Tag Archive | friends

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.”

 

 

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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.

 

A Shrinking World?

Yesterday I talked with my good friend Catherine who moved to Florida about three years ago. Her move was difficult for me because we had lived within an hour’s drive of each other for over twenty years. But the move was necessary, and I accepted the fact I might have lost her being close, but now I had a nice place to visit.

During our long conversation, Catherine asked me whether I thought her world had shrunken. I thought the question was queer, so I asked her why she would think such a thing. She told me another good friend of hers said Catherine was wasting away in the land of boredom.

I was shocked. How could a long-time friend say such a thing? Even if their life styles were different, I couldn’t imagine one friend being so cruel to another. I saw the comment as a lack of respect and knew Catherine was stinging from it.

This friend had just retired and was embarking on a new adventure and retiring in the Virgin Islands, so she probably saw Catherine’s day-to-day life at home as mundane. But even so, I told Catherine such a comment was cruel, and I reminded her never let someone else define her.

For years Catherine and I have followed a similar path. We even worked together on two different jobs. Now we are caretakers for our husbands, but our choice doesn’t by any means make us boring. In fact, we both have embarked on another course in life which is slower and more meaningful than when we battled every day in the nonsense of the corporate world. She’s adjusting to a new place to live and is learning how to navigate different people and surroundings. Believe me, at 65 that’s not easy. I don’t think I could do it.

Her friend, on the other had, never suffered job losses like Catherine and I did, which resulted in having to raid our retirement investments just to stay alive. Her friend never had to care for a sick husband. Her friend never had to reinvent herself, as both of us have done. In my book, her friend is the boring one!

It’s too bad such falling-outs happen, but I have found whenever your life takes a different turn, sometimes even old friends fall off the cart. It’s sad we can’t maintain every friendship we’ve ever cultivated, but that’s truly unrealistic, isn’t it? We bring friends into our lives because we gain something from them at that particular time in life. In turn, we also give them what they need from the relationship. If a friendship works one way –one is always giving and the other doesn’t reciprocate, it’s not a healthy friendship.

Who knows if Catherine and her friend will reunite again. Fences need to be mended if they want to regain what they had in the past. It’s always sad to let a long time friends go, but sometimes it is necessary. The good news is, another person will fill the void–not in the same way, of course–but in a new and exciting way of sharing and caring. It’s the way the world works.

######

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 14

Lacrosse, Wisconsin—July 1942—The mail proved to be a lifeline for everyone during the war, even though the government censored correspondence. The stringent rules prohibited writing anything about what factories produced or where goods might be shipped. All enlisted men and their officers needed to keep their whereabouts a secret. No one could write about weather conditions. Even private codes between couples shouldn’t be used because such messages might be some kind of espionage attempt, and censors would take them out. Consequently, most letters became a diary of everyday happenings. Rosalie guessed her news must seem uneventful and unimportant in the world scheme of things, but she wrote to Angelo every afternoon while Gina napped. Angelo wrote about fellas on the ship and tried to follow in his big brother Tony’s footsteps by keeping his stories light and humorous. Only their letters reached across the world and attempted to keep them close. Whenever Rosalie’s mailbox produced a letter from him, she couldn’t get in the house fast enough to read his lines.

July, 1942

My dearest Rosie,

 I’m sweating buckets out in the South Pacific, but I imagine you’re doing the same in our little house, too. The daily monotony of life at sea is over.  The officers tell us to enjoy the monotony of drilling because when we go ashore we’ll beg for a clean rack and a hot meal.

I think of you and Gina every minute. With all this time to think, I am glad you invited Donna to stay with you. She’s a good egg, and I can relax a little because you’re not alone. I’ll eat crow and admit she is so much more than a “good time girl.” I’m grateful she is helping you with Gina and the other household chores. I laughed out loud when you wrote about Gina calling her “Auntie Doe Doe.”

 I dream of you, too, sweetheart, but we both know why I’m here. I love our life together, and in order to keep living with the freedom we enjoy, I must pitch in and do my part.

