Tag Archive | inspiration

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.

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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.

 

Solving The Retirement Puzzle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

April, 1945

My dear Emma,

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

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

 All my love, Marta

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

 

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me, too.” Johnny said.

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

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

“Johnny, please meet my wife, Heidi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup.” He laughed.

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

“B-17s. And you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Blue Skies Are Shining on Me

The title of this post might be a little confusing even though there’s not a cloud in the sky. The title does relate to what’s going on today. For the last three days, the landscaper has been turning our backyard into a park I’ve been striving to achieve since we moved in here thirteen years ago. I’m not posting pictures because, of course, the work is not done — but that’s half of the beauty. I have learned to be patient as we’ve moved through the different projects this year –the kitchen, the living room, the utility room, and who could forget the “Taj Garage.” As the old comes down and the new goes up, the process is fun to watch — although I admit the Taj Garage did push me to the limits.

I’ve seen the finished backyard in my mind’s eye for over a year. It started with the installation of the fence last year, and now continues with a retaining wall, new plants and cleaning out some of the weeds and old plants and replacing them with updates. The anticipation of the yard being finished is exhilarating.

I thank the weather for cooperating for the past three days — I bet you’ll probably never hear me say that again! But rain has been taking a path north and leaving our area dry. Perhaps it will rain when our landscape is finished for this year. Next year, I’ll tackle the front.

Like all the cliches predict — It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Sorry. Just had to say it.

Have a good day with blue skies shining on you!

######

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – (CONTINUED)

Chapter 19

Budapest, Hungary – December—The winds of war changed direction. With the Nazis on the borders of Hungary, fear mounted in the Jewish community. If Budapest Jews fate followed the Nazi treatment of Jews in other countries, time would be short before they would be deported.

Rabbi Weismann’s deal with Eichman would diminish once the Nazis overran the city; worst of all he couldn’t keep his promise to protect Heidi and the children any longer. He went to work on a plan to help them escape. If he moved fast enough, they might stand a chance.

Part of the preparation for their journey required the car to be in good working order. The Rabbi hid the Rolls in a neighboring barn for the past three years, and the vehicle needed work. Sitting dormant for so long might become troublesome on the road. The worn tires and cracked hoses needed replacing; and of course, they needed enough gasoline to get to Switzerland. Everything they required was in short supply, but as always, the Rabbi solved the problem. His connections with the black market got him anything for a price.

Heidi also needed a good traveling companion.  The man Rabbi Weismann chose was a trusted Hungarian friend.  Dominik was a perfect choice because he spoke fluent German. When he was small, his father worked in a Nuremberg factory and he learned the language then. His family moved back to Hungary after his grandfather died, and Dominik’s father took over the family grocery business. When the Rabbi told Heidi of his choice to accompany her, she agreed. Over the past three years she met Dominik on many occasions and she trusted him.

Dominik agreed to the plan and mapped out a route which would keep them off the main roads for much of the trip. The route added several hours to the journey, but Dominik believed they would be less likely to encounter German troops on the back roads. The most dangerous part of the trip required them to drive through the Alps. The changeable weather at high elevations provided more danger than any checkpoint. When Dominik shared his plan with the Rabbi, the two men agreed putting safety first  outweighed the extra time the journey would require.

Gavriella packed enough food and water to last for the duration of  the journey. Another friend of the Rabbi’s stole enough petro to drive all the way to Switzerland.  The Rabbi even arranged a false marriage certificate for the couple and a baptismal certificate for David. David could not be Heidi’s child because of his age, so he became her nephew according to the false documents.  The two younger children named Heidi and Dominik as their parents on birth certificates. To be on the safe side, Heidi once again dyed the children’s dark hair blond.

Before they left at dawn, the Rabbi prayed over them. “Almighty God, please go with Heidi, my adopted daughter on this perilous journey. With your protection, and Dominik’s keen intellect, I put them all in your hands as they make this journey to Switzerland. Please ride with them during their journey.” He paused after he finished the prayer and gazed at Heidi with wet eyes. “My dear girl, you will remain in my heart forever.”

“Oh Rabbi, perhaps I should stay with you.”

“No. You must keep the children safe. You promised their mother.”

Heidi nodded. She understood making this trip would save David, Ruthie, and Jacob’s lives, but saying goodbye to the Rabbi proved to be one more difficult task since she met the Gesslers.

The Rabbi said in a calm voice. “Now, Heidi, we’ve been over this. You must go. You are the best hope for the children. If you stay, even God cannot protect you.” He hugged all of them and backed away from the car.

“I will never forget you.” Heidi said.

The Rabbi waved farewell as Dominik started the car.  “Take good care of them, Dominik.”

“Do not worry, Rabbi, I will protect them like my own family.”

Heidi and the children waved until the Rabbi disappeared in the distance.  The silence that followed for the first few miles hung  like a thick fog. Once again they left a safe home for something unknown. Dominik headed west and everyone remained silent.

After a few miles, Ruthie spoke first. “Heidi, are you our Mutter again?”

