Tag Archive | women

The End

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

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

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Chapter 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

Josie blushed before she hugged her friends.

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

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

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

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

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

Life didn’t get better than that.

 

Oil Changes and Other Adventures

Since Ken’s fall last Sunday, I’ve been a space cadet. I knew I was upset when he went down in the garage and his noggin hit the  pavement, but I never dreamed I’d become stupid

Here’s one thing that happened the following week. I won’t bore you with all of my ridiculous behavior.

I needed to get the car in for an oil change and tire rotation before the end of September because I had a coupon from the dealership which saved me about $40. I called my friend Pam to pick me up so we could have a cup of coffee while the car waited its turn to have a transfusion and tire adjustment.

We both took off from my house and traveled west. I pulled into the driveway of the garage and thought, “This doesn’t look right. Oh well, I haven’t been out here for quite a while, maybe they did some rennovations to the building.” I drove through the unfamiliar entrance and got out of the car to talk to the intake manager. It went like this:

“Good afternoon, Miss.” (I love it when they don’t call me “ma’am.”) “What can we do for you today?”

I answered. “I have a 2:30 appointment for an oil change and tire rotation.”

“Name?”

“Barbara McCloskey.”

“How do you spell that?”

“M C C L O S K E Y.”

He rattled a few keys on the computer and his face went blank. “Your not in the computer.”

“I called yesterday and talked to Patty.”

“We don’t have a Patty on staff.”

Now I really thought I lost my mind. “I don’t understand. I talked at Patty at Palmen Service Department and signed up to bring my car in at 2:30.”

He still wore a blank expression. “Palmen?”

“Yes.”

“Ma’am (oh god, now I’m ma’am.) You’re at Boucher. Palmen is two block that way.” He pointed east.

“Well that explains everything, huh?” I actually didn’t blush. “I’m at the wrong dealership. Chalk it up to a senior moment.”

I got in my car and exited the service bay. In my rear view mirror, I saw him laughing as he talked to one of his colleagues. Great! Now I won the reputation of a crazy lady.

A few seconds later I pulled into the right dealership. Honked the horn to get them to open the door. Drove in. Got out and repeated the process.

The guy says, “Your name in not in the computer.”

“I talked to Patty yesterday and made the appointment.”

“We have two Pattys.”

“Good. I talked to one of them.”

“Hmmmm.” The guy tapped on the computer a bit. “We can fit you in.”

“I have a coupon for the oil change and tire rotation.”

“All right.”

I dug in my purse. My husband calls the thing my black hole, and today he was right on. I had no coupon. Then I remembered I left it on my desk. “When I come back, I’ll bring the coupon.”

He must have sensed I was having a bad day. “That will be fine, ma’am.”

I smiled and called Pam because she was nowhere to be seen. “Hi, my friend. Where are you?”

“The question is where are you?”

“I’m at Palmen where I’m supposed to be.”

“I saw you drive into Boucher and then I lost you.”

“Just come to Palmen, and I’ll wait outside for you.”

“Okay.” She hung up.

Two seconds later, we made contact. I opened the passenger’s door and plopped down in the seat. “I need a drink. Not coffee.”

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 17

London, England – August—Danny and other American escapees boarded a U. S. Army truck to travel to Lyon. They stayed for a week before being flown to London. Debriefing took place at SHAEF headquarters at Grosvenor House. Danny requested he be allowed to rejoin his flying group, but learned they all went home a month ago. Instead, he was to report to Major Jamison in London for his new assignment. The first order of business, though, was to retrieve his footlocker that had been put in storage in Liverpool. Danny flew a B-17 to Liverpool. There the returning POWs were directed to storage building which housed the personal belongings of airmen who hadn’t returned to their units. When the sergeant in charge opened the door, Danny’s mouth dropped. Thousands of foot lockers filled the old facility. Row upon row of lockers stacked to the ceiling told the true cost of war. After the men found their lockers, they went to the mess hall for a typical breakfast of powered eggs and toast. There was little chatter during the flight back to London.

Danny waited about an hour at headquarters for new orders before he was escorted into Major Jamison’s office.

“I understand the Swiss held you prisoner after you crashed.” The major said as he lit his pipe.

“Yes sir.”

“Is it true they gave you freedom to roam the towns, attend concerts, and other activities without guards being present?”

“Yes sir. If an airman needs to be a prisoner, Switzerland is the place to be.”

“How did you escape?”

“I gathered civilian clothes a piece at a time and hid my costume in the floorboards of the barracks. When I had all I needed, I had a waitress I grew to know buy me a train ticket to Zurich. I learned the librarian had ties to the French Resistance. She put me in touch with another woman who made arrangement for my escape.”

“How long did that take?”

Danny gulped. If he told the truth about how long his time in Switzerland really was, the major would think he was a deserter.   “A couple of months.”

“When did you get captured?”

“In February, sir.” Danny then said, “Why do I need to repeat this, sir?  I covered this in my debriefing.”

“I understand. But I need to know for myself. Why so long to get back here?”

Beads of sweat formed on Danny’s forehead. “Well, it took a while to get hooked up with the Marquis.”

The Major pressed Danny further because he sensed the whole story remained untold.  Six months seems like a very long time lieutenant.”

“Yes sir.”

“Can you explain the delay?”

“Well,” Danny’s lying skills left a lot to be desire, so he took a deep breath and confessed. “The young woman who helped me took in three Jewish orphans, and well, uh, she needed some help. The place she lived in needed a lot of work, and well, uh, I fixed up the place a little.”

“That’s quite an unusual story, lieutenant.” The Major drummed his fingers on the desk. “Did you consider deserting, airman?”

“No sir. Never.” Danny stared the major meeting the superior officer’s eyes.

“I still don’t understand the six month delay to get back here.”

“I confess. I fell in love.” Danny remained straight as an arrow in the hard oak chair. “I got married.”

The Major exploded and propelled himself out of his chair. “You what?”

Danny repeated. “I got married, sir.”

Major Jamison got up from his chair and paced around the room like a hungry lion. “Why on earth would you do such a thing? Didn’t you think an American airman might need permission of his CO to marry a foreigner while in the service?”

Danny gulped. “No, sir. I didn’t.”

“I’m sorry, son, but your marriage to this girl is not legal.”

Now Danny stood. “What?”

The Major and Danny stood face to face. “You’re not legally married in the eyes of the Air Corps.”

Danny didn’t believe what he heard. “How do I make the marriage legal? Heidi means the world to me.”

“I can’t believe you did such a stupid thing!” The major realized he lost control of his temper and lowered his voice. “The proper procedure is to bring her to England. Then I must meet her and sign off on the marriage. Only then you can marry her. Afterward, you’ll be sent home, and she will remain in England until the war is over to be sent to the States.”

“Oh my God.” Danny’s first thought was Heidi. How would find the words to tell her that their marriage wasn’t valid. Danny’s voice quavered. “I never guessed getting married to someone needed any permission.”

“The problem is you didn’t think!” The Major said. “Is she Swiss?”

“No, sir. She’s German.”

“Jesus God! That makes this situation even more ridiculous. You can’t marry the enemy, airman!” The Major yelled.

Danny looked at his shoes. He sensed if he looked at the Major he might cry.

The Major returned to his chair. “Sit down, lieutenant. Let’s take a breath.”

Danny obeyed, but he avoided the Major’s eyes.

“I must say, this is the most interesting predicament I’ve faced. I understand a young guy falling in love with a pretty girl. I’m not dead yet.” The Major chuckled. “But the marry a German? What are you, nuts?”

Danny got the courage to look him in the eye. “No sir.”

The major leaned back into his chair as his mind worked for a solution. ““Give me some time, and I’ll try to work this out.”

“You’ll help me?”

“I’ll explore the options. Getting permission depends upon this girl. I want to listen to her story. But if you say a word about this, and I end up with a reputation of being a softie, I will skin you myself!” The Major said with a harsh tone.

“Yes sir.”

“Let me make a few calls. Come back on Friday.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you sir.” Danny rose and saluted.

The Major returned his salute and then picked up the phone. “James, get me Colonel Chadwick.”

*****

The next three days seemed like three years. Danny killed time by celebrating Armistice Day in London at Westminster Abbey. He went into the pubs at night. He wandered the streets of London and witnessed the devastation the Germans inflicted on the city and wondered how he would react if the Germans had bombed Lacrosse. Then he thought of the cities across Europe which had suffered the same tragedy by the hands of American bombers.

