Tag Archive | family

It’s Time to Say Thank You

Every fourth Thursday of November, families gather around tables to share a special meal which usually involves turkey. This ONE day was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln so Americans could give thanks for their their blessings. But in recent years, Thanksgiving has lost its punch because the holiday now finds itself buried under “Black Friday” shopping ads. Some stores even open on Thursday afternoon with their door buster sales. Am I  nuts to think this is nuts? Are we Americans really that eager to join throngs of frantic people rushing from store to store before the leftovers are even refrigerated?

Personally, I like to give each holiday its due. Face it, we only have one Easter, one 4th of July, one Memorial Day, one Labor Day, one Veteran’s Day and one Halloween per year. Why rush it all?

It seems holidays in general have become little more than a day off for over-worked employees, except of course, the poor people who have to work on the holidays because heaven forbid the stores might lose a couple of bucks in revenue if they shut their doors. Bah Humbug!

I’m old enough to remember when stores were NOT open on Sundays. We took twenty-four hours to just relax. If we needed a gallon of milk, well, we stocked up on Saturday or waited until Monday to refill the frig. Nobody died because we didn’t have enough milk. But that was before companies studied the 40-hour week and found it was more efficient to put people on 4-day work schedules for ten hours and rotate them during the rest of the month. Luckily, I didn’t ever have to work such crazy hours, but my daughter now does. And I tell you, she looks tired all of the time.

We also waited for every holiday and enjoyed the festivities connected with each. The world was slower than, and frankly, speeding up the pace of living has turned most of us into nervous wrecks. I jumped off that merry-go-round about seven years ago with a premature retirement and to tell you the truth, I haven’t missed the helter-skelter world at all.

I just think it isn’t too much to ask to take one day out of the year and make a point of looking at your life and finding things to be thankful for. I understand sometimes when the bottom has dropped out of your world, this task can be more challenging. We’ve all been there. But I suggest if you don’t go hungry, have a roof over your head, and don’t have to fear a bomb will hit your house, bow your head and say “Thanks.”

 

 

A Good Meeting

On Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting a 91 year old man wearing a leather bomber jacket. I asked him if he was an aviator and he said yes. Then I asked him what he flew and he answered, “A P-38.” Then I said, “In the South Pacific?” He said yes. He served with the Fifth Air force, the outfit with Richard Bong and Tom McGuire, the two biggest “Aces” in World War II. I felt as though I was talking to a celebrity! On the flip side, Dave was fascinated that I knew so much about planes which flew during the war. When I told him I had written a novel about women who flew planes for the Army Air Corps during the war, he was impressed.

We talked about fifteen or twenty minutes about his outfit and the kind of flying he did. I was in hog heaven. I had never met a pilot from the historical period I write about. I was like a kid in a candy shop — although, the closest thing to a candy shop I ever experienced was the candy aisle in the grocery store.

Anyway, we had to curtail our discussion because the caretaker meeting we were attending began. The five of us who attended the meeting introduced ourselves and spoke about our caretaking situations. I was the only one who wasn’t caring for a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s. That’s me–unique! Marilyn, the leader of the meeting, said Ken and I had a partner relationship instead of a giver and receiver relationship. At least so far, that’s the way things are between us.

When Dave spoke, he told us a month ago he had to put his combative wife into a facility, and he clearly hated making that decision. For several years he had taken care of her at home, but when she hid three guns in the house and he couldn’t find them, he feared for his life. He knew it was her disease that caused the behavior, but now he carried a load of guilt and sadness.

My heart really went out to him. He lived through a war; raised a family; was married for 47 years and now he had to face the end of his life alone. Life is really not fair.

Usually I hate going to support groups, but this one was special. I came away with a few ideas of how to accomplish having Thanksgiving at our house for Ken’s family. He always does so well when he’s surrounded by his brothers, sisters, and his parents, and it’s becoming almost impossible for us to meet them at their homes because we can’t get his power wheelchair in their homes. This one idea was worth going to the meeting. Meeting Dave was a bonus.

Enjoy your day — let somebody inspire you.

Solving The Retirement Puzzle

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

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

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

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

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

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

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

April, 1945

My dear Emma,

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

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

 All my love, Marta

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

 

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me, too.” Johnny said.

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

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

“Johnny, please meet my wife, Heidi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup.” He laughed.

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

“B-17s. And you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Making a Choice – Drama or Thankfulness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful, thankful day everyone!

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that a proposal?”

“It’s the best I got.”

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

“Is that a YES?” he said.

“It’s the best I got.”

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

Chapter 20

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

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

Dear Heidi,

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

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

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

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

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

 Your friend, Dominik

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

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

 

My sweet Heidi,

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

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

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

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

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

I love you so much, Danny 

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

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

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

Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

“But Mama-

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

He kissed the child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you kids like the airplane ride?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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!”

 

 

 

Are You Ready For Some Football?

As much as I hate to see summer morph into autumn, when temperatures dip into sweater range and when cold rain keeps us housebound, I am READY for professional football to start. I’ve been a fan of the Green and Gold (Packers) since I was ten when I’d sit with my dad and watch the Sunday game. Now my Dad is gone, but the tradition continues. The huge HD TV becomes the focal point for the afternoon.  We wear our Packer duds from shirts to socks, adorning our “war” beads, and we cheer and moan all afternoon. There have been many changes since my Dad and I watched the game on our black and white television set. Then there was only one game. Now football fills television all day on Sunday, Monday night football, and Thursday night football.

It’s hard to understand people who don’t enjoy a Sunday afternoon football game. I suppose if you were born in a different country you might not get it, but I still have some friends  Some girl friends who still think the game is a “boys” activity saying, and they don’t understand the game. But with the plethora of jabbering commentators, how can you not learn the game? These guys tell you everything you need to know. Most of the time they talk toooo much.

I’m keeping this post short today because it’s time to get the snacks together to bring in the season right. There’s nothing like the first game on Sunday.  Noon kick-off. Yeah!

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 10

England – August—After the costly Blitz Week, pilots got a couple of weeks leave to recover from their futile mission. Johnny spent his off time in Scotland. While he flew with the RAF, he became best friends with Alistair McLeod. In fact, when Alistair married Katie O’Neill, Johnny served as the best man.  Unfortunately, one terrible day Alistair didn’t return from a mission, and after his death, Johnny appointed himself as a protector of Alistair’s family. Katie was pregnant when Alistair died, and Johnny appointed himself as her protector. He rationalized his attraction to her thinking Katie reminded him of Josie with her fiery spirit and Rosalie in appearance because she possessed red hair and fair complexion.

Johnny stayed with Alistair’s parents in Stirling for a few days and took a trip north to Kern County to visit Katie at her Uncle Will’s farm. Since Alistair’s death, Katie wrote to Johnny to inform him how she and her son were getting on at her Uncle’s farm. She even asked Johnny to be little Alistair’s godfather. Katie fought her attraction to the American fly boy because she realized dating pilots only left a big void when they didn’t make  it home.

Katie confessed she intended to return to London to continue her interrupted education at the University of London. Johnny did his best to dissuade her not to go back to the war torn city.

“Why are you doing this now, Katie?” Johnny flashed a warm and caring smile. “School will always be there. Wait until after the war is over.”

Katie scowled. “When my parents sent me to Scotland, I put my dreams away. When Alistair died, I needed to give up my husband. Now you want me to give up my life. Going to college is something I want to do. I sublet my flat in London, and I’m ready to go back to the home I shared with Alistair.”

“What about the baby? Who will take care of him while you’re at school?”