“Yes, sweetheart. I am you Mutter forever and ever.”

“Good. I like you as my Mutter.” She leaned against David and closed her eyes.

Book 6 – 1944

Chapter 1

Anzio, Italy – January, 1944—Josie and the rest of the medical staff rang in the New Year in a tent. For the past three years she celebrated the first of January with the medical staff in the same way with a bottle of beer and a cigarette.  She had been transferred from Sicily to Anzio, Italy, but this time her move came with a promotion to First Lieutenant. She made the trip on a ship headed north for the 95th Evacuation Hospital. And like her other encounters with beach landings, as soon as she set foot on the sand, air raid sirens sounded. The nurses took cover near the trucks which would take them to their new location.

After the “all clear” whistle sounded, the driver and the nurses traveled to a field in the middle of nowhere. Josie yelled to the driver. “This can’t be right. Check your instructions private.”

The driver considered her comment insulting and condescending. He hated taking orders from some broad. “I put you where the brass wanted you. Get out of my truck!”

Josie scowled. “Who’s your commanding officer, private?”

“Captain James Smith.”

“He’ll be hearing from me.” Josie jumped from the truck’s passenger seat and motioned for everyone to get out of the truck. She decided reasoning with this hard-head who thought women should stay home and pop out babies would be an exercise in futility. But as soon as she could, she’d let Captain Smith know about his insubordinate driver.

After the driver left, Josie took charge and gave an order to the corpsman in their group. “Charlie, radio headquarters and confirm if we are in the correct location to set up our facility.”

Over an hour later, the corpsman made contact and confirmed Josie guessed correctly.  The knucklehead driver dropped them in the wrong place. “HQ is sending another truck. We are to wait here.”

Josie threw up her arms. “Great!”

One small building stood in the middle of their location. The nurses and corpsmen scattered and fell on their bellies inside the weathered building while shells flew overhead with a sickening whine.

Josie joked, “Nobody can deny the Krauts throw a hell of a welcome party.”

Her tongue-in-cheek comment broke the tension in the shelter and everyone laughed. By now, scattering for shelter due to air raids became routine for these field-tested nurses.

An hour later, another truck picked them up and took them to Nettuno to establish another field hospital. Nettuno was a small town south of Anzio and a short distance from the main road along the beach. The beautiful, park-like surroundings seemed too good to be true. The tents sat on lush grassy fields. The serene location offered a pleasant change from their last assignment which only offered cold, wet, dirty sand. The nurses didn’t even complain when they dug the necessary foxholes under the cots. Josie set up the operating tent to prepare for the wounded who would inevitably come.

As they worked, “Screaming Meenie” shells from the biggest German guns miles away, whistled a foreboding sound overhead on their way toward the coast. As the tents went up and the hospital got organized, combat sounds of machine gun fire, shells whistling, and grenades exploding-seemed all too close. Josie wondered if this peaceful location offered safety or a threat to her nurses and patients.

After their long day of setting up the new hospital, Josie and the others flopped down on their cot hoping for a good night’s sleep before the wounded would appear. The long day left them exhausted, but another air raid blast caused them to dive into the foxholes under their cots. They listened to the sounds of war for most of the night. Planes flew so low Josie swore they would fly through the tents. Dee Dee, a new nurse in the group whimpered. Josie thought, “Poor girl, this must be her first time near a combat zone.” But even as a seasoned veteran, Josie never experienced this kind of fire. Her fear stuck in her throat. She held her breath. The shelling went on for until midnight before they crawled out of their foxholes. The nurses laid in their cots muddy, cold, and scared. No one slept that first night.

The shelling at Nuttuno continued to be a nuisance, so a week after they arrived, headquarters made a prudent decision to relocate Josie’s unit closer to the beach near the other units. The location would be a half mile away from any military target, and clearly marked as a medical unit with big red crosses on the tents.

Any time a hospital needed to be moved, nurses usually grumbled. Tents went down. Instruments needed to be packed in sterilized bags. Corpsmen evacuated the wounded to the new location. Afterward they helped fold the cots and put all of the equipment onto the awaiting trucks. Even though moving a hospital was a tremendous undertaking, no one complained. Everyone agreed their  park-like Eden was hell disguised.

*****

Winter months in this part of Italy brought ugly, bone-chilling cold temperatures. Rain and a wind made a tough job even more difficult for the medical staff. Tent flaps whipped open and put patients in jeopardy of exposure. Even worse, the war-torn tents had become riddled with holes from German strafing and flak. Keeping patients warm until they could be evacuated became a losing battle.

Witnessing fear in the wounded when the sirens sounded devastated Josie and the nurses. Patients well enough to put on their steel helmets and crawl under their cots to avoid flying shrapnel did so. Nurses and corpsmen lifted others to the ground while other patients who couldn’t be moved stayed in their cots with a caring nurse holding his hand until the shelling stopped.

