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.