Tag Archive | dreaming

A Surprising Train “Trip”

The weatherman said to enjoy the warm temps today because the REAL November is tired of waiting. He will make his cold, rainy appearance tomorrow. Luckily, Ken and I will venture out today and head to Milwaukee. Our destination is a doctor’s appointment. And here you thought we might be doing something fun, huh?

Well, with his declining abilities to do travel of any kind, we make fun out of the most mundane things we must do–like going to the doctor, dentist, or just out for lunch at a hamburger joint. We do miss traveling, though, so we fulfill that need by watching pieces on PBS or the Travel Channel to learn about places neither of us will probably never visit.

Last night we learned about the cities of Poland–Warsaw, Poznan, Lodz, and Krakow. We traveled by train from city to city–which in itself would have been a wonderful thing to do. At each stop we were amazed at how beautiful the buildings and city squares were.

Each city had its own charm even though the underpinnings of the many conquers the Polish have endured by Austrians, Nazis, and Russians showed in its architecture. Warsaw was razed by the Nazis during World War II, but today there is no evidence of the war. After WWII was over, ordinary citizens scavenged through the rubble to find unbroken bricks and other salvageable building materials to begin again. And did they build modern structures of the day? No. They replaced the old stylish buildings with new buildings closely matching the old ones. I suppose it was their way of washing away the humiliation of being conquered by the outside forces. Impressive.

Lodz is the second largest Polish city, and has its own unique atmosphere. It is likened to Manchester, England due to its size and the fame of the textile industry which developed there in the 19th century. Now it features fine Art Nouveau architecture and the most famous Polish film school. They even incorporated a Hollywood-type star walk. Roman Polanski was one name I recognized.

Thank goodness the documentary did not cover the ugliness of the numerous concentration camps the Nazis built. Instead we rode along on one of the last surviving steam engine trains in the world which still makes regular commuter runs.

Few people probably don’t give Poland a second thought when they think of vacationing, but after seeing the sights via the television, I know I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to explore the country. But I certainly would go in the summer, even though the trains criss-crossing the land are heated to protect passengers from thirty degrees below zero temps.

Have you ever been surprised about a place like I was? If so, tell me about it.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Watered Down Dreams

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 9

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

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

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

Dear Josie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Your friend, Anna

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

She opened Rosalie’s letter next.

Dear Josie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Love you always,

Rosie

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

Dear Josie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Johnny

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

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

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

Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

To Age or Not to Age

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

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

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

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

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Dominick laughed. “You worry too much frauline.

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

Dominik laughed. “No I can’t.”

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

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

Dearest Heidi,

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

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

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

 Your friend, Dominik

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

 

 

When Two Brains Are Better Than One

When a person has a debilitating disease, he/she is always on the lookout for something to cure his/her curse or at least make a life a little bit better. Because we live in a “drug” culture, help often come in a pill or a syringe, and other alternatives seem to be ignored.This morning on CBS This Morning, they presented a story about some research going on at Duke University. They interviewed a researcher who is exploring how a damaged brain and a healthy brain of another person can be networked to overcome the disability.

Sounds a little like science fiction, huh?

Well, they have had success with primates, getting the monkey to do things monkeys are not supposed to be able to do. But the research is preliminary. The power of the mind involves 100 billion neurons in our brains and capturing their power is limitless. Just think of the implications this new approach could mean for brain injuries and diseases. If we can eliminate brain diseases — and there is a very long list — wouldn’t that be a miracle? If this research offers a cure for stroke patients, wouldn’t that be a blessing?

I don’t think people should live forever, but I do think those patients who slip away a little piece at a time or lay in a nursing home because the treatments have been exhausted is inhumane. Generally, our culture doesn’t condone assisted suicide, so people who are stricken with brain injuries or disease must wait for death to release them from their pain and disabilities. This situation is not fair to the patient or the family who cares for them. If brains can be networked with a small device, and a better life can be achieved I truly think we have advanced the entire human race.

What do you think?

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 16

Sicily, October—The winter rains in Sicily usually began in November, but in 1943 they came a month early. The medical staff struggled to maintain adequate sterile facilities under wet canvas tents. A severe storm in Salerno knocked down the tents of the evacuation hospital, and Josie and the other drenched nurses needed to move over a thousand patients to an abandoned tobacco warehouse. This enormous undertaking needed to be completed quickly to prevent patients from developing complications from exposure.

The weather continued to be dreadful into November, which caused problems on the ground as well as in the air. For the first three weeks of the month, Josie met Anna almost daily on evacuation runs. The few precious minutes together in this foreign place reminded them life offered more than mangled young men and the stench of bodily fluids.

Josie always looked forward to Anna’s arrival, but when she didn’t make an appearance during the first two weeks in November, Josie’s intuition told her Anna must be in trouble. At first Josie thought perhaps Anna was transferred, but Anna would have told her about such a change.  Josie’s concern deepened when Anna didn’t show up for the special Thanksgiving dinner.

Rumors filled the camp that a hospital transport plane lost radio contact during one of the recent bad storms. The crew never returned to base.  Josie didn’t want to believe Anna might be on that plane, but her intuition told her otherwise.

Chapter 17

Albania – November—The hospital transport plane took off in heavy weather, and once in the air, the compass of the plane failed. The pilot became disoriented, and his confusion caused him to head east when he believed he was flying south. After a couple of hours, the plane’s wings iced up and the plane ran out of fuel causing them to crash in the Albanian mountains behind German lines.

Even though the descent was terrifying, everyone except the pilot survived. The medic and nurse suffered a few lacerations and bruises, and the four patients on board lingered in a state of shock. Terror set in when armed men dressed in ragged clothes surrounded the plane. Anna studied the chiseled, dirty faces of the rag-tag bunch of grubby men out of one of the small plane windows. A flashing thought told her this might be the end of the line for her and the others.

The guerrilla group forced their way into the plane, and one of them spoke English.

“Americans?”

Mike, the medic on board, stepped in front of Anna and answered. “Yes.”

The scruffy man pointed to his chest. “I help.”

Mike continued as the spokesman for the Americans. “These men are wounded. We need to get to a hospital.”

“No hospital, but we take you to safety.” The man replied.

