Tag Archive | traditions

Let There Be Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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It’s Time to Say Thank You

Every fourth Thursday of November, families gather around tables to share a special meal which usually involves turkey. This ONE day was declared a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln so Americans could give thanks for their their blessings. But in recent years, Thanksgiving has lost its punch because the holiday now finds itself buried under “Black Friday” shopping ads. Some stores even open on Thursday afternoon with their door buster sales. Am I  nuts to think this is nuts? Are we Americans really that eager to join throngs of frantic people rushing from store to store before the leftovers are even refrigerated?

Personally, I like to give each holiday its due. Face it, we only have one Easter, one 4th of July, one Memorial Day, one Labor Day, one Veteran’s Day and one Halloween per year. Why rush it all?

It seems holidays in general have become little more than a day off for over-worked employees, except of course, the poor people who have to work on the holidays because heaven forbid the stores might lose a couple of bucks in revenue if they shut their doors. Bah Humbug!

I’m old enough to remember when stores were NOT open on Sundays. We took twenty-four hours to just relax. If we needed a gallon of milk, well, we stocked up on Saturday or waited until Monday to refill the frig. Nobody died because we didn’t have enough milk. But that was before companies studied the 40-hour week and found it was more efficient to put people on 4-day work schedules for ten hours and rotate them during the rest of the month. Luckily, I didn’t ever have to work such crazy hours, but my daughter now does. And I tell you, she looks tired all of the time.

We also waited for every holiday and enjoyed the festivities connected with each. The world was slower than, and frankly, speeding up the pace of living has turned most of us into nervous wrecks. I jumped off that merry-go-round about seven years ago with a premature retirement and to tell you the truth, I haven’t missed the helter-skelter world at all.

I just think it isn’t too much to ask to take one day out of the year and make a point of looking at your life and finding things to be thankful for. I understand sometimes when the bottom has dropped out of your world, this task can be more challenging. We’ve all been there. But I suggest if you don’t go hungry, have a roof over your head, and don’t have to fear a bomb will hit your house, bow your head and say “Thanks.”

 

 

Solving The Retirement Puzzle

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

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

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

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

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

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

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

April, 1945

My dear Emma,

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

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

 All my love, Marta

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

 

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Me, too.” Johnny said.

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

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

“Johnny, please meet my wife, Heidi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup.” He laughed.

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

“B-17s. And you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Are You Ready For Some Football?

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

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

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

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie laughed.

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnny laughed. “You get used to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter grinned. “A pretty smart one.”

Chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She named the baby AJ?”

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

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

*****

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

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

 

Let the Season Begin!

Today  I’m wading through the aftermath of a horrible performance of the Green Bay Packers last night. Yes, I’m an NFL fan. I’ve loved the game since I was ten years old when I shared Sunday games with my Dad, learning the rules by watching and listening to the announcers.

At the time none of my girlfriends shared my avid  interest in football; they played with dolls and I didn’t own one. I loved sports of all kinds, so when we attended high school games, I became the play-by-by commentator for the girls sitting near me. I explained what  happened on the field and never speculated what the next play would be like so many professional idiots do today. (I love it when the know-it-alls are wrong.)

I told my eager students football is really a simple game. The team with the ball has four chances to make ten yards. If they don’t achieve that goal, they have to give the opposing  team a chance to do the same. After the girls grasped Football 101, I went on to explain some of the penalties and other technical terms like touchdown, field goals, punts, etc.

The Packers are an amazing professional football franchise because they are owned and funded by the community of Green Bay and supported their fans. Every home game is standing room only, and there’s a waiting list to purchase season tickets. People with the coveted season tickets often will them to family members.

August brings preseason games so fans can glimpse the newbies in town who are trying to make the teams. September signals the start of the “real” season. Every Sunday we  don our special t-shirts to stand in solidarity with the fans who are sitting in the stands to watch the green and gold go into battle. Luckily those girls I tutored in the stands on Friday nights in the 60s are still as nuts about the game like me.

People are so nuts about our gridiron heroes they flock to watch the team practice in the heat of the summer. It’s a tradition for players to ride kids’ bikes from the locker room to the practice field, and they will brag about who rode their bike for the rest of their lives. Lambeau Field has become a football shrine through the years. The whole country seems to attend a game there once in their life. We cheer with them and suffer with them — even after a string of poor  coaches and players which took the field in the 70s and 80s resulting in one losing season after another.

What’s the real attraction? Who knows for sure. I think it might be we get to yell at the television at terrible calls by  referees or bonehead plays by the players. We clap and jump to our feet when an exceptional play goes our way. We “tail gate” with finger-licking goodies at the dining room table. We might even have a beer.

