Tag Archive | getting to the truth

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!

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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.”

 

 

Table For One?

When Ken has bad days with  his MS, I have a lot of conflicting emotions. How long will we be together? How long will we be able to enjoy each other’s company over a nice meal at home or at a restaurant? The thought of eating alone again is not pleasant.

When I got divorced over twenty years ago, eating diner alone was one of the hardest things I had to accept. Up until that time, the evening meal was the only time when everyone was present. We discussed the day’s events and talked about what would happen the next day. Contributing to the conversation was necessary. When I was quiet as a child, my parents assumed something was wrong in my world. Now a court decreed dining with my family was over. I hated it. In fact, I never really adjusted willingly.

Have you ever wondered why humans prefer eating together? Coming from an extended family of gregarious Italians sharing a big meal with a crowd is part of my DNA.

If I go back to my communication theory I learned in college, I can explain it this way:  We are born into a culture which teaches us its underlying truths and traditions. When we get old enough, we reinforce those traditions and beliefs and pass them on to our own children. Simple? I don’t think so. From our first meal to our last, we prefer to share the experience with another. Is it our social conditioning which makes it so? Or is it that we’ve never been taught to eat alone? All we’re doing is refueling, right?

There are probably more single people in our culture than ever before. I assume most of them eat alone most nights. I wander if they miss family meals or have willingly adjusted to their status. Have they adjusted to dining alone or do they  “text” friends while they devour calories? Do they sit in front of the television just to have other voices present as they nibble? Or do they have a pet standing by to talk to and share their meal? Do they go to restaurants and bring a book signally to other patrons they are intellectual not pathetic?

From what I’ve read on the subject, people in big cities like New York find it easier to eat alone in restaurants. Isn’t that curious? Why is  it when more people are packed together in a concentrated area like Manhattan they can shut out other people at meal time? Sound backwards to me. But then again, people living in big cities are more guarded for survival sake, so on some level it makes sense.

 

Perhaps I find eating alone so tough because I’ve been taught to do otherwise says I’m lacking something socially. My Italian American lineage has ingrained to believe meals are communal activities. Let’s face it. Solitary meals leave us exposed.  People perceive you as a poor soul who has no friends, while you’re trying to show you are confident and quite comfortable in your own company.

Most of us at one time in our lives must face the fact we will be alone at meal times — unless of course, you’re the lucky one who gets to die first. Even Jesus had a “Last Supper.”

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 15

Montpellier, France-August—After several months in the south of France, Emma regained most of her strength. Her clear emerald green eyes sparkled again which told Marta her spirit also healed. Emma walked to the town square every day and took on the household chores while Marta worked as a waitress at the corner cafe. Emma admitted the time they spent in the South of France gave her a chance to rest and find herself again, but her good health recaptured her innate desire to do something more meaningful than household chores. She wanted to work again. She needed excitement, and she yearned to go back to Paris.

Every evening after supper,  Marta and Emma listened to a small radio Marta bought from one of their workmates. The device received few channels, but one station they did receive originated from England. Radio Free Europe reported accurate information about the war, instead of biased German or Allied propaganda. As cool summer breeze floated through the window, an excited radio announcer proclaimed, “The Nazis are out of Paris! Allied soldiers overtook the city today. General de Gaulle, the leader of the Marquis, led the exiled troops back into the city. Everyone danced in the streets. Wine flowed freely while young girls kissed their liberators. ”

Emma jumped from her chair. Her eyes sparkled like they did when she first showed Paris to Marta.  “Do you realize what this means, Cherie?”

Marta smiled at Emma’s exuberance. “No, what does this mean?”

“We can go home! We can go home!”

“Back to Paris?” Marta paused and chose her words carefully. “Why would we leave here? I love this lovely town. The weather is moderate. We are close to the sea. Our apartment is comfortable. I thought you enjoyed being here. Why do you want to upset the peace we found?”

Emma’s face fell like Marta had let the air out of her balloon. “I agree this place has been wonderful. You nursed me back from oblivion and brought joy back into my life again. But do you not want to return to art, music, theater, movies and all the rest of the things this little town does not offer?”

“No. I’m sorry, Emma. The slower pace suits me. I like the people here. I made friends here. I got a chance to rediscover my love of painting here. I am not anxious to return to the bustle and rudeness of the city. And besides, to travel right now would be dangerous.”

Emma tried again with a note of pleading in her voice.  “Would you consider moving after the war is over?”

“I will think about it Emma.”

Emma’s voice soften like melting ice cream. “I love you, Cherie, You realize that, don’t you?”

“Of course. What a question.”

“I realize Pierre moved heaven and hell to free me from that German prison. I also am thankful he brought me here to you. Every day you proved your love for me in every touch and kindness. I do appreciate all you did for me. But this sleepy little town is,” she hesitated. “Too safe and too quiet. I need to be active again.  I need a purpose, so I can be your partner, not your burden.”

Marta raised one eyebrow as she stared at Emma. “First of all, you are not or ever were a burden. You can find work here.”

“Like what? Fishing?” Emma’s voice cut like a sharp knife. Instantly she wanted to take back her sarcastic words.

Marta replied. “Emma. I recognize you are a fighter, and I sense your restlessness. But the war made us both endure so many hardships. I rather like not thinking about terror every minute. This place freed me from the ugliness. Paris would bring all those horrid memories back.”

“Are you saying, ‘No’?”

Marta dropped her eyes and said in a soft tone. “I am saying I cannot endure another big change. Not now. I am happy here. Please try to understand.”

Emma sat down. She said nothing. It was clear Marta had traded her fire for adventure for complacency.

Chapter 16

Switzerland, July—Danny stayed with Heidi and her children for a couple of months. He didn’t want to go back to combat flying, but he also didn’t want to be labeled a deserter. His friendship with Heidi grew into flourishing love.

At the breakfast table Heidi confronted him. “Daniel, I am running out of projects for you. I appreciate all you do for me, but someday you need to leave and go back to the Americans.”

“I thought your “Honey Do” list would never be completed.” He said with a mischievous smile.

“Honey do? What is this?”

“At home husbands call a wife’s list of chores a “Honey Do List” . . . Like honey do this, and honey do that.”

Heidi laughed. “That is very funny, Daniel.”

He put his hand over Heidi’s hand which rested on the table. “Heidi, I don’t want to leave you.”

She searched his sincere eyes. “I do not want you to go either, Daniel. But it is selfish to keep you here. Everyone will miss you, but the Americans expect you to escape.”  Heidi’s eyes dropped to the floor.

Danny  stood and pulled her into his arms. “I realize I need to go back to my unit, but since coming here, I am torn. I want to stay and protect all of you.”

“You must realize I do not need protection.”

“I see you can take care of yourself, but I found something special here with you.”

“We are happy you are here, Danny.”

“Heidi, I am in love with you.”

Heidi’s eyes welled with tears. “I love you, too, Daniel.”

Danny said softly, “I want to kiss you.”

“So kiss me.” She raised her chin and he kissed her lips. Gently at first, but then his kisses grew with his passion.

She pulled away as her sense of self-preservation kicked in.  “Daniel,” she whispered. “We should not do this.”

“Why not?”

Her voice quivered. “Because you will go away, and I will be alone again. I cannot bear to lose you.

“Never. I want you to be my wife and go back to the states with me.”

“And the children?”

“Of course! I understand  you and the children are a package deal, right?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s get married and then I will go back to my unit.”

“It is too soon, Danny.”

“Too soon for what? Hasn’t this war proven life is too short to waste time? Say you’ll be my wife, Heidi.”

Heidi searched his honest face and pleading eyes. “Yes. I love you, Danny.” She kissed him long and deep.

He lifted her off the ground in his joy and squeezed her tightly. “Oh God, Heidi. I love you so!”

They laughed in each others arms.

He said, “Let’s get married tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

*****

Danny and Heidi married the next day in the local minister’s parlor. Heidi put on a white dress she wore when she graduated from secondary school. The dress didn’t fit well because she lost weight, but she didn’t possess anything else appropriate for the occasion. David picked a bouquet of wild flowers from the hills behind their house and presented them to his mother before they all walked to church.

Danny didn’t own a suit, so he wore the clothes he wore when he escaped from prison. He fashioned a ring from an old car part he hammered and polished. He vowed to buy Heidi a proper wedding ring as soon as he returned to the States.

