One thing I struggle with since I “retired,” is realizing what day it is. With every day presenting itself primarily the same without a work schedule, Ken and I ask each other “What day is it?”
Years ago I would have thought such a question was ridiculous. But unscheduled time is something a person must absorb a little at a time. If a person doesn’t watch out, they will become lazy and never accomplish anything. Working outside the home provides a ready-made schedule. When you’re at home, the schedule is up to you. I’ve never been a buttoned-up scheduler, so I struggle with the concept. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact my time is my own. I can be as productive or as laid-back as I want. But that doesn’t say I’ll accomplish the goal on the right day of the week.
My computer and phone keep me on the correct date, but neither tell me what day of the week it is. I guess that’s why we have calendars–huh? Just match up the date to an old fashioned paper calendar and a retired person will stay on the right day.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)
Lacrosse, Wisconsin – April—Angelo always handled the family finances, but now the responsibility of paying bills and keeping a checkbook balanced fell on Rosalie. She also assumed the sole responsibility for Gina and would face giving birth to another baby without her husband.
In April 1942, the government set up a program so no American would go hungry during the course of the war. The rationing program provided a booklet of stamps which gave the bearer the right to purchase certain foods. Rosalie quickly realized being in a war meant daily sacrifice for everyone. People living “in the lower 48 states” couldn’t escape the fact the United States was at war. In the post office posters released by the Office of War Information said, “Do with less, so they’ll get enough.” Another pleaded, “Be patriotic, sign your country’s pledge to save the food. Rosalie’s pregnant body and empty bed was her personal reminder of her personal sacrifice.
Almost overnight basic stables disappeared from the grocer store shelves. Sugar and coffee were the first items to go. Rosalie’s favorite Coca-Cola also vanished. Rosalie wondered how she could face another nauseating pregnancy without an ice-cold Coke to settle her stomach.
One afternoon Rosalie heard a knock at the back door while Gina was napping. She couldn’t imagine who would be calling her at this time of day. When she opened the door, Donna Jean stood smiling. “Donna, what on earth are you doing here? Aren’t you working today?”
“I took the day off to go to the school to sign up for the rationing program. I thought you might like to go with me. Are you well enough to go today?”
“Actually, I’m doing fine. You must be a mind reader. I didn’t want to go alone.”
“Let’s go together. We’ll make the excursion fun.” Donna smiled.
“Right after Gina wakes up. She’s a holy terror if she doesn’t get her beauty sleep.” Rosalie laughed. “Come on in and share a cup of tea with me.”
“Sure.” Donna slipped into the kitchen and sat down. For the next thirty minutes the girls enjoyed each other’s company.
Gina woke up in a happy mood. When Rosalie brought her into the kitchen on her hip, the little girl reached for Donna.
Donna’s heart swelled. “Come here to your Auntie Donna.”
The baby cooed and giggled.
Rosalie looked at the two of them with a smile. “You know, you are the only one beside her Papa she goes to.”
“She probably knows I’d let her get away with murder.”
“Probably.” Rosalie laughed. “We’d better get going. I think the school is only open until three o’clock.”
Donna rose with the baby and followed Rosalie out to the garage. She pulled the baby stroller and Donna put the baby in the seat. The two girls jabbered on as they walked the four city blocks to the school to sign up for the program. When they arrived, they waited in line over an hour to register. Forms needed to be completed which required their name and family size, so people would receive the proper war ration coupon book.
Donna studied her coupon book as she left the school. “Boy, this really makes everything real, doesn’t it?”
Rosalie answered quietly. “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry, Rosie. Sometimes my mouth and brain don’t work together. With Angelo gone, you already realize how real the war is. I’m so sorry sweetie.”
“Oh, Donna. Don’t worry. Angelo is coming home after boot camp in a few weeks and that’s what I’m focused on. I’m going to think positive from now on. No more nervous Nellie.”
“That’s the spirit.” Donna said. “I need to tell you something?”
“I think you’re the bravest person in the world, Rosie. I would be scared to death to give birth without my husband standing beside me.”
Rosalie smiled. “I think the bravest person we both love is Josie.”
Donna put her hand on Rosie’s as they pushed the stroller together. “Yeah, you’re right. But your tops in my book. Lots of people don’t really approve of my choices, but you can always depend on me. You just ask, and I’ll do whatever you need.”
“You’re so sweet, Donna. Thank you.” Rosie said with a warm smile.
Rosie offered Donna a cool glass of ice water when they got back to the house. They examined their coupon books at the kitchen table. Different colored stamps stood for different types of food. Each stamp specified a certain number of points and an expiration date. A “Red Stamp” coupon allowed the purchase of all meats, butter, fat, and oils, and with some exceptions, cheese. A “Blue Stamp” covered canned, bottled, and frozen fruits and vegetables, plus juices, dried beans, and processed foods like soups, baby food, and ketchup.”