“My friend Jenny. She just finished her tour with the WAFs, and she volunteered to handle the little king while I’m away. Most of my classes are at night, so he’ll be sleeping most of the time I’m away. I assure you, Captain Schneider, I thought this through.”

Johnny took her hand and stared into her eyes. “I’m worried about your safety, Katie. The war took so much from you already.”

“Giving in to terror gives the terrorists power. I refuse to do that. I will be fine, Johnny.”

“You must promise me you won’t take any unnecessary chances. London at night with a blackout is very dangerous.”

“You sound like my Uncle Will. Don’t forget I’m a big city kid. I grew up on the East End, a working class neighborhood, and I am well aware of the dangers.”

Katie turned the tables on Johnny. “Where did you grow up, fly boy?”

“I grew up on a farm near Lacrosse, Wisconsin that’s been in my family for a hundred years.”

Katie hated the farm. “Did you milk cows?” She remembered when Uncle Will gave her that disgusting chore. The stink of the barn. The odor of the huge animal she needed to touch.

“No, not too often. Josie milked the cows. I mucked the stalls and feed them. I fed one end and cleaned up after the other.”

Katie laughed.

Johnny loved the music of her laughter. He experienced a sense of calmness when he visited Katie; she possessed the sunniest disposition of any woman he ever met. He admired her because she showed no bitterness over her losses. But he couldn’t fall in love with her; Mary still waited to be his wife back home. How would he break the news he fell in love with another girl?

*****

The brass and politicians differed on how to proceed after the failure of Blitz Week. Each group realized the Luftwaffe needed to be defeated before any land invasion commenced. So far, the Allies’ efforts to gain control of the skies failed because the range of the P-47 didn’t allow the fighter planes to protect the bombers for the entire mission. A new plane called the P-51 Mustang possessed such capability, but the plane required more testing before being released for combat.

After the failure of Blitz Week, commanders drew up another mission, and the airfield became a busy hive of preparation. Ground crews repaired damaged planes, loaded bombs on the bombers, and checked and double checked the equipment for the upcoming mission.

Once all the pilots returned from leave, a briefing informed them they would once again fly into Germany. This time, however, they would penetrate farther inland. The plan required two squadrons to take off at the same time from different fields; they would converge and fly together toward Germany. Once inside Germany, they would split again and fly in two different directions. Planners surmised such misdirection might confuse the German RADAR.

One group would fly to Schweinfurt and target the ball bearing plants, as well as other German air defenses. This group  would return to England. The other group would fly to Regensburg to destroy the Messerschmitt plants, but instead of going back to England, they would turn south and land in the North African Allied airfields. On paper this mission looked brilliant. Unfortunately, in practice the mission did not go well.

The plan required perfect timing. The two groups needed to attack their targets simultaneously. If the groups didn’t work together, they would become easy targets because the Germans would gain enough time to attack each squadron with full force.

The weather proved to be the element ignored in the plan. On the morning of the mission a thick cloud cover and a heavy mist made take-off impossible, so officers delayed the departure. Pilots sat in their cockpits waiting for the tower to approve their take-off. Everyone grew anxious as the hours passed.

After two hours, the Schweinfurt group left the airfield even though the skies stayed overcast. Their pent up anxiety dissipated when the pilots were released to take off. They flew crossed the English Channel in heavy cloud cover with no knowledge the second group still sat on the ground. The Schweinfurt squadron faced their targets alone.

At noon bombers neared their target. The Luftwaffe laid in wait, and as soon as the American escort fighters left the B-17s, the German fighters attacked like a pack of wolves. The bombers dropped their payload, only to learn later they missed the target. The mission was an utter disaster, and the Americans paid dearly with heavy losses of planes and crews.

The second group of bombers sent to Regensburg faired better. They hit the target, but a week later, intelligence reports informed leaders the Germans rebuilt the Messerschmitt plant and went on producing new planes faster than before the bombing.

A frantic call came from one B-17 as the pilot neared the landing strip. “The electrical system is damaged! Enemy bullets and flak hit us hard! We cannot lower the wheels.”

Everybody on the ground realized the pilot would have to make a belly landing to save the crew. Men on the fire crews vomited as the plane slid into the runway spelling instant death for the poor soul in the ball turret that hung from the belly of the plane. The plane burst into flames and ground crews rushed in hoping they might be able to save the nine other men on the doomed plane.

The two botched missions demoralized American  and British pilots. Johnny just gave thanks he made it back to base.

Chapter 11

 London, England-August—During the summer of 1943, millions of American soldiers filtered into England from bases all around the U.S.  Johnny commented in a letter, “It doesn’t take a German spy to deduce something big is cooking.”

Johnny’s brother Peter survived boot camp at Biloxi, Mississippi and wondered what the army planned for him in Devon, England. American GIs trained from sunup to sundown for days on end, and then they trained some more. Every young grunt worked to exhaustion. Their training  simulated real war experiences with beach landings using live ammunition. Other training included running toward straw bags and sinking them with bayonets. They lay on their bellies for target practice. They jumped over and under barriers and barbed wire. They hiked for miles until they got blisters.

In early April American strategists selected a practice field at Slapton Beach in Southern England. This location gave leaders what they required—a gravel beach, followed by a strip of open land and with a natural barrier beyond that. The teenage boys, who made up the majority of the troops, would make such a landing in France in a couple of months. They practiced exiting LSTs and Higgins boats. They scurried to Slapton Beach experiencing a taste of the sights and sounds of a real battle. Live ammunition fired over their heads which taught them to stay low to the ground while they moved straight ahead.

The boys considered “Exercise Tiger” a game until it turned deadly. Communication problems caused confusion when the 30,000 troops stormed the beach, resulting in many deaths from “friendly fire.” Worst of all, the Germans intercepted some radio messages. The Nazis sent in their new “E-Boats” to attack the Allied convoy of LSTs positioning for the landing. These wooden E-boats were the latest addition to the German fleet, and their surprise attack at Slapton Beach demonstrated their superior speed and maneuverability.

The final casualty count of Exercise Tiger amounted to over nine hundred American deaths, many resulting from drowning in the cold sea due to failure of their life preservers. The whole experience  rattled Peter to the core. He considered himself lucky he survived, but now he feared the real landing. If he survived, he vowed he never would complain about menial chores. The night after Slapton Beach Peter wrote to his mom saying somebody finally ordered him to acquire some kitchen skills. With every “spud” he peeled, he thought about digging potatoes with his dad and the creamy goodness his mother always whipped with the white tubers.

The survivors of the training debacle were sworn to secrecy by their superiors. The boys received a 72-hour pass to blow off some steam. Peter and his new soldier friends hopped a train and headed to London for a night on the town. Two years passed since Peter and Johnny had seen each other. He secretly hoped he’d get a chance to see Johnny in England’s largest city. Peter fantasized buying his big brother a “pint” before he went into battle for real. He also wanted to see whether the Brits really drank warm beer and banned women from  the tavern. Peter sat on a stool at the end of the third bar they visited that night. He glanced down to the end of the bar where an American pilot nursed a beer. When the pilot turned his head, Peter realized the airman was his brother Johnny. He rubbed his eyes to make sure. Peter stepped down off his stool and fought through the thick crowd of guys, coming  up behind the flyer. With a big smile, Peter slapped his brother on the shoulder.

Johnny turned around ready to slug the creep who bothered him, but he lowered his hand when he realized the Army grunt with a cheesy smile was his kid brother. “Oh, my God!” Johnny hugged Peter. “When did you get here?”