The minister’s wife and a deacon served as witnesses. The children stood by as attendants, and Heidi thought her wedding to Danny was the most precious memory in her life. The ceremony was simple, but tender. As the couple stood in front of the minister and repeated their promises to each other, she thanked God for bringing him to her.

*****

Three days later, Danny said goodbye to Heidi and the children. The French resistance would help him return to the Americans, but leaving Heidi and the children felt like someone cut out his heart.

“I will write as often as I can.” He said with tears as he tried to say goodbye.

She whispered, “Please be careful.” She clung to him not wanting to let go. “Take care of yourself for me.” She forced a smile through her tears. Danny was the first boy she ever loved and now she needed to let him go.

Danny kissed her one last time. “We’ll be together soon. I promise.”

She gave him a brave smile. He opened the door and disappeared into the night.  Heidi closed the door and sobbed.

The sound of Heidi crying propelled David from his bed. He rushed downstairs and found her sitting on the floor. “Mutter, what is wrong?”

“Danny left to go back to the Americans.”

“He told me yesterday he would leave. I begged him not to go, but he said he must return because he stayed too long already; he did not want to go.”

She looked into his innocent face and nodded. “You are so wise for someone so young.” The two of them cried in each other’s arms fearing they might not see the man they loved again.

*****

Danny met the librarian at the edge of town. She drove him to the next leg of the journey where she introduced him to a man dressed as a pauper in the next town.  The man directed Danny to a house where two British soldiers waited. The Brits had escaped from a German work camp in Austria. They waited in darkness for a covered lorry which would take them to Geneva. They got off the truck and followed their guide to a wooded area. They walked about two miles before they got to a small stream.

The peasant guide said, “I must go now. Wait here quietly. I will bring the Marquis to take you back to the allied lines.”

The escapees waited in the darkness for hours before their guide returned. He searched for a shallow spot along the stream and motioned for the others to follow him across the icy water wearing their shoes. On the far shore, the guide turned them over to the Marquis—eight strong, grubby men, all armed with machine guns. Brief introductions were made before these tough looking men led Danny and the Brits to a ramshackle shack hidden in thick woods. Here they slept for a few hours waiting for daylight.

As soon as the sun rose, a Marquis member shook the escapees awake. In darkness Danny and the Brits couldn’t see these men who were to take them to the allies. Now, however, the rugged, battle-toughened men appeared more like grubby barbarians than saviors.

The group ate a light breakfast of fruit and hard cheese before the leader announced it was time to go. They walked for a couple of hours before getting to a steep hill. The Marquis flanked the escapees on both sides to protect them from any enemy soldiers who might still be in the area. Danny struggled to make the climb, breathing heavier as the altitude went higher. He prayed as he struggled to breathe. “Oh God, please keep Heidi and the children safe, and help me get up this damn mountain alive.”

The trek uphill brought them to an abandoned German barracks. After a supper of bread and thin potato soup, Danny sat outside on the porch with one of the rescuers. Danny offered him a cigarette. The man took it and smiled. “Merci.” He lit the cigarette and took a long drag relaxing his back against the building.

Danny smiled as he thought, “How surprising a cigarette is always an ice-breaker, even when the tobacco is so bad.”

*****

The group headed out in the early morning to a nearby town called Annecy due south of Geneva. On the south side of the town a crystal clear mountain lake and a large hotel appeared. In peace time the place served vacationers as a resort, but now the structure housed American military personnel who aided escaped prisoners get back to their units. Danny received new clothes and a new pair of boots. The Brits were transferred to another installation nearby. Danny was assigned a private room for the evening with the knowledge he would be debriefed in the morning after a good meal and a night’s sleep. Danny used the time to write to Heidi.

Heidi, my love–

I arrived safely at my destination. Now the danger we encounter are bedbug bites that itch like crazy.

I cannot predict when we will be together again, but I can’t wait to start our life in America. From the reports I am hearing, the war cannot last much longer. The Marquis told us the Russians are closing in from the east and the Allies keep pushing toward Berlin.

On our way here, we saw German prisoners harnessed to a heavy wagon. Earlier in the war SS troops confiscated all of the draft animals in the village, so the French thought hitching the POW’s up to the wagon was poetic justice.

From here, I’ll be transferred to England. I will keep you informed on what comes next. I miss you all so much already. We will be together soon. 

I’m sending all my love to you and the children,

Danny

 

 

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Don’t Censor Creativity

Today on CBS Morning Show the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert came on the show to talk about her new book BIG MAGIC – CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR. The discussion with the morning show staff was about how we censor creativity by hanging on to fear. The program got me thinking.

I’ve always had a curiosity about the world around me. I asked “Why” way more than my mother ever wanted me to. Most of the time her answer was “because that’s the way it is.” In six short words she quashed my imagination. When my girls asked why, you can bet I never answered them with a “because statement.” I’d give them an answer and then asked them, “Why do you think it is so?” I tried to get them to think creatively about their curiosities.

When it was time to decide on a career, my mother encouraged me to find an office job. She brainwashed me into thinking I didn’t have enough talent to do anything else, and besides, I would have skills to “fall back on.” Seeing no way to get to college at eighteen, I succumbed to her idea of success and spent seven years typing, filing and taking shorthand.

My office skills helped me throughout my life, but as I look back, I realize what a dope I was to let someone else live my life.  If I could talk to that sixteen year old girl who gave into her mother’s wisdom I would say: Run! Find your own path. Nurture your talents don’t bury them. It will work out.

But to be completely honest, my mother wasn’t to blame for my choice. Yes, she had a hand in it, but I allowed it to happen. I lived in the same fear she did. I hated making mistakes. Little did I realize it is one’s own mistakes that allow growth. Now I live in my creative self, but it took many years to get here, and I suppose most people take too many years to value the creativity inside of them.

If you’re young and reading this post, don’t wait for the “right” time to allow your creativity bloom. Nurture it now. Value it now. Dream and create. It’s why we were put here. Live in the moment and let the fear fall away. It’s not an easy way to live, but it’s the most exciting and fulfilling  journey.

Oh, and by the way, I bought the book just to make sure I’m on the right path.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 12

Normandy, France-June—For years General Rommel had troops reinforce two thousand miles of French coastline with bunkers, guns, and other deterrents to hinder a land invasion in France. The Germans believed their thorough preparation would discourage any Allied land invasion. The hubris of the German hierarchy believe no army would defeat them.

The Germans believed the most logical place to land was Calais in the north because this location was the closest city to England on the English Channel. All intercepted intelligence reports pointed to Calais. Consequently, the Nazis positioned their superior Panzer tank units in Calais, which proved to be a hundred miles from the attack occurring at Normandy. Hitler held the troops in Calais because he believed another wave of allied forces would attack there.

Rommel believed the allies would not attack in the terrible weather that hit France on June 4th so he went home to celebrate his wife’s birthday. He believed even if their precautions and fortifications failed, the weather always stood by as a good ally. Strong winds and a thick cloud cover would keep Allied aircraft at bay.

*****

Franz Reinhart realized he received “puff” assignments throughout the war. After Leisel died, though, his situation changed.  When Colonel Fuchs learned his daughter Leisel received abuse and indifference from Franz, he disowned his son-in-law. On top of that, Marta’s father died at Stalingrad, so Franz no longer received favors from a high ranking officer.

When Franz received new orders transferring him from Paris to the Normandy area, he grumbled. The few small skirmishes with the French resistance gave him a taste of combat, but the fighters proved to be more of a nuisance than any real threat. Only his communication talents saved him. He won him the job of radio operator, which also kept him off the front lines.

At 0400 hours on June 6, 1944 his commanding officer shook him awake. “Aufstehen! Aufstehen!” As Franz shook the cobwebs of slumber from his head, he wondered what had Captain Heinz in such a tizzy. Then he heard the distinctive whine of enemy planes overhead. His commander screamed at him again. “Get up! Get up! Something is happening. Get on the radio.”

Franz pulled on his pants and shirt and ran barefoot to the communications building. Excitable chatter screamed over the wireless. “Parachutists are landing! Gliders are landing! Landing craft approaching! My God! The sea is filled with so many ships; we do not have enough soldiers to fight them!” Franz couldn’t believe this catastrophe. Surely, the officers must be exaggerating!