On Friday Danny returned to the Major’s office. He learned the major made arrangements with the French resistance to bring Heidi and the family to Annecy. The Major told Danny he would inform him when her plane landed in London. That afternoon, Danny went into London to look for a proper wedding ring.

Chapter 18

Montpelier, South of France, September—The enticement of returning to Paris proved to be strong for Emma. She tried working as a clerk, but everyday the hours dragged by and she found no joy in her work. She spent her days wondering how different Paris might be. She romanticized her return to the apartment she and Marta shared before the war. She wanted to breathe freedom again in the city she loved. The only solution seemed to be to leave the sleepy little town she and Marta called home for the past several months.

Emma realized Marta wanted to make a  new home in the south of France, but she couldn’t. She didn’t want to appear as ungrateful and selfish because she knew without Marta’s loving care she never would have recovered fully from the torture she endured. Every discussion they had about returning to Paris ending in an argument. Marta loved living in a quiet paradise. Emma equated the little town as another prison.

After Emma packed her few belongings she wrote a goodbye note.

Dear Marta,

You are my eternal lover, but I am finding living here is killing me softly. I want to enjoy a free Paris, so I will go ahead and find an apartment for the two of us and write when I am settled.

It is true the war caused both of us so much hardship, but now it is time to put the terrors of war behind us. I possess no illusions about returning to politics. I promise. I performed my duty to my adopted country, and now all I want is to return to my adopted home.

I am sorry to take the coward’s way out by leaving you this note, but I cannot face your tears or anger.

I hope you’ll forgive me for leaving you this way. Please follow me back to Paris.

All my love, Emma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

A Shrinking World?

Yesterday I talked with my good friend Catherine who moved to Florida about three years ago. Her move was difficult for me because we had lived within an hour’s drive of each other for over twenty years. But the move was necessary, and I accepted the fact I might have lost her being close, but now I had a nice place to visit.

During our long conversation, Catherine asked me whether I thought her world had shrunken. I thought the question was queer, so I asked her why she would think such a thing. She told me another good friend of hers said Catherine was wasting away in the land of boredom.

I was shocked. How could a long-time friend say such a thing? Even if their life styles were different, I couldn’t imagine one friend being so cruel to another. I saw the comment as a lack of respect and knew Catherine was stinging from it.

This friend had just retired and was embarking on a new adventure and retiring in the Virgin Islands, so she probably saw Catherine’s day-to-day life at home as mundane. But even so, I told Catherine such a comment was cruel, and I reminded her never let someone else define her.

For years Catherine and I have followed a similar path. We even worked together on two different jobs. Now we are caretakers for our husbands, but our choice doesn’t by any means make us boring. In fact, we both have embarked on another course in life which is slower and more meaningful than when we battled every day in the nonsense of the corporate world. She’s adjusting to a new place to live and is learning how to navigate different people and surroundings. Believe me, at 65 that’s not easy. I don’t think I could do it.

Her friend, on the other had, never suffered job losses like Catherine and I did, which resulted in having to raid our retirement investments just to stay alive. Her friend never had to care for a sick husband. Her friend never had to reinvent herself, as both of us have done. In my book, her friend is the boring one!

It’s too bad such falling-outs happen, but I have found whenever your life takes a different turn, sometimes even old friends fall off the cart. It’s sad we can’t maintain every friendship we’ve ever cultivated, but that’s truly unrealistic, isn’t it? We bring friends into our lives because we gain something from them at that particular time in life. In turn, we also give them what they need from the relationship. If a friendship works one way –one is always giving and the other doesn’t reciprocate, it’s not a healthy friendship.

Who knows if Catherine and her friend will reunite again. Fences need to be mended if they want to regain what they had in the past. It’s always sad to let a long time friends go, but sometimes it is necessary. The good news is, another person will fill the void–not in the same way, of course–but in a new and exciting way of sharing and caring. It’s the way the world works.

######

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 14

Lacrosse, Wisconsin—July 1942—The mail proved to be a lifeline for everyone during the war, even though the government censored correspondence. The stringent rules prohibited writing anything about what factories produced or where goods might be shipped. All enlisted men and their officers needed to keep their whereabouts a secret. No one could write about weather conditions. Even private codes between couples shouldn’t be used because such messages might be some kind of espionage attempt, and censors would take them out. Consequently, most letters became a diary of everyday happenings. Rosalie guessed her news must seem uneventful and unimportant in the world scheme of things, but she wrote to Angelo every afternoon while Gina napped. Angelo wrote about fellas on the ship and tried to follow in his big brother Tony’s footsteps by keeping his stories light and humorous. Only their letters reached across the world and attempted to keep them close. Whenever Rosalie’s mailbox produced a letter from him, she couldn’t get in the house fast enough to read his lines.

July, 1942

My dearest Rosie,

 I’m sweating buckets out in the South Pacific, but I imagine you’re doing the same in our little house, too. The daily monotony of life at sea is over.  The officers tell us to enjoy the monotony of drilling because when we go ashore we’ll beg for a clean rack and a hot meal.

I think of you and Gina every minute. With all this time to think, I am glad you invited Donna to stay with you. She’s a good egg, and I can relax a little because you’re not alone. I’ll eat crow and admit she is so much more than a “good time girl.” I’m grateful she is helping you with Gina and the other household chores. I laughed out loud when you wrote about Gina calling her “Auntie Doe Doe.”

 I dream of you, too, sweetheart, but we both know why I’m here. I love our life together, and in order to keep living with the freedom we enjoy, I must pitch in and do my part.

 I’m proud you can handle everything at home, but please ask my parents and Eduardo for help. They need to help as much as you probably need them. Please my darling, do this for me.

 Do me one more favor, okay? Would you write to my new friend Bobby? He’s a kid from Wisconsin with no family contact.  His father is an SOB and his mother only writes once in a blue moon on the QT. He’s a good kid and deserves better.

 By the time you get this letter, I’ll probably be a father again. How I wish I could be with you. My heart breaks when I think of not being able to hold our dear new baby.  Oh Rosie, we built such a wonderful life together in such a short time. I promise I will fight hard to come home again to be in your arms again.

 I love you sweetheart. Kiss Gina for me. And give Donna a hug, too.

 Loving you forever, your Angelo

Rosalie put Angelo’s letter down and sighed. Because there were weeks between sending and receiving letters, her beloved Angelo might be facing an impending battle somewhere in the South Pacific. Rosalie prayed for his safety and vowed she would search the newspapers for any news about his division. She decided to keep a scrapbook about the war in the South Pacific, so she could remain close to him.

Rosalie’s due date came and went, and she felt as big as a whale and as hot as a furnace. She wished she could write to Angelo and tell him he needed to pass out cigars again, but this baby decided he wanted to be close to his mother for a few more days. With Angelo away, she needed to name the baby. She chose to honor the two bravest people in her life. If the baby happened to be a girl her name would be Josie, and if a boy Angelo.

Chapter 15

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – August—Two days after she received Angelo’s most recent letter, she received another. Getting two letters so close together surprised Rosalie.

July, 1942

 My dearest Rosie,

By the time you get this letter, what I’m telling you will be long over, but I wanted to write and assure you I am well. I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to write again, so I’m taking this quiet moment to tell you I love you so much.

I can’t say anything about where I am. But I can tell you soon I’ll be on an island somewhere in the South Pacific. Everybody is a little jumpy, wondering what will be in store for us once we land on the beach.  Hopefully, the Japs got wind of our intent to land and will turn tail and run home.  (Ha,ha)

 I keep a picture of you and Gina close to my heart – right under my dog tags. The thought of getting back to your loving arms and our sweet little daughter keeps me going.

 Don’t worry about me, sweetie. I’ll be okay, and I’ll come out of this first encounter just fine. Tell Ma I’m keeping my head down.

 Love, Angelo

Rosie folded the letter and realized Angelo probably experienced his first taste of battle. Reading between the lines she understood he was scared. Fear took a hold of her too. She wiped away one tear rolling down her cheek.

After Rosalie finished her prayer for her husband, Donna blew threw the back door.

“Donna! You’re home so early! What happened?

Donna never hid her feelings. “Yeah.” Her snarl communicated something big.  Clearly she got ticked about something. “I’m sorry Rosie, I didn’t mean to take my frustrations out on you.”

“Tell me why you’re so upset. I get the lemonade.”

Donna plopped down on the kitchen chair across the table from where Rosie sat waiting for her explanation. “I quit my job.”

 

Rosie’s face dropped. She counted on Donna’s rent to make the house payment. “Why? I thought you liked your job.”

“I couldn’t take Bates any more. He is a bastard in the first degree.”