“A couple of weeks ago.” Peter said. “We all got a 72-hour pass and decided to come into London. God, it’s good to see you! Thanks for staying in one piece.” Peter returned the hug. It surprised him he had to fight tears.

Johnny laughed. “You certainly didn’t change. Are you shaving yet?” Johnny teased as he pulled a stool next to him. “Sit down, brother. What’s the latest from home?”

“Mom wrote and said Josie got transferred to some place in Italy. She also said Donna joined up with the USO. And your Mary is a pilot. Seems you inspired her.” Peter took a sip of his pint and made a face. “How do you drink this stuff?”

Johnny laughed. “You get used to it.”

Peter went on. “Supposedly, Donna’s some place over here, too. Maybe after we destroy the Krauts, we can put on a reunion party. It seems everybody we went to school with is over here.” Peter laughed and then asked,

“Any news about Angelo? I couldn’t believe he enlisted when he didn’t need to go.”

“No. Not since he shipped out of San Francisco for the South Pacific.” Johnny took a sip of his beer.

Peter said, “Before I left, Dad helped Rosie with her victory garden and mom makes sure she sends over some extra chicken, eggs, and vegetables. Rosie’s got two kids now.”

“Two? That hound, Angelo.” Johnny laughed.

Peter’s tone turned serious. “I want kids someday, too.”

“You need to find a girlfriend first, dummy.”

“Yeah. Maybe I’ll meet a nice French girl.” Peter said. “Oo-la-la!”

“What French girl would want your scrawny ass?” Johnny teased.

Peter grinned. “A pretty smart one.”

Chapter 12

Salerno, Italy – September—Donna and the girls survived the airplane ride from Chicago to Italy with little problem. Candy took her Dramamine and slept the whole trip. When the tropical heat of the island hit her as she got off the plane, Candy cranked. “God! It’s hot here! We left the windy city for this?”

Donna teased. “Honestly, girl! I think you might complain if they hung you with a new rope!”

Marilyn chimed. “Give the place a chance, Candy. We just got here.”

A young man hardly old enough to shave picked them up at the airfield and drove the girls to the hotel near the docks. They received instructions to dress for the show and take a jeep to the stage location.

Donna gasped when she saw the make-shift stage with no canopy in the middle of a muddy field. “Boy oh boy! They didn’t spare any expense on these digs. I hope I don’t break my neck on the dance numbers. “Candy piped up. “Now who’s complaining?” Donna stuck her tongue out in Candy’s direction.

Marilyn echoed Donna’s complaint. “I bet the Civil Engineers built the stage with leftover two-by fours and chewing gum.”

*****

That evening the girls played to their largest audience. Over 19,000 troops attended the show. Men of all shapes and sizes, enlisted men and officers, plus nurses who sat beside soldiers with missing limbs and bandages on their heads.

Donna stood in the darkness with a spot light shining on her. She caressed the microphone stand and  sand with emotion she never experienced before. Her voice quavered the first few bars, but as she absorbed the smiles and positive energy of the audience, she showed her strength and confidence. Her husky voice told everyone she understood their pain and homesickness. She moved them with raw emotion between each note, and for a few minutes she took the soldiers away from the battlefield and helped them remember their girlfriends and families who prayed for them to make it back home. Donna wanted her voice to lift their spirits, but seeing so many damaged and dirty souls made her think her offering was quite enough.

After the show, Bob Hope and the other seasoned professionals in the troupe headed back to the hotel. Donna and the girls in the band lagged behind because they realized they never could fall asleep with their emotions running so high. They signed hundreds of autographs-on shirts, autograph books, and casts. Donna even scrawled her name on a man’s chest. She enjoyed playing the part of a famous Hollywood starlet.

Just as Donna and the girls were ready to leave, a nurse in fatigues fought her way through the throng to the front of the stage.  “Donna! Donna!”

Donna couldn’t believe her eyes. As if out of a dream, her best friend ran toward her. Donna yelled, “Josie, my God!” She descended the stage. Her three-inch heels sunk into the soggy ground and her tight sequin evening dress prevented her from running. She also needed to fight a throng of men who wanted to touch her. After several minutes, the two old friends met and hugged each other.

“Wow! What a show!” Josie shouted over the fray.

“I guess it just took a war to bring me out of my shell, huh?” Donna laughed.

“When were you ever in a shell?” Josie laughed. “Can you hang around for a while for a beer?”

“That sounds swell, but first I want you to meet the rest of the girls.”

“Terrific!” Josie followed Donna up the stairs of the stage to meet the band members.

After introductions were made, the girls piled into a jeep and drove to the officer’s club as Josie’s guest. When they opened the door, a Count Basie song blared from the phonograph. The male officers dropped their jaws when the beautiful American women dressed in sexy dresses and stage make-up came into the club. Before the girls could order a beer, the boys whisked them onto the dance floor, where they remained until the wee hours of the morning. While the girls in the band danced, Josie and Donna visited at a quiet table in the corner.

“How’s Rosie?” Josie asked. “She’s written a couple of times and said the two of you lived together for a while.”

“Yeah. Angelo’s enlistment devastated her, especially because she found herself pregnant again. When she asked me if I would live with her, how could I refuse? Rosie’s such a sweet kid. Being alone and pregnant, she really couldn’t work, and she needed extra money to pay the house payments. Angelo’s military wages didn’t cover her living expenses. Besides, I loved my time with her. Gina is such a cute little doll, and when baby AJ came into the world, I stood in for Angelo. Honestly, Josie, I loved that little tyke like my own.”

“She named the baby AJ?”

“No. She named him Angelo Jr., but I figured the little guy would end up with a nickname sooner than later, so I gave him one. I don’t think Rosie even considered a different boy’s name.  Donna looked off into space. “I sure hope I can find a love like Rosie and Angelo’s someday.”

“Amen to that, my dear!” Josie said as she clinked the neck of her beer bottle with Donna’s – just like they used to do at Joe’s back home.

*****

Donna and the band missed the last jeep back to the hotel, so a lieutenant at the officer’s club volunteered to drive them down to the dock.  As they got closer to the hotel, the stench of burning buildings and rotten eggs filled the air. While the girls signed autographs and danced at the club, Nazi medium bombers with a fighter escort bombed the docks, destroying the area near the hotel where the performers stayed. Bob Hope and the others ducked for cover in a public air raid shelter when the sirens sounded.  Miraculously no one in the troupe suffered injury, but everyone now got a sense of what the troops endured every day.

Donna sat dumbfounded as she stared at the devastation at the port. She vowed to pray for Josie because she faced such sights and sounds every day.

 

A “Perfect” Day

When I woke this morning and saw the sun shining, I knew it was going to be a good day. Ken and I ate our favorite breakfast of banana and yogurt topped with granola while we watched “Lucky Dog” and “The Pet Vet” on the tube.

I got dressed and planted the perennials I purchase at half price yesterday. When I came into the house, and found Ken dressed and sitting on the bedroom floor. When he attempted to sit on the vanity bench, his butt missed the chair completely and he went down in a heap. Yes. It was time to call 911 and ask for the rescue squad to come over and lift him off of the floor and into his power wheel chair.

After the rescue help left, Ken drove out to the living room, talking with a “thick tongue.” He looked exhausted, and I knew we were in for a long day, especially when he didn’t argue with me to take a time out and rest on the sofa.