By mid-morning no more communications came in because allied forces either jammed the signal, or worse, they cut the cables. Units lost the capability to coordinate their movements. Infantrymen streamed past Franz’s location and ran toward the coast. The unit scout reported a few bunkers in the Normandy sector got blown to bits.

Franz and the rest of the unit followed the German infantry to the coast. His anger bubbled up because Captain Heinz ordered him to go out to the cold, forsaken beachhead. His job required him to man the radio; a man with his rank should not be reduced to a grunt soldier. His vanity protested.  “But Commander, would it not be wiser to move inland and take the village nearby? Such a location would be more appropriate to plan a counter attack. ”

The colonel’s face looked as if it would explode. “How do you suggest we do that without radios? You imbecile! Are you questioning my orders, lieutenant?”

Captain Heinz did not like to be challenged by any underling. Franz hung his head. “No, sir.”

“Then move out.” The Commander growled like an attacking wolf.

Ja; doch.” Franz saluted and ran after his superior. He felt like a scared child when his father threatened him with a spanking if he didn’t obey. He thought as he ran: “I should not be ordered to fight in a concrete bunker. What am I to do? I never operated a big gun! This can’t be happening!”

As soon as Franz got to the beach, the high commander ordered everyone to shoot blindly down toward the beach. With the radios out, confusion reigned. Conflicting commands went around him. Franz’s brain froze when he realized the beach crawled with wave after wave of infantrymen. Now he understood his orders to “Tet sie alle!”  Kill them all!

The hammering of the big guns, the stink of sulfur, and the stench of death engulfed the beach. Thousands of Americans bounded from their landing craft and opened fire. Everyone screamed at each other. The roar of guns and cries of agony from wounded Americans and comrades told the story of the battle.

Franz tightened his grip on a stationary machine gun; he breathed deep and pulled the trigger. The recoil of the gun threw him backward.  He fired again and thought the weapon came alive like a restrained elephant giving into its instinct to stampede. It took all of his strength to control the weapon.

Abruptly, the gun ceased to fire. Franz panicked not knowing what to do. His hands shook.  His CO screamed at him to reload. He never loaded a gun bigger than a rifle. He clumsily feed the brass string of shells into the chamber and pulled the trigger. As he fumbled, the Commander cursed him. Franz wet himself. His failure to fire allowed the Americans to penetrate the bunker.

The last thing Franz remembered was a thump of metal hitting concrete. He spun around to see a grenade. A second later,  shrapnel from the exploding weapon ripped open a large wound in his groin severing his femoral artery. A white-hot pain flashed through his body and he passed out. Franz cried out with pain. He fell into a fetal position as his life drained away.

Chapter 13

Normandy, France-June—Johnny learned a lot from Captain Baker. Except for unusual incidents, they recognized most aerial victories required two men. The wingman concept proved to be a lifesaver and an effective enemy destroyer. Through months of flying together, they developed a technique of interchanging roles of number one and wingman as the situation demanded. Their bond grew so strong they anticipated each other’s next move.

Up until D-Day, the fighter pilots of the Eighth Air Force focused on destroying the Luftwaffe. The fighters still escorted the B-17’s so the boys in the bombers were protected before and after hitting their targets, but on June 6th, the fighters’ assignment changed. Now they provided support and protection for the men on the ground.

Everyone knew the invasion would be a hell of a fight. They all needed to remain focused.  Johnny needed to push the thought his kid brother fought on the ground to the back of his mind. Every man was a small cog in a very big machine. Johnny flew his fortieth mission on D-Day, and as soon as he completed his assignment, he planned to marry Katie. War taught him time is finite, and a guy needed to enjoy happiness wherever he could find it.

Chapter 14

South Pacific, Summer—Donna and the girls toured tent cities in fields and beachheads for months. Performing in such dangerous places didn’t faze Donna. She loved the spotlight. Standing alone in the darkness made her feel alive and powerful. She realized she held the audience in the palm of her hand as she poured out raw emotion with her voice. Once inside their souls, she brought a glimpse of home to tearful soldiers.

Donna told a reporter from the “The Stars and Stripes” newspaper: “The boys are my heroes, and I give them all I possess during every show. When I sing “I’ll be Seeing You in All the Familiar Places,” I dive into their hearts and take them back to their girls back home. Performing in these shows is important to everyone in the band because we can provide a little fun and a short escape from this ugly war.”

The exposure Donna gave the band would never happen in any other situation. The girls vowed they would stay together for the duration of the war, but after seeing Mr. Hope and the other professionals perform, Donna secretly wanted to take a run in Hollywood after she got home.

The girls and other USO performers also visited the hospitals at most locations. With so many beautiful young boys suffering such debilitating wounds, Donna found it difficult to hold her tears back. Witnessing severe burns or missing limbs made her want to cry. Putting on a smile for these occasions was the toughest thing she did during the war, but if an autograph or a kiss on the cheek helped a man through the day, she was happy to do it. Donna’s charm washed over the men as she thanked all of them for what they gave to preserve American freedom. Staying calm and cheerful in the hospitals proved to be the hardest role she would ever play.

By the summer of 1944, the troupe traveled thirty thousand miles throughout the South Pacific. They performed shows in exotic sounding locations like Eniwetok, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, and Majuro. They traveled to twenty-three countries over thirteen months. The Foxhole Circuit produced some of the most seasoned veterans of the USO camp shows. The most difficult part of their travesl turned out to be keeping up with Bob Hope’s grueling pace. He was tireless and expected everyone else keep up. The troupe traveled on ships and planes through combat zones, performing at least two shows a day.

As the months went on, the girls grew weary of the travel, the dangers of war, and living in mosquito infested tents. The dirt, bugs, and snakes got old fast. Donna dreamed of getting her hair and nails done in a salon again.

When Mr. Hope announced they had completed their last show, all of the performers breathed a sigh of relief. They looked forward to warm beds and good food. They could retire their steel helmets with other trophies. Rationing and shortages would be easy after their field experiences. Their joy hid the guilt they experienced because when they headed home so many millions couldn’t.

 

 

 

Watered Down Dreams

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 9

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

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

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

Dear Josie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Your friend, Anna

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

She opened Rosalie’s letter next.

Dear Josie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Love you always,

Rosie

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

Dear Josie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Johnny

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

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

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

Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

To Age or Not to Age

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

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

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

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

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Dominick laughed. “You worry too much frauline.

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

Dominik laughed. “No I can’t.”

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

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

Dearest Heidi,

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

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

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

 Your friend, Dominik

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

 

 

A Respite Day

On the second and fourth Mondays, Ken enjoys a group called Harmony Club. This is a chance for him to be with other people, have a good lunch, and enjoy outside entertainment as well as a hot session of Bingo.

While he’s away, I usually do something with a friend. It’s not much. Perhaps a lunch together or a cup of coffee at a local cafe. If I’m too exhausted for that, I’ll just take a day alone and paint. At the very least, Ken’s group participation gives us a break from each other.

This is the sixth year we’ve been going through this MS Journey and we’ve both come to the conclusion that a day apart is a good thing. We both recharge our batteries doing something for ourselves. If you’re a caregiver for someone, please don’t neglect this important element. It’s not selfish to take time for yourself. And remember, the few hours spent apart is good for both parties.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 13

Sicily, Italy – September—Lately a short day in Josie’s life turned out to be twelve intensive hours, The staff of specialists in the Operating Room, including neurosurgeons, general surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons worked around the clock. The hospital at Salerno served over three hundred patients in a twenty-four hour period. Every day two hundred patients evacuated to North Africa for further treatment. Most patients went by train to the coast where they would be put on hospital ships for the trip to England. Only the most critical patients got evacuated by plane.

The battles produced patients with wounds of all kinds, but the latest disaster didn’t come from a bullet. The wet, tropical climate of Sicily promoted a high mosquito population, and the tiny enemy brought down soldiers almost as effectively as German artillery.

Before the war doctors prescribed quinine to treat malaria, but the Japanese controlled the quinine producing areas, so a new drug called atabrine became the substitute to treat the symptoms of high fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and at the very worse, comas. Atabrine proved to be a good anti-malarial drug, and best of all, the drug showed no serious toxic effects. Like quinine, though, Atabrine didn’t cure malaria with one course of treatment, but if given in small doses, the clinical symptoms could be suppressed enough to keep soldiers on their feet. The only troublesome side effect was a yellowing of the skin while the patient took the drug. The skin color returned to normal after the completed course of treatment.