“But Donna, you’re a skillful secretary! What are you going to do now?”

Donna took a long swig of her lemonade and wished for a shot of vodka. “I went over to Autolite and got an assembly job. They’re paying women almost as much as the men!”

Rosalie didn’t understand. “But why would you want a factory job especially after you just got promoted? I thought you liked secretarial work.”

“The work is fine. But it’s HIM. He’s stupid! He’s gross, and I’m done!” Donna took another long sip of her drink. She behaved like she couldn’t quench the fire burning in her. “Everybody is contributing to the war effort except me. Even you, Rosie. You cook around rationing; you tend a victory garden; you write countless letters to your brothers, Josie, Angelo, and his friend Bobby. And what do I do? Nothing. Well, I’m changing that baby. I got on board today. Besides, I’ll make twice as much on an assembly line as I do in the office. The money will really help us.”

“You should think of more than just the money, Donna. Working in a factory is hot and dirty. Are you sure you can take that?”

“The office is hot too, Rosie.” Donna said, took another swig of her lemonade and then continued, “And I won’t need to put up with Bates groping me.

“He grabbed you?”

“Yes. He came around the back of me and grabbed both of my breasts. I turned around and hit him with a right cross. And then he threatened to fire me. I said, ‘I’ll save you the trouble! I quit!’ Then I stormed out of the office slamming the door behind me.”

“I certainly understand why you don’t want to go back there. But the factory? Really? You?”

“Working in the factory is good. I won’t worry about wearing fancy clothes or caring whether my nylon stocking seams are straight.” She plunked a large bag on the table. “All I need to do is wear this.” Donna stood up and pulled out a navy blue pair of baggy coveralls. “Aren’t these all the rage?” Donna laughed through her tears.

“Such a shame your new outfit will hide all your curves, but if you wear that ugly outfit, I got just the thing to complete your ensemble.”  Rosalie ran into the bedroom and returned with a red bandanna. She tied the scarf around Donna’s beautiful blond hair. “There. Now you look just like Rosie the Riveter!”

Donna laughed. “You’re so good to me!” She pranced around the kitchen with the bandanna on her head, holding the coveralls full length down her body. “I’m ready for the factory runway, don’t you think?”

“You’ll be a smash!”

The two friends laughed until their sides ached. Donna put down her “uniform” and said, “I’ll only be as ugly as the next girl, but what the hell. All the good-looking men are in the service anyhow, and the worst of the summer is almost over. Bates the Octopus can go to hell. What’s done is done. I start on Monday.”

“Well, then, let’s party!” Rosalie smiled.

“Yeah, I want to get a tan on the beach and get my nails done and . . .” she stopped in mid-sentence. “Well, maybe we won’t go to the beach; you probably don’t own a maternity swimsuit, do you?”

Rosalie said with a straight face, “No I don’t. Godske Tent Company stopped making them due to war production.”

Both girls laughed even harder than before. Laughter got them through whatever came their way.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

No Friends Like Old Friends

I don’t think I blogged about a big event I helped sponsor in June. My grade school class celebrated our fifty year reunion. Yes, you read that right– it has been 50 years since we graduated eighth grade after being together since first grade. Most of us even went on to high school together.

the class0001

Surprisingly, most of the classmates who attended had come from great distances. We had two from California, one from Arizona, three from Florida, one from Connecticut, one from North Carolina, and a host of others who drove over an hour to get to our location. Four of us “locals” never moved away from home.

 

It was a wonderful time to grow up in a small town, and for those of us who stayed here, we now appreciate the innocence we all had at age thirteen. We were safe from most of the ugliness the larger world had to offer. And yet, we weren’t pampered. Good behavior was expected on all levels of our lives. If anyone got in trouble at school, they would receive a worse punishment at home.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I’m not exactly sure. I want to share this experience because I think this gathering was unique. I don’t know of any other grade school class who ever got together in such a big way. We all formed strong bonds as children limping through eight years of Catholic education, having to attend mass every day for the duration. And everyone who lived through the reign of Sister Eloise the principle was a strong kid!

By eighth grade we all had our favorite musical group and used to argue which band was better than the other. In 1965 we had a lot of choices — Beatles, Stones, David Clark Five, Beach Boys, Kinks, and the beat goes on. We played on a playground without equipment, except for the supplies we brought from home — chalk for hopscotch boards we drew on the asphalt and ropes we used as jump ropes and double dutch ropes. If somebody brought a ball and bat, we’d divvy up sides and play a hotly contested baseball game.

It was surprising to me that we all got along so well after so much time elapsing and so many changes happening to all of us. It didn’t surprise me that half the women were teachers and the other half nurses — and then there was me, a communication specialist turned author turned caregiver. Married classmates typically had two children. Most everyone attended college, most graduated. Three girls accomplished this feat as adult students — Debby, Debbie, and me.

In fifty years so much has changed. We never dreamed we’d carry a phone in our purses or pockets. Heck, that was science fiction! We never thought we’d have a zillion channels on the television; the three major networks were the only ones to chose from and they only came in when the weather was good. All of our families had little money, but we never thought we were poor.

Maybe we didn’t produce world class scholars, professional athletes, Nobel prize winners or scientists — we’re just a group of educated, well-adjusted, and happy adults–thanks to involved parents and dedicated teachers. Who could ask for more?

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3 (Continued)

Chapter 23

Paris, France – September—Almost a month passed since Marta’s brutal rape: she healed physically as the bruises diminished, but the nightmares persisted. She returned to work appearing like the same girl, but her changes ran deep. She appeared skittish at any small noise. She constantly checked her surroundings, insuring her personal safety. When left alone in the apartment, she double-checked the locks. The only problem still existing proved to be the absence of her period.

Marta began to think perhaps she should have followed Emma’s caution to see a doctor the night of the attack. Could she be pregnant? And if she happened to be in such a state, would she be shunned by her friends? If others ever learned about Franz, would she be seen as a collaborator instead of a victim of rape? After all, any good woman said no to sex out of marriage. But Marta did say “no” again and again.  Her racing thoughts made her crazy. She gave up eating breakfast because of the nausea every morning. By mid-afternoon she would sleep in a broom closet. Marta didn’t want to face the truth and chalked up the symptoms to stress.

Every night after supper, Emma and Marta washed and dried the dishes. The chore always evoked lively conversation before they settled down to listen to the radio.

Marta began the conversation with hesitation. “Emma, I need to talk with you about something important.”

“Yes?” Emma scrubbed a stubborn spot on the soup pot.

“I need to talk about a problem.”

“What?”

“I am ashamed to say.”

“Just tell me.”  Emma glanced up at Marta whose forehead wrinkled with worry. “What is wrong, Cherie? Did you encounter Franz on the streets again?”

“No.” Marta’s eyes fell to the floor. She didn’t want Emma to witness her moist eyes.

“Did you get in trouble at work?”

Nein... I mean, no.”

“Was the soup too thin?”

“No.”

“Well what then? Do not keep me guessing.”

Marta took a deep breath and blurted, “I think I am pregnant.”

Emma dropped the large spoon she held. The loud clunk on the wooden floor made Marta jump.  “Oh no, Marta.”

Marta looked at her feet and picked up the spoon. When she stood, she gazed at Emma.

“How late are you?”

“Two weeks. First I blamed the healing process my body endured; then the stress of it all, but I am never late, Emma. Never-

Emma took Marta in her arms. “That bastard! I wish I owned a pistol.”

Marta dropped into a kitchen chair.

Emma stared at the girl she loved more than her own life as her brain worked to solve this problem. “What do you want to do if your suspicions are right?

Marta appeared like a whipped puppy. “My mother brought me up to be a mother, but how can I be a mother to a monster’s child?”

“You cannot. His seed is satanic.” Emma said. “We will need a doctor to confirm if you are indeed pregnant. If you are, then we will worry. A few ‘working’ girls with whom I am acquainted understand such things. They are very discreet.”

“We might go to the doctor down the street.”

“I do not think he does abortions.” Emma said.

Marta stared at her. Hearing the word abortion brought her situation into focus. She never seriously considered abortion, but hearing the word made her situation real. “I do not think I can go through with an abortion. The baby is blameless; the father is the devil.”

Emma couldn’t believe Marta would consider anything other solution. “I do think you need to consider what might happen if you carry this child to term. What will people think of you? Worse yet, what if Franz finds out you are carrying his child? He might take the child. Plus, we receive so little rations, how will we feed another mouth? Who will care for the baby during the day when we are at work?”

Marta cried. “I do not know! I do not know!” She screamed. “Maybe I should go home to my mother.”