In other words . . . football gives us a chance to have a party once a week as we muddle through the change from Fall to Winter. After the Super Bowl, we’re lost. Sunday afternoons become as barren as the weather has become brutal. The only activity left is to take a Sunday afternoon map and let the next six month pass and wait until a new season begins the fun all over again.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 11

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – Summer—Rosalie cried for two days before she decided she mourned Angelo’s departure enough. She put her energy in sewing a Blue Star Service Flag to hang in her front window. Women sewed these flags to show a family member was off serving their country in the military. She made flags for her two brothers and the Schneider boys. When she presented the two blue stars flag to her father, he proudly displayed it in his restaurant window to honor her brothers. She gave Mrs. Schneider a flag with three blue stars for Johnny, Josie, and Peter. The Armani’s flag displayed a flag with one blue star and one gold one. The gold star represented Tony’s sacrifice and the blue star represented Angelo. Rosalie prayed both stars wouldn’t turn to gold.

Rosalie filled her days with mothering Gina and preparing for the new baby. She also prepared the upstairs for Donna with a good cleaning and a new paint job. Donna picked out a pretty shade of blush pink with the idea Gina would want a bedroom of her own someday; she and Rosie knocked off painting project while Mrs. Armani took Gina for an overnight.

The only person not happy about Donna moving in turned out to be Rosalie’s mother. She argued Rosalie should come home while Angelo was gone, but Rosalie refused.   Her life would not be her own at her parent’s house. Her mother had a tendency to treat her like a child and take control of her life. Her mother would banish Rosalie from the kitchen and insist she clean her plate.  She also didn’t want to listen to her Papa’s radio programs, instead of the ones she enjoyed. Worst of all, Gina would be spoiled rotten.

When Rosalie refused to move back with her parents, Mrs. Lombardo tried another tactic. She called Donna a “loose girl” and a bad influence on Gina. Rosalie defended her life-long friend and turned a deaf ear to her mother’s rants. Finally, Rosalie got angry and warned her mother to stop bad-mouthing Donna saying she didn’t know her friend.

On the other hand, Rosalie kept her eyes opened.  She recognized Donna tended to be a bit on the wild side and having Donna under her roof might create some problems, especially if Donna brought a “friend” home for a sleep over. But Rosalie figured Donna would use her good sense and not put her in such an awkward position.

The most important reason Rosalie didn’t want to leave her home was she felt Angelo’s love. He lived in the carpet he laid, the plumbing he fixed, and the electricity he installed. She sensed his presence in their bedroom. Even though he was a world away, Rosie felt close to him in the cozy home they built together. She found strength and independence there. She needed to stay where she belonged, and she would do everything possible to keep in their love nest forever.

Chapter 12

San Francisco to New Zealand—Summer—Angelo swallowed his tears on the plane all the way to San Francisco. The possibility he might never be with her again proved to be too hard. During the bus ride to the airport, he memorized Rosalie’s sweet scent, her soft lips, the warmth of her smile, her large chocolate eyes, and how her red hair fell gently to her shoulders. He remembered how the baby kicked him when they kissed, as if to say, “Daddy, quit squeezing me!”

After the plane landed in San Francisco, a bus transported the untested Marines to the shipyard where they boarded the Erickson. On June 26th the ship would commence her voyage to somewhere in the South Pacific. Only the Captain of the ship and senior officers knew their destination. Angelo didn’t particularly care where they were going. Any place was a very long way from Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

Angelo never traveled more than one hundred miles from his home. He never rode in a boat bigger than a row boat, and his first sailing experience showed him the power of the ocean. On his free time, Angelo roamed the decks to try to shake the awful seasickness he suffered. For the first three days he thought he might die from nausea and dizziness, but a medic gave him some Dramamine to combat the effects and told Angelo to go up on the top deck and look at the horizon to equalize the pressure in his ears.

During the three-week voyage, a kid named Bobby tried to make Angelo his buddy. Bobby stood five foot six in his stocking feet. The sun bleached his blond hair to almost white and his vivid blue eyes broadcast his wild spirit. His fair ghostly white skin burned easily in the tropical sun. Angelo guessed the kid wasn’t old enough to shave, much less be in the Marines. But teenagers lied about their ages to join in the fight, and Angelo surmised Bobby to be one of them. He couldn’t be more than sixteen, although Bobby he insisted he celebrated his eighteenth birthday before he enlisted.