Mike and Anna realized they couldn’t stay in the plane, but should they trust this crusty bunch with their safety?  Anna and Mike stared at each other. The only good choice seemed to be to trust the hooligans. Mike made the decision. “Okay. We will go with you.”

“The journey is long.” the man said, “But we must go now before Germans find you.”

Mike nodded.

Anna whispered. “Are you sure about this?”

After a slight pause Mike turned to Anna and said, “You realize our options are severely curtailed, right?  We’ll freeze here. If the Krauts catch us, we’ll all be POWs. and then all bets are off.”

As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Mike was right. “I guess we need to take a chance, huh?”

“Right.”

Anna went to work. She bundled up the patients with the extra blankets on board and packed their meager supplies in a duffle bag.

The Albanian leader ordered, “Follow me. Go to farm. They help.”

The scruffy saviors carried the wounded on the stretchers. Anna and Mike stayed behind to set the plane ablaze to eliminate any evidence they might have survived the crash. As the flames licked through the fuselage, Anna clenched her teeth and wiped away tears. She feared the coming days and for several minutes she thought about cuddling with Tommy at home before a roaring fire. Would she live to see the day?

Mike and Anna walked away from the plane. They ran to catch up with the rest of the group. In the background a huge explosion nearly knocked them off their feet as the remaining fuel caught fire. The snowy landscape made the mile journey tough. Just about the time Anna was ready to fall down for good and go to sleep in the snow, the leader announced, “We are here.”

A farmer and his wife met them in the yard of a ramshackle house. They led the group to a large round barn which sat behind the house. The farmer opened the door to reveal a roaring fire in a pit in the middle of the circular barn. A hole in the roof let he smoke escape. Donna and Mike moved close to the flames and rubbed their hands together to get warm.  The Albanian men gently lowered the wounded near the fire too.

Anna dropped her guard. She turned to the leader. “Thank you for bringing us here.”

The man nodded.

The farmer’s wife served them thin potato soup and some crusty fresh bread. She offered each of them a bowl and spoon and motioned for them to eat. Anna let the warm soup defrost her inside. With hand motions and gestures, the Americans communicated their appreciation to their hosts.

After the patients ate and fell asleep, Anna went to the leader who rescued them. “Thank you again.” She said. “What is your name?”

The scruffy man smiled. “My real name too hard. Call me Jack.”

Anna smiled. “Okay, Jack. Call me Anna.”

“Anna, you are a very brave. Journey is dangerous. You sleep now. I stay awake. In morning we leave.”

“Where are we going, Jack?”

“Bari. Americans there.”

Anna nodded and moved to the other side of the barn where Mike slept. She lay in the straw and prayed. She wasn’t religious, but after living three years with Josie, she thought she would give praying a chance. “Thank you Lord for watching over us with these brave strangers. Please keep us safe on our long journey. Keep me strong. Please don’t let anything happen to my men. Amen.” It was a prayer she would repeat many times.

*****

The band of guerrilla fighters, Anna, Mike, and four wounded soldiers left the following morning before sunrise. The farmer gave them a cart and a small amount of food. Overnight, one of Jack’s men found a couple of donkeys to haul their gear, and he also brought some Albanian clothing he insisted Mike and Anna wear. The farmer’s wife offered Anna a boiled wool hat.  Anna tried to refuse the gift, but through Jack she learned the farmer’s wife insisted because Anna would need the extra warmth for the long journey.

Bari, Italy was eight hundred long miles away through mountainous terrain. The first morning of the journey began with the sun shining, but by evening the temperature dropped and snow fell from the dark clouds. The group sought refuge in a cave where Jack’s men built a fire.  Anna gave everyone a MRE pouch. She planned to save the small amount of food the farmer’s wife gave them after the “Meals Ready to Eat” ran out. After they ate and warmed themselves by the fire, the group minus one lookout fell asleep.

On average the group covered about thirteen miles each day; when the weather cooperated, they covered about fifteen miles. Storms in the mountains came with little warning, but somehow Jack found adequate shelter to wait them out. Once he found an abandoned building, which protected them from a blizzard. Another night they found a cave large enough to build a fire and shelter them from another snow storm.  Mike joked, “Hell must be frozen over, and we found it.”

When they exhausted the food they brought with them, Jack’s men proved they were excellent hunters. They hunted deer, elk, and rabbits which kept everyone from starving. Mike learned how to butcher the kill, and Anna learned how to cook the wild meat. Jack devised a method to melt snow, which gave them plenty of drinking water. With such a strenuous, long journey ahead of them, they took nothing for granted. Anna insisted they all say a blessing before every meal and even Jack’s men participated by bowing their heads.

About a month into their trek, a blinding snowstorm forced them to live in a cave for several days. When the storm cleared, Jack and the group needed to trudge through deep snow drifts which made the next few days drudgery. Tramping through knee deep snow slowed them to a crawl, but so far, they eluded any German.

They abandoned the cart the farmer gave them because lugging the thing through the deep snow wasted too much of their energy.  Fortunately Jack’s practical genius provided a solution.  He rigged sleds out of rough timbers and the canvas stretchers. Then he hitched them to the donkeys to pull the wounded men through the snow. Anna, Mike, and the other guerrilla fighters carried supplies on their backs. No matter what obstacle they encountered, Jack always came up with an idea to pull them through.

During the two-month trip, Mike feared one of the guerrillas might try to take advantage of Anna, so he protected her at all times. He kept no secret he slept with a pistol and made sure Anna slept next to him every night.

About the time Anna thought she couldn’t endure any more, Jack announced with great exuberance, “We are here!” He pointed to a bunch of tents in the distance. “We are here!”

Tears of joy rolled down Anna’s cheeks when she caught a glimpse of the American flag. The weary, filthy vagabonds made a nurse scream at the sight of them. Soldiers with machine guns encircled them.

Anna spoke first. “We are medi-vac personnel. Our plane went down in Albania behind the German lines and lucky for us, these men helped us get here.”

The colonel in charge met them at the gate, “You want us to believe you all walked eight hundred miles ?”

Anna removed her fur hat and shook out her blond curls. “Sir, I am not aware of the mileage, but I can tell you our journey’s been a damn long one.”