An hour later, he attempted to get up and couldn’t. He wedged his body between his chair and the sofa while attempting to make a trip to the bathroom. Needless to say, he didn’t make it and now we had another problem. As I tried to strip him down, wash him, and then put on clean disposable underwear and slacks, he was like a 180 lb. ball of jelly. He couldn’t move his body, but after a few attempts and deep breaths, I did manage to get him changed and comfortable again.

He said he was hungry, but it took him about a half an hour to eat half a sandwich. He returned to the sofa and remained in this stupor for several hours. He even thought I was his Mom. He kept asking for Barb — and there I was in the flesh. So not only was his body malfunctioning, his mind was playing tricks on him, too.

All I can say is, I hope we don’t have one of these days again for a long, long time.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 7

Sicily, Italy—June—Josie and the other nurses worked even longer hours than ever before. They treated men with missing limbs, and men so badly burned they didn’t look human any more. They witnessed enough brain matter and damaged intestines for a lifetime. Death surrounded them.

Josie held on to her sanity by keeping her hands busy, but she also found it necessary to steal a few small breaks to relax and think about something other than flesh and blood. She found a quiet nearby cave where she took long drags on cigarettes and a cold soda. Her only other diversion away from the broken and burned men came from an unlikely source. Every month the Army sent a movie to the troops to lighten their load for a couple of hours.  Usually comedies, the movies provided the best medicine for everyone–laughter. Being able to laugh in the midst of horror around brought a welcomed sense of relief. Josie always slept well after seeing a movie.

A few weeks after establishing the field hospital, one of Josie’s nurses walked through the camp talking nonsense. The young nurse wandered around with blank eyes.  Oblivious to her surroundings, she kept calling for her cat named “Buttons.”

Josie took control the instant she witnessed Judy’s strange behavior. “Do you remember who I am?”

“Sure Josie.” Her high pitched voice sounded like a little girl. “Everybody knows you.”

“I think we need to take you to the doctor.” Josie said softly.

“Why do you think I need a doctor, Josie? I’m not hurt.”

“No. But you don’t seem to be yourself. Let’s go. He’ll take a quick look at you to make sure everything is all right. I will not let one of my best nurses get sick now, can I?”

“Okay.” Judy’s childlike voice remained with her. “The doctor won’t hurt me, will he?  I’m not really sick and I don’t like shots.”

“No, sweetie,” Josie said in a soft voice. “I promise the doctor won’t hurt you.” She took Judy’s hand and led her to the doctor’s tent.

Combat training attempted to prepare people for the physical unpleasant, primitive conditions they would encounter, but no training prepared people for the psychological shock and the unimaginable sights of wounded and dying men they would encounter. The distinct stench of burned human flesh and the shaking of the earth as bombs landing too close never could be simulated.

The doctor’s diagnosed Judy with “shell shock.” He sedated her and then sent her to a rest center far away from the daily casualties of battle. The combination of rest, sedation, and psychotherapy would be required for her recovery. Josie hoped Judy recovered quickly from the severe physical and mental strain everyone endured since they landed in Sicily. Losing another nurse left Josie short-handed yet again.

Chapter 8

Chicago, Illinois – June—Donna and Marilyn got along well and decided to live together in Marilyn’s apartment. They didn’t argue once. Marilyn’s level head balanced Donna’s spur-of-the-moment exuberance. Living together cured the loneliness and danger of living alone in a big city, plus the arrangement cut living expenses in half for both of them.

Since coming to Chicago, Donna worked as a waitress during the day and a USO volunteer any other waking hour. She played chess, listened to homesick soldiers waiting to be shipped out, and danced until her feet formed bunions. She operated on little sleep. Her favorite part of the day was when she sang for an audience.

One night after the girls played their last set, Jeanie, the band leader, corralled the girls before they left to go home. “Come here, everybody. Wait until you hear this!”

When Jeanie spoke, the other girls always listened. Donna said, “What’s up chief?”

Jeanie wore a broad smile. “We’ve gotten a request to join up with a USO camp show. If we agree, we’ll be part of the overseas group nicknamed as the Foxhole Circuit.”

Donna’s eyes widened. “Really? How exciting! When do we leave?”

Jeanie answered, “I’m not sure. The talent scout was in the audience tonight and he talk about a specific departure date.” Jeanie squealed. “Girls — he represents Bob Hope! The guy said he loved our show.” She turned to Donna. “He especially liked you, kid. He told me your arrangement of “Sentimental Journey” knocked him out!

Donna’s face lit up. “Wow! Bob Hope? How swell is that?”

“Yup,” Jeannie said. “Bob Hope.” She paused so the news set in for everyone. “I’ll get more details tomorrow night when the agent brings the contract. Girls, we’re going overseas! This is our big break! Not only will we get a chance to play for the boys, we’ll be part of a very popular professional troupe. This is a chance of a life time!”

Candy, the quietest girl of the group said, “Isn’t this the group that gets close to the front lines? In combat zones? Where shooting goes on?’

Jeanie nodded. “Who needs our entertainment more than the soldiers who face the enemy every day?”

Candy shook her head. “I don’t think I want to do this.”

Marilyn said, “We’ll be okay, Candy. They won’t let anything happen to the star performers. Soldiers will protect us. They wouldn’t send an icon like Bob Hope into the line of fire.”

Donna added. “And think of all those men who haven’t seen a woman in months. We’ll be a hit, even if we bomb!”

All the other girls laughed except Candy.

“I need to think about this.” Candy said.

Jeanie said, “I need your answer by tomorrow. If you don’t want to go, I’ll need to find a new base player.” Jeanie walked away disgusted. Why would Candy even think of bugging out of the group?

Donna put her arm around Candy. “What scares you the most, kid?”

“I don’t like airplanes. Just thinking of being so high scares me half to death, and I get sick.” Candy admitted.

“You’re not scared of bombs falling and thousands of hungry men leering at you?”

“No. Just the airplane.” Candy admitted with a small smirk.

“Hell, there’s medicine for that.” Donna said and then hollered after Jeanie,

“Hey Jeanie, Candy’s in!”

Chapter 9

England, July 1943—When the Germans bombed London, the war became personal for the Brits. The East End of London took the worst of the devastation. Warehouses, flats, and any building near the port suffered the worse destruction leaving thousands of people homeless with many family members lost to Hitler’s bombs. Londoners passionately hated the German dictator. They wanted revenge. It pleased them when the newspapers reported stories about the allies bombing German cities.

After Germany declared war on America in 1941, Johnny flew with the U. S. Army Air Corps. In fact, he got a promotion to Captain, and his new assignment kept his feet on ground or at least out of combat as a training instructor. The newest American pilots still thought war in the cockpit was glorious; you dropped your bombs; you killed enough Germans and claimed victory. Their combat training made them pent-up for action. Johnny learned over his years flying combat missions changed every pilot. The green American pilots would come back from their first bombing run realizing they killed innocent people as well as the enemy, and the only way they’d escape the killing required pilots to successfully endure thirty-five missions.

But today, the newest recruits exhibited elation; the Allied Blitz Week put German targets in the bullseye. The intended to bomb airplane manufacturing facilities and other military targets to attempt to take some of the punch of the Luftwaffe.

As the pilots climbed into their cockpits, shouts of “good luck” and “I’ll meet you at the bar after we kick some Kraut butts.” Johnny climbed into the cockpit with no bravado. He focused on the mission and didn’t think about the kids who wouldn’t make it back to England. Flying became all business for Johnny.

The four-hour, one thousand mile trip would take every ounce of physical and emotional strength pilots could muster. Fighter planes would escort the B-16 bombers into Hitler’s front yard, but then needed to turn back to refuel because the P-47 didn’t carry enough fuel to stay with the bombers for the entire mission. The bomber boys faced the most important part of the mission alone.