“This will take some getting used to.” Donna said.
“Yeah, but the program makes sense. Food rationing will make sure people don’t go hungry. No one can hoard food.” She sipped her water. “Now that spring is here, I want to plant a victory garden to supplement the rationing stamps.”
“That’s brave of you. My experience with farming is very limited.”
“Oh Donna, you’re so funny. A victory garden is not farming, silly, it’s gardening.” Rosalie said. “You want to help me? We can grow all kinds of fresh vegetables and then can them in the fall.”
“Are you trying to domestic me, sweetie?” Donna said with a grin.
Rosie grinned back. “One can try.”
“I’ll help, but you might not want my brown thumb around.” Donna took a sip of her water and changed the subject. “When we stood in line at the school, I spied a flyer on the bulletin board advertising a training session to learn how to shop wiser, conserve food, and plan nutritious meals. Would you like to go?”
“Sure. I can always learn new things.” Rosie said absentmindedly. Then she turned to Donna and said, “I want you to think about something.”
“What’s that?” Donna said.
“Would you consider moving in with me after Angelo ships out?”
Donna never expected a question like that. “Are you serious?”
“The whole upstairs could serve as an apartment. There’s a bedroom with a huge closet and another room you can use as your private living room.”
“Why would you want me around?”
“I can’t think of any other person I would like to live with. We’d both be safer together, and to be totally honest, I’m afraid I might lose the house because Angelo’s marine wages are nowhere near what he made at the factory. I can’t work because of this new baby coming–at least not for the foreseeable future. And–,”
Donna interrupted. “I’m honored you want me to live with you. My lease is up in July, so I can come then.”
Rosalie got up and hugged Donna. “You are the best friend, ever.”
Donna hugged her back. “That goes both way, Rosie.”
Lacrosse, Wisconsin – June—Angelo came home unannounced before he needed to ship out for two years. He dressed in the Marine service uniform of green trousers with khaki web belt, short-sleeve button-up shirt, garrison and black shoes. The marines shaved off his beautiful black curls along with his mustache. He peered through the back window to catch a glimpse of Rosalie before he knocked on the door. He saw her feeding Gina in her high chair, Angelo smiled and knocked for a second time.
She got up, wiped her hands on a dishrag, and opened the door. “Can I help you?”
The soldier smiled.
Rosalie stared at the stranger’s eyes before her face lit up. “Angelo! You’re home!” She flew into his waiting arms.
“I’m home. I’m home.” He whispered as he held her baby-swollen body and kissed her. “Oh, Rosie. I missed you so much. Look at you!”
“Look at me-Look at YOU! They turned you into a grunt!” She laughed.
“You said it!”
She kissed him again and again. “Are you hungry?”
“You are such a good Italian girl.” He laughed.
The couple went into the kitchen hand in hand. Angelo moved toward Gina and tried to pick her up, but she screamed and kicked at him.
“She doesn’t remember you, Angelo. You look so different from when you left. Just give her a little time.” Rosalie said.
“She doesn’t remember me? I don’t believe it.”
“Babies sense of time is very different than ours.”
Rosalie thought ‘that’s what you get for leaving us.’ Instead she said, “Don’t worry. She’ll warm up to you.”
Angelo sat at the kitchen table disheartened. He waited six months to be with his family again and now his little girl, the apple of his soul, didn’t want to sit on his lap.
Rosalie picked up the baby. “Come here, sweet girl. This is Daddy. He loves you very much. You remember Daddy.” Rosie tried to put Gina in Angelo’s lap and again Gina screamed and clung to her mother. “I’m so sorry, Angelo.”
“I can’t believe she doesn’t remember me.” Angelo wanted to cry.
“A lot changed since you left us.” Rosie tried to change the subject. “Why don’t you call your parents and invite them over for tea and cannoli?”
“Sure.” Angelo picked up the phone and called his parents.
Three days after Angelo’s return, Gina ran into the living room and eyed him from across the room. She stood on the fringe of the carpet. Gina appeared to be wondering where this stranger fit into her life.
Angelo put his arms out and kept his voice soft. “Come to Daddy, sweetie.” Much to his surprise, Gina moved toward him. “Da-da?”
Angelo cried, “Yes. Da-da.” He picked her up and hugged her gently.
She put her chubby little arms around his hard body and cuddled into him.
Angelo held her close. “My sweet little Angelina. I love you so much.”
Gina gently slapped his face and smiled. “Da-da.”
