Tag Archive | imagination

All Lit Up and Ready to Go

If you have been following me for awhile, you know I LOVE outdoor Christmas lights. Since I was a little kid, I found wonder in lighting up the blackness of winter. There was one wealthy family on the north side of Racine who started my fascination with outdoor white lights.  These pictures really don’t do the original display justice, but at least you can see what I’m talking about. Baby boomers enjoyed angels flying in the trees and a beautiful Austrian crystal waterfall captured the imagination. Often our parents had to wait in a long line of traffic to get a quick drive-by look. But we waited with patience because few families could afford ANY outside lights. After Mr. Wheary died, his family gifted these lights to the city and now they are displayed at the Racine Zoo along with other colorful lights.waterfall lights peace on earth

Another family has picked up the mantel to present the community with Christmas lights. They live in a subdivision called Jamestown, and I gotta tell you, this display is something special. It is lit from five to ten o’clock and for five hours you can sit in the car and watch lights synchronized to music which you can access on a radio station. Incredible.

A few years back I started putting lights outside myself. The first year I put them on backwards and had to go purchase a LONG extension cord to get them to work. Live and learn, right? Since then every year my display has gotten a bit more sophistication because I add a few more lights. I have no aspirations to become Mr. Wheary or Mike and Debbie at Jamestown, but the flicker of my small display warms my heart in the same way.

I know a lot of people cringe when Christmas has become so commercialized. But let’s get real. There are actually two Christmas celebrations — one at church and a secular one where we shower gifts on people we love. Some say the true meaning of Christmas is lost because people become a little nuts in December, but I will always have an inclination to tell my friends and family I love them by giving them a gift that is relevant to them.

It’s not how much you spend on a gift; it really is a reflection of your love for that person by buying or making a gift with some thoughtfulness. During the years Ken and I fell into financial dire straights, we went to a park and picked up pine cones to make homemade fire-starters for our friends with fireplaces and napkin holders for those who didn’t.

So now that I’ve rambled on about the day at hand, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday. Just remember the difference between the two.

Christmas Lights and Other Stuff

I know the global warming of our planet is a serious issue. Scientists say this change on our planet will eventually wipe out life in the oceans and then life other most other kinds. BUT, I gotta tell you in a perfectly selfish viewpoint of one living in a northern climate — I love living in temperatures more springlike than winter-like.

The warm weather took a hiatus forcing us to muddle through a few “normal” days in the 30s before they returned this week. As I mentioned in a previous post, I started my outdoor holiday lighting project last week and yesterday I finally finished it. All it took was two new strings of lights, a new ball of twine, and a very long extension cord.

But last night I went outside in my stocking feet (my mother was probably yelling at me from the heavens) to take a look at my handiwork. I enjoy the familiar joyful current that travels through my body when my eyes see holiday lights. Now it’s on to finishing my holiday paintings which have sprung up on all indoor walls.

How do you bring holiday joy (besides family gatherings and good food) celebrate the holidays?

Let There Be Light

Over the weekend I took advantage of the warm weather (50’s) and got started on my outdoor lighting display for the upcoming holidays. The garland is draped around the wheelchair ramp, the wreath is up and I got my lovely Angle perched on her pedestal. If it doesn’t rain today, I will finish my project.

I’ve learned through the years such a project is a lot of work and even a little bit of engineering, but it’s one of my favorite things about the holidays. Ken and I always take a ride through the different parts of the city where other people have done the work to put up holiday lights.

The only problem with such a project is this: Will everything work when I plug it in? Most of the time something doesn’t light after I’ve exhausted all of my electrician genes–which is a BIG problem.

As a “recovering” Catholic, I began to wonder whether there is a patron saint of outdoor lighting. Don’t laugh. There is at least one patron saint to call upon for most life situations. When I can’t find something, I talk to St. Anthony. When my girlfriend wanted to sell her house, she buried St. Joseph upside down in her backyard. So, I give this practice of praying to these saints for help some credence.

I know. I know. This practice is superstitious. But with that in mind, this morning I “Googled” a list of patron saints on catholicfaith.org. The list included abandoned infants to youth, but there was no patron saint of outdoor lighting. I guess the list was put together before electricity was invented. But that can’t be true either, because there was a patron saint of Automobilists and Aviators — in fact, two saints were assigned to aviators.