Today’s plan required pilots to take off in waves and climb to twenty-five thousand feet where temperatures dropped to fifty below zero. At that altitude, saliva turned to ice. A pilot needed to be careful because he might freeze his oxygen mask resulting in suffocation. Johnny emphasized this hazard in his training, but pilots had to experience the high altitude environment before they believed it.

When the pilots reported to the field, a thick cloud cover, brisk winds, and interment rain met them. The bad weather force the flight squads to change course. The secondary target, Kiel Germany, became the designated target. To be successful, this mission needed an element of surprise.

British Intelligence did not confirm if the Germans were using “RADAR.”  They found out they did when the squadrons were met by German flak, which exploded at the exact altitude of the bombers. The planes stayed in tight formation and everyone stayed on their leader–Jimmy-the same kid who Johnny consoled after the boy’s first mission months ago. Eight minutes to target, and the flak became more intense. B-17’s locked onto their target and dropped their bombs on Jimmy’s cue. If Jimmy missed, they all would miss.

“God, the flak is getting thicker, sir!” The navigator said.

“Yeah, but we need to take what the Krauts throw at us.” Jimmy replied.

The radio came alive with distress calls from other bombers. “We’re hit, we’re hit!”

A couple of hours ago crews wondered what the Krauts would do – now they understood the Germans intended to kill them. The bomb doors opened and payloads dropped on the target, Crews held on tight when their planes shook violently from enemy fire. Silence prevailed as they prayed the plane would hold together for the trip back to England.

Flying three stressful hours brought on another enemy. Fatigue. When their wheels touched down on the runway a rush of relief ran through every man. Their euphoria lasted until they realized some planes didn’t make it back. For the next few hours everyone held their breath. It became a known fact that if a plane didn’t  come back to base in two hours, they wouldn’t return at all.

Blitz Week was a failure. Ninety-seven B-17’s failed to return to base and over a thousand men died. Even worse, in a week’s time the Germans recovered from the bombings. German factories went on producing planes at the same rate.

 

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.

 

In With the New and Retire the Old

 I’ve been writing on a laptop since 2009. The operating system is Vista and the “Word” software is Office 2003. Dated? Yup. Besides having software from the stone age, my faithful computer is also broken in a couple of places. I’ve used this machine so much I’ve worn the paint off letters N, B, and E. That’s why I asked for a new laptop for my birthday. But I’m finding once again–be careful what you ask for.

Excitement filled me as I signed on the dotted line to take ownership of the package the FedEx guy delivered. I tore open the box and there she was. Bright, shining and virginal–the new little Dell was ready for action–well, not quite yet. There was a booklet of instructions included in the package and when I studied them, I decided I wouldn’t attempt initializing the machine right away because who wants to get frustrated on a perfect birthday. Right?

My birthday celebration and the aftermath have passed. The “Taj Garage” is halfway completed and poor new little Dell is still sitting untouched. I realize I must gear up and find some techie courage to begin making my new machine mine. I  must accept my first try loading software maybe a challenge. I also must accept I will need to transfer files and links to other websites I use all the time. I will bang my head against the wall trying to remember passwords and user names. See why I’m dragging my feet?

“Old Faithful” Dell has become a comfortable friend. She has produced eight novels, a blog with over 400 posts, over twenty short stories and too many emails to count. She’s entertained me with certain games and connected me with long lost friends. I haven’t the heart to replace her even though I know I must. Weaning myself away from my old friend a little bit at a time seems to be the only sensible way we will part. Perhaps if I set new Dell on the table and look at her for a while, I may gain some courage to make the replacement.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3

Chapter 8

Lacrosse, April 1, 1940—Rosalie came home a week after Angelina’s birth. A nurse took her down to the exit the hospital in a wheelchair, and Angelo treated her like a fragile flower as he helped her in the car. The birth took so much of her strength and vitality; he wondered how she would ever be able to take care of the baby alone.

Mrs. Lombardo and his mother volunteered to care for both Rosalie and the child until the new mother regained her strength. They assured him Rosie just needed rest and a chance to bond with the new baby.

When Angelo brought Rosie home, her mother met the couple in the driveway with open arms. “Bambina! Welcome home!”

“Oh Mama,” Rosalie cried.

“Let me carry the bambina for you. You look so tired.” Mrs. Lombardo scowled when she saw the dark circles and pale complexion of her daughter.

Angelo carried the suitcase and helped Rosie get into the house. Mrs. Armani prepared a hot lunch for everyone, and Angelo’s father made sure a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses welcomed Rosalie home.

Rosalie sighed. “I’m so glad to be home.”

Mrs. Lombardo took charge. “Let’s get you out of that coat, sweetheart so you can eat lunch.” She handed Angelo the coat to hang in the closet. She continued with her orders, “Then you can nurse the baby before her nap.”

Simmering hot beef, roasted carrots, and potatoes made Angelo salivate. “Doesn’t the food smell good, Rosie?” Angelo lived on cold sandwiches while Rosalie recovered in the hospital, and now he planned to gorge himself on a hot, home-cooked meal.

Angelo pulled out a chair for Rosalie, and his mother put a filled plate in front of her. “Mangiare!”

As Angelo gobbled down a healthy portion of the meal, Rosalie picked at her food. “Mama, I’m sorry. I’m just not hungry.”

“But Rosalie, you must eat to make the baby’s milk.”

Rosalie threw her napkin on top of her food. “I’m sick of having to eat for the baby. The baby is out of me now, so why do I still need to eat for the baby?”

Her mother stared in disbelief. She tried to understand how Rosalie might be overwhelmed. “My sweet girl, the baby needs you as much now as she did before she came into the world, bambina. God planned it that way.”

“It’s not enough she tore me up inside and out? Now I am supposed to be a cow, too?” Rosalie screamed and stomped into the living room.

Angelo hung his head and stared at the good meal in front of him. He realized he didn’t possess the right words to calm her. He hoped Mrs. Lombardo and his mother might know the right things to say to bring Rosalie out of her funk.

Mrs. Lombardo followed Rosalie. She sat beside her daughter on the sofa.  “I understand this is hard right now. The first baby makes you learn so many new things. Being a mama is a big job, Rosie.”

Rosie cried. “I never wanted a baby! And now I must serve a life sentence taking care of her?”

Mrs. Lombardo’s mouth fell open and her hands went directly to her hips. Her voice took on a stern tone. “That is about enough, Rosalie. It is time to grow up. Stop acting like a spoil child. Maybe a nap might help.”

Rosalie pouted. She hated it when her mother made her feel small. She got up and dragged herself to her bedroom. She had been banished like a child who misbehaved in her own house! She pounded her pillow and cried.

Mrs. Lombardo returned to the kitchen and picked up the phone to call Eduardo at the restaurant. “Eduardo, you need to come. Rosie needs you. She is in such a state; I do not understand her. You always do.”

A couple of hours later Eduardo left the restaurant and drove to his daughter’s house. He conferred with his wife in the kitchen and then went to his daughter who sat in the rocking chair nursing his grandchild.

“What a beautiful sight, bambina!” He said.

“What’s beautiful about this, Papa? I’ve become a cow like Josie’s Betsy.”

Eduardo sat close to her on the floor. He spoke in a soft voice. “Oh Rosalie, no, you are a mama. You are not a cow. You are doing important work. You are feeding your little girl, my granddaughter. This is a great miracle.”