Emma’s softened her voice. “No. No. You cannot return to Germany! Your mother will think this is your fault. Your father will kill you. We will solve this problem together.” Emma hated pressuring her. She engulfed the girl in her arms again. “I am sorry Marta. Whatever you decide, I will stand beside you. I promise.”

A silence hung in the air like wet laundry the entire evening. Marta retreated to her favorite chair, curled into a fetal position and closed her eyes. Why was Franz Reinhart assigned to Paris? Did he request to be here to ruin her happy life?

Somehow she needed to toughen up and take action.

Chapter 24

Minneapolis, Minnesota – October—One day about two weeks in to October, Josie picked up her mail and recognized Donna Jean’s familiar “loopy” scrawl on a business envelope. She smiled and wondered what her wild friend wrote. She ripped open the envelope and looked forward to a juicy tale from back home.

 

October, 1940

Dear Jos,

How do you like this? A typewritten letter from me! I’m using my lunch time to slip a piece of company stationary in my new Smith Corona to tell you I sure miss you. Summer provided long, hot days and I kept thinking about the fun we enjoyed at the old swimming hole. I’m being quite selfish, of course. I understand you want to get through your studies as quickly as possible to join the “real” world as a fully qualified registered nurse.  But I do think, we all need some fun, too.

Things for me are good. Work is going great!  I got promoted to Senior Secretary, and I got an office with a window and a decent boss. Best of all I got an extra twenty-five cents per day! Not exactly a fortune, but I can buy an extra beer per week. (ha,ha)

The pay raise allowed me to afford a bigger apartment in a nicer part of the city. The place is perfect for me–a bedroom, a kitchen (your mom taught me what’s done in there) a living room, and my own bathroom. No more going down the hall and having to share the toilet with grubby men who don’t clean up after themselves!

The place is freshly painted stark white. Thank god for Rosalie. She’s a genius for taking old stuff and making something new. She made some pretty pink bedroom curtains out of some old sheets which matched a “rosebud” quilt we found at the thrift store. Her Mom gave me a gray carpet that used to be in Rosalie’s old bedroom. Now my tootsies no longer need to step on the cold bare wood floor in the mornings.

The real drag is that you’re not here so I can show off my place! So, plan on staying with me at least a couple of nights when you come home at Christmastime. We’ll indulge ourselves with an old-fashioned PJ party and gossip about the latest romances around town, curl each other’s hair, and maybe even get out the Ouija board so we can see what the future holds. Since Mary and Johnny are now engaged, she and I are getting closer. We are both are office working girls, so most days we meet for lunch.

Your whole family is so great to me. Your Mom gave me dishes, pots and pans, along with some cooking lessons. Your dad gave me a kitchen table, a bed and small dresser he refinished.  Your brother Peter helped Danny move all the stuff into the new place, and for a change, things worked out for me. Your folks are so special, Jos. I hope you realize how lucky you are. My own parents still aren’t talking to me.

The only sad news is, Danny’s been drafted. Just my luck. Leave it to him to be chosen in the first peace-time draft in American history. I never got serious about Danny, but I will miss him. He’s grown on me over the months we’ve been dating. But since he got the news he’s leaving soon, he’s gotten so serious. I just hope he doesn’t propose before he leaves. I don’t want to send him off with a broken heart.

Write when you can spare a minute.  Say “Hi” to Anna. All the best for a productive semester.

 Love Always, Donna

Josie smiled as she thought of her vivacious friend. Danny getting drafted. Yow! What a drag! Then she thought of her baby brother, Peter and prayed the government wouldn’t take him too.

 

 

There is Hope

Every summer I enjoy decorating my backyard with annual flowers in pots and a few more perennials in the garden. This year I even spruced up the benches with new cushions. I do my best to make my yard a sanctuary to enjoy the three short months of warm weather in Wisconsin.

New Bench Cushions

This summer I have had a hard time sitting outside because my joy of looking out to my yard is too difficult.

For those who of you who follow me, you’ve probably read the saga about trying to build a new garage. I wrangled with the city over the sewer and water lines that were put on private property way back in 1953. This dispute caused a delay of a month. During that time the builder took another job remodeling a kitchen, which delayed us another week.

But last Monday the crew arrived and now I have a good looking garage without a door because the builder forgot to order the right size when we had to change the garage dimension because of the city’s interference. At least I have a place to park the car and the garage looks good.

And after so many delays, we’re still not done (besides the door). We have a foot deep  trench where they put the electrical wiring from the house to the new garage. See for yourself.

We also have mounds of dirt beside and behind the garage. This mess has taken away my desire to go outside and capture a little zen.

Because I’m not physically able to be pushing dirt around, I hired a landscaper yesterday. I got a couple of quotes, but this man demonstrated he really new his stuff. He explained how the space would be graded for drainage. He saw our window well on the south side of our house was too low. He listened to my desires and showed me how he would make my vision come to fruition. So in another four or five weeks I hope to have my Shangri-La  Too bad it couldn’t happen sooner, but oh well.

To hedge my bets, though, keep good thoughts for me, okay?

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3 (Continued)

Chapter 21

Paris, France—Marta woke screaming twice during the night. Emma embraced her and reassured her in a soft voice. “You are safe, darling. Go back to sleep. Leave the monsters to me.” After Marta realized she rested in her own bedroom, she fell asleep again.

Emma left the apartment as soon as city hall opened. Her boss Pierre sat at his desk, and Emma related the few details of Marta’s attack with tears in her eyes. “I need some time off to nurse her, Pierre. She is like a frightened little bird.”

“Take the time you need, Emma, but understand I need you here, too. You are a most valued employee. My best.” His grave face spoke without words. “When you return, I want to speak with you about something very important.”

Emma nodded and left. She pointed her bicycle in the direction of Marta’s favorite cafe and bought fresh croissants and coffee for the two of them. She hoped the food would help put a spark back into her lover. Emma set her purchase down on the small table in the kitchen before she checked on Marta.

Marta sensed Emma’s presence and opened her one good eye.

Emma smiled. “Good morning, sleepy head.”

Trying to smile caused pain in Marta’s face. She spoke barely above a whisper. “Good morning.”

“I bought your favorite croissants for breakfast.” Emma said softly.

Marta turned toward the wall. “Thank you. No.”

“Marta, you must eat.”

“I want to die.” Marta cried.

“You cannot die. You are too dear to me.” Emma took her hands and kissed them. “You cannot let this animal destroy you. You must fight back.”

“Too late. I am destroyed already.” Marta whispered through her thick lips.

Emma needed to understand what happened.  “Please tell me what happened.”

Marta lied. “I do not remember.”

Emma gently turned Marta to her. “Marta. Sweetheart. Tell me. Talking will help. Who did this to you?”

She said one word. “Franz.”

“Franz Reinhart? He is here? In Paris?” Emma’s surprise sounded in her voice with a pitch higher than usual.

“Yes. For a long time I suspected someone might be watching me. I heeded all your warnings, Emma.” Marta cried. “I never let myself be alone. Brigetta and I always met outside the Louvre to walk to the trolley together, but for some reason she never arrived yesterday.” Marta closed her eyes before continuing. “When I realized a Nazi  SS man was coming toward me, I scurried for the trolley. But–.” Her voice cracked and she wept.

Emma waited for Marta to continue.

Marta cleared her throat choking down the tears. “Franz cornered me before I got to the stop and insisted he buy me a drink. When I told him no thank you, he manhandled me into Le Chateau. He scared the other patrons away with shouting and carrying on; then he forced me to drink wine. Even the bartender ran away. Franz locked the doors, and then he poured wine down my throat and ripped off my blouse.” Marta whimpered.  “He bent me forward over a table and pounded his thing into me. Then he spun me around, and attacked me from the front. He called me a French whore and screamed I wanted it.”

Marta paused and took in a deep breath. “After the two attacks, he fell asleep, I tried to escape out the back door, but he caught me. He threw me onto the floor and raped me again. Before he left, he spat on me.” Sobs shook her body.

Marta’s story proved to be worse than Emma imagined. Her anger flared into an inferno as she pictured Marta’s attacker. She had always disliked Franz Reinhart because she considered him crude, but now she hated him from deep within herself. He brutalized the woman she loved, and he should be punished for his crime.

After Marta calmed herself, she released herself from Emma’s embrace. “How do I heal from this? The pain is so great. Tell me how I will ever wash off his stink. Tell me how I will ever be able to get him out of my head.”

