Tag Archive | creativity

All Lit Up and Ready to Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Lights and Other Stuff

I know the global warming of our planet is a serious issue. Scientists say this change on our planet will eventually wipe out life in the oceans and then life other most other kinds. BUT, I gotta tell you in a perfectly selfish viewpoint of one living in a northern climate — I love living in temperatures more springlike than winter-like.

The warm weather took a hiatus forcing us to muddle through a few “normal” days in the 30s before they returned this week. As I mentioned in a previous post, I started my outdoor holiday lighting project last week and yesterday I finally finished it. All it took was two new strings of lights, a new ball of twine, and a very long extension cord.

But last night I went outside in my stocking feet (my mother was probably yelling at me from the heavens) to take a look at my handiwork. I enjoy the familiar joyful current that travels through my body when my eyes see holiday lights. Now it’s on to finishing my holiday paintings which have sprung up on all indoor walls.

How do you bring holiday joy (besides family gatherings and good food) celebrate the holidays?

Let There Be Light

Over the weekend I took advantage of the warm weather (50’s) and got started on my outdoor lighting display for the upcoming holidays. The garland is draped around the wheelchair ramp, the wreath is up and I got my lovely Angle perched on her pedestal. If it doesn’t rain today, I will finish my project.

I’ve learned through the years such a project is a lot of work and even a little bit of engineering, but it’s one of my favorite things about the holidays. Ken and I always take a ride through the different parts of the city where other people have done the work to put up holiday lights.

The only problem with such a project is this: Will everything work when I plug it in? Most of the time something doesn’t light after I’ve exhausted all of my electrician genes–which is a BIG problem.

As a “recovering” Catholic, I began to wonder whether there is a patron saint of outdoor lighting. Don’t laugh. There is at least one patron saint to call upon for most life situations. When I can’t find something, I talk to St. Anthony. When my girlfriend wanted to sell her house, she buried St. Joseph upside down in her backyard. So, I give this practice of praying to these saints for help some credence.

I know. I know. This practice is superstitious. But with that in mind, this morning I “Googled” a list of patron saints on catholicfaith.org. The list included abandoned infants to youth, but there was no patron saint of outdoor lighting. I guess the list was put together before electricity was invented. But that can’t be true either, because there was a patron saint of Automobilists and Aviators — in fact, two saints were assigned to aviators.

I think my only option is to say a prayer to the patron saints of writers — St. Lucy and St. Francis de Sales. Perhaps they will look over me when I take the final step to plug in the lights and make the scene come alive.

 

Fall Has Fallen

My Neighborhood in Autumn

My Neighborhood in Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

When You See Progress

I’ve posted that I’ve been dabbling in painting for the past two years. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because Ken bought me some paints, a desk easel, and a couple of canvases for my birthday many years ago. I wanted to begin then, but my time was absorbed by a corporate job that sucked all the life out of me.

I had never taken a painting class or even a drawing class. My closest thing to painting on a canvas was in kindergarten when I was a finger painter extraordinaire. I still remember the wonderful feeling of the squishy paint in between my fingers. I remember the exhilarating feeling of being free.

Facing a blank canvas is almost as threatening as a blank computer screen. The first time I attempted to paint I sat in front of canvas afraid. I knew my first attempt would probably be awful. And I was right. Here’s a photo of one of my first attempts.

Early Painting

Early Painting

At the time I thought it was pretty good, so I kept painting. Then my artist friend Marie came home and with her coaching, things got better. Now I think this first painting was butt ugly.

When I look at my early work, I can see I’ve come a long way; that is not to say I don’t have a longer way to go. The same is true about my writing; that’s why I rewrote my first novel and will soon publish the second edition. Nobody commented on the posted rewritten pages, so I only have my own gut feeling to go on.

The important thing is I’m creating and when the bad days come along, I find painting soothing. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me that my art may never bring in a check.

And the writing? Well, even though that craft is more serious for me, I so enjoy when an idea comes along and burrows into my heart and head so I can tell a good story.

I hope all of you have a craft you love to do and are excited when you get a little bit better everyday. Create! Enjoy! Live!

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.

 

 

 

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.