Tag Archive | perspective

All Lit Up and Ready to Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Has Fallen

My Neighborhood in Autumn

My Neighborhood in Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

Queen For a Day

Once a year the Aging and Disability Resource Center in our town invites care givers to a special luncheon. The theme this year was a “Virtual Cruise.” Having enjoyed at least ten cruises in my lifetime, I wondered how they would carry this off.

The theme was set at the front door when we all were greeted with “Aloha” and a colorful silk lei was put around our necks. Ken was greeted in much the same way, but he would spend his day being cared for by professionals in a different room from where I would spend the outing.

Care givers were ushered down a long hallway where Hawaiian music wafted through a grand ballroom. Large round tables covered in white linen each had a silk star lily centerpiece. We were invited to sip a drink from tall, tropical glasses with paper umbrellas; of course, the rum was left out of the fruity drinks. It was morning, after all; entirely too early for rum. 🙂

From ten until two o’clock about fifty care givers were able to relax and laugh. We also were encouraged to learn about some of the area services available once the care giving mantel gets too heavy. The organizers had a clever way to get us to visit all of the vendors present; we were given a “passport” that needed to be stamped by each vendor as we completed our “worldwide tour.” The passports were then collected for door prize drawings at the end of the day.

Unfortunately I didn’t win a thing, but I did have a nice day out of the house. Our group enjoyed entertainment including teenage dancers, a ventriloquist, and a massage therapist, who gave five-minute chair massages to anyone who wanted one. When it was my turn, I was flabbergasted he found very sore tight muscles on both sides in my shoulder area. I guess I carry more tension than I ever dreamed.

One of the best things about the day was the view. I sat and stared at the beautiful fall color outside the floor to ceiling windows. For some reason, colorful trees just do it for me, you know? The natural beauty reminded me I’m a small cog in a very big machine. When the same humdrum experiences go on day after day, I forget that.

During the ride home, Ken shared he had a good time, too. Two other people he knew from “Harmony Club” — the respite service he attends twice a month — were there. But I never worry about Ken in a social gathering; he’s so congenial he can make friends with anyone.

If you’re a care giver, I encourage you to seek out help from the local Aging and Disability Center in your area.  The hardest thing you’ll do is make phone call. People working in such an organization are caring, empathetic, and helpful. They also help keep things in perspective. They let you know your anger, frustration, and searching for answers are part of the package when you’re a caregiver. They know how to maneuver through the state obstacles and restriction. I’ve found answers to the problems Ken and I encounter as we travel through this MS journey.

Who knows, maybe you’ll have the pleasure of being “Queen for a day” like I did yesterday.

Sanitized History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Good Meeting

On Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting a 91 year old man wearing a leather bomber jacket. I asked him if he was an aviator and he said yes. Then I asked him what he flew and he answered, “A P-38.” Then I said, “In the South Pacific?” He said yes. He served with the Fifth Air force, the outfit with Richard Bong and Tom McGuire, the two biggest “Aces” in World War II. I felt as though I was talking to a celebrity! On the flip side, Dave was fascinated that I knew so much about planes which flew during the war. When I told him I had written a novel about women who flew planes for the Army Air Corps during the war, he was impressed.

We talked about fifteen or twenty minutes about his outfit and the kind of flying he did. I was in hog heaven. I had never met a pilot from the historical period I write about. I was like a kid in a candy shop — although, the closest thing to a candy shop I ever experienced was the candy aisle in the grocery store.

Anyway, we had to curtail our discussion because the caretaker meeting we were attending began. The five of us who attended the meeting introduced ourselves and spoke about our caretaking situations. I was the only one who wasn’t caring for a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s. That’s me–unique! Marilyn, the leader of the meeting, said Ken and I had a partner relationship instead of a giver and receiver relationship. At least so far, that’s the way things are between us.

When Dave spoke, he told us a month ago he had to put his combative wife into a facility, and he clearly hated making that decision. For several years he had taken care of her at home, but when she hid three guns in the house and he couldn’t find them, he feared for his life. He knew it was her disease that caused the behavior, but now he carried a load of guilt and sadness.

My heart really went out to him. He lived through a war; raised a family; was married for 47 years and now he had to face the end of his life alone. Life is really not fair.

Usually I hate going to support groups, but this one was special. I came away with a few ideas of how to accomplish having Thanksgiving at our house for Ken’s family. He always does so well when he’s surrounded by his brothers, sisters, and his parents, and it’s becoming almost impossible for us to meet them at their homes because we can’t get his power wheelchair in their homes. This one idea was worth going to the meeting. Meeting Dave was a bonus.

