to feed my children. Other work would take me away from them.  I am sure you understand.”

“Well, not exactly.”

“My choices are to work at the resort as a waitress or a maid cleaning rooms, but I then I would not be home with my children. The work I do is dangerous, but I get what I need.”

“I’m willing to help, if I can.” Danny said.

“Well,” She pondered. “My car is getting older, and I do not believe the vehicle can take another long journey. Can you fix cars?”

“Sure. I worked as a car mechanic in the States.”

“Wonderful! If you can get my car running, then I can escape again if necessary.”

“Again?”

“The story is a long one.”

“Perhaps someday you will tell me what happened to you.”

“Perhaps.”

Danny sensed Heidi didn’t want to reveal more of her personal story, so he changed the subject. “I really enjoy being here with you and your kids. Staying here gives me an idea of what family life is like.”

“Is that something you want, Mr. Danny?”

“Sure. Doesn’t everyone?”

“I do not think about being without the children. My present family just happened. One day I am a single nanny, and the next day I acquire three children who depend on me.”

“And no husband.”

She smiled, “And no husband.”

“That’s not fair.”

“War is not fair, Mr. Danny.”