Angelo’s heart soared. He kissed the top of her head as he prayed, “God please, no matter what happens, please let her remember me.”
He went to find Rosalie. “Rosie! She finally remembers me!”
A slice of a smile crossed Rosalie’s face. “I’m happy for you, Angelo. I knew she would.”
The week with Angelo being at home went way too fast. The day before he left, Rosalie approached him holding a large yellow envelope. Her stern face matched her determined eyes. Angelo never witnessed such seriousness in her before.
She handed him the envelope.” Angelo, I need you to sign some papers.”
“Some legal papers. I learned wives with husbands in the service, especially a husband going off to war need to take legal steps before he leaves.” Rosie cleared her throat as her eyes filled with tears.
Angelo stared at her. “I’ll sign whatever you need, sweetheart.” He released the metal closure and pulled out the legal documents. The envelope contained a last will and testament, a power of attorney, and a deed to the house. “Geez, Rosie, is this really necessary?”
“Yes.” Her voice quivered. “Please sign the dang papers, Angelo. I must do this because of your choice to avenge Tony.” Rosalie’s true feelings rolled over her like a snowball going down a steep hill. “I don’t want to be alone, but I must. I don’t want to give birth alone, but I must. Just sign the GD papers, Angelo!” She took a deep breath pushing down the hidden implication of the documents.
Angelo signed the papers while Rosalie stood like a sentry next to him. Then he handed them back to her.
She said in a flat voice. “Thank you.” Without looking at the death documents, she slipped them into the envelope.
Angelo stood up and embraced her. “I realize my decision has made our lives harder, but I want you to realize I’m proud you’re taking steps to prepare for what might come.” He tipped her chin and placed a tender kiss on her lips. “I also want you to understand I will crawl on my belly for a thousand miles to come back home to you. If you need these documents someday, well–” His voice cracked. “I love you Rosie. You’re the only girl for me.” He avoided her eyes, dropped his embrace, and headed for the backyard. He pulled a cigarette from the pack in his shirt pocket. He took a long drag before his eyes moistened. Rosie thinks I’m not coming home. Oh my God, what did I do?
After the document encounter, Rosalie relaxed and cherished the little time left with Angelo. She attempted to remember his scent, his touch, and his kisses. They made love every night and fell asleep entwined. She woke during the night and listened to him breath. She stared at him sleeping peacefully and wondered what he would endure for the next two years. She prayed for his safe return home and put her head on his chest to listen to his heartbeat. She went to sleep and dreamed the Marines didn’t want him after all.
Angelo’s mother came over way too often during Angelo’s one short week of leave. Rosalie understood her wanting to spend a lot of time with Angelo before he left, especially after losing Tony at Pearl Harbor. Angelo’s father vowed to protect Rosie. Gina, and the new baby; no one said goodbye. The word “goodbye” meant a finality nobody could face.
Rosie insisted she accompany Angelo to Chicago on a bus. She wanted to be with her husband as long as time would permit. Only God knew when he would be home again. She concentrated on saying “when” instead of “if.”
Angelo welcomed Rosalie’s company for the long bus ride to Chicago. He needed to hold her as long as possible. He cradled her as she laid her head on his strong shoulder. Sitting so close together reminded him of their high school dating days when they sat in the car for hours watching the “submarine races” on the river. How did two years pass so quickly? High school seemed a lifetime ago.
As the bus roamed through one small town after another, Rosie and Angelo talked about everyday things– what she planned to do to keep busy, about names for the new baby, and how they imagined Gina might behave once the baby came. Rosie told him Donna would be moving into the house in July to help with the expenses and the new baby. Even though Angelo didn’t approve of Donna’s party girl reputation, he relaxed because she offered to stay with Rosie.
Rosie jabbered on about how she planned to can the vegetables growing in her victory garden and how her father helped her keep the plants healthy to make sure of a good harvest. Angelo recalled funny stories about different guys in his basic training group, and what life was like in a barracks full of guys from around the country. They avoided speaking about the war.
Rosalie walked Angelo to the gate where he boarded the airplane to fly to San Francisco. She kept her eyes fixed on him as Angelo walked to the plane across the tarmac. She held her breath as he walked up the ladder and disappeared into the belly of the plane. Rosie lost the battle of keeping her tears away. She waved until the plane taxied away and then let her tears of their unknown future roll down her cheeks. She boarded the bus which would take her back to Lacrosse and stared out the window for much of the trip. Her Angelo was headed for war against a ferocious enemy.
As Rosalie headed home, Angelo fastened his seat belt waiting for the plane to lift off for San Francisco. Through the small plane porthole, he prayed. “Oh God, please take care of her while I’m gone. Please give her an easy time when the baby comes. Please be with her always. I love her so much.”