Enjoy your day — let somebody inspire you.

Making a Choice – Drama or Thankfulness?

Yesterday was about as perfect as it gets. For some people the simple events of taking a drive, doing a little shopping, having lunch with a good friend, and driving home would be taken for granted as an ordinary day. But when you face the daily rigors of care taking having a relaxing day with a friend becomes a terrific day. It’s all about perspective and living a thankful life.

So much is said about living a “thankful” life. Some therapists even suggest keeping a thankful diary. Why? It is a way to recognize how wonderful life can be. When you’re thankful, you don’t think about missing out on something.

Many people sleepwalk through their lives and slug their way through the day. They put unnecessary drama in their lives and whirl around to get attention. Little do they realize they are only wasting their energy on nonsense. I hate living in a world like that, so I work every day to avoid it.

I’ve shared some of the bad days Ken has experienced, and I admit his deteriorating condition does affect me. The bad days are hard, and that’s because I love him. And sometimes I love it. But most of the time we work through the stress together and go on. Through the twenty years we’ve been together we’ve become part of each other.  Every day I search for ways to make his life easier and happier. Other people look at us staying at home almost every day and they wonder why we aren’t nuts. After all, this 24/7 togetherness even for healthy people can be enough to make you go crazy.

We’ve had to accept our retirement dreams are dashed, but our story is much more prevalent than people realize.  Our friends are examples of couples who face this challenge every day. Cathy nurses Jim who has a rare blood disease. Linda watched Patrick lie in a hospital bed for a few months as he succumbed to the ravages of diabetes. Kay who has experienced seeing her husband Marc collapse with heart disease. We all muddle through the tough days and give thanks for days when our partner feels well. The only other choice is to run away, but that isn’t a true option. None of us could live with ourselves if we gave into that impulse.

Being thankful for the good things — like a day when we can get out just for a car ride — keeps the awful days in perspective. Discovering the peace that exists in all of us helps take the disappoints in strides. We live in a sea of patience and dismiss the small stuff. Before you realize it, everything is the small stuff.

Have a wonderful, thankful day everyone!

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 19

Naples, Italy-October 1944—Ten months went by since Josie and Mario found each other at the Naples hospital. In the fall, Josie returned to the operating room, and once again, she experienced the satisfaction this work gave her. Mario remained in the army and found contentment in his new assignment as a hospital orderly, assisting medical personnel, cleaning bedpans, and removing other disgusting messes from the sick and injured. Mario rationalized his duty as payback because others performed such chores for him.

With Mario rejected for further combat, Josie relaxed around him and allowed a deeper relationship take hold. Every afternoon they met and strolled through the compound hand in hand. Mario showed her how laughter worked to ease a tension-filled day. Every night when they still possessed enough energy, the couple went to the USO club to dance. Mario glided around the dance floor holding Josie in his tight frame. As they floated to the music, the world drifted away for a few minutes.

When the music stopped, Mario led Josie to a small table at the periphery of the dance floor. He became uncharacteristically solemn.  “Josie, I need to say something.”

Josie breathed deep as she recovered from the exuberance of the dance. “OK, soldier; tell me what’s on your mind.”

Mario too a deep breath. “I gave up the chance to go home several months ago, did you realize that?”

She put on a mischievous grin because she knew the answer. “So, why didn’t you go home?”

“Because what I want is right here.” He moved closer to her.

“Oh.” She thought her heart skipped a beat.

“I recognize I’m a clown a lot of the time, but I need you to take me seriously right now.”

His eyes in the candlelight told her something very important was about to happen. “Sure, Mario. Just tell me.”

“I love you, Josie. That’s why I stayed.”

She gazed into his big brown eyes and whispered. “I know.”

He leaned back on his chair. “Then why did you bust my balls to tell you in so many words?”

“Every girl needs her guy to tell her he loves her, silly.” A grin crossed her face. “And besides, I get a kick out of seeing a big guy like you squirm.”

“You devil!” Mario pulled her to his chest and held her like a bear. He kissed her with passion leaving her breathless.

“Oh, Mario!” She melted. “I love you, too!” She returned his kiss.

His huge dark eyes brightened. “Let’s get married.”

“Is that a proposal?”

“It’s the best I got.”

“All righty then.” She smiled up at him.

“Is that a YES?” he said.

“It’s the best I got.”

The music started again. This time it was a waltz. Mario pulled Josie onto the dance floor. She cuddled into his body. She felt secure and happy in his arms. For the rest of the evening they never missed a beat dancing.