 I’m proud you can handle everything at home, but please ask my parents and Eduardo for help. They need to help as much as you probably need them. Please my darling, do this for me.

 Do me one more favor, okay? Would you write to my new friend Bobby? He’s a kid from Wisconsin with no family contact.  His father is an SOB and his mother only writes once in a blue moon on the QT. He’s a good kid and deserves better.

 By the time you get this letter, I’ll probably be a father again. How I wish I could be with you. My heart breaks when I think of not being able to hold our dear new baby.  Oh Rosie, we built such a wonderful life together in such a short time. I promise I will fight hard to come home again to be in your arms again.

 I love you sweetheart. Kiss Gina for me. And give Donna a hug, too.

 Loving you forever, your Angelo

Rosalie put Angelo’s letter down and sighed. Because there were weeks between sending and receiving letters, her beloved Angelo might be facing an impending battle somewhere in the South Pacific. Rosalie prayed for his safety and vowed she would search the newspapers for any news about his division. She decided to keep a scrapbook about the war in the South Pacific, so she could remain close to him.

Rosalie’s due date came and went, and she felt as big as a whale and as hot as a furnace. She wished she could write to Angelo and tell him he needed to pass out cigars again, but this baby decided he wanted to be close to his mother for a few more days. With Angelo away, she needed to name the baby. She chose to honor the two bravest people in her life. If the baby happened to be a girl her name would be Josie, and if a boy Angelo.

Chapter 15

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – August—Two days after she received Angelo’s most recent letter, she received another. Getting two letters so close together surprised Rosalie.

July, 1942

 My dearest Rosie,

By the time you get this letter, what I’m telling you will be long over, but I wanted to write and assure you I am well. I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to write again, so I’m taking this quiet moment to tell you I love you so much.

I can’t say anything about where I am. But I can tell you soon I’ll be on an island somewhere in the South Pacific. Everybody is a little jumpy, wondering what will be in store for us once we land on the beach.  Hopefully, the Japs got wind of our intent to land and will turn tail and run home.  (Ha,ha)

 I keep a picture of you and Gina close to my heart – right under my dog tags. The thought of getting back to your loving arms and our sweet little daughter keeps me going.

 Don’t worry about me, sweetie. I’ll be okay, and I’ll come out of this first encounter just fine. Tell Ma I’m keeping my head down.

 Love, Angelo

Rosie folded the letter and realized Angelo probably experienced his first taste of battle. Reading between the lines she understood he was scared. Fear took a hold of her too. She wiped away one tear rolling down her cheek.

After Rosalie finished her prayer for her husband, Donna blew threw the back door.

“Donna! You’re home so early! What happened?

Donna never hid her feelings. “Yeah.” Her snarl communicated something big.  Clearly she got ticked about something. “I’m sorry Rosie, I didn’t mean to take my frustrations out on you.”

“Tell me why you’re so upset. I get the lemonade.”

Donna plopped down on the kitchen chair across the table from where Rosie sat waiting for her explanation. “I quit my job.”

 

Rosie’s face dropped. She counted on Donna’s rent to make the house payment. “Why? I thought you liked your job.”

“I couldn’t take Bates any more. He is a bastard in the first degree.”

“But Donna, you’re a skillful secretary! What are you going to do now?”

Donna took a long swig of her lemonade and wished for a shot of vodka. “I went over to Autolite and got an assembly job. They’re paying women almost as much as the men!”

Rosalie didn’t understand. “But why would you want a factory job especially after you just got promoted? I thought you liked secretarial work.”

“The work is fine. But it’s HIM. He’s stupid! He’s gross, and I’m done!” Donna took another long sip of her drink. She behaved like she couldn’t quench the fire burning in her. “Everybody is contributing to the war effort except me. Even you, Rosie. You cook around rationing; you tend a victory garden; you write countless letters to your brothers, Josie, Angelo, and his friend Bobby. And what do I do? Nothing. Well, I’m changing that baby. I got on board today. Besides, I’ll make twice as much on an assembly line as I do in the office. The money will really help us.”