“Papa, would you think I’m a bad mother if I told you I didn’t want to feed my daughter? Or change her? Or rock her to sleep?” Rosalie spat the words like she bit into spoiled food.

Eduardo frowned. “How can you say such things?”

“Because. I hurt all over and now my breasts are cracked and bleeding from her pulling on me. I hate this! I want to quit being a mother.” Rosalie cried.

Eduardo knelt in front of her. “Rosalie, a mama makes many sacrifices for her babies. You are very young, but your mother was only sixteen when your brother Giovanni came, and her mama lived in the old country across an ocean; your mama is just around the corner. She will help you.”

“Mama thinks I’m hateful.” Tears welled in Rosalie’s eyes. “I am selfish. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but right now I wish somebody would take this baby away from me. I can’t do this.”

Eduardo held her hand while he stared at his sleeping granddaughter. “No, my bambina, you are just afraid. Deep in your heart you love your little Angelina as I love you. You and Angelo will experience a wonderful life together, and now with little Angelina here, the love between you will grow even more. You are not alone, bambina. I am here, Mama is here. Angelo is here. His parents are here. Your brothers and sisters are here. Donna and Josie will help. When you get stronger, you will be the best mama in the world.”

“Oh, Papa.” She stared into her father’s moist eyes. “I want to believe what you say.”

Mrs. Lombardo came into the room and sat on the sofa. Rosalie looked at her mother with different eyes. “Mama, how did you ever do this?”

“One day at a time, my sweet daughter. One day at a time.”

Chapter 9

Lviv, Ukraine – April 1940—Heidi slipped into the bed she shared with Ruthie. She closed her eyes in the darkness and dreamed of the days in Berlin when she led a selfish, carefree life with her only desire to become a ballerina. Then overnight her life changed. She left her homeland and went on the run with three small children and their sick mother. In the still of the night she second guessed her decision to accompany Dora. She worried about the welfare of Uncle Hans and her three cousins. His only advantage might be his German background; perhaps his chances with the Nazis in power might better for him than other people. She prayed this would be the case. Some of the neighbors told her some non-Jews had been forced to work as slaves in mines and factories. Everyone needed to carry papers to prove their identity.  If people didn’t carry papers stating where they lived and worked, the Nazis would put them in prison.

The children woke before their mother at eight o’clock. Their hunger made them cry. She used the last of the cornmeal to make the breakfast porridge, and Heidi wondered where she would find more cornmeal.

Dora slept and didn’t stir for breakfast.  Usually the children’s activity would wake her, but today she lay still under a thin blanket.

Heidi bent down and whispered in Dora’s ear. “Dora, breakfast is ready.”

Dora didn’t respond.

Heidi shook Dora. No response. Dora appeared grey. Heidi gently shook her again. “Dora, please wake up. The children are asking for you.” Still no response. Heidi touched Dora’s forehead. She expected Dora to be hot with fever but instead her forehead seemed cold. Heidi pulled the blanket down to Dora’s waist and found a bottle of pills in the bed. The label on the bottle read, “Cyanide.”

“Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Heidi screamed.

“What is wrong Heidi? Is Mama sick?” David held Ruthie’s hand, and she sucked the thumb of the opposite hand.

Heidi stared at the innocent faces of the two children. “I think your mother is very sick, David. You stay here. I will get some help.”

Heidi ran down the hallway and banged on a friend’s door. “Fritz! Fritz! Please open the door. It is Heidi!”

A thin young man with a gaunt face came to the door. “Heidi, whatever is wrong?”

“Dora won’t wake up! I think she is dead.”

“Oh no!”

Heidi cried. “Yes! Oh my God! What am I going to do now?”

Fritz pulled up his suspenders attached to his tattered trousers and followed Heidi to her room. He approached the figure in the bed and one glance told him Heidi had guessed right. With urgency in his voice, he said, “I will go down and get the landlord. You keep the children calm.”

David cried, “What is wrong with Mama, Heidi?”

Heidi bent down and hugged the six year old. “She is very sick, David. We must fetch a doctor to tell us what is wrong.”

David looked at her with frightened puppy eyes.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I will take care of you.”

The landlord came to the room and went to Dora’s bed. He wore a stone face as he looked at the body. He turned to Heidi. “I will call the coroner.”

Everyone in the apartment complex came out of their rooms. A horse-drawn wagon pulled up in front of the building, and two men dressed in white uniforms came to the third floor.  They gently placed Dora’s body onto the stretcher as Heidi and the children stayed out in the hallway. David held her hand while Ruthie clung to Heidi’s skirt still sucking her thumb. The men struggled down the staircase carrying their mother away. Only baby Jacob seemed oblivious to the situation.

David cried. “Where are they taking my Mama?”

His tender young voice broke Heidi’s heart. She decided she must tell him the truth. “I am so sorry, David. The man with the stretcher told me your mother died in the night and went to heaven.”

“Where is heaven?” David cried. “I want to go too!”

She stooped down and held David close. “I’m afraid we can’t go there, David. God will send us a special angel when it is our time. Without the angel’s help, we can’t find heaven.”

“That’s not fair!”

“I know, sweetheart. It is definitely not fair.”

Frantic thoughts rushed through her brain as she tried to soothe her young charges.

*****

After she tucked the children in for their afternoon naps, Heidi found an envelope addressed to her in Dora’s handwriting.

My dearest Heidi,

You are right. God did send you to me because he realized I am not strong enough to care for the children alone.  I did not realize my own weakness when we departed from Warsaw. I cannot accept this situation.   We live like peasants in one dreary room. There is no food and little hope of ever going back home. But I am sure I made the correct choice to leave. 

I cannot go on like this any longer. Everything I loved is gone; the future holds nothing for me in this world. I am a burden to you. I must leave.

Please love and care for my children and forgive me for leaving you with such a heavy burden. I believe you are strong enough to protect yourself and the children. You are wise beyond your years. Perhaps you can make your way to Palestine or Switzerland.

 I leave you my car, money, and jewels. A large rare diamond is sewn in the hem of my coat; it may help you someday.

Be safe my child. I will wait for you in heaven.

Love, Dora

Heidi read the letter again and again in disbelief. Oh Dora? How could you? How could you trust someone so young with your three little ones?

During the past few months, Dora and Heidi grew close. But Heidi didn’t recognize Dora’s deep despair. Life had become more difficult than either of them imagined. And what would she do now? She may not be Jewish, but the new laws stated anyone who protected Jews would be punished by the Nazis too.

Heidi stared out into space as the children took their afternoon naps. Dora taught her more about art, music, and literature than she ever learned in formal schooling; she enhanced Heidi’s life so much in the little time they shared together. She and Dora planned exciting things in Warsaw, but now all those dreams disappeared. Heidi never would dance on the biggest stages in Europe with Dora looking on in the audience. Instead, she now bore the sole responsibility of caring for Dora’s three little children.

A few pills changed everything for Heidi and the children, and she couldn’t hide her fear and anger. Why couldn’t Dora be stronger? Why couldn’t she accept the harsh treatment the world dished out to her as so many others? As Heidi gazed at the orphans asleep, she promised someday she might forgive their mother; in the meantime, she would do her best to keep them safe and promised never to abandon them.

 

 

 

Best Birthday Ever!

About a month ago, my youngest daughter called and said, “Mom, I’m booking you for August 1st to celebrate your birthday.” I said okey-dokey and wondered what she had up her sleeve. I guessed Sarah might take me out to lunch and possibly bless me with a much needed pedicure because the last time we were together she told me I could climb trees with my long toenails. I love surprises, so I didn’t even try to guess what she had up her sleeve.