Chapter 2

Anzio, Italy – January—To speed up the slow pace northward through Italy, Allied commanders planned a landing behind the German line in an attempt to break the stalemate at the Gustav line–an imaginary line which ran across the Italian “boot” from sea to sea. The landing commenced on January 22—a cool but sunny day. The break in the weather came as a welcomed relief from the cold and rain, which had plagued the area since the Italian campaign ensued.

The beach landing at Anzio–some one hundred miles south of Rome–was a surprise to the Germans, and men and supplies came ashore with little resistance. The Allies intended to establish a foothold in Italy, fight their way north, and capture Rome. Mario’s unit practically strolled onto the beach. The situation proved to be eerie with so little resistance. The men breathed a sigh of relief, and by midnight, some thirty-six thousand men, thirty-two hundred vehicles, and a vast store of supplies reached the beachhead. Any soldier killed the first day fell victim from Stuka bombers which strafed the beaches and dropped bombs as they dove out of the sky.

During the American landing, the Germans pulled back from the beaches and regrouped to prepare a strategic response for the unexpected Allied offensive. In a week’s time, the Germans mustered enough troops to counterattack what Adolf Hitler called the “Anzio abscess,” and for the next four months, Americans encountered some of the most savage fighting of World War II.

Mario’s regiment got trapped on the beachhead.A strong German ground attack and brutal air attacks from the Luftwaffe kept the Americans in their foxholes. . One evening an incoming shell exploded near Mario. Shrapnel riddled his chest, neck and down his legs. Blood poured out of him like a leaky sieve. Medics treated him with bandages to stem the flow of blood before the stretcher bearers got to him to the evacuation hospital.

The nurse who met Mario at the hospital resuscitated him and started an IV with non-cross matched plasma. He required immediate surgery and a strong desire to live. The nurse shoved another needle in the opposite arm for fluids and the drugs he needed during surgery. If Mario lived through surgery, he would receive whole blood when time allowed to properly determine his blood type.  Like so many other wounded soldiers, Mario faced a race against the clock. Doctors stabilized him and spent hours removing the metal shards throughout his body. Mario slipped into a coma after surgery. The sooner he awoke the more likely he would fully recover. Mario faced the most important fight of his life.

It was two days later when Mario finally managed to open his eyes  He saw a pretty nurse standing beside his bed.

He looked up at her and whispered, “Where am I?”

The nurse said, “You’re in the hospital. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up, sleepy head.” She smiled.

He tried to smile but his face didn’t respond. He wanted to banter with her, but he didn’t possess enough strength.

She said, “You’ll be leaving us now that you are conscious.”

“What?” Mario’s parched throat made talking difficult.

The nurse said, “You’re scheduled to evac to Naples. Patients go there to get better care than we can provide here. Don’t worry. You’re going to be just fine.”

The pretty brunette nurse gave him a warm smile. She was kind, but Mario wished it was Josie standing beside him.

“Oh.” Mario wished another pretty nurse named Josie was taking care of him. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Say five words used most of his strength. He moaned from the pain.

The nurse gave him a shot of morphine. “This should help, sweetie.” She patted his hand. “Good luck, Mario.”

 

That afternoon Mario was transferred onto a hospital ship headed for Naples. At the hospital there, he would receive the intensive medical care he needed to make a full recovery.

 

When Two Brains Are Better Than One

When a person has a debilitating disease, he/she is always on the lookout for something to cure his/her curse or at least make a life a little bit better. Because we live in a “drug” culture, help often come in a pill or a syringe, and other alternatives seem to be ignored.This morning on CBS This Morning, they presented a story about some research going on at Duke University. They interviewed a researcher who is exploring how a damaged brain and a healthy brain of another person can be networked to overcome the disability.

Sounds a little like science fiction, huh?

Well, they have had success with primates, getting the monkey to do things monkeys are not supposed to be able to do. But the research is preliminary. The power of the mind involves 100 billion neurons in our brains and capturing their power is limitless. Just think of the implications this new approach could mean for brain injuries and diseases. If we can eliminate brain diseases — and there is a very long list — wouldn’t that be a miracle? If this research offers a cure for stroke patients, wouldn’t that be a blessing?

I don’t think people should live forever, but I do think those patients who slip away a little piece at a time or lay in a nursing home because the treatments have been exhausted is inhumane. Generally, our culture doesn’t condone assisted suicide, so people who are stricken with brain injuries or disease must wait for death to release them from their pain and disabilities. This situation is not fair to the patient or the family who cares for them. If brains can be networked with a small device, and a better life can be achieved I truly think we have advanced the entire human race.

What do you think?

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 16

Sicily, October—The winter rains in Sicily usually began in November, but in 1943 they came a month early. The medical staff struggled to maintain adequate sterile facilities under wet canvas tents. A severe storm in Salerno knocked down the tents of the evacuation hospital, and Josie and the other drenched nurses needed to move over a thousand patients to an abandoned tobacco warehouse. This enormous undertaking needed to be completed quickly to prevent patients from developing complications from exposure.

The weather continued to be dreadful into November, which caused problems on the ground as well as in the air. For the first three weeks of the month, Josie met Anna almost daily on evacuation runs. The few precious minutes together in this foreign place reminded them life offered more than mangled young men and the stench of bodily fluids.