Chapter 20

Switzerland-October—Heidi missed Danny so much she found smiling difficult. She wanted to cry but she only allowed herself to shed any tears when the children went to sleep because they also suffered yet another loss in their young lives. They got too upset whenever Heidi showed her sadness.

When Heidi picked up the mail every day, she prayed she would receive a letter from Danny. To her delight, today she found an envelope addressed in his familiar handwriting and another letter with a Budapest return address. Why would Dominik write to her?

Dear Heidi,

 I am back at home and things are crazy with the Nazis in power. They restricted the Jews from interacting with other citizens. Worst yet, they deport train loads of people every day. 

I talked until I got hoarse to persuade the Rabbi to take his family away from here, but he refused to leave. As you know, he felt it was his God-directed responsibility to protect the Jews. I am sad to tell you he and his family got captured in August and placed on a train. I learned through the grapevine the train was bound for Auschwitz in Poland. I guess there’s a work camp there, but nobody knows for sure what is going on there.

I cried as I witness the Germans separating the men from the women and children before they got on the train. Gavrelia screamed when she was pulled away from the Rabbi. A Nazi hit her in the face with the butt of his gun as he pushed the Rabbi toward the men’s line. 

A rumor circles around town the Rabbi escaped the train by sawing open the lock on the train carriage. Supposedly he hid an emery wire in a loaf of bread, and jumped from the train.  As you might imagine I am not privy to his true fate or if Gavrelia and the children are safe. All we can do is pray.

When I learn more, I will write. I hope you and the children are still out of harm’s way.

 Your friend, Dominik

Heidi cried as she read about the Rabbi who protected her and the children for two years being sent away from his home. Her mind raced with tragic scenarios. If he did jump from the train, where is he? And to think any Nazi bully would harm a gentle person like Gavrelia was hard to swallow. Gavrelia and the children must be terrified to be separated from the Rabbi.

Heidi knew the Nazis hated every Jew—even the children she adopted. Her heart raced when she thought they might be taken away. Why did her countrymen have to be so cruel?  She brushed away her tears for the Weismann family and opened the second letter hoping Danny’s news was happier.

 

My sweet Heidi,

I am safe in England again. My original unit went home, but I will remain here doing desk duty for a few months.

 I must tell you some bad news. The U. S. Army Air Corps claims our marriage is not legal, and I will not be able to bring you to the States unless we go through proper military channels. As you might guess, I got heartsick hearing such a thing. I am married to you in my heart and somehow I will bring you home.

Major Jamison informed me American servicemen need the permission of their commanding officers to marry any European woman while he is serving in the military.

The good news is, Major Jamison is making arrangements to bring you and the children to England. I am searching for a flat for all of us, and in a few short weeks we can marry again. You will be contacted by the Resistance, and they will bring you to me.

I am so sorry we must go through this military nonsense, but I will never be sorry to repeat my promise to love and cherish you forever. We’ll be together soon, my sweet darling.

I love you so much, Danny 

P. S. This time I will give you a proper wedding ring.

Heidi fingered the homemade wedding ring Danny made for her out of an old car part off the Rolls Royce. The car provided safe passage for her and the children from Warsaw to Switzerland, so no matter how beautiful a “proper” ring might be, it would never be as dear to her as the one he made with his own hands.

Heidi drew a deep breath and ran her hand over Danny’s letter. She wondered how much time would pass before she would feel his embrace again.

Chapter 21

Zurich, Switzerland – October—The librarian knocked on Heidi’s door a week after Danny’s letter arrived. She handed Heidi a small envelope and left without a word. The clandestine correspondence held the instructions Heidi would follow to get to the Americans in England. Because the Allied forces achieved a confident foothold throughout France as the army pushed the Germans back to Berlin, Heidi’s instructions differed from the path Danny had followed. Her journey traveled through the mountains to Lyon by car. They would be shuttled to a train depot to then board a train destined Paris. Afterward, a plane would carry them to London.

Heidi wanted to be with Danny as soon as possible, but she feared what another perilous journey would do to the children.

When she told the children the plan, David spoke up. “Mutter, don’t worry. We will be fine. I will hold Ruthie’s hand, and I am sure Jacob will sleep the whole trip. I am not afraid to go.”

Heidi hugged David. “Thank you my dear son. I can always count on you.”

*****

When darkness enveloped the night, Heidi carried a sleepy Jacob to a car waiting for them in front of the house. As he promised, David held Ruthie’s hand and helped her get settled in the backseat. Heidi covered them with a blanket before the driver proceeded away from the residence which served them for almost a year.

“Mama, when will be with Papa Danny?” Ruthie asked.