I think my only option is to say a prayer to the patron saints of writers — St. Lucy and St. Francis de Sales. Perhaps they will look over me when I take the final step to plug in the lights and make the scene come alive.

 

A Surprising Train “Trip”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Has Fallen

My Neighborhood in Autumn

My Neighborhood in Autumn

I live in an older neighborhood where trees are tall and colors in the fall are plentiful. Maybe it’s because I grew up rather poor, but I can never remember a time when fall color is something I didn’t revere.

As a child, all of the neighborhood kids raked leaves that had fallen in our yards and then arranged them in rectangles on the easement between the sidewalk and street. We pretended these rectangles of fallen leaves were our shops. We had a doctor, a barber, a bakery, a school, etc. Other rectangles served as our homes. We would play with no-cost leaves all day, visiting each other and our imaginations recreated the real world as we saw it as five and six year olds.

When I went to college, I drove down a county road which lead to campus. This road was flanked on both sides by old, large trees of several different varieties creating a breathtaking tunnel of dramatic Fall color. Rich oranges, reds, golds, and burgundies breathed a certain wonder as I drove to a day of classes on campus. It was a perfect way to begin every fall semester.

Now in retirement I still search out the color. Luckily I don’t have to go far because as you see in the photo above my neighborhood provides plenty of color. Oh, I still take a pilgrimage down to campus whenever I can, but I also can look out my window to witness the beauty of Fall which never disappoints.

If you live in a place where the seasons change, you are blessed. Just take a few minutes every day to become part of the Fall season. Recapture that childish joy of wonder because if you don’t winter will come and you would have missed the big show.

Sanitized History

I always found history interesting, but not the history I learned in school. I’m talking REAL history–the way people lived through the times and their personal situations. I believe understanding the past is a way to avoid such trials and challenges in the future. I also feel every one of us is a product of what came before we started walking around on the planet.

If we dismiss what came first and start blazing a “new” trail, we probably will repeat something that existed a long time ago. Take indoor plumbing. Do you know the Romans not only had bathing in their lives, but they also had running water for cooking and drinking as well as a system to carry their personal waste away from their homes.

Obviously somebody dropped the ball when they conquered the Romans because most people didn’t have indoor toilets until the 1930s and 1940s in this country. My parents talked about having to use an outhouse. Can you image that? Indoor toilets were invented 2000 years ago and my parents were still traipsing out to the backyard in the dead of winter to go potty.

Believe it or not, the first group to dismiss the Roman emphasis on cleanliness were the Christians. They rejected most everything Roman, including the value of cleanliness. I suppose it makes sense seeing the Romans persecuted the Christians with various forms of torture and for sport in the amphitheaters as bait for hungry wild animals. And seeing Christians settled the U. S. and brought their unsanitized ways with them everybody living here had to wait a long time before they could do their business in doors.

I don’t know what caused me to talk about this subject this morning. I think it might have been due to a discussion of a new movie being released about suffragettes in England. The lead actress spoke about how the history we learned in school is cleaned up. Typically when we think about women wanting the right to vote we see ladies in long black dresses picketing the powers that be with neat little signs. We don’t imagine these same week women turned to violence after peaceful tactics for fifty years of trying didn’t get attention. With nothing to lose, they turned to bombs and guns just to have a chance to voice an opinion by voting.

Today we don’t think about the millions of people who have suffered and died so WE can live in a free country with a voting privilege. So many of us don’t even vote. Do we really want to give us such a valuable right?

I could carry this theme into many other political and societal issues, but I will spare you. Just do this for me. When you are faced with an issue that is dear to your heart ask yourself what came before. I for one am not in favor of having to use an outhouse again.

When You See Progress

I’ve posted that I’ve been dabbling in painting for the past two years. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because Ken bought me some paints, a desk easel, and a couple of canvases for my birthday many years ago. I wanted to begin then, but my time was absorbed by a corporate job that sucked all the life out of me.

I had never taken a painting class or even a drawing class. My closest thing to painting on a canvas was in kindergarten when I was a finger painter extraordinaire. I still remember the wonderful feeling of the squishy paint in between my fingers. I remember the exhilarating feeling of being free.

Facing a blank canvas is almost as threatening as a blank computer screen. The first time I attempted to paint I sat in front of canvas afraid. I knew my first attempt would probably be awful. And I was right. Here’s a photo of one of my first attempts.

Early Painting

Early Painting

At the time I thought it was pretty good, so I kept painting. Then my artist friend Marie came home and with her coaching, things got better. Now I think this first painting was butt ugly.