With the outbreak of malaria, the nurses hung mosquito netting over the cots  to combat the pesky carriers and to control the spread of the disease throughout the hospital. The netting looked like Spanish moss invaded the space, but this light weight fabric helped to keep patients safe from the infections. The unprotected doctors and nurses often succumbed to malaria which caused a larger problem. The over-worked medical staff stretched to the outer limits when even one nurse or doctor fell ill, and a busy hospital like the one in Salerno needed every available hand.

When she didn’t assist in surgery, Josie went from soldier to soldier and from tent to tent, making sure the  wounded men received the care they needed. As Josie made her rounds on a rainy, hot day, a soldier called out as she stood reviewing charts, “Josie? Am  I hallucinating?”

Josie stared at a big man with black curly hair waving at her. She studied his face.  His dark cow-like eyes and long eye lashes looked familiar.  “How do you know my name, soldier?”

“Don’t you recognize me?” He paused and gave her a wide teasing smile. “I must look really bad.”

All of a sudden Josie realized the identity of the man who called to her. She scurried to his bedside. “Oh my God! Mario from Autolite?”

“In the flesh!” Mario smiled a toothy grin.

“Oh my God!” She paused. “Why are you here?”

“Well, when the skeeters bite, a person can get something called malaria. I just made my way back from coma-land.”

“I’m so sorry you got such a bad case. We’ll get you on your feet soon; I promise.” Josie said with a warm smile.

“Don’t work too hard to get rid of me.” Mario teased. “The brass will just throw me back into the field. Just the sight of your pretty face makes me feel better. All of a sudden I want to take you dancing.”

Josie remembered the one night she danced with Mario when she celebrated Donna’s promotion. “Mario, I think you’re more Irish than Italian! You certainly kissed the Blarney stone somewhere along the line!”

“I only tell the truth, Josie my girl.” He grinned because he loved bantering with her.

She laughed. “You’re one in a million, that’s for sure.”

“Yes, ma’am. And don’t you forget it.” He paused and stared at her uniform collar. “Hey, when did you get your stars?”

“In North Africa. But don’t worry; I won’t make you salute me, private.”

“Will you come back and visit me again, miss first lieutenant?”

“So you can give me malaria?” Josie teased. “Not a chance.”

Mario dropped his eyes to the floor. “Have a heart. If I promise not to share my malaria will you come back? Then I can tell you how pretty you are and maybe get you to play a game of cribbage with me.” He raised his eyes to search her smiling face.

“I promise to put you on my over-full itinerary for the day, Mario. Okay?” She patted him on the hand and left. Only a dozen more tents to go.

Chapter 14

Montpelier, France-October—Four months had passed since Marta went to Montpelier. Through love and care Emma grew stronger and healthier. She remained frail, but her sunken cheeks filled out and a pink hue replaced the sickly yellow tone of her skin. Emma gained a few pounds, even though eating a full meal still proved impossible. At least her shoulder blades didn’t poke out through her dresses any more and her eyes even twinkled once in a while.

Besides making sure Emma got fresh food and enough rest, Marta took Emma for a short walk in the sunshine once a day. After existing in darkness for so many months, Emma often complained her eyes hurt in the bright light. Marta remedied that problem with a pair of sunglasses she found at the local dry goods store.

Marta took a waitressing job in a cafe few blocks from their apartment. Even though the rent was free, their food was not.  Pierre’s Resistance friends allowed them to stay in the apartment for the duration of the war. Emma was a hero in their eyes because sacrificed so much to protect so many others in the movement.

In her spare time, Marta wrote to a trusted neighbor in Paris, and asked her to ship their things to a P. O. Box in Montpelier. She also contacted her Paris landlord by letter and gave up her apartment. She didn’t want to do either chore because doing these things put an end to her happy times in Paris. She loved her job at the Louvre and the city’s unique ambiance, but she vowed she wouldn’t go back until every Nazi vacated Paris and went back to Germany. The peacefulness of the sleepy coastal town gave Marta a sense of safety she needed.

On her days off, Marta took Emma to the Mediterranean where they would sit and enjoy the rhythm of the jewel blue waves rolling onto the shore. They strolled hand-in-hand down the soft sand and let the salt air fill their lungs. Their new home in Montpelier sat nestled between the sea, vineyards, and the mountains, so no matter what direction they gazed, the scenery was breathtaking. As they got more familiar with their new surroundings, Marta and Emma ventured farther into town. A large square surrounded by stores offered everything they required. Emma’s favorite thing to do was to enjoy a cool drink while sitting on a bench under an old olive tree. She eyed villagers negotiating with the farmers at the market. Children played games of tag and statue maker under the  shade trees lining the broad boulevards. Living here made allowed her to think perhaps the war was over.

Marta went to church every morning before going to work. She thanked God for Emma’s safe return. She thanked the Blessed Virgin for the people who risked their lives to rescue her, and she prayed to St. Christopher for Emma’s safe passage back to France. Their reunion brought her happiness.

Careful planning by the Resistance brought them to this beautiful place where the terror and ugliness of the war remained hundreds of miles away.Since coming to Montpelier she and Emma relaxed back into a comfortable life, even though their new identities were a bit of an adjustment. Calling each other Emily and Mary and never speaking of their life in Paris seemed a small price to pay for a clean slate of safety.

Chapter 15

Salerno, Italy – October—Mario’s discharge from the hospital occurred two weeks after his first visit with Josie. Doctors got his malaria under control and deemed him fit for combat. The yellow hue in his skin had  almost disappeared, and he regained his strength and vigor a bit more everyday. But before Mario left the hospital, he wanted to say goodbye to Josie. She highlighted his days with her visits and humor, and Mario wanted to tell her how much he appreciated her attention when she was so overworked. Not only did she keep him company, she always double checked he received the proper treatment. Since their first encounter at the Autolite factory, Mario realized how special she was to him. He hoped to kiss her goodbye just in case the worst happened.

When it was time for Mario to leave, Josie was in surgery and couldn’t be disturbed, so instead of giving her a kiss, he left a note with one of the other nurses.

Later that evening, Josie retreated from the hospital sweaty and hungry. Her ankles swelled from the heat and humidity, and her back ached from standing so many hours without a break. On nights like this, she wondered if she ever would feel rested again. But when she thought about the boys losing limbs or needing serious operations to remove shrapnel from his brain or other vital organs, she told herself her little aches and fatigue didn’t compare.

One of her nurses approached her in the mess tent. “Josie. Some guy left a note for you.” She handed Josie a folded piece of paper.

“Who?” Josie said.

“He didn’t give me his name.” The nurse answered. “He just asked me to give you the note.”

Josie put the note in her pocket and finished her meal. She dragged herself back to her tent and collapsed on her cot. She fell asleep fully dressed.

At 0600 Josie woke for another stressful day. She sat up on her cot and then remembered the note.

My sweet Josie,

 I tried to say goodbye before I left, but no soap. As usual, you were working too hard to save another GI. God’s got a special place in mind for you. I hope you realize how special you are.

 Thank you for taking such good care of me. I’ll miss beating you at cribbage, but most of all I’ll miss your pretty face everyday. (And that’s no malarkey.)

 We’re headed north for more fun. As usual I don’t know where I’m going, but when the Army says “MARCH,” you march. I’m sad I missed kissing you goodbye. I really wanted to tell you what you mean to me in person, but I guess I’ll wait until we meet again.  

 When you close your beautiful eyes tonight, I hope you’ll dream of me. When you think of me, please say a prayer we will dance again.  

Love, Mario

Josie smiled before she cried. She read the letter again before she put it in her locker with her other valuables. She missed Mario already. His hospital stay brought them close. She enjoyed his gift to gab and the ability to make her laugh.

Before heading back to duty, she said a prayer for his safety and vowed to repeat the process every night when she went to bed. She secretly wanted to dance with that man for the rest of her life.

 

 

 

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.

 

Will Machines Make Us Obsolete?