Josie always looked forward to Anna’s arrival, but when she didn’t make an appearance during the first two weeks in November, Josie’s intuition told her Anna must be in trouble. At first Josie thought perhaps Anna was transferred, but Anna would have told her about such a change.  Josie’s concern deepened when Anna didn’t show up for the special Thanksgiving dinner.

Rumors filled the camp that a hospital transport plane lost radio contact during one of the recent bad storms. The crew never returned to base.  Josie didn’t want to believe Anna might be on that plane, but her intuition told her otherwise.

Chapter 17

Albania – November—The hospital transport plane took off in heavy weather, and once in the air, the compass of the plane failed. The pilot became disoriented, and his confusion caused him to head east when he believed he was flying south. After a couple of hours, the plane’s wings iced up and the plane ran out of fuel causing them to crash in the Albanian mountains behind German lines.

Even though the descent was terrifying, everyone except the pilot survived. The medic and nurse suffered a few lacerations and bruises, and the four patients on board lingered in a state of shock. Terror set in when armed men dressed in ragged clothes surrounded the plane. Anna studied the chiseled, dirty faces of the rag-tag bunch of grubby men out of one of the small plane windows. A flashing thought told her this might be the end of the line for her and the others.

The guerrilla group forced their way into the plane, and one of them spoke English.

“Americans?”

Mike, the medic on board, stepped in front of Anna and answered. “Yes.”

The scruffy man pointed to his chest. “I help.”

Mike continued as the spokesman for the Americans. “These men are wounded. We need to get to a hospital.”

“No hospital, but we take you to safety.” The man replied.

Mike and Anna realized they couldn’t stay in the plane, but should they trust this crusty bunch with their safety?  Anna and Mike stared at each other. The only good choice seemed to be to trust the hooligans. Mike made the decision. “Okay. We will go with you.”

“The journey is long.” the man said, “But we must go now before Germans find you.”

Mike nodded.

Anna whispered. “Are you sure about this?”

After a slight pause Mike turned to Anna and said, “You realize our options are severely curtailed, right?  We’ll freeze here. If the Krauts catch us, we’ll all be POWs. and then all bets are off.”

As much as she didn’t want to admit it, Mike was right. “I guess we need to take a chance, huh?”

“Right.”

Anna went to work. She bundled up the patients with the extra blankets on board and packed their meager supplies in a duffle bag.

The Albanian leader ordered, “Follow me. Go to farm. They help.”

The scruffy saviors carried the wounded on the stretchers. Anna and Mike stayed behind to set the plane ablaze to eliminate any evidence they might have survived the crash. As the flames licked through the fuselage, Anna clenched her teeth and wiped away tears. She feared the coming days and for several minutes she thought about cuddling with Tommy at home before a roaring fire. Would she live to see the day?

Mike and Anna walked away from the plane. They ran to catch up with the rest of the group. In the background a huge explosion nearly knocked them off their feet as the remaining fuel caught fire. The snowy landscape made the mile journey tough. Just about the time Anna was ready to fall down for good and go to sleep in the snow, the leader announced, “We are here.”

A farmer and his wife met them in the yard of a ramshackle house. They led the group to a large round barn which sat behind the house. The farmer opened the door to reveal a roaring fire in a pit in the middle of the circular barn. A hole in the roof let he smoke escape. Donna and Mike moved close to the flames and rubbed their hands together to get warm.  The Albanian men gently lowered the wounded near the fire too.

Anna dropped her guard. She turned to the leader. “Thank you for bringing us here.”

The man nodded.

The farmer’s wife served them thin potato soup and some crusty fresh bread. She offered each of them a bowl and spoon and motioned for them to eat. Anna let the warm soup defrost her inside. With hand motions and gestures, the Americans communicated their appreciation to their hosts.

After the patients ate and fell asleep, Anna went to the leader who rescued them. “Thank you again.” She said. “What is your name?”

The scruffy man smiled. “My real name too hard. Call me Jack.”

Anna smiled. “Okay, Jack. Call me Anna.”

“Anna, you are a very brave. Journey is dangerous. You sleep now. I stay awake. In morning we leave.”

“Where are we going, Jack?”

“Bari. Americans there.”

Anna nodded and moved to the other side of the barn where Mike slept. She lay in the straw and prayed. She wasn’t religious, but after living three years with Josie, she thought she would give praying a chance. “Thank you Lord for watching over us with these brave strangers. Please keep us safe on our long journey. Keep me strong. Please don’t let anything happen to my men. Amen.” It was a prayer she would repeat many times.

*****

The band of guerrilla fighters, Anna, Mike, and four wounded soldiers left the following morning before sunrise. The farmer gave them a cart and a small amount of food. Overnight, one of Jack’s men found a couple of donkeys to haul their gear, and he also brought some Albanian clothing he insisted Mike and Anna wear. The farmer’s wife offered Anna a boiled wool hat.  Anna tried to refuse the gift, but through Jack she learned the farmer’s wife insisted because Anna would need the extra warmth for the long journey.