When I look at my early work, I can see I’ve come a long way; that is not to say I don’t have a longer way to go. The same is true about my writing; that’s why I rewrote my first novel and will soon publish the second edition. Nobody commented on the posted rewritten pages, so I only have my own gut feeling to go on.

The important thing is I’m creating and when the bad days come along, I find painting soothing. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me that my art may never bring in a check.

And the writing? Well, even though that craft is more serious for me, I so enjoy when an idea comes along and burrows into my heart and head so I can tell a good story.

I hope all of you have a craft you love to do and are excited when you get a little bit better everyday. Create! Enjoy! Live!

The End

I know many of you enjoy (or at least tolerate) my words of “Wisdom” each day; I really don’t know how many of you stayed around to read the chapters of the second edition of APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS. I’m happy to tell you the book is finished, so today I’m giving you the final two chapters.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Here the sky is blue, the weather is unseasonably warm, and there’s football on the television again. So, enjoy.

#####

Chapter 8

Lacrosse, Wisconsin –September—On Friday, September 8, 1946 at five o’clock Josie and Mario set up their wedding rehearsal at St. Peter’s Church. Josie picked up Donna Jean and her husband, Antonio, at the train station in Mario’s new Ford coupe. When starlet “Sandra Simpson” formerly Donna Jean volunteered to sing at the wedding, Josie burst with happiness. Donna said wild horses couldn’t make her stay away from her best friend’s wedding.

When they found each other on the station platform, Donna dropped her suitcase and ran into Josie’s arms like some cheesy “B” movie. They hugged and cried. Then they laughed all the way home. Being together again seemed like old times.  The only thing that changed between them was the war made them grow up.

When Donna introduced Antonio love in her eyes, Josie realized Donna had found her prince charming. The man possessed drop-dead movie star good looks and a friendly demeanor. He towered over Donna at six foot four, and his gorgeous thick head of curly hair and dark eyes made every woman stare at him.

Josie wanted to hear everything about Donna’s Hollywood life and her upcoming movie debut. In fact, Donna rescheduled her filming schedule to get away for the wedding. The director consented to Donna’s request because she had become one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood.

The wedding rehearsal went without a hitch and afterward Josie, Donna, and Rosalie loved their reunion at Joe’s Diner. Even though they each acquired husbands over the past four years, deep down they remained the young girls who peddled Girl Scout cookies not that many years ago.

After the rehearsal dinner, Rosalie left for home with Angelo; Donna and Antonio went to the Holiday Inn, and Josie and Mario said goodnight on the porch for the very last time.

*****

The morning of September 9, 1946, Josie slipped on  the satin and lace wedding dress her mother sewed for her. The silky gown fit  over her willowy body like a glove. The classical simple dress matched Josie’s personality. The drop waist lace bodice met a flowing skirt of white satin. Dainty covered buttons draped down the back, along with a luxurious long train which started at the waist and flared out behind her. Subtle pleats in the side seams softened the line of the full skirt to enhance Josie’s small waist. A hoop skirt of starched netting supported the satin, giving the dress a bell shape. Josie insisted on wearing her mother’s wedding veil to complete her ensemble.

The wedding flowers came from the farm. Josie carried a bouquet of white gladiolas tied together with a soft pink ribbon. Her attendants dressed in a soft shade of pink satin and carried one pink gladiola stem with a white satin ribbon.

Josie filled up the backseat of her father’s new Buick with her full-skirted dress with no room to spare. At eleven o’clock. Josie returned to the church where she made her First Communion and wore her first veil. In about thirty minuted she would stand in front of friends and family to make promises to Mario, a man she loved unconditionally. The girls waited in the basement for Josie to make her entrance.

Rosalie gasped when she caught a glimpse of the bride coming down the basement steps to fellowship hall. “Oh, Josie! You’re so beautiful!”

Josie blushed before she hugged her friends.

Everyone in the Armani family played a part in the wedding. Rosalie agreed to be the matron of honor, even though she didn’t want the job because at eight months pregnant she complained to be, “as big as a blue whale.” But Josie wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Instead, she found a dress with a big pleat in the front to accommodate Rosalie’s baby bump. Mario’s beautiful sisters Mary and Beverly stood in as the two other attendants. Five-year- old Angelina made the prettiest flower girl while three-year-old AJ  waited with his sister and Mom to walk down the aisle as the ring bearer.