I’ve been a fan of Science Fiction for a long time. As a writer, I admire people who can look into the far future and present a story that has the possibility of coming true. All good science fiction has this element. For all you Trekkies out there, you understand. Just look what has happened since William Schatner portrayed Captain Kirk.

“Communicators” have become cell phones. A stun gun is a close relative to the phaser. The crew used electronic tablets–guess what? We do too–ever heard of the I-pad or a Kindle? Remember the touch screen on the television series? Voila! Windows 10 to the rescue! A scientist in Japan has made a look-a-like robot he sends to locations to give speeches when he can’t attend. Remember “Data?” Then there’s there’s the whole matter/anti-matter thing that I really don’t understand.

Why on earth am I thinking of such things. I got inspired last night as the finale of “Extant” aired. If you’re not familiar with the plot, it spins a tale of aliens and machines taking over our world. Far-fetched? I don’t think so.

I’m not going to address the alien part of the story because so far we haven’t even determined whether there is another Earth some where in the galaxy. I will address the takeover machines are making.

Every time I see or read about a machine filling in for humans in the work place, I become leery and frankly, a little scared. So many devices are filling our world and most people welcome them with arms outstretched. They take our jobs. They fill our factories and businesses. They even live in our pockets and purses. Machines run our world already. Satellites connect us and then pull us apart. Other satellites run our computers and even our gas pumps. Wonder if all of the connected and went on strike? Where could that leave us? The growth of technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but do they?

I know the program “Extant” is just so much TV magic, but it makes one think. At least I hope so. I can tell you one thing, if a machine tries to take my job, I would pull its plug!

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 4

North Africa, May—Josie rose early and went about her routine. She worked harder than any nurse under her supervision holding herself as accountable as any nurse in her command.  She earned her title, “Nurse Ironsides” and smiled every time she overheard someone refer to her with her “title of distinction.”

A corpsman met her at the mess tent one morning and saluted her. “Ma’am, beggin’ your pardon, ma’am.”

She returned his salute. “Yes private?”

“The colonel wants you to stop by his tent ASAP, ma’am.”

“Thank you soldier.” Josie left her meal and went straight to the colonel’s tent.

Josie removed her helmet as she entered the colonel’s office and saluted him as she stood in front of his desk. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, Lieutenant. Please sit down.”

Josie sat in the chair opposite the side of the desk of where the Colonel sat.

“Josie, you are one of the most integral members of our staff here. The nurses here are a fine team, and that’s on you. Every corpsman, officer, and doctor holds you in high regard.”

“Thank you sir; I’m just doing my job.”

“Well, the brass recognizes your accomplishments too and issued new orders for you.”

“Sir?”

“You’re being transferred to the tenth field hospital in Sicily. They need a nurse like you to head up operations. For accepting this combat assignment, you will receive a pay increase, but unfortunately, no bump in rank. I wanted to promote as well, but the brass seems to think you’re a little too young and not seasoned enough to merit a promotion.”

“Yes sir.” Josie remained stone face serious, but inside she dreaded this move. “When am I to go, sir?”

“You’ll leave tomorrow.”

“Yes sir.”

The colonel rose and saluted her. “Josie, I’m very sorry to lose you. You’re as tough as any man and yet you possess the gentleness of a good woman. Keep your head down lieutenant. And God Speed.”

“Thank you sir.” Josie returned his salute, turned on her heel, and left the colonel’s office replaying his words. I need to leave tomorrow? Why so quickly?

Immediately she made plans to inform her staff and appoint an interim replacement until the Army officially appointed someone. She remained with her thoughts about the move. I guess I always wanted to go to Italy because Rosalie’s father got a faraway look in his eye every time he spoke about “the old country.” And now I’ll see for myself, but I know it will be anything but a vacation.

*****

The next morning a driver picked up Josie at 0600 to bring her to the dock where the ship for Sicily would disembark. Josie readied herself to enter another active combat zone and worked to mentally prepare for her new assignment.

At the edge of the base hospital, all fifty-nine nurses, the corpsmen, and the doctors lined up at the edge of the road and saluted Josie. The driver stopped as the nurses sang the “Army Nurse Corps” song as their goodbye and tribute to Josie. Their gesture spoke loudly to what extent the medical personnel loved her. Tears of joy and sorrow covered Josie’s face. She jumped off the jeep and hugged everyone thanking them for their hard work. She got back and the jeep, waved and shouted, “I’ll miss you guys!”

Josie remained silent the rest of the way to the dock. When the jeep finally stopped, the corpsman got out of the vehicle and hugged her. “Keep your head down, Josie. I’ll miss you.”

“I will, Jack. Thanks for the lift.” She wiped away a pesky tear that escaped from her left eye. She marched with confidence and her equipment on her back toward the ship which would take her into battle once again.

*****

U.S. and British troops invaded Sicily on July 9, 1943. The medical staff needed to arrive three days later, but even with the slight delay, the nurses found themselves in the thick of combat.

As they landed on the island, German Stuka dive bombers sprayed machine gunfire on the troops below. Doctors and nurses dove into slit trenches and foxholes. As Josie crouched in the trench, she thought of the large number of wounded soldiers having to wait for treatment while the enemy kept her pinned down.

When the sergeant in charge told his troops to move out, Josie followed. They made their way into a small town the allies held. The church served as the hospital and Josie was right. Many new casualties waited for help. A nurse triaged the wounded; when she saw Josie she smiled. “Are you Josephine Schneider?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“They need you in the back. Dr. Bachman has his handful without a surgical nurse assisting.”

Josie knew all medical units came equipped with at least one surgical nurse. “What happened to the nurse I’m replacing?”

“She died from shrapnel wounds after a bomb went off in the center of town. Store your gear in the room to the left and then report to surgery – stat!”

“Yes ma’am.” Josie gulped and went to work.

Chapter 4

Paris, France-June 1943—A whole year had passed and there was still no information about Emma.  Marta wrote letters every day hoping a kind prison matron at Anrath prison might deliver her correspondence. It was therapeutic for Martha to keep writing about daily events because discussing them in a letter in the same words she might speak at supper helped her believe Emma still lived. In the back of her mind, she also realized Emma might never be given her letters.

On a hot day in June, Pierre passed Marta on her way to work. He fell in step beside her and greeted her with daily pleasantries. “Marta! How wonderful to see you again.”

“Likewise, Pierre. How are you getting along?”

“As well as to be expected.” Pierre answered as he tipped his hat to a Nazi standing on the corner of the street.

After they got out of ear-shot of the German soldier, Pierre said, “A surprise for you, mademoiselle.” He handed her a newspaper.

“A surprise?”

“Inside, a train ticket to Vichy is for you. I am sending you on a little vacation to the South of France.” Pierre winked at Marta.

“Really?” Marta wondered why Pierre said such an odd thing.  “Why?”

“Someone wants to meet you.”  Pierre said in hushed tones. “Get on the train today. Take little with you and stay at the train station until you are contacted by one of my people.”

Marta’s body stiffened and her eyes widened. “What’s going on Pierre?”

“Just do as I tell you, Marta. You will be very happy if you follow my instructions.” Pierre raised one eyebrow as he puffed out his chest. He slipped her a newspaper which held her train ticket. “Take this with you, mademoiselle. The story on page six is most stimulating.” He smiled at her and walked away with a swift gait.

Chapter 5

Montpellier, France – June—After her encounter with Pierre, Marta turned to go back to her apartment. She packed an overnight bag and called her superior at the Louvre to say she had been called away for a family emergency and would miss the next few days at work. The train would leave the Paris station at noon.

Marta wondered why Pierre wanted her to make this trip, but because Emma trusted Pierre with her life, she would too. She took the bus to the Paris train station, boarded the train to Montpellier, and chose a seat next to well-dressed young woman. The woman appeared to be about her age, She wore a stylish white suit with matching shoes, a large hat, and a large diamond ring on her left ring finger which proclaimed her wealth.  Marta recognized no ordinary citizen wore such beautiful clothes, and she instantly put up her guard. It was likely this woman was a German sympathizer.

The woman greeted her. “Bonjour!”

Marta smiled. “Good morning, to you too.”She folded her hands across her handbag resting her lap.

“Are you going to Montpellier?”

Marta asked in a soft voice. “Why do you ask?”