“You should think of more than just the money, Donna. Working in a factory is hot and dirty. Are you sure you can take that?”

“The office is hot too, Rosie.” Donna said, took another swig of her lemonade and then continued, “And I won’t need to put up with Bates groping me.

“He grabbed you?”

“Yes. He came around the back of me and grabbed both of my breasts. I turned around and hit him with a right cross. And then he threatened to fire me. I said, ‘I’ll save you the trouble! I quit!’ Then I stormed out of the office slamming the door behind me.”

“I certainly understand why you don’t want to go back there. But the factory? Really? You?”

“Working in the factory is good. I won’t worry about wearing fancy clothes or caring whether my nylon stocking seams are straight.” She plunked a large bag on the table. “All I need to do is wear this.” Donna stood up and pulled out a navy blue pair of baggy coveralls. “Aren’t these all the rage?” Donna laughed through her tears.

“Such a shame your new outfit will hide all your curves, but if you wear that ugly outfit, I got just the thing to complete your ensemble.”  Rosalie ran into the bedroom and returned with a red bandanna. She tied the scarf around Donna’s beautiful blond hair. “There. Now you look just like Rosie the Riveter!”

Donna laughed. “You’re so good to me!” She pranced around the kitchen with the bandanna on her head, holding the coveralls full length down her body. “I’m ready for the factory runway, don’t you think?”

“You’ll be a smash!”

The two friends laughed until their sides ached. Donna put down her “uniform” and said, “I’ll only be as ugly as the next girl, but what the hell. All the good-looking men are in the service anyhow, and the worst of the summer is almost over. Bates the Octopus can go to hell. What’s done is done. I start on Monday.”

“Well, then, let’s party!” Rosalie smiled.

“Yeah, I want to get a tan on the beach and get my nails done and . . .” she stopped in mid-sentence. “Well, maybe we won’t go to the beach; you probably don’t own a maternity swimsuit, do you?”

Rosalie said with a straight face, “No I don’t. Godske Tent Company stopped making them due to war production.”

Both girls laughed even harder than before. Laughter got them through whatever came their way.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Absent But Not Forgotten

handsToday I had a wonderful surprise from one of my blog buddies — I haven’t posted for quite some time and she sent a note saying she was worried about me.

So many people pooh-pooh the social network saying its a tool for the self-absorbed. As I see it, that comment is probably pretty true because most people who are “connected” are very young. But I also see social networking as a terrific tool to connect with new and old friends. It’s a wonderful tool to “meet” new people — from across the country and across the world.

Lately, I haven’t felt like I have anything important to say. My world has shrunk since I left the work place and stay at home most days with Ken. But I guess I was wrong. Some people want to hear from me. And thank you for that.

Since my hiatus, I have also been lucky to connect with some very old friends. One woman is a classmate from grade school. We’ve had lunch a few times and hours have sped by. We are so like-minded it’s wonderful to be together. We both have suffered loss. We both have suffered sickness. We both put family first. Even our look at spirituality is the same. I’m so thankful God has put her back into my life again.

The same is true for another friend who has drifted in and out of my life since high school. When our children were small, we were close. We went to the same church on Sunday and had a lot of other connections. After my divorce and her divorce, we lost each other, only to come together again as caretakers — she for her mother, me for Ken.

Then the frosting on my friend cake is the return of a dear friend who spent the last twenty-five years in Florida. Now that she is older, she wanted to be close to her children and old friends. She misses her pals in Florida, and is frustrated she can’t find things in her new house, but we got to have lunch together yesterday for the first time in a decade–and that was fun. Our reunion is like little time had passed. Our connection was still there.

I think God has put these people back into my life because I need them. I need to laugh with them. I need to get their opinions. I need to know I have a safety net when I feel like I’m falling into oblivion. Most of all I need their hugs because Ken can no longer do that for me. And that, my friends is a loss more than I can express.