My “real” birthday was on Friday, and I have to tell you, I am really blessed with a stable of friends who understand I’m a big kid at heart and I love being special one day a year–a precedent set by my parents a LONG time ago. As children we got to choose the meal and type of cake we wanted, as well as picking something we wanted to do on our birthday. For one day, my brothers and sister became the big cheese for the day. My wants were simple: brats, going to Brown’s Lake, and poppy seed cake.

This year, my day started with a call from my brother Mark singing the traditional “Happy Birthday to You.” Then I got a call from my contractor saying he would be starting the construction of the garage on Monday! I thought that was the best news of the day, until I got a call from my long-lost friend Debbie Collins. Our friendship started in junior high school and lasted until we got too busy with husbands and kids. Birthday RosesNext, my daughter Sarah brought me a beautiful bouquet of a dozen roses before the FedEx guy brought me my new computer. I figured the festivities would wind up after my dear friend Jackie brought over my birthday supper, flowers, and cheesecake. But the beat rolled on. Linda walked down and shared some birthday cheesecake with us, and of course, she gave me a gift too. What a day, huh?

Sarah arrived on time on Saturday–her booked August 1st. She found me in the back bedroom I call my “studio” putting the finishing touches on my latest painting. I wanted to finish a couple of strokes before we took off so I had my back to her as she came into the studio.

2015 Birthday 005When she asked for a hug, I turned around and couldn’t believe my eyes. Standing beside Sarah was my other daughter Amy.

2015 Birthday 001She had flown in from Seattle for the weekend — just for my birthday. (Daughter on the right.)  This was the surprise of a life time. We had been separated for over four years, and it was sheer joy to see her again. Sarah (daughter on the left) and Amy had been working on this surprise for over a month.  Like some crazy person on the “Price is Right,” I put my hands to my face and yelled, “Oh, my God!” about eighty times as I gave each of them hugs and kisses. They got the reaction they had hoped to get. Their plans for me included lunch and a pedicure. Afterward we spent a little time on our new patio with a cool drink. Unbelievable! Two best days ever in a row!

I think experiencing bad days like I’ve been writing about lately, intensifies the great days. I’m still smiling that my two daughters love me so much that they wanted to give me such generous gifts. Spending time with them as beautiful adult women now is as much fun as when I was a twenty-something enjoying them grow up.

####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3 Continued

Chapter 4

Lacrosse, Wisconsin—March 22, 1940 – Angelo’s old pickup headed straight for the hospital emergency entrance. He ran around the front of the car and opened the passenger door as a shooting pain grabbed Rosalie’s back. He helped her to her feet in the gravel parking lot and walked her to the entrance as another pain hit which nearly broke her in half. This time she screamed. Angelo picked her up and ran to the Emergency Room door. He flagged down a Dominican nun dressed in the traditional black and white garments. “My wife’s having a baby,” he shouted.

She mumbled to herself. “Shhhh – this is a hospital, young man. Sick people are resting.”

“My wife’s having a baby,” he said louder.

“I heard you the first time. Don’t be fresh.” The nun answered and pointed to a sign that read Admitting. “Go.” The nun said and abruptly walked away mumbling to herself, “Honestly, girls having babies are getting younger and younger.”

Angelo swallowed his anger rumbling inside him. As a good Catholic man he realized he needed to respect this nun; otherwise, he would call her a bitch.  He found a vacant wheelchair in the hallway and lowered his wife like a fragile piece of his mother’s good china. “I guess we go this way, honey.”

Rosalie nodded and gazed at him with scared puppy eyes as another back spasm gripped her so hard she arched her back and cried. After the pain subsided, he continued to the Admitting Department. He stood in line where a tired-looking, gray-haired woman sat behind a window with a small opening that looked like a porthole. The woman wore a navy blue smock with, “Saint Mary’s Hospital” embroidered over the left breast pocket. Her yellow-stained finger tips rested on the typewriter keyboard.  Lingering cigarette smoke surrounded her head like a misplaced halo. Her bright red lipstick served as the only color on her grey wrinkled face.

Angelo cleared his throat. “Excuse me, ma’am. My wife’s having a baby and she’s–

The woman interrupted him.

“Bring her to that door.” She pointed to the door to her right.

“Thanks.” Angelo pushed Rosalie to the door as the clerk unlocked the door and escorted them to a ward of beds separated by long white drapes.

A nurse dressed in white from head to toe met them with a clipboard. The white outfit made her mahogany curly hair and brown eyes appear even darker. Angelo wondered how she stayed so clean when she worked in a place with lots of blood. Her husky voice sounded like one of the guys Angelo worked with on the assembly line. “How far apart are the contractions?”

Rosalie looked up to Angelo as another pain raced across her back.

Angelo answered with authority in his voice. “About five minutes-if that’s what these pains in her back are all about. Her water broke at noon.”

“Very well.” The nurse looked at her wristwatch and noted his response on the clipboard she held.

“What’s your name, sweetie?”

“Angelo.”

The nurse scowled. “Not you, sir.”

She guided Rosalie to one of the beds, “What’s your name, dear?”

“Rosalie.” She let out a howl as a white hot arrow of pain shot up her back once again. “Please don’t be mad at him, ma’am, he’s just so excited.”

“They all are, sweetie, but having a baby is women’s work.  We can manage without men.” She winked at Rosalie and whispered, “Now, let’s get started.” The nurse took a gown and a sheet from the cabinet in the room and handed them to Rosalie. “Take off all of your clothes including underwear and put this on–ties go in the back. Push this little button when you’re done.”

The nurse turned to Angelo, “And you, young man, need to go back to the admitting clerk and register your wife. I hope you brought your insurance card.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then get to it, boy.” She waved him to the exit.

Stifled protest stuck in his throat as he obeyed another bossy woman. Angelo hung his head and went back to where he first started. By now three people waited in front of him. Angelo paced up and down the dull gray hallway like a caged tiger.

“Next,” the woman behind the glass said.

One by one the clerk processed the people in front of Angelo.

“Next!” She yelled.

“My turn?” he mouthed as he pointed to his chest.

“That’s what I said, didn’t I?” She snapped.

Angelo’s temper reached the boiling point. He glared at the clerk with fire in his eyes; if a pane of glass didn’t separate them, he might have slugged her.

She slipped a blank form into the Smith Corona and looked down at the keys. “Name,” she said.

“Ah, Angelo-

She scowled. “Not you, sir, your wife’s name.”

He bit his tongue. “I’m sorry,” he took a big breath. “I didn’t understand what you wanted. This is our first and I–

She repeated. “Name.”

When the insurance interrogation ceased, Angelo scurried back to the area where he left Rosalie. Her bed was empty. Panic rose in his throat.  He spied the nun he met in the hallway earlier and with a shaky voice he asked, “Sister? Where’s my wife? I left her here while I did all that insurance crap and now she’s gone.”

“Your language, young man!” She scolded as she looked down her sharp nose at him. “No need for that tone. Your wife is on the Fourth Floor. Labor Room 426. Follow me.” She escorted Angelo to the elevator, pushed button number four, and left him standing in front of the gray metal door.

“Thanks,” he growled as she walked away.

Angelo found Rosalie laying in one of the two beds in Room 426. An empty bed tightly wrapped in white sheets with square corners awaited the next patient. Angelo hoped no one else would be put in that bed because he wanted to be alone with his wife as they went through Rosalie’s labor.

“Did they tell you anything?” He asked.