“Sharing the horror with a trusted friend and taking time to heal is all anyone can do in such a situation. But understand this. Your wounds will heal and you will get stronger. The nightmares will stop some day, and I will be with you through all of it.” She continued to speak softly. “Marta, we need to get you to the doctor, and you should also go to the police.”

“No doctor. No police. No one will believe me.”

“But, Marta, be reasonable. I can handle your superficial injuries but what about the internal ones?  Wonder if he made you pregnant? We need to go.”

“No doctors.” Marta turned away. “I couldn’t bear a man touching me again.

Emma didn’t try to convince her of reporting the rape to the police. She realized Marta didn’t want to face anyone right now.

Chapter 22

Minneapolis, Minnesota – August—The summer months proved to be oppressively lonesome for Josie, especially after saying goodbye to Johnny in June. She returned to campus for the summer session, and stayed in the dorm room she shared with Anna for the last two semesters. Without Anna, Josie battled her worst case of homesickness she ever experienced. She suffered emptiness. Most students on campus now needed to make up classes because they failed in previous semesters, while other new students commuted from home.

Josie tried to occupy her waking hours with classes, labs, and research, but she missed Anna’s quick wit and lively conversation. Most nights Josie fell into bed so tired she didn’t dream. But other nights, Johnny’s letters kept her awake. He shipped out two weeks after he returned to Texas. He told everyone he would fly supply missions to help the Brits, when in fact, he got assigned to fly combat missions with the Royal Air Force. His superiors charged him to learn combat formations and attack techniques from British pilots,  so when more American aviators came to Britain, he would be ready to train them, provided he lived through the experience.

After the summer session ended, Josie stayed on campus to save train fare for a trip home at Thanksgiving. Her mother and Donna Jean wanted her to come home for the two weeks in between semesters, but Josie told them she wanted to use the time to get a jump on the classes she would take next semester.

When Anna came back to school a week before classes started, she cured Josie’s loneliness. The two girls fell into step like no time had elapsed. Their reunion helped both of them put the long summer behind them. They enjoyed swimming in the school pool during the afternoons. They frequented a nearby malt shop most every night as the jukebox kept the place jumping. They sipped their Cokes and tapped their feet to the beat of the big bands when they chose to sit and visit instead of dancing.

Anna and Josie enjoyed sleeping late during their “free week,” after they chatted well into the wee hours of the morning. They giggled and forgot about the hard work both of them did over the summer. Anna received her scholarship renewal, and all the blisters on her feet from serving A & W Root beer on roller skates finally healed.

Classes began again the day after Labor Day. The trees on campus started to turn fall colors, and the days grew shorter. The girls took the new changes in stride and fell into an easy routine.  Debilitating homesickness never set in like it had last year. Now letters from home seemed to be enough to keep them connected with family and friends. They both looked forward to a productive happy new year.

 

 

 

In With the New and Retire the Old

 I’ve been writing on a laptop since 2009. The operating system is Vista and the “Word” software is Office 2003. Dated? Yup. Besides having software from the stone age, my faithful computer is also broken in a couple of places. I’ve used this machine so much I’ve worn the paint off letters N, B, and E. That’s why I asked for a new laptop for my birthday. But I’m finding once again–be careful what you ask for.

Excitement filled me as I signed on the dotted line to take ownership of the package the FedEx guy delivered. I tore open the box and there she was. Bright, shining and virginal–the new little Dell was ready for action–well, not quite yet. There was a booklet of instructions included in the package and when I studied them, I decided I wouldn’t attempt initializing the machine right away because who wants to get frustrated on a perfect birthday. Right?

My birthday celebration and the aftermath have passed. The “Taj Garage” is halfway completed and poor new little Dell is still sitting untouched. I realize I must gear up and find some techie courage to begin making my new machine mine. I  must accept my first try loading software maybe a challenge. I also must accept I will need to transfer files and links to other websites I use all the time. I will bang my head against the wall trying to remember passwords and user names. See why I’m dragging my feet?

“Old Faithful” Dell has become a comfortable friend. She has produced eight novels, a blog with over 400 posts, over twenty short stories and too many emails to count. She’s entertained me with certain games and connected me with long lost friends. I haven’t the heart to replace her even though I know I must. Weaning myself away from my old friend a little bit at a time seems to be the only sensible way we will part. Perhaps if I set new Dell on the table and look at her for a while, I may gain some courage to make the replacement.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3

Chapter 8

Lacrosse, April 1, 1940—Rosalie came home a week after Angelina’s birth. A nurse took her down to the exit the hospital in a wheelchair, and Angelo treated her like a fragile flower as he helped her in the car. The birth took so much of her strength and vitality; he wondered how she would ever be able to take care of the baby alone.

Mrs. Lombardo and his mother volunteered to care for both Rosalie and the child until the new mother regained her strength. They assured him Rosie just needed rest and a chance to bond with the new baby.

When Angelo brought Rosie home, her mother met the couple in the driveway with open arms. “Bambina! Welcome home!”

“Oh Mama,” Rosalie cried.

“Let me carry the bambina for you. You look so tired.” Mrs. Lombardo scowled when she saw the dark circles and pale complexion of her daughter.

Angelo carried the suitcase and helped Rosie get into the house. Mrs. Armani prepared a hot lunch for everyone, and Angelo’s father made sure a beautiful bouquet of yellow roses welcomed Rosalie home.

Rosalie sighed. “I’m so glad to be home.”

Mrs. Lombardo took charge. “Let’s get you out of that coat, sweetheart so you can eat lunch.” She handed Angelo the coat to hang in the closet. She continued with her orders, “Then you can nurse the baby before her nap.”

Simmering hot beef, roasted carrots, and potatoes made Angelo salivate. “Doesn’t the food smell good, Rosie?” Angelo lived on cold sandwiches while Rosalie recovered in the hospital, and now he planned to gorge himself on a hot, home-cooked meal.

Angelo pulled out a chair for Rosalie, and his mother put a filled plate in front of her. “Mangiare!”

As Angelo gobbled down a healthy portion of the meal, Rosalie picked at her food. “Mama, I’m sorry. I’m just not hungry.”

“But Rosalie, you must eat to make the baby’s milk.”

Rosalie threw her napkin on top of her food. “I’m sick of having to eat for the baby. The baby is out of me now, so why do I still need to eat for the baby?”

Her mother stared in disbelief. She tried to understand how Rosalie might be overwhelmed. “My sweet girl, the baby needs you as much now as she did before she came into the world, bambina. God planned it that way.”

“It’s not enough she tore me up inside and out? Now I am supposed to be a cow, too?” Rosalie screamed and stomped into the living room.

Angelo hung his head and stared at the good meal in front of him. He realized he didn’t possess the right words to calm her. He hoped Mrs. Lombardo and his mother might know the right things to say to bring Rosalie out of her funk.

Mrs. Lombardo followed Rosalie. She sat beside her daughter on the sofa.  “I understand this is hard right now. The first baby makes you learn so many new things. Being a mama is a big job, Rosie.”

Rosie cried. “I never wanted a baby! And now I must serve a life sentence taking care of her?”

Mrs. Lombardo’s mouth fell open and her hands went directly to her hips. Her voice took on a stern tone. “That is about enough, Rosalie. It is time to grow up. Stop acting like a spoil child. Maybe a nap might help.”

Rosalie pouted. She hated it when her mother made her feel small. She got up and dragged herself to her bedroom. She had been banished like a child who misbehaved in her own house! She pounded her pillow and cried.

Mrs. Lombardo returned to the kitchen and picked up the phone to call Eduardo at the restaurant. “Eduardo, you need to come. Rosie needs you. She is in such a state; I do not understand her. You always do.”

A couple of hours later Eduardo left the restaurant and drove to his daughter’s house. He conferred with his wife in the kitchen and then went to his daughter who sat in the rocking chair nursing his grandchild.

“What a beautiful sight, bambina!” He said.

“What’s beautiful about this, Papa? I’ve become a cow like Josie’s Betsy.”

Eduardo sat close to her on the floor. He spoke in a soft voice. “Oh Rosalie, no, you are a mama. You are not a cow. You are doing important work. You are feeding your little girl, my granddaughter. This is a great miracle.”

“Papa, would you think I’m a bad mother if I told you I didn’t want to feed my daughter? Or change her? Or rock her to sleep?” Rosalie spat the words like she bit into spoiled food.

Eduardo frowned. “How can you say such things?”

“Because. I hurt all over and now my breasts are cracked and bleeding from her pulling on me. I hate this! I want to quit being a mother.” Rosalie cried.