“We must be patient, Ruthie. Our journey will be long, so you need to sleep. You do not want to be tired when we see Papa Danny, do you?”

“But Mama-

Heidi shot the child a “mother look” which told the child she wanted no argument.” We must follow instructions. I expect you to do as you are told. Understand?”

David and Ruthie nodded and remained silent until they climbed onto a train bound for Paris. At the station in the city of lights, an American sergeant put them in a jeep and drove to the airfield where the family boarded a cargo plane destined for London.

As the plane’s engines revved, Heidi held her breath. She couldn’t show her fear because she didn’t want the children to be afraid. David’s eyes widened as the powerful engines propelled the plane to the runway. Ruthie squealed with delight as the plane took flight. “Weeee! Mama, we are flying like birds!”

Heidi forced a smile and gritted her teeth as a peaceful Jacob slept in her arms. “Yes dear. We are.”

*****

The London flight passed quickly. A disappointed David whined, “Can’t we do go again, Mama?”

“No, not today David. Remember Danny is waiting for us.”

Heidi breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened, and she put her feet back on the ground again. Danny waited for them on the tarmac, and all of children ran toward his opened arms. He hugged and kissed everyone and then embraced Heidi. “I worried about you traveling all that way, darling.” He kissed Heidi tenderly. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“So am I.” Heidi melted into his embrace.

Me, too Papa Danny!” Ruthie hugged his leg. Danny patted her head.

Jacob put up his chubby arms. “Uppie Dada!”

He kissed the child.

David stood off to the side. Danny handed Jacob to Heidi and walked toward the boy. “Hey sport! Where’s my hug?”

David’s face lit up and he hugged Danny around the waist.

Danny heard the boy whimper. “What’s going on, son? Don’t be sad.”

“I thought you left us forever . . . like my real Mama and Papa.” David cried.

Danny hugged him. “I promise I will never leave you, and I keep my promises. You’re my boy, and I’m very proud of you. When we get home, we’re going to live in a nice house, and you can even get a puppy if you want one. But that will be our secret, okay? I need to clear adding a puppy to our family with your mother.”

David wiped his tears with the back of his hand. Danny put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and they both walked toward Heidi and the other two children. Heidi’s heart swelled as she witnessed Danny’s gentleness.

“How did you kids like the airplane ride?”

David spoke first. “I pretended you flew us here and you let me sit in the front.  When we lifted up from the ground my tummy jumped. The only other time I felt like that was when Heidi drove the car fast up and down the hills!”

Danny laughed. “And what about you, Ruthie?”

“I shivered on the airplane, Papa. The train was funner.”

Danny laughed. Heidi wrote she taught the children some English, but he recognized they needed a lot more practice.”

“Let’s get going.” Danny hugged Heidi again, picked up their small duffle bag and couldn’t wait to begin their future.

Even though Heidi flew to a different country, she felt at home in Danny’s arms. Marrying him would never be a mistake, and the time they spent apart only intensified her love for him.

Danny led them to a jeep and drove his family to a small flat he rented. They climbed up three flights of stairs, and Danny opened the door which revealed a clean, safe apartment. With all the devastation in London, finding a place on the far west side of the city with a bomb shelter across the street took weeks to find.

Beside a small kitchen, two beds folded up into the walls during the day and served as a living space. Danny hoped Heidi wouldn’t be too disappointed with his choice.

“It is lovely, sweetheart.” She kissed his cheek.

“It’s the best I could do. Flats are scarce. I hope the place isn’t too small.”

Heidi didn’t care about the size of the apartment. For the first time since she left Germany, she felt at home. “We’ll make due.”

 

 

Table For One?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 15

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

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

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

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

“We can go home! We can go home!”

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

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

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

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

“I will think about it Emma.”

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

“Of course. What a question.”

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

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

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

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

“Are you saying, ‘No’?”

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

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

Chapter 16

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

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

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

“Honey do? What is this?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You must realize I do not need protection.”

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

“We are happy you are here, Danny.”

“Heidi, I am in love with you.”

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

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

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

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

“Why not?”

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

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

“And the children?”

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

“Yes.”

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

“It is too soon, Danny.”

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

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

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

They laughed in each others arms.

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

“Yes.”

*****

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Danny left to go back to the Americans.”

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Heidi, my love–

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

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

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

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

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

Danny

 

 

Feedbac

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.

 

 

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!”

 

 

 

A Respite Day

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

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

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

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 15

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

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

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

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

“Who?” Josie said.

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

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

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

My sweet Josie,

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

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

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

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

Love, Mario

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

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