“Well I’ll be damned. This war always has its share of surprises. Come this way.” The colonel escorted Anna and the men to the hospital. Their Good Samaritan, Jack the Albanian, pulled them through alive, just like he promised.

After Anna, Mike, and their saviors took off their outer clothing, the medical staff found Mike contracted pneumonia, and Anna suffered from dysentery and jaundice. The wounded men, who made the eight hundred mile journey on gerry-rigged stretcher sleds, required treatment for bed sores and injuries due to exposure. The Albanian men and all the Americans suffered frostbite, fatigue, and hunger.

After recovering for a few days, Jack announced he needed to leave. He stopped by Anna’s bedside to say goodbye. “Anna, going to be okay?”

Anna smiled. “Thanks to you, Jack, I’m going to be just fine. Are you leaving?”

“Yes. But I say goodbye first. You brave as any man. Tough and never complain. A good woman.”

“Thank you, Jack.” She blushed. “Are your men well enough to travel so soon?”

“Yes. We must go back and continue the fight.”

“But how will you get back? You’re not going to walk, are you?”

Jack laughed. “No Miss Anna. the Colonel give us jeep. We travel alone. No Americans to slow us down.” He snickered. “If Germans catch us, we say we stole the vehicle.”

Anna laughed and started to cough. “I owe you my life, Jack. How can I thank you?”

“Win the war, Miss Anna. Help me kill Nazis. They are very bad. Killed my whole family.”

“I will do my best.” Anna smiled and her tone got serious. “Jack, bend down.”

He obliged. Anna kissed his cheek. “Go with God, Jack.”

Her show of affection moved him. He took her hand and kissed it. Then he walked away. Anna never saw him again.

Chapter 18

A small town in Italy, November 1943—Mario’s unit went into a mountainous village in northeastern Sicily near the coast. Their assignment required them and a second unit to scout the town and clear out any Germans before the Americans moved north.

The groups split and headed in opposite directions. When they lost sight of each other unit, a Tommy gun ripped off several rapid shots in the distance. The men jumped into nearby ditch.

Marco said, “I bet Porter’s trigger finger got itchy.”

“You wish,” his sergeant said. “Shut up and get down.”

The shots rung in Mario’s ears. An odor of burned ammo hung in the air.

The men lay still and listened intently. The village grew quiet. No gunfire. No voices. The sergeant slithered out of the ditch and knelt down on the cobblestone road. He turned his head in both directions then Sergeant Riley motioned for the men to follow him down the street. Their senses shifted into high alert with the possibility of  danger lurking  around the next bend in the road.

Mario whispered to the guy in front of him, “Doesn’t this remind you of the movies?”

Sergeant Riley turned around and scowled at Mario. “Shut up, soldier.”

When the patrol came to an intersection, Riley peered around the corner and pulled his head back with a quick jerk. He paused and took a longer look. He spied Porter and his men at the end of the street. They walked along the road strung out with a few feet between each man. The two patrols met in the middle of the block. “Did you fire?” Riley asked Porter.

“Yeah. A couple of Krauts ran up the street. We ran the Tommy on them, but I don’t think we hit anything.”

“Did they fire on you?” Riley asked

“No, they just turned tail and ran. Probably got separated from their unit.” Porter laughed. “I think they’re still runnin’!”

“How do you get so lucky? The Krauts we meet always want a fight.” Riley grunted.

“Keep your head down, Riley!” Porter waved as his patrol fell in behind him.

“Same to you, bucko. Keep a safety on those Tommy’s. You scared the shit out of me!”

“Will do, fraidy cat.” Porter saluted Riley and joined his men.

Riley lead his patrol in the opposite direction to search the rest of the area. As they walked toward the outskirts of the small village, fewer houses appeared, and those standing got farther apart. When the road curved, houses appeared on the left side of the road with the mountainside on the right. A series of plowed terraces with olive trees produced a scene of green stripes in black fertile earth.

Mario spied two civilians vanish into a nearby house. “Sarg,” He pointed to the house with two fingers raised. The patrol stopped. The couple had retreated into a two-story stone building with a large unpainted wooden door. The windows were boarded up. The patrol prepared to attack. Riley dropped to one knee with his rifle pointed at the door. Mario assumed the same position with his Tommy gun. No one spoke. The sergeant used hand motions to position the remainder of the unit. George reached over and tried the doorknob. Locked.

Everyone stared at the door. Riley nodded. A guy named George banged the door with the butt of his gun. Almost immediately a woman began to scream. He banged again. Her screams became hysterical. “Tedeschi!”

Mario understood. He whispered to Riley. “She thinks we’re Krauts, Sarg.”

The woman shrieked, “No!’ No! No!”

Riley said, “For godsakes, Mario, get her to shut up!”

Mario shouted something in Italian with a fierce voice. The woman immediately stopped screaming. The patrol waited. A petite middle-aged woman with long black and silver hair peaked out from behind the door. “Americanos?”

Riley answered, “Si.”  Yes happened to be the only Italian word he understood.

She opened the door fully and cried. She put her hands to her cheeks as she went from man to man, hugging and kissing them.

When she came to Mario’s, she said, “Lei parla Italiano?”

He answered, “A little. un po’.”

She kissed him on both cheeks before she scurried into the house and came out with an overflowing basket of grapes. She gave every man a handful.

“Hey Mario, you need to tell our new friend this isn’t a social call. We’ve got work to do.” Sergeant Riley said.

“Yes sir.” Mario faced the woman. “Mi dispiace. Dobbiamo lasciare.”

She blushed and smiled before she moved toward the house with the empty basket. “Grazie!, Grazie. Vai con Dio.” She smiled and waved goodbye.

Riley ordered. “The party’s over, gentlemen. Let’s get going.”  Everyone waved to the woman and turned down the road heading out of town.

“What did she say, Mario?” Riley said.

“She said thanks, go with God, sir.”

“Amen to that!”

 

 

 

Heat and MS

As the summer gives us its last hurrah and temperatures climb into the high 80s and a couple of 90s, Ken has had to stay in the house in the air conditioning. For some MS patients heat is lethal. It brings on fatigue that can be almost paralyzing. And Ken succumbs to such weather.