Upstairs Mario’s brother Jimmy stood in as the best man and Josie’s brother Johnny served as groomsman. Angelo and Bobby waited served as ushers to walk the guests down the aisle to the pews.

When the first chord of the wedding march sounded and the congregation rose, Josie took her first step toward a new life on the arm of her father. She smiled at all of her guests as she made her way down the aisle. Mario stood like a proud gladiator with his expansion chest filling with pride as his eyes met Josie’s eyes. After years of flirting with her, he finally won her over, and now she was his bride.

After Josie’s father lifted her veil and kissed her cheek, he took her hand and placed it in Mario’s hand. She beamed at her handsome Mario in his new navy blue suit . Donna’s voice filled the church with bell-like tones as she sang “Ave Maria.” Josie thought her friend must be touched by an angel to sing so beautifully. Her soul soared as Donna hit the high notes. Josie prayed. Thank you God! Thank you for bringing me home. Thank you for this beautiful wedding where I’m surrounded by my dearest friends and family.

The last four years had put terror in everyone’s heart.  Everyone lost and suffered during the war. Nobody was the same. But now the time had come to stop the mourning and begin living again. Josie let go of any lingering sadness of losing her kid brother and focused on the future. She stood beside her soul mate–a man strong enough and caring enough to capture her imagination, and now they were making promises to love, honor, and cherish each other forever.

Life didn’t get better than that.

 

The Projects Are Complete!

For months I’ve been telling you about all of the projects Ken and I started after the first of the year. We were blessed with wonderfully talented people who did a great job with our kitchen, utility room, and of course, the Taj  Garage. The last piece of the picture was completed on Wednesday of this week. The landscaping of a portion of the backyard is done. All I have to do is water the grass seed and plants.

Easy. Right.

Early in the year I bought one of those new fangled hoses that are light weight. I knew 50 feet wasn’t quite long enough to reach the farthest place I needed to water, but I thought if I increased the water pressure, I might be able to get by.

Wrong.

I stretched the hose as far as it would go which resulted in a geyser right in the middle of the hose.

Damn.

I couldn’t repair the leak, so I headed off to hardware store to purchase a new hose. I hoped I could find a 100 ft. light-weight hose, but that would be too easy. The store didn’t possess any length longer than 50 ft. and they hoses couldn’t be put together. So, I grabbed the heavy 100 ft. hose and new nozzle. I headed home, hooked up the disappointing hose to the water supply and began an hour and half of wrestling with this long snake that came alive. It twisted and kinked whenever I pulled on it to reach the places that needed water. After I finally watered all of the planted areas, I went into the house hot, sweaty, and thirsty.

And just think — the landscaper said I should water twice a day. That’s kind of like a doctor telling you to take a vile medicine twice a day.

But the universe stepped in with an inch or two of rain during the night. And today, a light rain is falling, so my watering chores won’t come around tomorrow.

I think I’ll lift weights in the meantime, so when I wrestle with the beast tomorrow, I’ll be ready for a good battle.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 6

Naples, Italy, February—The hospital in Naples sat on the Mostra Fairgrounds at Bagnoli, some three or four miles from the heart of the city. The site offered numerous spacious stone buildings in fairly good shape. The location provided everything a hospital operation needed—running water, sewage facilities, and an electric power plant. Good highways and a rail connection provided easy transport for patients. Several buildings had suffered damage from bombings, and the retreating Germans destroyed several more, but the location offered far more advantages than drawbacks.

As Josie settled into her new surroundings, she heard a story of enemy planes hitting this hospital several weeks ago. Eleven people died in the attack and another fifty-five suffered serious wounds, but the medical staff continued to function without interruption. The story shook Josie because she hadn’t fully recovered from Nettuno, so she dreamed of the day when she could tell Donna that show business wasn’t the only profession where “the show must go on.”

*****

Naples kept Josie out of the line of fire, but she suffered nightmares and debilitating fatigue. Instead of jumping out of bed looking forward to the day, she dragged herself from hour to hour. She became indecisive. Her reaction time in the Operating Room slowed. She lost the ability to prioritize tasks. All of the talents she possessed which made her a superior manager seemed to vanish. At times she even felt disconnected from everyone and everything at the Naples Hospital.