Eduardo knelt in front of her. “Rosalie, a mama makes many sacrifices for her babies. You are very young, but your mother was only sixteen when your brother Giovanni came, and her mama lived in the old country across an ocean; your mama is just around the corner. She will help you.”

“Mama thinks I’m hateful.” Tears welled in Rosalie’s eyes. “I am selfish. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but right now I wish somebody would take this baby away from me. I can’t do this.”

Eduardo held her hand while he stared at his sleeping granddaughter. “No, my bambina, you are just afraid. Deep in your heart you love your little Angelina as I love you. You and Angelo will experience a wonderful life together, and now with little Angelina here, the love between you will grow even more. You are not alone, bambina. I am here, Mama is here. Angelo is here. His parents are here. Your brothers and sisters are here. Donna and Josie will help. When you get stronger, you will be the best mama in the world.”

“Oh, Papa.” She stared into her father’s moist eyes. “I want to believe what you say.”

Mrs. Lombardo came into the room and sat on the sofa. Rosalie looked at her mother with different eyes. “Mama, how did you ever do this?”

“One day at a time, my sweet daughter. One day at a time.”

Chapter 9

Lviv, Ukraine – April 1940—Heidi slipped into the bed she shared with Ruthie. She closed her eyes in the darkness and dreamed of the days in Berlin when she led a selfish, carefree life with her only desire to become a ballerina. Then overnight her life changed. She left her homeland and went on the run with three small children and their sick mother. In the still of the night she second guessed her decision to accompany Dora. She worried about the welfare of Uncle Hans and her three cousins. His only advantage might be his German background; perhaps his chances with the Nazis in power might better for him than other people. She prayed this would be the case. Some of the neighbors told her some non-Jews had been forced to work as slaves in mines and factories. Everyone needed to carry papers to prove their identity.  If people didn’t carry papers stating where they lived and worked, the Nazis would put them in prison.

The children woke before their mother at eight o’clock. Their hunger made them cry. She used the last of the cornmeal to make the breakfast porridge, and Heidi wondered where she would find more cornmeal.

Dora slept and didn’t stir for breakfast.  Usually the children’s activity would wake her, but today she lay still under a thin blanket.

Heidi bent down and whispered in Dora’s ear. “Dora, breakfast is ready.”

Dora didn’t respond.

Heidi shook Dora. No response. Dora appeared grey. Heidi gently shook her again. “Dora, please wake up. The children are asking for you.” Still no response. Heidi touched Dora’s forehead. She expected Dora to be hot with fever but instead her forehead seemed cold. Heidi pulled the blanket down to Dora’s waist and found a bottle of pills in the bed. The label on the bottle read, “Cyanide.”

“Oh Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Heidi screamed.

“What is wrong Heidi? Is Mama sick?” David held Ruthie’s hand, and she sucked the thumb of the opposite hand.

Heidi stared at the innocent faces of the two children. “I think your mother is very sick, David. You stay here. I will get some help.”

Heidi ran down the hallway and banged on a friend’s door. “Fritz! Fritz! Please open the door. It is Heidi!”

A thin young man with a gaunt face came to the door. “Heidi, whatever is wrong?”

“Dora won’t wake up! I think she is dead.”

“Oh no!”

Heidi cried. “Yes! Oh my God! What am I going to do now?”

Fritz pulled up his suspenders attached to his tattered trousers and followed Heidi to her room. He approached the figure in the bed and one glance told him Heidi had guessed right. With urgency in his voice, he said, “I will go down and get the landlord. You keep the children calm.”

David cried, “What is wrong with Mama, Heidi?”

Heidi bent down and hugged the six year old. “She is very sick, David. We must fetch a doctor to tell us what is wrong.”

David looked at her with frightened puppy eyes.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I will take care of you.”

The landlord came to the room and went to Dora’s bed. He wore a stone face as he looked at the body. He turned to Heidi. “I will call the coroner.”

Everyone in the apartment complex came out of their rooms. A horse-drawn wagon pulled up in front of the building, and two men dressed in white uniforms came to the third floor.  They gently placed Dora’s body onto the stretcher as Heidi and the children stayed out in the hallway. David held her hand while Ruthie clung to Heidi’s skirt still sucking her thumb. The men struggled down the staircase carrying their mother away. Only baby Jacob seemed oblivious to the situation.

David cried. “Where are they taking my Mama?”

His tender young voice broke Heidi’s heart. She decided she must tell him the truth. “I am so sorry, David. The man with the stretcher told me your mother died in the night and went to heaven.”

“Where is heaven?” David cried. “I want to go too!”

She stooped down and held David close. “I’m afraid we can’t go there, David. God will send us a special angel when it is our time. Without the angel’s help, we can’t find heaven.”

“That’s not fair!”

“I know, sweetheart. It is definitely not fair.”

Frantic thoughts rushed through her brain as she tried to soothe her young charges.

*****

After she tucked the children in for their afternoon naps, Heidi found an envelope addressed to her in Dora’s handwriting.

My dearest Heidi,

You are right. God did send you to me because he realized I am not strong enough to care for the children alone.  I did not realize my own weakness when we departed from Warsaw. I cannot accept this situation.   We live like peasants in one dreary room. There is no food and little hope of ever going back home. But I am sure I made the correct choice to leave. 

I cannot go on like this any longer. Everything I loved is gone; the future holds nothing for me in this world. I am a burden to you. I must leave.

Please love and care for my children and forgive me for leaving you with such a heavy burden. I believe you are strong enough to protect yourself and the children. You are wise beyond your years. Perhaps you can make your way to Palestine or Switzerland.

 I leave you my car, money, and jewels. A large rare diamond is sewn in the hem of my coat; it may help you someday.

Be safe my child. I will wait for you in heaven.

Love, Dora

Heidi read the letter again and again in disbelief. Oh Dora? How could you? How could you trust someone so young with your three little ones?

During the past few months, Dora and Heidi grew close. But Heidi didn’t recognize Dora’s deep despair. Life had become more difficult than either of them imagined. And what would she do now? She may not be Jewish, but the new laws stated anyone who protected Jews would be punished by the Nazis too.

Heidi stared out into space as the children took their afternoon naps. Dora taught her more about art, music, and literature than she ever learned in formal schooling; she enhanced Heidi’s life so much in the little time they shared together. She and Dora planned exciting things in Warsaw, but now all those dreams disappeared. Heidi never would dance on the biggest stages in Europe with Dora looking on in the audience. Instead, she now bore the sole responsibility of caring for Dora’s three little children.

A few pills changed everything for Heidi and the children, and she couldn’t hide her fear and anger. Why couldn’t Dora be stronger? Why couldn’t she accept the harsh treatment the world dished out to her as so many others? As Heidi gazed at the orphans asleep, she promised someday she might forgive their mother; in the meantime, she would do her best to keep them safe and promised never to abandon them.

 

 

 

Normalcy on Monday?

After the surprise of my life on Saturday, I slipped back into normalcy today. As I watch the television new show sipping my morning coffee, I am so glad I’m not one of the gladiators fighting traffic to get to work. Like many of commuters, I did this for over ten years. Caregiving does have some advantages.

The big news today is the contractor is here. He arrived at 6:45 a.m. and you guessed it, I was still slumbering. Thank goodness Ken was up. Kevin (the contractor) needed to move my car, so he could park his truck and tools in the space my car occupied in front of our house. The commotion woke me, and yes, Kevin saw me with disheveled hair in my pajamas.

Sounds like a Monday morning, yes?

Enjoy your MONDAY.

Here’s the next two chapters of the book for your reading pleasure. Let me know if you’re enjoying me unfolding the book in this way.

####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 3

Chapter 6

Lviv, Ukraine – March, 1940—With every passing day, Dora spiraled down from a beautiful, cultured, professional woman to a defeated person who couldn’t face the day. She didn’t care if she got up in the morning, combed her hair or got dressed.  She ate little. She slept over fourteen hours every day. During her few waking hours she gathered the children to her bed and told them stories she made up from her imagination.

Heidi found it difficult to watch Dora’s despair. Coaxing her to go get out of bed and get some sunshine fell on deaf ears. Instead, she would stare into nothingness for hours. Her large dark eyes sunk into her face. Their safe life in Lviv slowly ate away at her.  Saddest of all, Dora chattered everyday that Edward would come and rescue them. But even young David understood his father would never find them.

The children adapted to their situation with the help of Heidi. She kept them happy with games and songs she remembered from her childhood. She taught them simple lessons every day after they ate their paltry breakfast. With baby Jacob sleeping in a dresser drawer, Heidi took David and Ruthie outside to run and play with the other children who lived in the building. When Heidi ran out of stories, she taught them all basic ballet steps. Before long, Heidi acquired a dance class of over forty children.