I was elated when hia sister called on Saturday and said she and her family, along with Ken’s parents wanted to visit on Sunday.  We both were excited for their visit. Sue suggested we go out for lunch, but I knew Ken’s reaction to the summer temperatures wouldn’t be favorable, so I suggested I make lunch and they bring dessert.

Unfortunately I was right about Ken’s reaction to the heat. He woke suffering from a bought of fatigue. It wasn’t the worst case he ever had, but from the time he woke to the time he went to bed, he fought to keep his eyes open. I made him lie down after breakfast with the hope he might fall asleep for a little while, but he couldn’t sleep. You see “fatigue” is very different than being tired. Fatigue doesn’t mean you’re sleepy; it means everything becomes difficult–even keeping your eyes open. Movements are slowed. Even forming words and speaking can be difficult. In a word fatigue SUCKS.

By the time the family arrived, Ken mustered enough strength to enjoy the visit. Like always, he found happiness just being with his family. When they left around five in the afternoon, Ken relaxed and retired to his chair. As we watched numbing reruns on television, he didn’t fight the battle of fatigue any longer. We went to bed at eight o’clock, and as soon as his head hit the pillow, Ken fell asleep. I stayed awake and held his hand. I love these quiet moments.

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 25

Lacrosse, Wisconsin-Winter—As the war dragged on, shortages of everything started to appear at home. Gasoline was rationed. Rubber was almost impossible to come by–even baby rubber pants disappeared. Grocery shelves held fewer choices.  By now sugar completely disappeared so Rosie experimented with other sweeteners like sweetened condensed milk, honey, molasses, corn and maple syrup. Tips to use the sweet substitutions appeared in “Good Housekeeping” magazine. Coffee, tea, and cocoa grew scarce too. Even butter was rationed in the “dairy state” of Wisconsin. The shortages occurred because people used butter for frying food when other cooking oils grew in short supply. Because the military required tin for many uses, any food previously sold in a can were now packaged differently. Dry soup mixes and other dry foods appeared in paper packages as food manufacturers searched for other ways to preserve food.

Even though rationing proved to be a challenge, publications like “Ladies Home Journal” reminded Americans they received more food than most people around the world. One article reported: “We get ten times as much beef as the people in England, twenty times as much as Russians and fifty times as much as the lucky ones in China.”

After a year at war, even clothing needed to be rationed. Rosalie saved her stamps to buy fabric to make new clothes for the children. She saved everything Gina outgrew for baby Angelo. She hated dressing the baby boy in pink, but she told herself the child didn’t realize his clothes used to be his sister’s. Even safety pins to fasten his cloth diapers became scarce.

*****

Rosie stayed busy with two babies in the house, but time still passed slowly without Angelo. Days grew into weeks and weeks grew into months. But the day a telegram arrived with four black stars on the envelope, the world stopped for Rosalie. She gasped when the Western Union man handed her the official-looking correspondence. Her hands shook. Her breathing became labored as she staggered lightheaded into the kitchen. By now Americans understood four black stars on a telegram envelope meant a loved one perished. Tears blurred her vision as she read the words, “Your husband sustained wounds in battle.” The message didn’t state Angelo was missing or had been killed, so why the black stars on the envelope?

Rosalie packed up the children and ran to her parent’s house. She handed the telegram to mother without a word. Mrs. Lombardo recognized the four black stars and read her daughter’s distraught expression before she opened the envelope.

“What does this mean, Mama?” Rosalie cried. “Is he dead? The telegram doesn’t say that; but the black stars . . .” Rosalie choked on her tears.

Her mother held Rosalie close and let daughter sob before her take-charge personality emerged. Mama Lombardo sat Rosalie down in an overstuffed living room chair with a clean handkerchief. “You sit, sweetheart. I am calling The War Department in Washington D. C.  I will get answers for you. I promise I will keep calling until they tell us what happened to your sweet Angelo.” Mama Lombardo marched into the kitchen like a general and picked up the phone which hung on the wall.

“Thank you, Mama.” With Mama in charge, Rosalie allowed herself to collapse in a chair.

Mrs. Lombardo finished her call and returned to Rosalie.

Rosalie searched her mother’s expression. “What did they say?”

“Nothing. They will call back with an answer.”

“They don’t know? How can that be?”

“I do not know, Rosalie. The woman I spoke had no information. We must be patient.”

“How can I be patient? Angelo might be dead.” She screamed.

Her mother shook her. “Screaming at me will do no good.” Her mother softened her tone. “You must be strong for the children.”

Rosalie slumped into a chair and looked up to her mother. “I’m sorry, Mama. I’m just so scared.”

“It’s okay, Rosalie. I will get answers. I promise.”

*****

Days went by and no news came from the War Department. Rosalie wandered around in a state of mourning. In a dream she saw her beloved husband cut down by enemy fire. She woke when he hit the ground with her nightgown wet with sweat. Was Angelo dead or did he lay in some godforsaken jungle hospital? Existing in limbo was hell. Having to accept his death would drive her to the brink of madness. Her head was filled with terrible scenarios, and no matter how hard she tried to direct her thoughts to something else, she found herself thinking or praying for her husband. Did Angelo suffer injuries that would damage him for the rest of his life? Was he in pain? Was he getting adequate treatment? Will he come home or will they send him back into action? Is he with you, God? Is he dead? Oh God, why don’t they tell me what happened to him?

A week after the telegram arrived, Rosalie’s phone rang. A male voice asked, “Is this Mrs. Angelo Armani?”

“Yes.” Rosalie held her breath.

“I understand the telegram you received is confusing.”

“Yes.”

“I’m calling to tell you your husband received serious injuries on the island of Guadalcanal. The medical staff airlifted him to a hospital in Sydney, Australia. He will recuperate there until he can be moved to the hospital at Pearl Harbor.”

“What kind of injuries did he get?  Will he be sent home?” Rosalie asked.

“I am sorry, ma’am. I gave you all the information I have. I am sorry I can’t tell you more.”

“Thank you, sir.” Rosalie hung up the phone and a sense of joy replaced her mourning. He’s alive! Dear God, thank you for hearing my prayers. My Angelo’s safe. Rosalie took a long deep breath.