During her two years of service in the nursing corps, she handled daily deaths of  the soldiers, but seeing her innocent colleagues mowed down by unprovoked enemy fire proved to be too heavy for her. She needed help, but her pride held her back. The day she froze in surgery and needed to be replaced by another nurse, she reported to her CO to discuss her problems.

“Sir, I realize my transfer request is coming at a horrible time, but I need some help.” Josie lowered her head and looked down at her boots. She held her tears back by biting her cheek. Admitting her inadequacy shamed her.

The Colonel touched the back of his neck before he leaned into the desk. “I will not transfer you, Josie; but I will put you on leave for a month or as long as you need. Your peers are concerned about you. I didn’t want to believe the surgeons because of your exemplary record.”

“I’m sorry to let you down, sir.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about. You endured too much war. You’re human, Josie. We all get tired when work gets too hard. I need you, but I think you need time to take care of yourself.”

“Please don’t send me to a mental hospital sir.”

He looked her directly in the eye. “I want you to visit my friend, Dr. Jacobsen. He’s a great guy to talk to.”

“The shrink? Really? I need a shrink?”

The Captain stood, walked around the desk and sat in a chair next to Josie.  “Lieutenant, you are a dynamo. Even in this state, you’re still one of my best nurses. This is not weakness in your character. Consulting with Dr. Jacobsen is not a punishment. Hell, I talk with him myself in tough times. Believe me when I tell you working with him will make a world of difference.” He smiled.

Josie mustered a weak smile. “Is that an order, sir?”

The Captain stared at her. “Do you want it to be?”

“No, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Stop by tomorrow. My assistant will handle the arrangements for you.”

“Is that all sir?”

The Captain patted her hand and stood. “I want you to take yourself off the operating team and concentrate on yourself. Get well, Josie. I need you back in tip-top shape. Only God knows how much longer this war will go on, and we need excellent nurses to take care of our boys.”

Josie stood, saluted him, and turned on her heel to leave. No matter what the Captain said, Josie walked away with a sense of failure.

*****

Every afternoon for over a week, Josie kept her appointment with the hospital psychiatrist to learn how to accept the events keeping her awake at night. Dr. Jacobsen also prescribed a mild sedative to help her sleep. Josie didn’t understand how talking about that awful afternoon would help cure anything, but within two weeks she slept through the night without a nightmare.

Being exiled from the operating room turned out to be the worst part of Josie’s rehabilitation. She loved the work, but she admitted the extra hours of sleep helped her recover. Every day the debilitating fatigue lessened. Slowly, the heavy load she carried lifted.

A couple of weeks after her treatment began, Josie went back to work in the convalescent hospital. She wanted to return to surgery, but the Dr. Jacobsen said she needed more time away from the pressures of the operating room.

Josie found a different satisfaction working with patients recovering from their war wounds. Most days just a smile or a simple touch seemed to bring them comfort. She wondered how many of them she met in the OR.

One day as she went through bed checks in a new ward, someone made a “wolf” whistle. She looked for its source and Mario grinned at her. “Hi doll.”

“Mario! My God! What are you doing in here?”

“I got hit at Anzio.”

She grabbed his chart which hung from the foot of his bed. “You appear to be doing well.”

“I’m better now. You’re a sight for sore eyes, kid.” Mario grinned like he just had been given the best gift in his entire life.

Josie blushed. “How are you getting along?”

“I got an infection after I got here, but I think things are turning around. That new penicillin stuff works wonders. What about you?”

“After the Krauts bombed my hospital, I got deported and ended up here.”

“You were at Nettuno? Jesus God!”

She put her hand on his. “I’m fine Mario. No Kraut bomb is going to get me down. After the attack I kind of went a little nuts, but the doctor says eventually the nightmares will go away. They gave me some time off, and I finally caught up on my sleep. I’m feeling much better.”

“Always the soldier.” Mario reached for her hand. “You’re an amazing girl, Josie; I hope you realize how special you are.”

“Just doing my job like everybody else.” She smiled and checked his pulse.

“After you finish your rounds, do you think you might come back and play a game of checkers with a poor wounded GI?”

“Not ready to dance yet, huh?” Josie smiled.

He belly laughed. “Oh, no, don’t do that!”

“Do what?”

“Make me laugh. It hurts!”

She laughed. “Does crying make you hurt too?”

“I don’t cry.” Mario sad with macho confidence.

“That remains to be seen.” Josie teased. “After I beat you at checkers, I bet you’ll weep like a baby.”