Bari, Italy was eight hundred long miles away through mountainous terrain. The first morning of the journey began with the sun shining, but by evening the temperature dropped and snow fell from the dark clouds. The group sought refuge in a cave where Jack’s men built a fire.  Anna gave everyone a MRE pouch. She planned to save the small amount of food the farmer’s wife gave them after the “Meals Ready to Eat” ran out. After they ate and warmed themselves by the fire, the group minus one lookout fell asleep.

On average the group covered about thirteen miles each day; when the weather cooperated, they covered about fifteen miles. Storms in the mountains came with little warning, but somehow Jack found adequate shelter to wait them out. Once he found an abandoned building, which protected them from a blizzard. Another night they found a cave large enough to build a fire and shelter them from another snow storm.  Mike joked, “Hell must be frozen over, and we found it.”

When they exhausted the food they brought with them, Jack’s men proved they were excellent hunters. They hunted deer, elk, and rabbits which kept everyone from starving. Mike learned how to butcher the kill, and Anna learned how to cook the wild meat. Jack devised a method to melt snow, which gave them plenty of drinking water. With such a strenuous, long journey ahead of them, they took nothing for granted. Anna insisted they all say a blessing before every meal and even Jack’s men participated by bowing their heads.

About a month into their trek, a blinding snowstorm forced them to live in a cave for several days. When the storm cleared, Jack and the group needed to trudge through deep snow drifts which made the next few days drudgery. Tramping through knee deep snow slowed them to a crawl, but so far, they eluded any German.

They abandoned the cart the farmer gave them because lugging the thing through the deep snow wasted too much of their energy.  Fortunately Jack’s practical genius provided a solution.  He rigged sleds out of rough timbers and the canvas stretchers. Then he hitched them to the donkeys to pull the wounded men through the snow. Anna, Mike, and the other guerrilla fighters carried supplies on their backs. No matter what obstacle they encountered, Jack always came up with an idea to pull them through.

During the two-month trip, Mike feared one of the guerrillas might try to take advantage of Anna, so he protected her at all times. He kept no secret he slept with a pistol and made sure Anna slept next to him every night.

About the time Anna thought she couldn’t endure any more, Jack announced with great exuberance, “We are here!” He pointed to a bunch of tents in the distance. “We are here!”

Tears of joy rolled down Anna’s cheeks when she caught a glimpse of the American flag. The weary, filthy vagabonds made a nurse scream at the sight of them. Soldiers with machine guns encircled them.

Anna spoke first. “We are medi-vac personnel. Our plane went down in Albania behind the German lines and lucky for us, these men helped us get here.”

The colonel in charge met them at the gate, “You want us to believe you all walked eight hundred miles ?”

Anna removed her fur hat and shook out her blond curls. “Sir, I am not aware of the mileage, but I can tell you our journey’s been a damn long one.”

“Well I’ll be damned. This war always has its share of surprises. Come this way.” The colonel escorted Anna and the men to the hospital. Their Good Samaritan, Jack the Albanian, pulled them through alive, just like he promised.

After Anna, Mike, and their saviors took off their outer clothing, the medical staff found Mike contracted pneumonia, and Anna suffered from dysentery and jaundice. The wounded men, who made the eight hundred mile journey on gerry-rigged stretcher sleds, required treatment for bed sores and injuries due to exposure. The Albanian men and all the Americans suffered frostbite, fatigue, and hunger.

After recovering for a few days, Jack announced he needed to leave. He stopped by Anna’s bedside to say goodbye. “Anna, going to be okay?”

Anna smiled. “Thanks to you, Jack, I’m going to be just fine. Are you leaving?”

“Yes. But I say goodbye first. You brave as any man. Tough and never complain. A good woman.”

“Thank you, Jack.” She blushed. “Are your men well enough to travel so soon?”

“Yes. We must go back and continue the fight.”

“But how will you get back? You’re not going to walk, are you?”

Jack laughed. “No Miss Anna. the Colonel give us jeep. We travel alone. No Americans to slow us down.” He snickered. “If Germans catch us, we say we stole the vehicle.”

Anna laughed and started to cough. “I owe you my life, Jack. How can I thank you?”

“Win the war, Miss Anna. Help me kill Nazis. They are very bad. Killed my whole family.”

“I will do my best.” Anna smiled and her tone got serious. “Jack, bend down.”

He obliged. Anna kissed his cheek. “Go with God, Jack.”

Her show of affection moved him. He took her hand and kissed it. Then he walked away. Anna never saw him again.

Chapter 18

A small town in Italy, November 1943—Mario’s unit went into a mountainous village in northeastern Sicily near the coast. Their assignment required them and a second unit to scout the town and clear out any Germans before the Americans moved north.

The groups split and headed in opposite directions. When they lost sight of each other unit, a Tommy gun ripped off several rapid shots in the distance. The men jumped into nearby ditch.

Marco said, “I bet Porter’s trigger finger got itchy.”