So for those who have missed me in the blogging world, I thank you, too. You have reminded me that reaching out is my saving grace.

Life Goes By When You’re Living It

Blog 3-31 003This week has been a trial and a triumph.

The trial happened on Monday, I said goodbye to a dear friend. Patrick became my friend when we were both working for the same magazine. He was an ad salesman, and I was a writer. That was over twenty years ago.

Eventually, the four of us — Patrick and his wife Linda and me and Ken enjoyed a cup of coffee every Saturday at a quaint coffee house or we splurged on breakfast at a restaurant that was housed in an old building on Main Street downtown. This place had few tables and the best omlets in the world! Besides that, the background music was jazz, and I pretended we were all in Manhattan starting our weekend on a high note.

As the years went by, the four of us became very close. Patrick stood in for my brother who moved to California. Linda became another girlfriend and even proofread a couple of my books. A year ago, they moved into an apartment, which was right up the street from my house.

Unfortunately, Patrick suffered from diabetes,and the past five years had been a trial. And about three months ago, he went into the hospital and never went home. He was so sick, and as I gazed at him as he slept from the infections and drugs, I knew intellectually the end was near.

But my heart didn’t accept the fact that he was gone until we went through the funeral ceremony. Never again would he call every morning just to wish us a good day. Never again would we solve world problems over a cup of coffee, or challenge each other over a hot Scrabble game. He still is close, though. He’s buried him in the cemetery across the street from my house. Monday was a hard day.

A couple of days later, triumph picked up my spirits. My publisher took action on my complaint letter stating my feelings about the haphazard way the reviews on my books were messed up.

They agreed to rewrite the reviews so they represented the appropriate book, and they gave a full page for these reviews for the Frankfurt book show, which is one of the largest ones in the world. When I wrote my complaint letter to the president of the company, I never thought it would be answered. I’m glad to see the company took action. That made a lousy week a little better.

And life goes on. We live it everyday without any thought we are making impressions on everyone we meet. That’s why I smile through the tears and eventually remember all the wonderful people who have crossed my path. Every one of them are special.

Entering a New Life

423019Last night one of my best friends called to say her twin brother had died. Jerry suffered from an incurable cancer. Everyone who loved him hoped that his first remission would have lasted longer, but after a short eighteen months, the cancer returned. The news was disheartening for his family.

Whenever I hear about someone my own age dying, it has always had an affect on me. Selfishly, I wonder what I would do if I had to face dying. I like to think the best. I like to think I would die with dignity, facing the unknown like I have faced so many other unknown situations that have entered my life. I like to think I would look at death as my next big adventure. I hope my next stop is a better world, where there is no pain or hunger. I hope this place lets me have the freedom to hurt no more. I hope this place is happy where I can rejoin others who have passed before me.

For thousands of years humans have believe in an afterlife, but is there such a place? When it comes down to it, we truly don’t know what happens after death. Growing up Christian I was taught I am an eternal being, and this earthly place is just part of my journey. If I live a good life, I will be rewarded in heaven. This ideology is a pleasant thought, isn’t it? Even Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He believed in heaven. If that thought is good enough for Him, then it certainly is good enough for me.

But are we humans really better than all of the other living things on this earth? Personally, I’m a little ashamed of my species. After thousands of years, we have learned nothing about living in harmony with nature and one another. We just keep on thinking of better ways to destroy our world and each other. It’s no wonder we want to leave here. Will we really do better in heaven?

I hope for Jerry’s sake there is a heaven. I hope for my sake and everyone I love there is a beautiful place where we all can meet after death and have a grand party. When I must face my own death, I will die as I have lived. Death is part of the cycle of life, and hopefully, I’ve fulfilled my mission here, even though I truly am not sure what it is.

Until that day comes, though, I will continue on the path I’ve struck. I will continue to live with love in my heart, and hope that love has touched others in a way that will live on. So if there is a heaven, I hope to see you there someday.