“They say I’m three centimeters, whatever that means. The nurse said when I get to ten, the baby is ready to come out. She said it might take all day.”

“Okay. How can I help?”

She reached for his hand. “Just be with me. Nobody told me what will hap–

Before she finished her sentence, she let out a cry that reminded Angelo of a tortured animal.

“Oh, God, “She panted. “That was a sharp one!” She said.

Angelo never thought of the pain his wife would experience to bring their baby into the world. “Oh honey, what can I do?” As soon as his words left his lips, he thought he might be useless all day.

“Just hold my hand.”

When Rosalie endured each contraction, she squeezed his hand like a football middle linebacker. After the pain subsided, she didn’t want to talk because she needed to get ready for the next pain to stab her in the back.

Ten hours passed and still no baby. The nurse said first babies usually took their time and be assured Rosalie was progressing nicely.  Angelo wondered how much more pain Rosalie could take. She appeared like she worked all day in a sweaty factory. On top of her weariness, she lost her will to go on. Angelo encouraged her to fight. She screamed while she dug her fingernails into his arm as the contractions came and went. They both needed this baby to make its arrival soon.

Angelo said a silent prayer.  “Oh, God, please let this be over. She’s so tired and growing more fragile as time goes on. Please, Lord. I don’t want her to suffer any more. Let the baby come soon.”

The starched nurse who attended Rosalie since the beginning of her labor announced her shift had ended and she left. A petite woman wearing the same starched white uniform took her place. Unlike her prune-faced predecessor, Debbie O’Malley smiled at the couple and spoke to them with gentleness in her voice. “We need to check you, Rosalie, to see how much longer this little babe of yours will make us wait to meet his or her acquaintance. The doctor is here now, and he wants a report on how you’re progressing.” She turned to Angelo, “I’m sorry, Dad, please leave us alone for a minute.”

“I know. I know. I’ll be out in the hallway.” Angelo rose and stretched his legs before dragged himself from the room.  As he paced in the hallway, Rosalie screamed again. “Oh God,” he prayed out loud. “Please end this.”

After a couple of minutes, the nurse pushed a wheel chair through the door with Rosalie seated. She hung her head and appeared as white as the sheet covering her.

“We’re off to delivery!” The nurse announced. “Follow me, Dad.”

Another pain assaulted Rosalie; she arched her back almost propelling herself out of the chair. The nurse waited for Rosalie’s pain to subside before she continued to the delivery room. They passed a door that read, “Father’s Room,” and the nurse said, “You can wait here, Mr. Armani. Your baby should arrive shortly. Your wife is fully dilated, and I’ll come and tell you as soon as the baby’s born.”

Angelo kissed the top of Rosalie’s head. He whispered. “It’s almost over sweetheart. I’ll be here waiting.”

Rosalie didn’t say a word; her eyes expressed exhaustion and defeat. The nurse pushed Rosalie through another set of doors marked “Hospital Personnel Only.”

Chapter 5

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – March 22, 1940–The Father’s Room didn’t offer any more attractive or comfortable space than any other place in the hospital. Dated “Time” and “Life” magazines littered the only table in the corner of the room. A couple of tin ash trays sat on the table and the stink of stale smoke reminded Angelo he needed a cigarette. He took a Lucky Strike from his shirt pocket and lit up with the lighter Rosalie had given him for Christmas. He took a long drag and exhaled a billow of lazy smoke rings.

Even after a half pack of cigarettes, Angelo couldn’t erase Rosalie’s fearful, childlike expression. He wanted to be with her. Waiting in this dreary room seemed cruel to both of them, but at least here he found a little freedom from her gut-wrenching screams.

He thought nothing would ever scare Rosalie, but having this baby scared her plenty. He looked down at his scratched and bloody arm. He chuckled when glanced at his scratched arm thinking at least he gave some skin in the game. Angelo removed another cigarette from his pocket and held it between his lips.  He leaned back so his head rested on the wall, lit the fag, and took another long drag allowing the nicotine to work its magic. He tried to reassure himself the doctor would take care of Rosalie.

When the red-headed nurse returned, she shook a sleeping Angelo.  “Dad,” she said quietly. “Your wife is having a bit of trouble and things are taking longer than they usually do.”

Angelo got to his feet and stared at the nurse. His stomach flipped. “What’s wrong? I want to see her.”

The nurse calmed him. “Simmer down. She’s in good hands. The baby presented face up, and Rosie can’t push it out. The doctor gave your wife an anesthetic to remove the baby with forceps.” After relaying this information, the nurse returned to the delivery room.

Angelo sat and cried.

Thirty minutes later the nurse returned to the Father’s Room. Angelo sat in the corner with his head down.

The nurse touched his shoulder. “Mr. Armani?”

Angelo looked up to her freckled face. “Is my wife all right? Is the baby here?”

She laughed, “Your wife is resting, and your little girl is an eight pound, eighteen inch long ball of fire! She’s perfect.”

“A girl! Really?” He found the news surprising. Everyone prophesied the baby would be a boy. “And my wife?”

“Like I told you, she needed to be sedated because of the posterior birth, so she’s asleep. I guess your little one wanted to get a good look at the doctor who delivered” She chuckled at her joke.

Angelo appreciated the nurse’s attempt at levity.

“You’re saying she’s a nosy little one?” Angelo let out a laugh of relief.

“You might say that. As she grows up, you can decide.”

“When can I see her?”

“You can go to the nursery now. Come on. I’ll introduce you to your daughter.”

Behind a thick glass window Angelo read a card above a stainless steel bassinet reading, “Baby Armani.” A plump pink baby swaddled in a white receiving blanket slept. A thick crop of red hair made her stand out from the other infants. She tried desperately to put one of her clenched fists into her mouth. A surge of love rushed through him like electricity. He put his face up against the glass and whispered, “Thank you, God.”

He turned to the nurse with tears in his eyes. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she? We talked about naming her Mary, but she looks like a little angel. I think Angelina suits her better.”

“A pretty name for a pretty baby.” Debbie the nurse said, “Babies delivered by forceps usually get nasty marks on their heads, but not your daughter. I think she just needed a little coaxing to make her appearance.”

“Can I hold her?”

The nurse smiled. “Well, not right now. She and your wife need to get some rest.”

He said, “Where is Rosalie?”

The nurse said, “She’s in recovery and will probably sleep until tomorrow morning. The anesthesia takes hours to wear off.  I think the best thing you can do is to go home, get something to eat, call all your friends and family in the morning, and then come back tomorrow.”

“I want to hold both of them; I thought after the baby came, I could give both of them a kiss.”

The nurse said, “I’m sure they both will enjoy your kisses tomorrow. Go home and get some rest.”

Angelo looked down at his bloodied arm. “Maybe going home isn’t such a bad idea after all.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Armani. Your girls are safe and you did great.” She patted his shoulder and left.

Angelo turned toward the glass. “Pleasant dreams, my little girl. Daddy will be back tomorrow.” Daddy, wow!  Daddy. I’m really a Daddy!” He blew her a kiss and whispered, “I promise you sweetheart, I will be the best Daddy ever.” He left the hospital dog tired, but strangely energized. Wait ’til I tell my Pa!

*****

Angelo went home, cleaned up his wounds, and went to bed. The clock told him it was four o’clock in the morning and seeing the correct time splashed a wave of fatigue over him. He woke around eight and called his parents and Eduardo to tell them about his baby girl, Angelina. Both new grandpas wanted to rush to the hospital to visit the newest member of the family, but Angelo told them about Rosalie’s ordeal and said it would be better to hold off their visits until the next day.