Chapter 26

Sydney, Australia – October—Bobby and Angelo left Guadalcanal by plane from the airfield they helped confiscate from the Japanese. Almost a month passed since they received their devastating wounds, but now the Americans controlled the island, and they could get better medical treatment in Sydney.

Angelo requested Bobby be assigned to e-vac with him, and the doctors agreed because both men seemed to be recovering faster than anticipated since they were together. After a two hour flight, they boarded an ambulance, which transferred them to the base hospital. The ambulance took them to a “real” hospital with brick walls, soft beds, clean white sheets, and pretty nurses. No longer did they lay and listen to the sounds of battle in the background. This location was quiet and safe.

Angelo allowed himself to think he might have a future with his family waiting at home. Bobby was unsure what he might do, but for now not having to sleep on a flimsy cot was good enough for him. The first night at the Sydney hospital brought them both a good night’s sleep, a luxury neither of them experienced on Guadalcanal. They learned their hospital stay would last at least a month before they would be strong enough to be transported to Pearl Harbor for rehabilitation.

The boys found the temperate climate of Sydney a pleasant change from the island “paradise” they just left. Ocean breezes floated through open windows. Seeing tropical flowers from the room raised a sense of calm in Angelo. He realized Guadalcanal taught him he never would minimize the small indulgences life offered . . . like clean air, good food, and conversations with his best friend. It took some time for Angelo to deal with the guilt they carried for leaving so many of his buddies behind where they faced bugs, dirt, grime and death until the war was over for them one way or another. Angelo already decided he would go AWOL if his future orders put him back into combat.

Like Angelo, Bobby stopped feeling guilty for getting wounded so quickly. He no longer believed himself to be a failure as a soldier thanks to something his sergeant told him the night before he got wounded. “Son, war is not glorious. I can’t think of any thing as inhumane as war. But we didn’t start this fight. If you get wounded, you fight back to live another day. I guarantee you; Americans will win this ugly bastard of a war even if it means we have to kill every Jap on the planet.” Bobby killed and nearly got killed; he volunteered to serve his country; he put his life in jeopardy; he should have died on that godforsaken rock, but instead he would live with the consequences of battle for the rest of his life. He did his part. Now he wished to go home, and the sooner the better.

After being at Sydney hospital for a week, Angelo’s letters finally caught up with him. He always shared his news from home with Bobby because mail call rarely blessed him with a letter. Rosalie usually included pictures of the children which Angelo taped to the wall behind his bed, and today he got a letter from his wife.  He opened a letter from Rosalie first.

September, 1942

 My dear, sweet Angelo,

I hope this letter gets to you when you are well enough to read it. I got a telegram this week with four black stars on the envelope, and I went crazy thinking I lost you forever. Perhaps I shouldn’t write this, but I mourned from the depths of my soul because you didn’t get a chance to raise your darling son.

I ran to Mama’s house, and she took charge like I expected and needed. I know I complain about Mama being bossy, but when she goes into action she is a force of nature! She picked up the phone like some kind of general and called the War Department in Washington to get answers. A week later I received a call and learned you sustained serious injuries, but they didn’t tell me anything else. The news you are still alive lifted such a heavy weight I wanted to dance.

I pray every day you will be home soon. If you’re thinking my love will diminish because you are not the same man who left me a year ago, you just put those silly thoughts in the garbage. We will deal with the aftermath of your injuries together. I love you until eternity. My arms long to hold you, sweetheart; my lips yearn to touch yours, and our love will only grow deeper than it is already.

Rest and get well so you can come home soon. I love you more than my own life, Angelo. Remember that as you heal.

 Your Rosie

Chapter 27

Sydney, Australia – November—As Angelo and Bobby recuperated in the quiet atmosphere of the hospital, their wounds as well as their souls healed. Doctors removed Bobby’s body cast and put him in traction, but soon afterward the doctors grew concerned his inactivity made him a prime candidate for developing pneumonia. Unfortunately, an outbreak of the potentially fatal disease broke out in another wing of the hospital, so medical personnel took extra precaution to keep the problem contained.

Getting patients out of bed and getting them to move proved to be a good tactic to battle pneumonia. The resident doctor assigned to Bobby’s case constructed a back brace so the young soldier could get out of bed.  The uncomfortable contraption enabled corpsmen to get the boy upright, but the first time Bobby wore the brace, he collapsed from the pain. The next time he wore the brace, the nurse gave him a shot of morphine to counteract the pain before the corpsmen attempted to lift him up on his feet. They repeated the procedure every day, and every day Bobby grew stronger standing longer each time. Eventually he took a few steps with assistance.

While Bobby went through this daily agony, Angelo left the room in his wheel chair. He couldn’t watch Bobby suffer the excruciating therapy with the brace; witnessing Bobby’s pain in full bloom was too hard to take.

Bobby proved his bravery by never complaining or quitting. Every day he endured the pain and weakness when the corpsmen put him on his feet. He figured if President Roosevelt lived with polio and needed assistance to stand behind a podium to deliver bad news about the war, he certainly could endure a brace.

Angelo dealt with a different king of pain. Doctors removed most of the shrapnel from his leg and belly, but a few metal fragments remained in his body. The doctors told him after he regained his strength, they would need to operate again. In the meantime, his pain was managed with drugs. Doctors assured him his progress was good, but they worried about him needing so many drugs.  Most thought Angelo should be strong enough to be walk, but like Bobby, he could only stand for a few minutes on his own. Angelo feared he might never walk again.

After spending a month in Sydney, A hospital ship named the USS Comfort took Bobby and Angelo to Pearl Harbor. The voyage from Sydney to Oahu took two long weeks. This voyage offered a very different experience than their first cruise on a ship. They enjoyed the peacefulness of the ship rocking them to sleep at night. During the day they spent time sitting on deck, drinking in the fresh sea air and warm sun. When the ship docked at Pearl Harbor, lines of ambulances waited to transfer the new patients to the naval hospital on Oahu. This hospital concentrated on physical and occupation rehabilitation along with strenuous weight lifting to rebuild dormant muscles.

After the first day, Bobby and Angelo considered the therapies to be a new type of torture.