Mario laughed hard again and grabbed his ribs. He didn’t mind the pain because he finally got his first date with Josie.

Chapter 7

Switzerland – February—As one of the first peace-time draftees, Danny learned quickly he hated the Army; being a “grunt” for a year stateside made a miserable existence. He returned home and discovered everything in Lacrosse changed. His buddies enlisted or got drafted, and he now carried a sense of guilt. He needed to be more involved to end the war.

He tried factory work, but the hot, dirty, smelly environment became too dreary to carry on for more than two years. Finally, he decided to enlist in the Air Corps. He always wanted to fly and the thought of jumping into a fast fighter seemed like the perfect job; at least he wouldn’t be tramping through some swamp or hiking through snowy mountains. Danny thought becoming a pilot would be the best—he’d drop a few bombs, head back to base, and down a beer afterward.

On March 12, 1944 he strapped himself into his B-17 bomber to attack German targets along the Swiss border. Once over the target, the bombardier released the bomb payload, and Danny made a sharp right turn to get out of the German line of anti-aircraft fire. After a loud cracking sound, he realized he found some trouble.  The huge plane’s altitude dropped, and he and his crew found themselves alone in the sky.

Two Swiss fighters came out of nowhere and signaled Danny to follow them by waggling their wings. Two German ME-109s joined the party and led him to a landing field in Dubendorf near Zurich.  Landing a B-17 on such a short runway would be dicey, but he needed to land the plane before it crashed. Danny skidded off the runway and ended up plowing through a small wheat field. When the plane came to a stop, a truck full of Swiss soldiers with rifles surrounded the American crew. Danny and his crew lived through the attack and a perilous landing only to become prisoners of war. The crew raised their hands in defeat and Danny glanced back at the bullet riddled B-17. The plane suffered substantial damage to both the fuselage and both wings. Their uneventful landing appeared to be a miracle. Such damage should have caused the plane to dive or crash.

The Swiss Captain spoke in perfect English. “Welcome to Switzerland, gentlemen. Follow me.”

The American crew followed the Swiss soldiers with their hands up. They marched to a military barracks and for the first time during the war, Danny felt fear. Piloting a bomber was hazardous duty, but at least he was in control. As a POW, he relinquished control to his captors.  The Swiss confiscated the airmen’s escape kits and then led them to another building. They ate a good meal and took a cold shower before they went to sleep on cots in a barracks.

The next morning interrogations began. Laying awake all night, Danny mentally prepared himself to endure torture and only give his name, rank, and serial number. To his surprise, the Swiss asked a few questions which really didn’t matter. He didn’t believe they dismissed him so easily.

Within a week, the Swiss sent the crew away. As an officer, Danny took a train destined for Neuchatel—a section of Switzerland bordering France. After he got off the train, he boarded a cable car to the top of a heavily wooded mountain. Four guards with rifles led Danny and two other officers to a large chalet-style lodge.

A guard named Schnell said, “This will be your quarters for the next few weeks while you are quarantined. “You will not be confined. You are free to explore the grounds, if you wish.” Danny and the other prisoners gazed in disbelief.  They all believed they would face guard towers and barbed wire to keep them in prison.

On Sunday, the prisoners went down the mountain in the cable car to attend church services. Danny wandered through the woods during the day, and he laughed to himself as he tried to picture explaining his “confinement” to other guys held captive in harsh enemy prison camps. He spent a pleasant two weeks at Neuchatel. The only hardship he endured during his time there turned out to be boredom.

When their quarantine expired, the prisoners traveled by train through Bern where the train skirted the Aare River. Danny stared out the window enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery he ever saw. At the end of the trip, the prisoners found themselves lodged at the Palace Hotel directly across the street from the German embassy. A German eagle and swastika hung over the front door, and Danny wanted to rip the damn insignia off the building.

The atmosphere at the Palace seemed to be more like a hotel instead of a prison. Danny and the others ate in a dining room where a waiter named Otto served them. He and his fifteen year old assistant Fritz wore formal attire along.. The captive officers enjoyed the good food consisting of  brown bread with butter, seasonal vegetables, Swiss cheese, and a small portion of meat at every meal. Danny actually liked the coffee substitute called Ersatz coffee, which was made from roasted acorns, chicory or some other grain. Prisoners even enjoyed beer with their meals. A local brewery provided two types of the brew–a dark beer called Dunkel and a light beer called Hell. Danny preferred the light colored beer, but he learned to limit himself to one tankard per meal because the Swiss beer contained more alcohol than any beer at home.