“You wish,” his sergeant said. “Shut up and get down.”

The shots rung in Mario’s ears. An odor of burned ammo hung in the air.

The men lay still and listened intently. The village grew quiet. No gunfire. No voices. The sergeant slithered out of the ditch and knelt down on the cobblestone road. He turned his head in both directions then Sergeant Riley motioned for the men to follow him down the street. Their senses shifted into high alert with the possibility of  danger lurking  around the next bend in the road.

Mario whispered to the guy in front of him, “Doesn’t this remind you of the movies?”

Sergeant Riley turned around and scowled at Mario. “Shut up, soldier.”

When the patrol came to an intersection, Riley peered around the corner and pulled his head back with a quick jerk. He paused and took a longer look. He spied Porter and his men at the end of the street. They walked along the road strung out with a few feet between each man. The two patrols met in the middle of the block. “Did you fire?” Riley asked Porter.

“Yeah. A couple of Krauts ran up the street. We ran the Tommy on them, but I don’t think we hit anything.”

“Did they fire on you?” Riley asked

“No, they just turned tail and ran. Probably got separated from their unit.” Porter laughed. “I think they’re still runnin’!”

“How do you get so lucky? The Krauts we meet always want a fight.” Riley grunted.

“Keep your head down, Riley!” Porter waved as his patrol fell in behind him.

“Same to you, bucko. Keep a safety on those Tommy’s. You scared the shit out of me!”

“Will do, fraidy cat.” Porter saluted Riley and joined his men.

Riley lead his patrol in the opposite direction to search the rest of the area. As they walked toward the outskirts of the small village, fewer houses appeared, and those standing got farther apart. When the road curved, houses appeared on the left side of the road with the mountainside on the right. A series of plowed terraces with olive trees produced a scene of green stripes in black fertile earth.

Mario spied two civilians vanish into a nearby house. “Sarg,” He pointed to the house with two fingers raised. The patrol stopped. The couple had retreated into a two-story stone building with a large unpainted wooden door. The windows were boarded up. The patrol prepared to attack. Riley dropped to one knee with his rifle pointed at the door. Mario assumed the same position with his Tommy gun. No one spoke. The sergeant used hand motions to position the remainder of the unit. George reached over and tried the doorknob. Locked.

Everyone stared at the door. Riley nodded. A guy named George banged the door with the butt of his gun. Almost immediately a woman began to scream. He banged again. Her screams became hysterical. “Tedeschi!”

Mario understood. He whispered to Riley. “She thinks we’re Krauts, Sarg.”

The woman shrieked, “No!’ No! No!”

Riley said, “For godsakes, Mario, get her to shut up!”

Mario shouted something in Italian with a fierce voice. The woman immediately stopped screaming. The patrol waited. A petite middle-aged woman with long black and silver hair peaked out from behind the door. “Americanos?”

Riley answered, “Si.”  Yes happened to be the only Italian word he understood.

She opened the door fully and cried. She put her hands to her cheeks as she went from man to man, hugging and kissing them.

When she came to Mario’s, she said, “Lei parla Italiano?”

He answered, “A little. un po’.”

She kissed him on both cheeks before she scurried into the house and came out with an overflowing basket of grapes. She gave every man a handful.

“Hey Mario, you need to tell our new friend this isn’t a social call. We’ve got work to do.” Sergeant Riley said.

“Yes sir.” Mario faced the woman. “Mi dispiace. Dobbiamo lasciare.”

She blushed and smiled before she moved toward the house with the empty basket. “Grazie!, Grazie. Vai con Dio.” She smiled and waved goodbye.

Riley ordered. “The party’s over, gentlemen. Let’s get going.”  Everyone waved to the woman and turned down the road heading out of town.

“What did she say, Mario?” Riley said.

“She said thanks, go with God, sir.”

“Amen to that!”

 

 

 

Are You Ready For Some Football?

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

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

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

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie laughed.

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny laughed. “You get used to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter grinned. “A pretty smart one.”

Chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She named the baby AJ?”

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

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

*****

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

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

 

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.”

 

 

 

No Words for Today

I wrote a couple of lines this morning which are nothing to cherish. My brain is as dull as the gray skies and pelting rain. So, I deleted my lamenting over my unfinished household projects, and am going to just give you the next three chapters of the second edition of APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS. I promise tomorrow will bring some inspiration for your inquisitive minds. I’ll keep my mind and eyes open today to recognize a new topic. Promise.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 28

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – December—The weather suddenly turned cold, and Rosalie worked to find new ways to keep the house warm for the children. Like everything else heating oil became rationed. She dressed the babies in several layers of clothing and piled blankets several inches thick to keep them warm at night. While the other parts of the house remained chilly, the kitchen stayed warm with the radiant heat from the oven.

By now Rosalie internalized the time the postman dropped letters in her mailbox. A good day brought letters from her brothers, Angelo, and Josie. A bad day brought bills and no letters. She saved any letter for the quiet two hours in the afternoon when both babies took naps. In November, Mrs. Schneider told Rosalie and Donna Josie got on a ship headed for somewhere in Africa, and today she found a letter from her brave nursing friend.