 

Deciding What’s First

When I went to work outside the home, I always put the most demanding or disgusting chore I had to accomplish as the first thing I’d tackle. I figured I was strongest in the morning after I had my coffee and breakfast, but since I’ve been working at home, I forgot that discipline.

On Monday, I reinstated that technique by filing the letter I received from the city attorney to allow the city the required easement for my garage construction. I’ve never been comfortable with the courthouse and city hall environments, so I had put off this necessary evil for almost a month. A call from the attorney kicked me in the butt and I got this chore done–first thing. After I completed this task, I took the day off.

Tuesday was dreary around here. The temperatures didn’t climb anywhere near 70 degrees and the skies remained gray. I don’t do well with gray skies, so I kept the curtains drawn and painted for most of the day. I had no energy for a hard task today.

Wednesday’s first chore was to take out the garbage because we’re on a weekly pickup schedule for that day. Who wants filled bags of trash taking up space, right? So, I put that chore first.

Today I’m writing my first blog from my new computer. I’ve been dragging my feet because experience has shown starting from ground zero never goes well. But I need practice to get used to the smaller keyboard and screen. I also wanted to  download “Chrome” because I prefer that browser to Explorer. Mission accomplished. The next important task was to move a few files  from the old computer to the new one so I had what I needed to complete my blog post. As you can see, I’m up to speed for today.

What’s the moral in this dissertation? I’m encouraging you to put your hardest task of the day at the time of day when you’re strongest. For me, it’s first thing in the morning. For you, it might be later in the day. Figure it out, and I guarantee you will enjoy a satisfying day all day long.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 5

Camp Young, Arizona–February—Josie said goodbye to her parents in the kitchen at breakfast the day she left for nurse’s training. She couldn’t bear to see them crying at the train station, so she asked Rosalie, Donna, and Mary to take her to meet the train for Minneapolis. Once in the city, she would take a bus to the airport. She found the gate with little trouble and waited for her flight to be announced.

As she climbed the stairs from the tarmac to board the plane, Josie’s chest tightened. She never flew before and the whole idea of flight scared her. She preferred her feet stay on the ground.

Her travel lasted all day. The pilot set the plane down in Kansas City and then again in Denver to refuel.  As the plane took off and landed, Josie compared the sensation she experienced to the ups and down with her favorite roller coaster at the country fair. When the trip ended in Phoenix, she understood why Johnny became a pilot.

Before Josie disembarked the plane in Arizona, the captain announced the current temperature to be 101 degrees. When the attendant opened the door, a blast of hot dry air took Josie’s breath away. She thought she just walked into a blast furnace as she descended the steps of the plane to make her way across the tarmac and into the airport. She wondered how any place could be so hot in February.

She boarded a bus which would take her to Camp Young, Arizona–the training center where she would spend the next four weeks. She and the other recruits were dropped at a guard house where they needed to sign in. Jeeps brought the girls to headquarters. On the way they got a good look at the base which consisted of an odd collection of old buildings and endless rows of tents

.A male officer welcomed the bus load of women to Camp Young and waved them to a table where  a female officer handed everyone a uniform, a pair of heavy leather boots, a steel helmet, and a canteen belt.

Next they received a tent assignment. The tent she was assigned to stood on a wooden platform. Four cots and orange crates to store their personal items would serve as home for the duration of their training. The surroundings reminded Josie of a similar tent she encountered at Girl Scout Camp when she was eleven years old. Her three bunk mates were already storing their gear.

Josie introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Josie Schneider from Wisconsin.”

A pretty blond shook Josie’s hand.  “Come on in, Josie. It’s nice to meet you, Josie; I ‘m Theresa from California.”

A redhead continued the introductions. “I’m Maggie from Maine.”

Finally the tallest girl with the darkest hair Josie ever saw came forward. “And last but never least, my name is Joan. I’m from the great state of Texas. I bet you never experienced the desert in February, did you sugar?”

Josie laughed and played along. “You’ve got me, Tex. This Yankee never even dreamed February anywhere was this hot.”

Joan laughed with her. “Don’t worry sugar, You’ll get used to it and eventually you’ll wonder why you weren’t born here. I heard snow is highly over rated.”

Josie laughed. “I understand we’re to report back to headquarters as soon as we’re settled. Then we’ll have supper in the mess hall at 1700 hours.” She looked right at Joan. “That’s five o’clock, Tex.”

Joan put her arm around Josie. “Well, bless your heart. I guess we’d better git a wiggle on then. Come on girls. Snowball here seems to have become our fearless leader.”

Headquarters overflowed as two hundred nurses filed in. A hush fell over the female chatter when the male commanding officer stepped up to a podium. “Welcome to Camp Young, ladies. I’m Major Henderson. While you are here, it is the army’s intent to put you through drills and other activities you never imaged. This training is tough but necessary. It is our job to prepare you for some of the experiences you may encounter in the field. At this time, we are not aware where your orders will take you; our job as training officers is to prepare you for combat situations. We’ll begin tomorrow at “0600.”  Your instructors are responsible to train you properly. But before we begin to whip you into shape, we’re providing some good chow tonight. Enjoy it. After tonight, you will be eating MRE’s and other field delicacies. Don’t be late. Dismissed!” The major left the building and the nurse’s chatter resumed.

“What the heck are MRE’s?” Theresa asked.

Joan answered. “It’s army talk for meals ready to eat.”

“Yum.” Maggie said.

Josie chimed in. “Yum, indeed.”

*****

When the women reported for duty at  six o’clock the next morning, Josie realized her extensive Girl Scouting experience, even survival training in the woods, didn’t prepare her for Camp Young.

Their first assignment was to take a tent down, move it 10 kilometers and then put it back up again to prepare them for moving a field hospital. They were instructed on the measures they needed to take to keep equipment sterile in the most adverse conditions.  After lunch, they experienced how to handle handle poisonous snakes and scorpions, not to mention fire ants and other poisonous insects.

Joan, Maggie, Theresa, and Josie climbed into their cots after an exhausting day.

Maggie sighed. “I suppose I’ll dream of snakes and other creepy crawlies tonight.”

Theresa added. “I think I found muscles my body never used before.” She paused. “Hey Tex, I thought the desert got cold after the sun went down.”