Angelo realized his young friend carried deep loneliness with him. Bobby still maintained a certain type of innocence, too. His biggest flaws proved to be a quick temper and eagerness to pick a fight. The youngster kept the crew laughing with his ability to tell off-color joke. He also played a mean game of poker. Angelo gave into Bobby’s pursuit and found himself taking Bobby Bobby under his wing. He was a good kid who needed a friend who could quell his wild side. Angelo believed adopting Bobby as his little brother was a way to honor Tony.

The ship dropped anchor at Wellington, New Zealand after three weeks at sea. Everyone disembarked with rubbery legs, and as soon as they stepped ashore, they became a part of ten thousand other Marines. At the port, their officers ordered them to unload the cargo on the ship then reload the needed supplies onto a Marine Transport called USS McCauley.

Soon after the supplies were transferred, battle preparation began. Sergeants led long, tiring hikes into the tropical jungle to give the grunts a small sample of what lay ahead. They honed their shooting skills and hand-to-hand combat. They used straw dummies to fine-tune bayonet training. The training at Wellington lasted over a week.

On the 21st of July Angelo and the others left New Zealand to sail to the Fiji Islands. After arriving at a small island, the next phase of their training kicked in–beach landings. The Marines climbed down cargo nets thrown over the side of the ship to awaiting Higgins Boats. The boats raced toward shore, but never dropped the ramp. Instead, the boat turned around and returned to the ship for the next group to complete the drill. Angelo thought this drill was useless. They needed to experience jumping off the boats into the cold surf and then to trudge through wet sand carrying heavy packs and loaded rifles to be properly prepared for what was to come.

On August 3rd, Angelo and the other enlisted men learned about their mission. They would land on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. When live ammunition was distributed, the mission became real. By August 6th, the marines believed they were as ready as they ever would be.

Chapter 13

Lacrosse, Wisconsin, Summer 1942—Donna moved into Rosie’s house on the hottest day in July. She drafted a couple of young, strong male volunteers from the brewery to move her bed, dresser, and clothes. She decided to store the rest of her furniture and kitchen pots and pans, dishes, and utensils at the Schneider’s storage shed.

After a full day of moving and organizing, little Gina insisted Donna put her to bed. Rosalie kissed her daughter and wished her sweet dreams as Donna lay the baby down in the crib. Rosalie filled two glasses with ice and poured fresh squeezed lemonade over cubes before she went outside to the front porch. A slight summer breeze brushed her face.

Donna joined Rosalie on the porch. “That’s one sweet little girl you have,  Rosie.”

Rosalie handed Donna the glass of lemonade. “She’s sweet, but she’s got her father’s stubbornness. Just wait.”

Donna laughed and took a long drink from the cold glass. “Rosie, this is the lemonade is so good! It hit my thirsty spot.”  Donna took another sip. “When I put Gina to bed she gave me a new name.”

“Really?”

“She said Nigh-Night Auntie Doe-Doe.”

Rosie tried to hold her giggle back, but she failed because unknowingly Gina hit the nail on the head. “That’s really funny!” Rosie smiled as she fidgeted to get comfortable on the cement step of the stoop. “I’m sorry, Donna.”

Donna said. “Don’t be sorry. I think it’s the cutest nickname I ever got.” She sipped again. “I stored a couple of porch chairs with cushions at the Schneider’s. I’ll go get them for summer nights, if you like.” Donna said.

“A cushion sounds good right now. I swear I’ll never be comfortable again.”

“I’ll pick them up after work tomorrow.”

“That’s swell. Aren’t the Schneider’s just the best people in the world?”

“Yeah. They sure saved my bacon when parents threw me out.”

“For what it’s worth, Donna, I thought your parents made a terribly cruel mistake.

“I guess being pushed out of the nest a little prematurely made me grow my wings faster. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to leave.” Donna never told her friends her about her father’s abuse when he got drunk.

“You’re such a good egg. I can’t imagine any parent treating their daughter so harshly. I’m so glad you’re here with me.”

“Thanks, Rosie. That means a lot.” Donna sipped the tart lemonade and sighed. “Someday I want to own a house and settled down. I want a family, like yours.”

“Really?”

“Why does that surprise you?”

“Well, when you and Danny went off to the World’s Fair, I thought the two of you might be running away to get married. When you didn’t marry him after he got drafted, I wondered why.”

“Danny and I are friends. He wanted more, but I wanted more than he could give.  I want the fairy tale, like you and Angelo.”

Rosalie rubbed her hand over her swollen abdomen. “You think this is a fairy tale?”

Donna laughed. “I guess that’s part of the story they left out, huh?”