October 28, 1942

 Dear Rosie,

 Hi pal! So good to get your letter. Your words brightened my day, and I love the pictures of baby Angelo Jr.! He looks so much like his Daddy. Incredible! Angelo certainly sure can’t deny that boy!

 I’m somewhere in Africa, but even I don’t understand where. One thing is for certain, this nursing experience is something I never expected. In my worst dreams, I couldn’t have conjured up such conditions. Our “hospital” is a war-torn building; honestly, it’s a shack so bad, the rats don’t want to live here.

 I’m glad I made the decision to join the nursing corps because so many wounded men need our help. We do what we can, but so many lay in pain while we assessed their injuries, At least now we have adequate supplies to treat them. When we first landed, the fighting on the beach held up the morphine, either, and other drugs that we really needed. The wounds of war are horrific–burns, missing limbs, and so much more. For the first time in my life I felt inadequate. But I tell you this. Everyone should be proud of our boys because we found no cowards among our ranks. They writhed in pain but no one complained. These boys are the bravest souls in the world.

 All of us are learning to cope with the challenges of combat nursing on the fly. We wear steel helmets and combat boots in surgery; corpsmen hold flashlights while doctors operate at night; the windows are covered with blankets because snipers are all around us. (If you talk to my mom, don’t mention the snipers, okay?)

 Our commanding officer require us to be feminine looking, but as tough as nails. That means we need to appear neat and clean, with curled hair and a bit of make-up. He believes not doing so would deflate the boys’ morale. We improvise all of the time . . . like using our helmets for sinks and a glass jug for a mirror. The boys have enough challenges so we don’t want them to put up with an ugly nurse! (ha, ha) Every time I wash up, I think of Donna putting up with these conditions. This environment would make her go AWOL for sure!

 Life is tough here, and I’ realize everyone has a breaking point when the stresses of this life become too much.  Last week Sally got so upset when the snipers fired at our “hospital;” a sergeant needed to forcibly restrain her from going outside to give the GD sniper a piece of her mind. Needless to say, she transferred to receive treatment for shell shock. 

We work long, hard hours. Most nights the sixty nurses and handful of doctors collapse on the floors from exhaustion under scratchy woolen army blankets. But our sacrifice is no comparison to what so many boys give for our country. Our boys are brave, so we girls need to be brave too.

 Please say “Hi” to Donna and tell her I will write to her next time, but it might be a while depending upon what the Krauts dump on us.

 Give Gina and baby Angelo a kiss. When I think of home (which is much of the time) you, Donna and my family are on the top of the list.

Sending you my love, Josie

 Rosalie slipped Josie’s letter back into the envelope as a wave of guilt washed over her. How could she complain about oil shortages or having to cook around rationing when her best friend looked war directly in the face every minute of every day? Josie put everything in perspective for Rosalie.  Daily inconveniences didn’t matter when people she loved struggled with the horrors of combat. She bent her head, folded her hands, and whispered a prayer to the Blessed Mary to bring everyone she loved home safe and sound.

Chapter 29

Hawaii, December—After a few weeks at the Pearl Harbor hospital, Bobby and Angelo both got up on their feet and began learning to walk again between parallel bars. Each step proved to be challenging and tiring.

“This is the damnest thing! I learned how to walk as a baby, and here I am struggling how to move my feet one after another all over again.” Angelo said. “If I don’t get better, little Angelo will pass me up!”

“No worries, pal. You get stronger every day. Look at your arms! You look like Popeye in the comic books.” Bobby said.

“Is that the only stuff you read?” Angelo teased.

“Hey, the stories are great! Don’t think you’re superior, my friend. I bet you picked up the new “Wonder Woman” comic in the day room.”

“No. Who in the hell is Wonder Woman?” Angelo thought Bobby might be pulling his leg about a female super hero.

“Of course I’m serious. Wonder Woman is a hot chick who fights Nazis.”

Angelo laughed. “Too bad she doesn’t fight Japs. Then maybe we wouldn’t be here.”

Bobby said. “Better here than some damn jungle.”

“Amen to that, brother!”

“Hey Ang?” Bobby said.

“Yeah?”

“Is it really only been a year since the war started?”

“Huh?”  Through their months together Angelo got use to Bobby’s constant chatter, and like a seasoned parent, he tuned him out a lot of the time.

“You’re not listening to me, are you?” Bobby said.

“Of course, I’m listening, little brother. For the Americans.  Yeah, it’s only been a year. But it seems like I’ve spent a lifetime in hospitals. Doc wants to operate on me again to remove a piece of shrapnel near my spine. He says I might walk better if I have the surgery. There’s also a possibility I might never walk again if I have the surgery. What do you think I should do? ”

“Geez, Ang. I had no idea. You’ve had so many surgeries already. It’s a gamble one way or another. What will happen if the shrapnel moves?”

“They don’t know. I just want to go home.”