The woman’s spoke nonchalantly. “No reason. Just curious. I like to visit with my seat mate when I travel. The trip does not seem to drag on so when I talk with the person sitting beside me.”

Marta really didn’t really want to engage in conversation with this stranger. She didn’t want to take a chance because a bit of her German accent lingered in her voice, and she didn’t want to raise any suspicion.  Plus, instinct told Marta not to trust the beauty who sat on the adjacent seat. Marta wanted to be sure she didn’t divulge anything about her mysterious trip. “I am very tired. I do not want to be rude, but I do not wish to visit. I would rather sleep.” Marta smiled and closed her eyes.

The French countryside whiz by the window as Marta wondered why she Pierre insisted she make this trip. In six long hours, she would understand.

*****

Marta allowed herself to fall asleep which served two purposes. She would be rested when she arrived at her undetermined destination, and the silence fended off any further conversation attempts by the woman beside her.

The train pulled into the station, and after it came to a stop, Marta filed off behind the well-dressed woman. As they left the train, the conductor offered his hand to female passengers aiding them as they made the large step down off the train to the platform.

The well-dressed woman said in a too pleasant voice, “Bonne journ!”

“You enjoy your day, too.” Marta smiled and strolled in the opposite direction.

Now at the train station Marta didn’t understand the plan Pierre set in place for her. She studied the train departure and arrival board as she anticipated her contact. Then she strolled from one of end to the station to the other. A tall man dressed in casual white slacks and sear-sucker blazer approached her.

“Hello, Marta.” He tipped his straw hat.

“Hello.” She said shyly.

“I am your driver. Please follow me.”

Marta hesitated. “You’re a friend of Pierre’s?”

“Yes, mademoiselle.

The mysterious man escorted her to a small car. He pulled away from the station and drove through the unfamiliar countryside to a sleepy Mediterranean coastal town. Marta breathed in the fresh salt air as the coolness of the breeze coming off the sea brushed across her body. A fishy odor permeated the beach area, but in a strange way, she found the scent pleasant. She never saw seaside scenery, and Marta enjoyed the picturesque view. The sapphire colored water, the gentle waves lapping the shore, boats bobbing at the pier transported her to a foreign land she loved at first sight.

The driver stopped in a quiet residential area about three city blocks from the coast. He turned off the engine and smiled. “We are here.” He jumped out of the car, opened Marta’s door, and offered her his arm.

Marta received his gesture, carrying her overnight bag and purse in the other hand. They walked on a cobblestone walkway flanked by beautiful red roses on both sides. Marta’s heart pounded harder against her ribs with every step. She wished the man would tell her why he chose this place. He led her up a flight of stairs to the door labeled Apt. 212.  He unlocked the door to reveal a sunlit cozy flat where a bony old woman rocked in a chair near the window. Marta’s brow wrinkled as she stared at the frail woman struggling to stand up to greet her. Without a word, the tall man put the key to the apartment on the table next to the door and left without a word.

The old woman spoke first. “You do not recognize me, Marta?”

The sound of her voice, told Marta the identity of this stranger. She gasped and put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my God! Emma?”

“Yes.” Emma nodded as her eyes moistened.

Marta moved closer. “My Emma? How? When?”

“I am free at last. Let me feast my eyes on you. You are so beautiful!” Her voice quavered. Emma welcomed Marta into her bony arms.

Marta didn’t move. How could this woman be Emma?  She stared at this stranger.

Emma consoled her. “I understand my appearance is wretched, but I will recover now that I am with you again.” Her eyes told the truth.

“Oh, Emma. What did they do to you?” Marta moved closer as tears collected at the rim of her eyes.

“Someday I may tell you.  But for right now, I just want to be happy we are together again.”

Marta blinked again and again to ward off the tears wanting to escape as she stared at this poor, bone-thin woman struggling to move. Seeing Emma in such bad condition broke her heart. Her healthy, athletic, beautiful Emma now appeared as a battered, broken woman. Emma put her skeleton arms around Marta and hugged her. Marta didn’t expect her to be so strong.

After standing close for several minutes, Emma kissed Marta’s cheek while her eyes glistened. “I thought we would never be together again.”

Marta caressed her gently. “Welcome home, Emma. I missed you so much.”

 

 

 

The Price of Freedom

Ken and I have been watching the PBS special THE CIVIL WAR directed by Ken Burns.  I love Ken Burns productions because they are so well done, and I always learn something. As you might have guessed by now, life long learning (LLL) is important to me.

As I watched this critical period in our American history, I wondered what would have happened if the Confederate states had won the war. How different our history would  have been if our country was split into two separate countries. First, we’d have to come up with an entirely new name. We certainly couldn’t be called “THE UNITED STATES”could we?  It could have happened if Britain and France would have supported the South. The two European countries needed the cotton the South produced, so it’s not far fetched they may have entered the war.

The other thing that impressed me about this series is the language which is used to tell the story. Burns artfully inserts excerpts from speeches made by principals. He also uses writings and journal entries of soldiers. Their correspondence artfully uses the English language. Hearing words written so well from common citizens put our present use of the English language to shame.

A little tangent: It drives me nuts when I hear incorrect grammar usage by people who should know better. Educated people like newscasters, anchor people, and politicians. For instance, so often you hear “People that” instead of “People who” or “By who” instead of “By whom.” Does anybody care about such things any more in our warp-speed world?

Another thing which impressed me about this program is how strong Abraham Lincoln needed to be to hold things together. His critics were many. Even his head honcho General McCullen blasted Lincoln, which is really funny because for the first two years of the war, McCullen sat on his hands and did nothing. He had every excuse–not enough men, not enough weapons, not the right time. He trained a strong army but he was afraid to use it. So Lincoln got involved, fired the jerk, and put Grant in charge. Boy did people talk about that sudden change of events!

The other event which riled the country was the Emancipation Proclamation. The U. S. had to define itself. People needed to think about freedom and if every person was entitled to it. If freedom is truly at the core of who we are, then slavery had to be eradicated. The war began to save the union, it ended emancipating the slaves and providing freedom for everyone who lived here.

We have one more episode to watch tonight, and even though we know the outcome, we don’t know many of the details which makes this struggle human. History is more than facts and figures. It is created by the people who lived and survived the time period. More people died in the Civil War than in any other war in our history. Through suffering and bloodshed the United States found her identity. Being able to live in a free country is not free. The price has been paid in blood. Just visit Arlington which was formerly the front yard of General Robert E. Lee.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 – 1943

Chapter 1

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – January—Since Angelo invited Bobby to live with his family, the little house on Main street too crowded. Donna realized she needed to move on. As she helped Rosalie hang baby Angelo’s diapers on the basement clotheslines, she approached the subject. “Rosie?”

“Yeah?”

“With Angelo home and Bobby living here, the house is a little crowded.”

Rosie dropped the clothespin she held. “What are you saying, Donna?”

“It’s time for me to move out.”

“No! I love you living with us.”

“I accepted a new job and made some plans. A girl’s jazz band needs a lead singer, so I auditioned and got the job. I’ll be with the USO in Chicago. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Yeah, but aren’t you scared to go to such a big city? People are different in cities.”

“Hey, if you can get through a birth of a baby alone, I can certainly go to Chicago alone.”

Tears sprang up in Rosalie’s eyes. “Chicago? It’s too far away! I’ll never see you.”

“I realize this is a big step, but Rosie, this is a chance of a lifetime! Maybe some big shot will like my voice, and I’ll be on my way to a recording contract. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”  Donna threw her arms out to the side like a star does after they complete a number.

Rosalie hugged her while her voice inferred her disappointment. “That would be swell.”

“So you’re okay with this?”

“No. But I know you’ll go anyhow. Everybody has a right to follow their dreams.  I know you dreamed about something like this since first grade talent show. Chances like this rarely come along. And if you’re a big flop, you can always come back here.”

Donna pulled away. “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence!”

Rosie laughed and hugged her again. “Donna Jean, I’m just kidding. After you get your first recording contract, I can say I knew you when we hung up diapers on the basement clotheslines.”

The two friends laughed and cried in each other’s arms.

*****

Two weeks later, Donna packed a bag and hopped a train headed for Chicago. She saved her wages for the past few months to make the trip. She needed enough money for a security deposit on an apartment and to buy the glamorous strapless gowns and high heels required by the band for their performances.