During the day, prisoners explored the nearby town, The only rule they must follow was to be present for bed check at nine o’clock. If absent, they would be transferred to a more restrictive prison in Germany. Prisoners even attended concerts and plays during their stay in Switzerland. They enjoyed many comforts and liberties, but the Swiss guards constantly reminded them of their prisoner of war status.

Danny searched for ways to escape because the army expected every man held by the enemy to make an attempt to get back to his unit. On his hikes into town, Danny collected second-hand civilian clothing he hid under his prisoner’s uniform. He stored the clothes under a loose floorboard in the barracks. He hid the contraband from Ken his roommate because the man had a tendency to engage in gossip. Other prisoners bet Ken worked as snitch, alerting the guards of any suspicious behavior.  Possessing forbidden contraband would result in a transfer to a work camp deep into Germany.

Danny worked on his escape plan in his mind. He put most of it together, but he needed to understand the procedures passengers used to board a train. Every evening after diner, Danny took an evening stroll, but instead of heading back to the barracks, he made his way to the train station where he spied from the shadows. A guard stood at the train entrance checking identification papers of the passengers. Danny uncovered the one element he didn’t count on. After his surveillance, he returned to the barracks and lay awake trying to solve this unexpected problem. The answer came to him in a dream, and when he woke, he decided today he would make his escape.

*****

Danny completed his civilian disguise, but now he needed a way to buy a train ticket. He might not be able to forge identity papers, but he could sweet-talk his favorite waitress at the cafe to purchase a ticket for him.

Danny packed a duffle bag after the guards sat down for their morning card game. Most of the prisoners left the property, and they wouldn’t return until mealtime, so Danny stayed out of the line of sight and headed for the woods. He changed into his civilian clothes and headed for the train station. He made his move as the trained pulled away. He jumped aboard the moving train to avoid having to show any papers to a conductor. Two Swiss soldiers witnessed his escape attempt and ran to pluck him from the train. The older one caught hold of his sleeve, but Danny yanked his arm away and the soldier lost his grip and fell backward. Danny moved to a crowded car and took a seat. So far so good. He intended to get off the train in Zurich.

Danny blended with a sea of people as he left the train. He learned from the waitress about an underground organization in Zurich which helped American and British pilots get back to their outfits in France. He headed to the library because the librarian led the resistance group in the city.

He opened the old over-sized wooden door to the building and approached a woman sitting behind the information desk. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “I am Danny. I understand you reserved a book for me.”

She scowled and said under her breath. “I told them not to send me any more “evades.”

Danny remained silent and his face dropped.

The woman wrote a name and address a on a small piece of paper and slipped it into book. She whispered. “Follow the instructions.”

Danny nodded, sat down at a table and pretended to read. When he thought no one carried about his presence, he slipped the note into his pants pocket, and left the library.

Chapter 8

Zurich, Switzerland, March—Danny walked out of town and quickly found the address and name the librarian scribbled on the small piece of paper. The house turned out to be nothing more than a small shack compared to other dwellings in downtown Zurich.

Heidi got a message by courier to expect an American pilot needing safe passage into France. She held vigil for him at the one window facing the street. She spotted the American in an instant. The Brits walked with a rigid posture whereas Americans strolled. The man stepped on the porch and rang the bell.

Heidi waited a few seconds before opening the door. At first Danny thought he went to the wrong address because the female who answered appeared to be a teenager.

He said. “I am looking for frauline Heidi Schiller. The librarian sent me.”

“You found her.” The girl spoke perfect English.  “Please come in.”

Danny stepped into a sparsely furnished living room.

“Why do you want to see me?” The petite girl stared at him without blinking.

“My name is Lt. Daniel Peterson. I need to get back to France. Can you help me?”

“I can.” She paused, “When do you want to leave?”

Danny replied. “As soon as possible. I got shot down in February and lived in a Swiss prison since.”

Heidi learned about pilots the Swiss held, but this man turned out to be the first one who wanted to escape. “I am fluent in French, English and German.” She said with confidence. “I can get you through to Geneva where we will make contact with the Marquis.”

“The Marquis?”

“They are the French resistance group who will take you to France.”

“Okay.” He smiled. “What do I need to do?”

Heidi spoke very businesslike. “Hide.  You will need papers and a new identity which takes a few days. The price is one hundred American dollars.”