“Who told you that, chickadee?”

“I think I read it somewhere.”

Joan quipped. “I wouldn’t go back to that library again if I were you. Let’s just shut up and get some shut-eye. God knows what they’ve got cooked up for us tomorrow.”

Josie had the last word. “For once we agree, Tex. Pleasant dreams.”

*****

For the first week of her stay at Camp Young, Josie wondered if she had made a mistake by enlisting. Arriving from a cold climate made the dry heat harder on her than some of the other women–especially Tex. But day by day Josie adapted. She learned how keep her body hydrated to prevent fainting or suffering sun stroke. She learned to work steady and pace herself to conserve her energy. She complained about the heat but she wouldn’t let a simple thing like weather defeat her.

Every morning began at 5 a.m.  The nurses reported to the exercise yard for calisthenics and weight lifting before chow. After breakfast, they hiked twenty-miles in fatigues, steel helmets, and combat boots, carrying thirty-pound backpacks, mess kits, and gas masks. After lunch, they attended classes on how to camouflage themselves to blend into their environments. Other classes taught them how to improvise when the didn’t have normal equipment to do their jobs like making a bed pan from a newspaper and stretchers from trousers. They even learned how to chlorinate water.

Some of the training required they breathed mustard gas and other lethal chemicals in order to identify them. They even crawled on their bellies over seventy-five feet through a tear-gas chamber and learned how to extinguish incendiary bombs.

One of the final tests required the nurses to maneuver through a “no man’s land” of trenches and barbed wire. Charges of dynamite exploded on either side of the trench, while machine gun bullets zinged a few inches over their heads. The nurses became skilled at triage techniques for incoming wounded soldiers.

Everything they endured at Camp Young served a purpose. The army brass wanted to ensure the girls got tough enough to face the hardships they would experience after they deployed.

The four short weeks at Camp Young simulated the hell the women would experience in field hospitals. The army did a good job preparing them physically; however, no program could prepare them for the sights, sounds, and putrid odors of battle and death. They would learn those elements on the job.

Chapter 6

Lacrosse, Wisconsin—March—The last time Rosalie felt sick in the morning, she turned out to be pregnant, and today she started her day in the bathroom vomiting. She didn’t want to think she might be pregnant again, especially with Angelo gone. How would she face a birth alone when Angelina’s birth left her so depleted? She missed one period already but attributed it to the stressful goodbye she said to Angelo over six weeks ago. When she missed her second period, her fears proved to be right.

After another week went by, and Rosalie found herself sitting in Dr. Ward’s office again. When the nurse called her name, Rosalie took a deep breath and braced herself for the news she expected to get.

The doctor did a pelvic exam and said, “Well, Rosie,  Gina will be a big sister about six months from now.”

“Are you sure doctor?”

“Quite sure, my dear.”

Rosie’s eyes welled up in tears. “How am I going to do this?”

The doctor helped her sit up on the examining table. “Don’t cry, Rosalie. Everyone who loves you will help you get through this pregnancy. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“But Gina’s birth was so hard last time, doctor. It took me months to recover, and Angelo helped so much. Now he’s gone and I have Gina to care for as well as a new child..”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. “Your husband enlisted?” ”

Rosie nodded. The doctor continued. “You must really miss him, but everyday women come in here and must face having a baby without their husband by their sides.”

“I suppose.” Rosalie said in a low tone. “But I don’t want to go through a birth without Angelo.”

The doctor took her hand. “I’m afraid you will must.  I will take good care of your health. You’re in a safe place, and you’ll be okay. When times seem too hard to go on, think about the women around the world who are having their babies in jungles and bombed out buildings. At least your baby will be born in a clean, safe hospital.”

“I must sound like a baby. I never thought about that.” Rosalie hung her head.

“You’ll be fine, Rosalie. Mark my words.”

Rosalie dressed and left the doctor’s office ashamed she showed the doctor her self-pity, but she still stung from Angelo’s decision to enlist. Now she needed to tell him she was pregnant again through a letter.

After Gina went to bed that evening, Rosalie wrote to her husband.

March, 1942

 My dearest sweetheart,

 Everything at home is fine. I do miss you so much, Angelo, I find my body actually aches for your touch. Some nights I dream your arms are wrapped around me, and you are whispering secrets into my ear. Then I wake and must realize you still are away.

 I’m writing to tell you I’m pregnant. That’s right, sweetheart, we’re having another baby. I went to the doctor today to confirm my fears. The baby will come in August. 

 I’m looking forward to you returning home after boot camp, and I pray everyday your drill sergeant won’t kill you before then.

 Sending all  my love, Rosie,

 

 

There is Hope

Every summer I enjoy decorating my backyard with annual flowers in pots and a few more perennials in the garden. This year I even spruced up the benches with new cushions. I do my best to make my yard a sanctuary to enjoy the three short months of warm weather in Wisconsin.

New Bench Cushions

This summer I have had a hard time sitting outside because my joy of looking out to my yard is too difficult.

For those who of you who follow me, you’ve probably read the saga about trying to build a new garage. I wrangled with the city over the sewer and water lines that were put on private property way back in 1953. This dispute caused a delay of a month. During that time the builder took another job remodeling a kitchen, which delayed us another week.

But last Monday the crew arrived and now I have a good looking garage without a door because the builder forgot to order the right size when we had to change the garage dimension because of the city’s interference. At least I have a place to park the car and the garage looks good.

And after so many delays, we’re still not done (besides the door). We have a foot deep  trench where they put the electrical wiring from the house to the new garage. See for yourself.

We also have mounds of dirt beside and behind the garage. This mess has taken away my desire to go outside and capture a little zen.

Because I’m not physically able to be pushing dirt around, I hired a landscaper yesterday. I got a couple of quotes, but this man demonstrated he really new his stuff. He explained how the space would be graded for drainage. He saw our window well on the south side of our house was too low. He listened to my desires and showed me how he would make my vision come to fruition. So in another four or five weeks I hope to have my Shangri-La  Too bad it couldn’t happen sooner, but oh well.

To hedge my bets, though, keep good thoughts for me, okay?