Donna met up with the other members of the band at the USO Club as soon as she arrived in Chicago. From now on Donna’s husky, sexy voice would complement the four-piece jazz combo. They scheduled to practice at nine tomorrow.

In the meantime, every week the USO hosted a dance and tonight the hall buzzed with girls pushing tables around so there would be enough room to dance. They decorated the place in red and white for Valentine’s evening. Donna and the other members of the band needed to be on hand to dance with the soldiers who might be shipping out to join the troops in Europe or the South Pacific.

Every USO dance adopted a theme chosen by the USO girls. They decorated the hall, planned and made the refreshments, and then arrived at the appointed hour in their prettiest dresses, solely to make a memorable evening for the soldiers, sailors, and marines in attendance.

As the girls dressed for the dance, Marilyn the drummer offered Donna a room in her apartment. Donna felt relieved she had a place to stay until she had time to go apartment hunting. The two girls fell in sync with each other like old friends. Marilyn and Donna got on a bus and stopped at a six-floor walk-up. Marilyn unlocked the door with the number 620 and ushered Donna to a small bedroom on the Lake Michigan side of the building. “This room is cool in the summer, and unfortunately, cold in the winter. I’ll get extra blankets in case you need them. I share a bathroom down the hall with the next door neighbor, but the arrangement isn’t too bad. He’s a soldier, who just shipped out, but he wanted to keep the apartment, and so far he hasn’t subleased the place.”

“This is so nice of you, Marilyn; truly, I fully expected to stay at the “Y” until I found a place.” Donna said.

“Nah, why should you do that when there’s an extra bed here?”

“What can I pay you?”

“Nothing right now. But if we get along, half of the rent is $50 a month.”

“Seems reasonable.”

They shook hands to seal the deal.

Chapter 2

North Africa, February 1943—Josie never worked so hard in her all of life as she did with the 48th Surgical Unit. The daily oppressive heat and humidity drained the life out of her, but the positive attitude of the constant flow of wounded soldiers kept her motivated. Her nurses learned to take the challenges of combat in stride, as they fought to keep conditions as sterile and comfortable.

When the battles moved, so did the field hospitals. A rumor circling around the camp told a story about German forces breaking through the Kasserine Pass. With the enemy so close to the Evacuation Hospital bivouacked near Tebessa, orders came down the chain of command to move the hospital to a safer location. Nurses and other staff packed up and moved one hundred fifty patients sixty miles. Through careful planning and coordination, the medical staff got the hospital up and running in twelve hours. A remarkable achievement.

As the war progressed, moving hospital facilities from one place to another for safety became a normal routine for Army doctors, nurses and corpsmen. Josie thought herself lucky she didn’t need to move her position, even though the hospital she worked in left so little to be desired.

With so many seriously wounded men, Josie’s triage skills got finely hones.  The severity of a patient’s condition determined where, when, and how he would be treated.  The nurses ran into untrained situations daily, so they learned on the job and improvised with what they had. They gallantly performed their duties earning the respect from the male medical staff and military command.

****

Josie often accompanied patients to the airfield to be evacuated to a general hospital. As the C-46 cargo plane landed, the attending nurse would meet her to get the records for the wounded patients. The nurses working on the planes took special training to become flight nurses–one of the most dangerous duties for medical personal. Even though the planes bore the Geneva Red Cross to protect them from enemy, often the designation was ignored and the plane was shot down.

As the ramp dropped and the nurse came forward to accept the patients, Josie recognized the gait of the woman walking toward her.

“As I live and breathe! Anna! . . .” Josie said as she hugged her college roommate.

“I couldn’t let you get all the fun!” Anna shouted over the plane’s engines.

“But you hate flying!” Josie said.

“Not any more! They needed somebody from a cold climate to work on the plane because there’s no heat in these tin cans.”

Anna laughed.

“What?” Josie could barely hear her over the engines of the plane.

“Yeah, the heaters in these “flying coffins” sometimes explode during flight, so the pilots refuse to turn them on. We keep the critical patients warm with heated blankets and warm fluids while we shiver in our combat boots.” Anna flashed her impish smile that always cracked Josie up.

Josie laughed. “You haven’t changed! How great to see you! Will this be your usual run?”

“Are you kidding? I’m never privy to where they send me.”

“Well, then, let’s make a promise. After the war is over, we’ll get together and compare notes.”

“You bet! Do you think we could get our old dorm room home and talk all night?” Annie laughed.

“No. But my Mom still has the roll away, and I don’t think she’s given my room to anyone else.” Josie thought about their midnight conversations which centered on boys, exams, and new classes. What a world away that was now.

After their brief reunion, Josie went over the charts of the men she released to Anna, while corpsmen boarded the patients on the plane. Anna gave Josie one last hug and then ran to the plane.

Josie yelled, “Take good care of my boys!”

Anna waved and yelled over the engines. “They’ll get my very best.”

The brief reunion with Anna provided a small nibble of home for Josie.

The ambulance driver motioned for her to hurry. Josie jumped into the passenger seat and the driver yelled over the plane engine noise, “We gotta go, Josie! More wounded coming in!”

“I’ll say one thing for the Krauts; they provide job security.”

The driver smiled at the feisty nurse as he left a cloud of dust in their wake.

Chapter 3

Berlin, Germany — March 1943—After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Nazis public relations department decided to install a program to bolster the moral of the country. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi “spin doctor” declared the March 21st as Heldengedenktag–a Memorial Day to commemorate all war victims with special recognition given to the soldiers who fell in Stalingrad.  Instead of being a stoic holiday, the German leaders professed the day needed to be a celebration, not a day of morning.

Marta’s mother Olga tried to buy into the celebration because she needed to believe her husband’s death stood for something important.  But Olga’s severe loss of the man she loved for over twenty-five years cut deep into her soul leaving a wide void. She couldn’t imagine how she would live out the rest of her life alone.

With Allied planes bombing major German cities day and night, residential areas turned into landscapes of mud, demolished buildings, and charred corpses. Hitler refused to admit he lost the war and continued with his futile ambitions, while his stubborness destroyed the very country he professed to love so much. He believed if the German people didn’t claim victory, they all needed to suffer for their failure.

Olga received letters from relatives living in Cologne with pictures of dead bodies lying on sidewalks. Other photos of children playing among bricks which had previously been their homes broke her heart. Hell rained down across the country and Olga found nothing to celebrate in such circumstances.

Most Germans realized their side lost the war, but Olga’s old friends held on to Nazi delusions about the Third Reich overcoming their losses. Only a fool thought Germany could rise again. No single army, no matter how great could conquer the entire world.

 

 

Critics and My Soul

One thing I’ve never told my blogging friends is my love of classical music. It started back in high school when our choir sang pieces by the old composers like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I had a dream someday I might sing on Broadway, but I listened to the dream dashers in my life and went on to work in an office instead of pursuing MY dreams in college.

Years went by and as a young mother, I was invited to join a semi-pro group of singers which performed entire movements by the same composers I enjoyed in high school. Up until then, I always had the best voice in the whole choir. Now I was surrounded by sopranos who could sing as well as I could.

After a year in the group, I figured it was time to let the director know I wanted to sing a solo in the Schubert Mass. He agreed and assigned me the Kyrie. I learned very quickly the piece required more skill than I possessed because every time I opened my mouth, unpleasant noises came out of me. As hard as I tried, I could not successfully sing the solo. Luckily, one of the women in the group was a voice teacher, so I asked her if she would take me on as a student. I knew getting help was necessary, but my ego got bruised admitting I didn’t know everything about singing.

Weeks of exercises, vocalises, and hours of practicing got me in shape to sing the Kyrie. When the big moment came, the first couple of bars were a little shaky, but after that, I relaxed and the high notes floated out on pitch. After the concert, the compliments came my way and I felt accomplished, but I wanted more chances to stand out so I continued my voice lessons.

At that point in my life, I needed to be recognized and my voice was the only tool I had. People wanted to listen to me, and that fact made me happy. I was something more than a daughter, wife, and mom. My voice let me be me. And if anyone ever criticized me, I felt wounded. Later on I confessed this fact with the director and he said, “Of course a negative comment would hurt you, Barb; it’s the artist in you; it’s your very soul.”