The neighbors thanked Heidi for keeping their children occupied during the day as they looked for work. The few who found some kind of employment shared their meager wages with others to buy bread. With the influx of so many refugees food shortages affected everyone. Many nights people in the apartment went to bed hungry. Only laughter from the dancing classes kept Heidi and the children wanting to get up the next morning.

Seven months had passed since they left Warsaw even though it seemed much longer. Periodically news about Poland trickled into Lviv. None of it was good, and getting messages outside of Ukraine proved difficult and expensive. Nonetheless, Heidi wrote to her uncle and prayed the message would reach him.

Dear Uncle Hans,

I am writing this letter from Lviv. Gossip tells us the Nazi’s are in complete control in Warsaw, so I pray everyday you and the children are safe and affected little by the invasion.  

I made a good decision to accompany Dora on this journey because she couldn’t possibly go alone.  She has succumbed to dire sadness and has become so weak many days she does not get out of bed. She worries about about her husband, her parents who stayed in Warsaw, and her many friends. No matter how many times I tell you she did her best to get her family out of Poland. The worst part is when David and Ruthie ask when their father will come and get them. 

My few talents entertain the children in the apartment building while their parents are at work. I’m teaching them dancing and some of the girls are very good.  I hope Gertruda is still practicing her dance steps. Please tell her I miss her and hope someday to return.

The future is uncertain. I pray every night that we will remain safe. Even though food is scarce, the Soviets do not separate the Jews from everyone else, so we are somewhat protected. One thing is for sure, living in Lviv is better than Warsaw.

Please advise Vater and Mutter I am all right. I would write to them, but I fear writing to Berlin might be dangerous for Dora and the children.

I love all of you.

My best, Heidi

Heidi entrusted her letter with the landlord who said he would give the correspondence to the mail carrier the next day.

Changes continued which made normal life anything but normal. Lviv city officials instituted blackouts and curfews which seemed like a promise of war. Heidi needed a new plan to keep them save from the Nazis. Dora drifted farther away with every passing day.

 

Chapter 7

Paris, France – March, 1940—Marta found another letter from Leisel in her mailbox after a long day at the Louvre. Her letters since she had married Franz were full of Nazi propaganda about how superior Germany was. Her friend succumbed to her father and husband’s demands to accept Hitler’s ideology. She thought a brilliant girl like Leisel would see through the ridiculous lies and practices of the Third Reich. Marta also realized Leisel needed to find happiness which meant fitting in with the people around her. She gave up her true self and allowed her father and Franz control her. Marta sighed and half-heartedly slit open the envelope and read:

March, 1940

 Dear Marta,

You’re the first person I wanted to tell I am pregnant! I am so happy, but so sick. I’m happy Franz is not here because I vomit every day and sleep a lot. The doctor tells me after the first three months, this sickness should subside. Now I am just miserable. I’m sure Franz would say I am no fun any more.

He’s still stationed in Poland. He is in charge of walling up part of the city to imprison the Jews. What a terrible assignment. I feel fortunate not to be born Jewish. Being a pregnant blue-eyed blond will make me very superior, even though I did nothing to merit such honor.

 I will now put my energies into preparing a nursery for our new child. After I finish this letter, I plan to tell my mother she will become a grandmother sometime in October. She will be over the moon; I am quite sure. I wish I could be happier about this situation. I wanted to remain childless a little longer to enjoy Franz alone, even though he gets very little time away from the army.

 I hope you are still happy in Paris. It is selfish of me to want you closer as I go through this exciting time in my life. Letters are not the same as face to face visits. I try not to be lonely, but I am. A friend named Gretchen from the bride school received her assignment to marry an SS officer, now she lives a few blocks away, so we meet most everyday for tea. But, spending time with her is not the same as being with you; after all, a short-time acquaintance will never replace a long-time friendship like ours.

Pray for me that this morning sickness goes away soon. I look forward to being well again.

Love, Leisel

 

 

 

A Good Day

I’m happy to say Ken had a great day yesterday. He felt strong enough to attend the club he enjoys twice a month. This group has a lot of Alzheimer patients, which are several decades older than he is, but he says he is making some new friends and likes the time away from our familiar surroundings at home. Participants are paired with a helper, so I can leave with confidence he will receive good care while he has lunch and plays games and does a craft project. The time away from each other is good for me too..

Yesterday on my “day off” I went to see my dear friend Marie. Her birthday was Saturday, and I didn’t get a chance to give her the orchid I got for her. Marie doesn’t talk about her age, but I estimate she’s several years past eighty (88?). I’ve enjoyed Marie’s company since my late twenties. Through the years we’ve discovered we are compatible, having the same interests–singing, writing, and painting. We always laugh together and enjoy each other’s company. Our age difference has never been a problem. She’s a person I can tell anything, and I know if I ask her to keep a confidence, she will take my secret to her grave.

Last year, she returned home to Racine to be close to her large family after living twenty years in Florida. Her holidays got empty as she out-lived her friends. Now they are full of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She is surrounded by many old friends who are delighted she has returned. Marie’s an easy person to love.

But like many people her age, she suffers from ill-health, so I know I must see her as much as our time allows. Even on the days when she’s not in top form, she welcomes my visits. I’m lucky. Having a friend like Marie is a gift.

#####

Chapter 28

Paris, France, December, 1939—December in Paris brought magical moments to Marta. Snow fell from the heavens like confectioner’s sugar which transformed the city into a wonderland you might find in a snow globe. Marta viewed her first winter in Paris as the happiest time in her life. After her father’s nasty letter, she needed to make Paris dearer to her than her homeland.

After a long day at the Louvre, Marta picked up their mail and dragged herself up the stairs to their flat. Along with the monthly bills and advertisements, she found a letter from Leisel in the box. She ripped open the envelope and read news from home.

December, 1939

 Dear Marta,

Many changes took place since I last wrote to you. I told you Franz and I dated a few times. What I didn’t tell you is in November he asked my father for my hand in marriage.

It was not surprising my father gave him his blessing with a big hug. Father is so impressed Franz is an SS officer. He told me I am lucky he enrolled me in bride school. That’s right. Instead of going to the university, my father made me take a six week course to turn me into a proper Nazi wife.  Believe it or not, getting into this “special school” proved to be more involved than entering the university.

First, the SS Race and Settlement Office assessed my pedigree to make certain I carried no Jewish or mixed blood. They even measured my nose and upper lip to ensure my features conformed to the correct Aryan type. Finally, I needed to complete a number of forms detailing any family history of conditions such as tuberculosis. This process is so humiliating, Marta. How can a loving father make me go through such a demeaning process? 

I must admit Schwanenwerder Island is quite romantic. The Grunewald area is named after beautiful white swans which swim on the sparkling clear lake. I stayed at a stately white mansion at No. 28 Inselstrasse. The house and grounds are most impressive not unlike all of the houses on the island, which are surrounded by high brick or stone walls. Many of the party leaders live in nearby  villas, so I am quite at ease now as I rub shoulders with the likes of Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess. The twenty girls I am housed with are very nice, and luckily a girl named Gretchen Heinz reached out to me. She helped me find peace here and opened my eyes. My fate could be far worse.

As you know, attending this school is difficult for me because the course work is like a continuation of our BMD training. Sessions include how to polish your future husband’s boots and dagger, how to  fatten geese and arrange flowers. They even teach us how to make conversation at dinner parties, change linen, polish a floor and, above all, how to exhibit proper obedience to a husband. Every bride must memorize the ‘Ten Commandments for the German Woman’, which included ‘Keep your body pure’ and ‘Hope for as many children as possible’. We also learned a prayer to teach our children after they are born. Here are the words: “Mein Frer, Ich kenn dich wohl und habe dich lieb wie Vater und Mutter’ – My Leader, I know you well, and I love you like my father and mother.”

All of this must seem strange to you, but I recognize becoming a Nazi wife is my only destiny so I must make the best of the situation. Thank goodness Franz came along. At least he’s a man I can love, and I escaped the embarrassment of being assigned to some other SS member. I’m resigned to the fact I will be a wife and mother and nothing more. I left all my dreams behind; carrying them is too hard.

My parents and Franz attended my graduation ceremony where I received my certification to become a Nazi wife. As graduates, we all stood and pledged four things. (1) Loyalty to Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Nazi Party superiors ‘unto death; (2) Remain a “Sustainer of the Germanic Race; (3) Promise to become proficient in cooking and housekeeping, sewing, washing, ironing, childcare, nursing and home design; (4) And finally, promise all children born in the marriage will be raised in accordance with the ideals of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.