Danny wondered whether he should trust this woman-child because she presented herself so methodically. Her businesslike demeanor almost seemed false. “That’s a lot of money.” He said.

“I need to feed three children. That is my price.” She wore a determined look on her face. “How do you Americans say? Take it or leave it?”

Danny smiled at the spunky girl. “Well, if that’s the price, that’s the price.  I will need to go to the bank on Monday.” Danny smiled.

“Very well.” Heidi returned his smile. She thought this American possessed a kind face. “I’ll take you to your room.”

“My room?”

“Yes. You need a place to sleep until Monday, correct?”

“Yes ma’am, but-

She cut him off. “Just follow me.”

The Spartan upstairs bedroom she offered Danny was clean. The single bed looked inviting because he didn’t get any sleep for the past  thirty-six hours.  “Thank you.”

“You are welcome. Supper will be at six o’clock.” She turned and shut the door.

Danny shouted “thank you” before he dropped onto the bed and went right to sleep. He didn’t wake until nine o’clock that evening. He wandered downstairs and found Heidi sitting in a rocking chair in the living room.

“Lt. Peterson. You missed supper.”

“I’m sorry ma’am. I guess I needed sleep more than I thought. The bed is very comfortable. May I please get something to eat?”

“Of course,” she paused, “but next time you are late for supper, you will need to make your own meal.” She stood and Danny followed her into the kitchen like a lost puppy.

Heidi took out a loaf of brown crusty bread from the cupboard, and a wheel of cheddar cheese from the ice box. She spread butter on both sides of the bread, laid a slab of cheese between the bread and toasted the sandwich to a golden brown in a heavy iron skillet. The warm, fresh cheese aroma wafted through the kitchen, and Danny thought about his mother making grilled cheese sandwiches at home. The only thing missing was the Campbell’s tomato soup.

Heidi put the sandwich and a dill pickle in front of him along with a cold glass of milk. “A simple meal.”

“Thank you, Miss Heidi.” He bit into the melted cheese and savored the flavor.  “This is the best sandwich I ever ate.”

She smiled. “That is what you all say.”

Danny wondered how many other Americans she  rescued.

*****

The Monday following his arrival at Heidi’s house, Danny went to the Zurich bank and withdrew a hundred dollars from the account he established when he joined the Air Force. During the two days he lived in Heidi’s house, he grew curious about her; her husband must be Swiss or German so why did she help allied pilots escape?  Did he just walk into some trap? He returned to the house with the money and handed her the one hundred dollars.

She counted the money. “Thank you. We will leave as soon as I get instructions from the Marquis.”

“Heidi?” he said. “I don’t want to be nosy, but where is your husband?”

“I am not married.”

“But–the children?”

“The children are not my blood. I decided to care for them when their parents died.” She showed no emotion.

Danny stared at this strong girl. “You are very kind, Heidi.”

“Thank you.” She blushed, and he recognized her sharp exterior hid a kind soul.

“Can I help you in any way while we wait for the Marquis?”

“I thought you wanted to get back to your unit as quickly as possible.”

“I do, but perhaps you need some help too? One hundred dollars is not enough money to be putting your life in jeopardy.”

“I do this resistance work to feed my children. Other work would take me away from them.  I am sure you understand.”

“Well, not exactly.”

“My choices are to work at the resort as a waitress or a maid cleaning rooms, but I then I would not be home with my children. The work I do is dangerous, but I get what I need.”

“I’m willing to help, if I can.” Danny said.

“Well,” She pondered. “My car is getting older, and I do not believe the vehicle can take another long journey. Can you fix cars?”

“Sure. I worked as a car mechanic in the States.”

“Wonderful! If you can get my car running, then I can escape again if necessary.”

“Again?”

“The story is a long one.”

“Perhaps someday you will tell me what happened to you.”

“Perhaps.”

Danny sensed Heidi didn’t want to reveal more of her personal story, so he changed the subject. “I really enjoy being here with you and your kids. Staying here gives me an idea of what family life is like.”

“Is that something you want, Mr. Danny?”

“Sure. Doesn’t everyone?”

“I do not think about being without the children. My present family just happened. One day I am a single nanny, and the next day I acquire three children who depend on me.”

“And no husband.”

She smiled, “And no husband.”

“That’s not fair.”

“War is not fair, Mr. Danny.”

 

 

 

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.