“I think you have your answer then, huh?”

Angelo nodded. Bobby affirmed what Angelo thought. Sometimes the kid was really smart.

 

*****

Bobby and Angelo received Purple Hearts for the wounds they sustained on Guadalcanal, but more importantly, they received orders to continue their therapy in the states. Angelo told the doctor he would take his chances by not having more surgery, and the doctor said he needed to contact the medical facility on the mainland before Angelo could be released.

The doctor believed Angelo would struggle the rest of his life with a bum leg without the surgery, but he also understood the marine had gone through so much already it was impossible to face another surgery and the recovery it required. He approved Angelo’s release from Hawaii.

Angelo read his orders with a big grin. “I’ll be home for Christmas!”

“Yeah, Christmas. I suppose you’ll want to play Santa for little Gina and little Angelo, huh?”

“Good thought. I wonder where I can get a Santa suit.” Angelo grinned as he thought about hugging his kids and kissing Rosalie for the first time in almost a year. “And you can be my number one elf!”

Bobby laughed and threw a comic book at Angelo.

*****

            A week after Angelo and Bobby received their medals their next stop on the road to recovery turned out to be at Camp Pendleton in California. They would finish their physical and occupational therapy at the base hospital. Every day they challenged each other to dig deep, work through the pain, and succeed at the exercises which would free them to go home. Their military careers neared the finish line. The only remnants of their time in the South Pacific were occasional nightmares for Bobby, and a piece of shrapnel near Angelo’s spine.

Chapter 30

Lacrosse, Wisconsin-December 1942—Donna and Rosalie spent the week before Christmas decorating the house in festive colors of red, gold, and silver. At two years old, Gina found the pretty tree in the house a curiosity and learned quickly not to touch the delicate glass ornaments or the hot glass light bulbs.

Two nights before Christmas, Donna and Rosalie sat by a warm fire sipping eggnog.

“This is such a treat, Rosie. How did you ever make eggnog?”

“Mrs. Schneider helped me out. I remember the first time I drank eggnog at Josie’s house. We were about eight years old. We came in from sledding for most of the day with red cheeks. We took off our rubber boots, wet snowsuits and ice-coated mittens in the back entrance, while we jumped around to get warm again. Just thinking about that day gives me shivers. We hung our snowy mittens and hats on that little wooden clothes rack in the mud room and our coats on hooks. Remember?” Donna took a sip as she drifted back to a happy memory. “Mrs. Schneider sat the three of us in front of the fire with a hot cup of eggnog and a plate full of warm chocolate chip cookies. Just thinking of it makes me warm inside.”

“Mrs. Schneider always loved all of us. Remember at their Christmas party they always put two bowls full of eggnog on the table –one for kids and one for grown-ups. I guess the grown-up version contained some brandy.”

“Not to disappoint, Donna, but I made the kid’s version.”

Donna laughed. “Between you and me, I like this version better, but if you tell anybody I don’t like brandy, you’ll pay with your life. A girl’s got to maintain an image.” Donna fluffed her hair and threw her head back.

A knock on the front door interrupted their conversation. Rosalie got up from the chair and walked to the door. “Who in the world is out on such a dark and cold night?”

“You better check. I’ll get the baseball bat in case they turn out to be perverts.”

“You’re in rare form tonight.” Rosalie laughed. She opened the door to find two soldiers on her doorstep. “Can I help you boys?”

Angelo said, “I dreamed you missed me and hoped you might let me in with a big kiss.”

The moment he spoke, Rosalie realized the skinny soldier with the cane was Angelo. “Oh my God! You’re home!” She fell into his arms and didn’t let go. They kissed until Bobby cleared his throat after several minutes.

“Can we take this inside, you two? I’m freezing.”

Angelo laughed. “Sweetheart, this is Bobby. He’s the kid who insisted on being my friend.”

Rosalie blushed. “How rude of us, Bobby. Of course. Come on in. Donna and I are enjoying some eggnog. Would you two like a cup?”

Bobby smiled. “Eggnog?”

Angelo said. “You’ll love it. My Rosie is the best cook in the kitchen.” Rosalie laughed because her inexperienced cooking seemed to be a source of jokes in the family.

The boys dragged their duffle bags into the living room where Donna waited. Angelo went to her and hugged her. “Donna! It’s so good to see you again!”

“Likewise, Angelo.”

“How can I ever thank you for taking care of my girls?”

“You can’t. No thanks are necessary.” Donna smiled. “Auntie Doe Doe is on the job!”

Angelo dropped his embrace and turned toward Bobby. “Donna, this is my friend, Bobby.”

Donna smiled at the boy. “Not the famous Bobby!”

Bobby blushed. “The one and only, but don’t hold the rumors against me ma’am.”

“Only if you call me ma’am again!” She laughed.

Rosalie took control much like her mother would. “You boys make yourself comfortable, and I’ll get the eggnog and cookies.”

“Cookies?” Bobby said. “This Christmas is the best ever!

Angelo laughed. “Out of the mouths of babes.”