Other than the bride school, the other  news is Franz entered the Academy for Officers in September and will graduate before Christmas with the rank of Second Lieutenant in the great Nazi SS organization.

After his graduation, we will marry. The ceremony will not be held in a church in front of a priest like I always imagined. Instead we will stand before an altar bedecked with SS runes and oak leaves. We will exchange silver rings engraved with mystical runes, and receive a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” A little sugar figurine of Hitler will sit on the top of our wedding cake. Sometimes I don’t believe I’m doing all of these things, but if it means Franz will impress his superiors and advance him sooner, I am willing to go along without any protest. 

My only regret is that you and Heidi are not here to be my bridesmaids. Gretchen agreed to be my maid of honor and Franz enlisted one of his SS comrades for his best man. I don’t even remember his name.

Now I live in a very nice house near my parent’s place. I look forward to the day we will add a child to carry on the Great Fatherland.

Germany conquered the Poles since I wrote last. Franz wrote and said the Poles attacked us in twenty-one campaigns so we needed to retaliate. I wonder if that is true. I cannot imagine any country picking a fight with our modern army. After the invasion, Franz is assigned to police Jewish activity. That is good. I cannot think of him in battle. I worry someday a bullet will take him away from me, and I will be alone again.

I hope you and Emma will enjoy a good Christmas. With the churches closed here, we will celebrate the winter solstice with Aryan traditions. Such celebrations are so foreign to me. But then again, I barely recognize my life these days.

Merry Christmas, Love Leisel

Marta sat down in the overstuffed chair. She read Leisel’s letter twice and cried. Clearly Leisel didn’t stand a chance to follow her dreams, so with no other choices she gave into Nazi ideology. Worst of all, she married an uncouth brute like Franz.

Chapter 29

Lacrosse, Wisconsin – December, 1939—Josie and Anna lived through final exams without any more altercations, and they left campus without knowing their final grades. Grades were always mailed sometime in January. Their winter break would last six weeks, and the two girls  never imagined saying goodbye would be so difficult.

Silence hung like wet laundry as the two girls stuffed their suitcases with dirty clothes.

Anna broke the silence. “I never dreamed going home would be so hard.”

“Me neither. I guess we’ve done a good job living together in this dinky room, huh?” Josie forced a grin.

“I guess.” Anna paused. “Merry Christmas, Jos,” Anna faced Josie and handed her a gift wrapped in bright red paper.

“What did you do?” Josie smiled as she reciprocated and handed a gift to Anna.

They both laughed and in tandem yelled, “Boy do we think alike or what?”

Josie shook the box.

“Do you always need to be a smarty pants?” Anna said. “Just open the gift.”

The girls sat down on their beds and tore open the wrapping paper.

When Josie gazed at the contents inside the box, she laughed out loud. She pulled a new pair of handmade knit socks.

Anna joined her in laughter as she opened the same gift.

In tandem they yelled, “Socks!” Then they hugged each other.

Josie smiled broadly. “Merry Christmas my friend. Now I’m certain you are the brightest and most terrific girl I ever met! A mere mortal never read my mind before!”

“Ditto.” Anna said.

They picked up their luggage and dragged their heavy suitcases down the three flights of stairs, still chuckling at their private joke. Anna’s boyfriend Tommy waited outside to take them to the train station.

Tommy opened the front passenger’s seat for Anna and the backseat door for Josie. “What are you two laughing about now?”

The girls looked at each other and said together, “You wouldn’t understand.”

*****

Josie rode the train from Minneapolis to Lacrosse for the first time. Butterflies churned in her stomach like they always did when she tried something new, but she calmed them with the thought she would be with her friends and family faster than if she went home in a car.

Her brother Johnny stood on the platform as Josie’s train approached the station. When she found him in the crowd, she ran to him as snowflakes drifted down. “Oh, Johnny, I’m so glad to be home. Thanks for picking me up!” She hugged him.

“No problem Sis. I missed you. I didn’t have anybody to tease!”  He put his arm around her shoulder and led her to the car.  “I hope you’re hungry. Mom’s prepared a feast for you. Hell, somebody might think your homecoming is an event to celebrate.” He teased.

“Well put the pedal to the metal my dear brother, I’m starving!” Josie laughed.

*****

The next morning Josie phoned Donna Jean and Rosalie. They agreed to meet  at Joe’s Diner later in the afternoon. Josie left the farm in the family truck and as she drove along, the buildings along her route remained the same, but for some odd reason they appeared different. At that moment she realized her four short months at the university changed her and life at home went on in her absence.  She pulled into Joe’s parking lot and walked inside. Donna and Rosalie were waiting in the corner booth.

Hugs and kisses went around. Then Josie scrutinized Rosalie. “Oh my god! What happened to you, little girl? I go away for a few months and you get yourself in trouble?” She laughed.

Rosalie blushed. “What can I say? I’m a good Catholic.”

Josie slid into the booth. “So tell me when the baby is due?” Josie said.

“March 10-on your birthday.”

Josie laughed, “Good planning! You are an expert on how to spring a wonderful surprise! Why didn’t you tell me in your letters?”

“Getting used to being pregnant isn’t easy. I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, you certainly did that!”

They ordered root beer floats for old times’ sake as they caught up on the latest news of the past few months. Donna Jean, Rosalie, and Josie remained the same girls who grew up together and shared everything. Life changes didn’t mean a thing when it concerned their friendship.

“So, Josie, tell us about college.” Donna leaned closer to Josie.

“I wrote to you every week.  So you must understand I study, walk from class to class, and study some more.” Josie said. “I seem to remember you said my letters are boring.” She sipped her root beer float.

“I never said anything of the sort!” Donna protested. “But I believe you need to explore the campus more. After all, aren’t there any good looking guys at U of M? You never write about that subject.”

“I’m at college to get a nursing degree, not an MRS degree, Donna.” Josie laughed.

“But surely, somebody must pique your interest. Come on! Where’s the fun?”

“The good looking boys play sports, and they don’t even look at me. I’ll probably get my degree, come home, and marry a farm boy.”

“Over my dead body!” Donna said. “You’re going to do better than that!”

“Are you saying farm boys aren’t good enough?” Josie teased. “Danny’s a farm boy. You seem to be keen on him.”

Donna blushed and stayed silent.

Josie turned to Rosalie to change the direction of their conversation. “Did you and Angelo pick out baby names yet, Rosie?”

“A few. We’re not locked in on anything yet. Angelo wants to name the baby boy Giovanni, but I say our baby needs an American name; we’re still discussing this topic.”

Donna said, “What if the baby turns out to be a girl?”

Rosalie answered, “We both agree on Mary-after the Blessed Mother.”

“Ah-another Catholic girl named Mary! How original.” Donna laughed. “Didn’t our grade school class include six girls named Mary? Anyway, I hope the baby is a little girl,” Donna said. “Then I can buy frilly pink dresses and tiny patent leather shoes for her. This Armani child will possess a sense of style from the very beginning.”

“I don’t think Angelo would agree with you. He’s already talking about going to baseball games with his son.”

Josie said, “You tell him girls like baseball, too!”

Everybody laughed and dug into their burgers as the conversation went on.

*****

Rosalie left the diner at ten o’clock. She promised Angelo she would be home to kiss him goodnight before he went to bed. Lately, he worked a lot of overtime hours.

Donna and Josie hugged Rosalie before she waddled to her car.

Donna Jean said, “I don’t understand how she does it. She’s a baby herself.”

Josie said, “Lots of girls her age are married with babies. She’ll be all right.”

“Maybe. Having babies right now wouldn’t be my choice.” Donna Jean said.

“Mine either. I want to enjoy work as a nurse before I tie the knot with anyone.”

“I do like sex, though.” Donna said under her breath.

“What?” Josie gasped. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m dead serious. Danny and I are lovers.” Donna whispered. “Sex is fun.”

“But aren’t you afraid you’ll end up like Rosalie? The only difference is she’s married and you’re not! Donna, really, you do some of the dumbest things. Why would you take chances?”

“Don’t they teach you how not to get pregnant in nursing school? ”

“Well, sure, but-

“But nothing. Danny and I like to make love, and we’re doing it-safely.”

“So you love him?”

“Love? What’s love got to do with anything?”

“Can we please change the subject?”

“Sure.” Donna saw Josie didn’t want to discuss sexual matters any more. “Let’s go ask if those guys want to dance.”

“Fine.” Ordinarily Josie wouldn’t ask a stranger to dance.