Rosalie laughed. “If the stories ended like . . . and the princess got pregnant and spent her life cleaning up messes, changing dirty diapers and washing grubby hands and faces all day . . . do you think any of us would want the fairy tale?”

Donna laughed hard at the picture Rosie painted.

Rosalie stared out into the darkness again. She listened to the crickets sing their evening song. “I wonder what Josie’s doing right now.”

“I just hope she’s safe. I worry about her all the time.”

“Me, too. But if anyone can do the job she’s chosen, Josie can.”

“Yeah.” Donna’s voice trailed off. The girls sat in silence for a few minutes.

Donna picked up her glass of lemonade and said, “A toast.”

Rosalie picked up her glass.

“To Josie. A woman who follows her own mind and possesses the courage to deal with the consequences.”

They clinked their glasses before Rosalie added, “To my friend Donna who will make my abandonment tolerable and fun.”

The girls smiled at each other and then stared out into the night with their private thoughts before they turned in for the night.

 

 

 

Entering a New Life

423019Last night one of my best friends called to say her twin brother had died. Jerry suffered from an incurable cancer. Everyone who loved him hoped that his first remission would have lasted longer, but after a short eighteen months, the cancer returned. The news was disheartening for his family.

Whenever I hear about someone my own age dying, it has always had an affect on me. Selfishly, I wonder what I would do if I had to face dying. I like to think the best. I like to think I would die with dignity, facing the unknown like I have faced so many other unknown situations that have entered my life. I like to think I would look at death as my next big adventure. I hope my next stop is a better world, where there is no pain or hunger. I hope this place lets me have the freedom to hurt no more. I hope this place is happy where I can rejoin others who have passed before me.

For thousands of years humans have believe in an afterlife, but is there such a place? When it comes down to it, we truly don’t know what happens after death. Growing up Christian I was taught I am an eternal being, and this earthly place is just part of my journey. If I live a good life, I will be rewarded in heaven. This ideology is a pleasant thought, isn’t it? Even Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He believed in heaven. If that thought is good enough for Him, then it certainly is good enough for me.

But are we humans really better than all of the other living things on this earth? Personally, I’m a little ashamed of my species. After thousands of years, we have learned nothing about living in harmony with nature and one another. We just keep on thinking of better ways to destroy our world and each other. It’s no wonder we want to leave here. Will we really do better in heaven?

I hope for Jerry’s sake there is a heaven. I hope for my sake and everyone I love there is a beautiful place where we all can meet after death and have a grand party. When I must face my own death, I will die as I have lived. Death is part of the cycle of life, and hopefully, I’ve fulfilled my mission here, even though I truly am not sure what it is.

Until that day comes, though, I will continue on the path I’ve struck. I will continue to live with love in my heart, and hope that love has touched others in a way that will live on. So if there is a heaven, I hope to see you there someday.

Saluting our Veterans

Veteran's Day ParadeAs an author of a series of novels that are set in the World War II years, I have researched a lot about the time period. I wonder how people survived the horrors war from hunger to torture. Today, war is so often glorified in movies and video games that it really sickens me. In these media a hero marches in, drops a few bombs, and the war or game is over. Once in a while, movies like “Saving Private Ryan” attempt to show the “real” experience. Even though the makers of this movie might have gotten the graphics right to show the true experience of being an infantryman, we don’t smell the sulfur of  the bombs; we don’t feel the pain of the ear-piercing sounds and the fear that shakes a person to the core; and most of all, we don’t see the mangled friends that stare ahead in death.

On November 11th every year, I wonder how many of us truly even give a passing thought of the sacrifices military men and woman have made through the years, so the rest of us Americans can live in a country where we have a freedom which is available nowhere else in the world.

Yeah, we have an Congress who has been sitting on its hands for four years. We have violence in our streets. We have mentally ill boys shooting up public places. We have people going hungry. We don’t have enough jobs. Our educational system has suffered through the years. America is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

What we have in this country that our veterans have protected is our way of life–warts and all. We can disagree with the government and not fear we will be put in jail. In fact, comedians on the late shows have made a living of making fun of our leaders. Where else in the world does that happen?  We can live where we can afford to live. We believe if a person wants to succeed, all it takes is dedication and hard work to make the dream happen. We have the freedom to think out of the box and the whole world looks to our innovation.

So when you see a person dressed in a military uniform today, be sure and thank them for their service. If you have a veteran in your family, call them and tell them how you feel about their sacrifices. And if you have a chance, take a walk through a cemetery and notice all the American flags that fly on the graves of people who have served and passed. Don’t let the day go by without any recognition. That’s your duty.