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3 (Continued)

Chapter 21

Paris, France—Marta woke screaming twice during the night. Emma embraced her and reassured her in a soft voice. “You are safe, darling. Go back to sleep. Leave the monsters to me.” After Marta realized she rested in her own bedroom, she fell asleep again.

Emma left the apartment as soon as city hall opened. Her boss Pierre sat at his desk, and Emma related the few details of Marta’s attack with tears in her eyes. “I need some time off to nurse her, Pierre. She is like a frightened little bird.”

“Take the time you need, Emma, but understand I need you here, too. You are a most valued employee. My best.” His grave face spoke without words. “When you return, I want to speak with you about something very important.”

Emma nodded and left. She pointed her bicycle in the direction of Marta’s favorite cafe and bought fresh croissants and coffee for the two of them. She hoped the food would help put a spark back into her lover. Emma set her purchase down on the small table in the kitchen before she checked on Marta.

Marta sensed Emma’s presence and opened her one good eye.

Emma smiled. “Good morning, sleepy head.”

Trying to smile caused pain in Marta’s face. She spoke barely above a whisper. “Good morning.”

“I bought your favorite croissants for breakfast.” Emma said softly.

Marta turned toward the wall. “Thank you. No.”

“Marta, you must eat.”

“I want to die.” Marta cried.

“You cannot die. You are too dear to me.” Emma took her hands and kissed them. “You cannot let this animal destroy you. You must fight back.”

“Too late. I am destroyed already.” Marta whispered through her thick lips.

Emma needed to understand what happened.  “Please tell me what happened.”

Marta lied. “I do not remember.”

Emma gently turned Marta to her. “Marta. Sweetheart. Tell me. Talking will help. Who did this to you?”

She said one word. “Franz.”

“Franz Reinhart? He is here? In Paris?” Emma’s surprise sounded in her voice with a pitch higher than usual.

“Yes. For a long time I suspected someone might be watching me. I heeded all your warnings, Emma.” Marta cried. “I never let myself be alone. Brigetta and I always met outside the Louvre to walk to the trolley together, but for some reason she never arrived yesterday.” Marta closed her eyes before continuing. “When I realized a Nazi  SS man was coming toward me, I scurried for the trolley. But–.” Her voice cracked and she wept.

Emma waited for Marta to continue.

Marta cleared her throat choking down the tears. “Franz cornered me before I got to the stop and insisted he buy me a drink. When I told him no thank you, he manhandled me into Le Chateau. He scared the other patrons away with shouting and carrying on; then he forced me to drink wine. Even the bartender ran away. Franz locked the doors, and then he poured wine down my throat and ripped off my blouse.” Marta whimpered.  “He bent me forward over a table and pounded his thing into me. Then he spun me around, and attacked me from the front. He called me a French whore and screamed I wanted it.”

Marta paused and took in a deep breath. “After the two attacks, he fell asleep, I tried to escape out the back door, but he caught me. He threw me onto the floor and raped me again. Before he left, he spat on me.” Sobs shook her body.

Marta’s story proved to be worse than Emma imagined. Her anger flared into an inferno as she pictured Marta’s attacker. She had always disliked Franz Reinhart because she considered him crude, but now she hated him from deep within herself. He brutalized the woman she loved, and he should be punished for his crime.

After Marta calmed herself, she released herself from Emma’s embrace. “How do I heal from this? The pain is so great. Tell me how I will ever wash off his stink. Tell me how I will ever be able to get him out of my head.”

“Sharing the horror with a trusted friend and taking time to heal is all anyone can do in such a situation. But understand this. Your wounds will heal and you will get stronger. The nightmares will stop some day, and I will be with you through all of it.” She continued to speak softly. “Marta, we need to get you to the doctor, and you should also go to the police.”

“No doctor. No police. No one will believe me.”

“But, Marta, be reasonable. I can handle your superficial injuries but what about the internal ones?  Wonder if he made you pregnant? We need to go.”

“No doctors.” Marta turned away. “I couldn’t bear a man touching me again.

Emma didn’t try to convince her of reporting the rape to the police. She realized Marta didn’t want to face anyone right now.

Chapter 22

Minneapolis, Minnesota – August—The summer months proved to be oppressively lonesome for Josie, especially after saying goodbye to Johnny in June. She returned to campus for the summer session, and stayed in the dorm room she shared with Anna for the last two semesters. Without Anna, Josie battled her worst case of homesickness she ever experienced. She suffered emptiness. Most students on campus now needed to make up classes because they failed in previous semesters, while other new students commuted from home.

Josie tried to occupy her waking hours with classes, labs, and research, but she missed Anna’s quick wit and lively conversation. Most nights Josie fell into bed so tired she didn’t dream. But other nights, Johnny’s letters kept her awake. He shipped out two weeks after he returned to Texas. He told everyone he would fly supply missions to help the Brits, when in fact, he got assigned to fly combat missions with the Royal Air Force. His superiors charged him to learn combat formations and attack techniques from British pilots,  so when more American aviators came to Britain, he would be ready to train them, provided he lived through the experience.

After the summer session ended, Josie stayed on campus to save train fare for a trip home at Thanksgiving. Her mother and Donna Jean wanted her to come home for the two weeks in between semesters, but Josie told them she wanted to use the time to get a jump on the classes she would take next semester.

When Anna came back to school a week before classes started, she cured Josie’s loneliness. The two girls fell into step like no time had elapsed. Their reunion helped both of them put the long summer behind them. They enjoyed swimming in the school pool during the afternoons. They frequented a nearby malt shop most every night as the jukebox kept the place jumping. They sipped their Cokes and tapped their feet to the beat of the big bands when they chose to sit and visit instead of dancing.

Anna and Josie enjoyed sleeping late during their “free week,” after they chatted well into the wee hours of the morning. They giggled and forgot about the hard work both of them did over the summer. Anna received her scholarship renewal, and all the blisters on her feet from serving A & W Root beer on roller skates finally healed.

Classes began again the day after Labor Day. The trees on campus started to turn fall colors, and the days grew shorter. The girls took the new changes in stride and fell into an easy routine.  Debilitating homesickness never set in like it had last year. Now letters from home seemed to be enough to keep them connected with family and friends. They both looked forward to a productive happy new year.