I don’t sing regularly any more; my arthritic hip doesn’t allow me to stand in one place for an entire hour. Instead I’ve carried my thirst to be special in my writing and in my art work. I “work” at both endeavors and luckily my soul has grown a thick enough skin to let the critics take their best shot because I know every time I sit at the keyboard or at the easel, whatever I produce will be better than it was in the past. It’s called growing. When you think you know it all, dive in and you’ll realize how little you really know.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 22

North Africa-November—When Josie completed the training in Arizona, she left Camp Young feeling strong, confident, and ready to get to work. She easily adapted to Army life, attributing her easy assimilation to growing up on a farm where she experience hard work and waking in the early hours of the morning.

After four weeks of Army hardening, Josie’s orders sent her to an Army hospital in Topeka Kansas. She cared  for retired and wounded veterans who returned home for rehabilitation. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, she would be one of sixty nurses attached to the 48th Surgical Hospital Unit. This would be her first job as a surgical nurse. She also was chosen to supervise the activities of ten other nurses. She called her mother as soon as she got her orders for deployment to North Africa.

“Hi, Mom!” Josie said with excitement in her voice.

“Josie, how wonderful! How are you, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine. I’m calling to tell you I received new orders.”

Mrs. Schneider held her breath. “Oh, that’s nice, dear.”

“I’m assigned to the 48th Surgical Hospital.” She took a deep breath before she uttered the next sentence. “We’re going Africa.”

“What?”

“Please be happy for me, Mom. I finally get a chance to use my training.  I’m going to be a surgical nurse!”

“You’re going to Africa? Isn’t it really hot there?”

“Of course the weather is hot in Africa; that’s why we trained in the Arizona desert for six weeks. I ship out in two weeks.”

Mrs. Schneider’s stomach churned. “Will you come home before you leave?”

Josie recognized a quiver in her mother’s voice. “Now, Mom. I’ll be fine. If I can survive boot camp, I can do anything.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes. The Army is sending me home for a few days before I ship out. I bet after being under your feet for a few days, you’ll be glad to send me packing after you see what the army has done to me.”

“You aren’t going to sound revelry, are you?” Her mother forced a laugh. “A bugle will scare the chickens!”

Josie smiled at her mother’s attempt at humor. “I love you, Mom. I’ll be home soon.”

“I love you too, Josie.” Her mother sat down on a kitchen chair and took deep breaths. She closed her eyes and forced herself not to think her little girl going to war.

Chapter 23

New York – October—After flying from Kansas to New York City, Josie and sixty other nurses met at the dock where a transport ship would take them and hundreds of soldiers to the coast of North Africa. Once they boarded the ship, the nurses learned they would be part of the first wave of Operation TORCH to hit the beach in North Africa.

On the morning of November 8th, Josie climbed down an rope ladder on the side of the destroyer to a Higgins boat bobbing in the surf below. She and the other nurses were dressed in fatigues, army boots, and four-pound steel helmets. They were  indistinguishable from the men except for the Red Cross patch they wore on their sleeve. Instead of a rifle and ammunition, each nurse carried a backpack of medical supplies, a small canvas bag with a shoulder strap called a musette bag, a gas mask, and a canteen filled with drinking water, which hung on a belt around her waist.

The boats sped to the beach and dropped the ramps in waist-high water; soldiered ran ahead firing as the nurses followed them onto the beach. Gunfire whizzed by, and the unarmed nurses got down on their bellies and crawled on their elbows to the nearest sand dune. Josie huddled with five other nurses as the enemy snipers shot at anything moving. The girls lay pinned down for hours with no escape. When darkness fell, a handsome lieutenant and his patrol escorted them to an abandoned shack along the shoreline where casualties of the day waited for treatment. Josie gasped she got close to the shack they used as a hospital. Thoughts swam in her head. “How are we ever going to keep instruments sterile in such a place? Will our supplies be enough? How in the world am I going to organize such a dump?”

When they entered the “hospital” the odors of filth, dirt, blood, and urine lingered in the air. Seeing the deplorable conditions made several nurses gag and vomit. They soon learned the building had no electricity and running water. Worse yet, the medical supplies they ferried in on their backs didn’t provide nearly enough to properly treat every wounded man. Josie looked beyond the horrid conditions and took command. She assigned two nurses to cover the blown out windows with rough green army blankets to prevent snipers from picking them off in any light. Next she triaged the wounded, and  at her direction corpsmen  moved the most severely wounded upstairs to the make-shift operating room. The rest of the wounded  laid in pools of their blood on the concrete floor while nurses bandaged what they could while rats and other vermin nosed about. Some men cried out, but others bit their lips trying not to cry out in pain. None of them complained.  They understood help  finally was within reach, and they thanked the nurses for any kindness or pain relief.

Doctors operated by flashlights held by corpsmen in the make-shift operating room. Surgical nurses stood beside doctors for hours repairing what they could with the limited supplies they carried ashore. When the doctors closed the wounds of one soldier, another wounded GI took his place. Surgery went on through the night. As the sun rose, six more soldiers held on for their turn on the table. But supplies dwindled. Morphine and either got to critical levels. The continued fighting on the beach prohibited getting the much needed supplies to the hospital. In the meantime medical personnel did their best to keep the men alive.

The doctors and nurses hung on for two days. With no sleep for forty-eight hours, Josie collapsed where she stood. A sergeant hoisted her willowy frame and laid her down on a blanket in the hallway. As she slept, a surging anger fired combative dreams. Why would any nation inflict such suffering and misery on so many?

Chapter 24

Anrath, Germany – December—Prisoners at the Anrath facility toiled sixty hours per week, while civilian workers only worked forty. They worked in abhorrent conditions. Rayon dust produced breathing problems. Vapors from the highly acidic material nearly blinded workers. If a civilian worker complained, she received treatment immediately, but prisoners did not get such care. German overseers forced prisoners to stay at their machines until they went totally blind.

As Emma toiled, the wardress stood in front of Emma and announced, “You received a letter from Paris, frauline.” She waved the envelope. In a glance Emma recognized Marta’s distinct handwriting. She lunged at the wardress and tried to snatch the letter from her. The witch pulled back and laughed. “You cannot read this, frauline. Remember no letters allowed. I just wanted to tell you that you got mail.”

Emma slumped back into her chair. She lowered her head as her vision blurred with tears. Up until now, nothing defeated her, but seeing Marta’s letter and not being able to read her words defeated her to the point of not caring any more.

*****

Viscose burns were a constant source of agony for the women who worked in the rayon factory. Civilians received gloves to protect their hands, while the prisoners received none. Working with bare hands produced cuts and blisters. Emma’s left hand developed six viscose wounds and her right hand suffered from three. The acid ate into her untreated wounds, making them swell and blister. She endured excruciating pain, and if she complained, the guards would beat her.

The wounds on Emma’s hands got worse as the weeks passed, but the factory doctor still considered her fit to work. She needed water to make a dressing for her wounds, but prisoners received no water for wounds or thirst.

After returning to her cell after a ten-hour day, Emma tore a strip of cloth from her work dress hem and soaked the fabric with her own urine. Then she wrapped the wet rags around her hands. Much to her surprise, the pain eased, and she fell fast asleep. After that first night, Emma repeated the process every night.  In a few days, her hands began to heal. The improvement empowered her to fight on. She outwitted the cruelty of everyone in power at the prison. Her cleverness brought a small miracle.

*****

Weeks after Emma’s hands healed, her eyes got so bad from the vapors, she not only experienced blurred vision but suffered debilitating stabbing pains in her irritated eyes. Splitting headaches accompanied the lingering neck pains. Then blindness and the pain made it impossible for her to work. Emma complained to wardress and didn’t care if she received a beating. Her reflection in the store windows attested she appeared half dead already.

The overseer shook his head and dragged her to the factory medic. The doctor probed her eyelids with filthy fingers. He deemed Emma unfit for work, but instead of receiving treatment for her injuries, she found herself in a group of women who suffered the same injuries.  The pitiful women sobbed in pain; Emma wanted to cry with them, but her pride wouldn’t let her. Worst of all, the time away from her machine gave Emma time to think. Of course, her first thought wondered what Marta wrote in her letter. Part of her wished to ignore the letter’s existence, but she consoled herself that now with inflamed eyes, she probably couldn’t read it anyway.