I wrote a couple of lines this morning which are nothing to cherish. My brain is as dull as the gray skies and pelting rain. So, I deleted my lamenting over my unfinished household projects, and am going to just give you the next three chapters of the second edition of APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS. I promise tomorrow will bring some inspiration for your inquisitive minds. I’ll keep my mind and eyes open today to recognize a new topic. Promise.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)
Lacrosse, Wisconsin – December—The weather suddenly turned cold, and Rosalie worked to find new ways to keep the house warm for the children. Like everything else heating oil became rationed. She dressed the babies in several layers of clothing and piled blankets several inches thick to keep them warm at night. While the other parts of the house remained chilly, the kitchen stayed warm with the radiant heat from the oven.
By now Rosalie internalized the time the postman dropped letters in her mailbox. A good day brought letters from her brothers, Angelo, and Josie. A bad day brought bills and no letters. She saved any letter for the quiet two hours in the afternoon when both babies took naps. In November, Mrs. Schneider told Rosalie and Donna Josie got on a ship headed for somewhere in Africa, and today she found a letter from her brave nursing friend.
October 28, 1942
Hi pal! So good to get your letter. Your words brightened my day, and I love the pictures of baby Angelo Jr.! He looks so much like his Daddy. Incredible! Angelo certainly sure can’t deny that boy!
I’m somewhere in Africa, but even I don’t understand where. One thing is for certain, this nursing experience is something I never expected. In my worst dreams, I couldn’t have conjured up such conditions. Our “hospital” is a war-torn building; honestly, it’s a shack so bad, the rats don’t want to live here.
I’m glad I made the decision to join the nursing corps because so many wounded men need our help. We do what we can, but so many lay in pain while we assessed their injuries, At least now we have adequate supplies to treat them. When we first landed, the fighting on the beach held up the morphine, either, and other drugs that we really needed. The wounds of war are horrific–burns, missing limbs, and so much more. For the first time in my life I felt inadequate. But I tell you this. Everyone should be proud of our boys because we found no cowards among our ranks. They writhed in pain but no one complained. These boys are the bravest souls in the world.
All of us are learning to cope with the challenges of combat nursing on the fly. We wear steel helmets and combat boots in surgery; corpsmen hold flashlights while doctors operate at night; the windows are covered with blankets because snipers are all around us. (If you talk to my mom, don’t mention the snipers, okay?)
Our commanding officer require us to be feminine looking, but as tough as nails. That means we need to appear neat and clean, with curled hair and a bit of make-up. He believes not doing so would deflate the boys’ morale. We improvise all of the time . . . like using our helmets for sinks and a glass jug for a mirror. The boys have enough challenges so we don’t want them to put up with an ugly nurse! (ha, ha) Every time I wash up, I think of Donna putting up with these conditions. This environment would make her go AWOL for sure!
Life is tough here, and I’ realize everyone has a breaking point when the stresses of this life become too much. Last week Sally got so upset when the snipers fired at our “hospital;” a sergeant needed to forcibly restrain her from going outside to give the GD sniper a piece of her mind. Needless to say, she transferred to receive treatment for shell shock.
We work long, hard hours. Most nights the sixty nurses and handful of doctors collapse on the floors from exhaustion under scratchy woolen army blankets. But our sacrifice is no comparison to what so many boys give for our country. Our boys are brave, so we girls need to be brave too.
Please say “Hi” to Donna and tell her I will write to her next time, but it might be a while depending upon what the Krauts dump on us.
Give Gina and baby Angelo a kiss. When I think of home (which is much of the time) you, Donna and my family are on the top of the list.
Sending you my love, Josie
Rosalie slipped Josie’s letter back into the envelope as a wave of guilt washed over her. How could she complain about oil shortages or having to cook around rationing when her best friend looked war directly in the face every minute of every day? Josie put everything in perspective for Rosalie. Daily inconveniences didn’t matter when people she loved struggled with the horrors of combat. She bent her head, folded her hands, and whispered a prayer to the Blessed Mary to bring everyone she loved home safe and sound.
Hawaii, December—After a few weeks at the Pearl Harbor hospital, Bobby and Angelo both got up on their feet and began learning to walk again between parallel bars. Each step proved to be challenging and tiring.
“This is the damnest thing! I learned how to walk as a baby, and here I am struggling how to move my feet one after another all over again.” Angelo said. “If I don’t get better, little Angelo will pass me up!”
“No worries, pal. You get stronger every day. Look at your arms! You look like Popeye in the comic books.” Bobby said.
“Is that the only stuff you read?” Angelo teased.
“Hey, the stories are great! Don’t think you’re superior, my friend. I bet you picked up the new “Wonder Woman” comic in the day room.”
“No. Who in the hell is Wonder Woman?” Angelo thought Bobby might be pulling his leg about a female super hero.
“Of course I’m serious. Wonder Woman is a hot chick who fights Nazis.”
Angelo laughed. “Too bad she doesn’t fight Japs. Then maybe we wouldn’t be here.”
Bobby said. “Better here than some damn jungle.”
“Amen to that, brother!”
“Hey Ang?” Bobby said.
“Is it really only been a year since the war started?”
“Huh?” Through their months together Angelo got use to Bobby’s constant chatter, and like a seasoned parent, he tuned him out a lot of the time.
“You’re not listening to me, are you?” Bobby said.
“Of course, I’m listening, little brother. For the Americans. Yeah, it’s only been a year. But it seems like I’ve spent a lifetime in hospitals. Doc wants to operate on me again to remove a piece of shrapnel near my spine. He says I might walk better if I have the surgery. There’s also a possibility I might never walk again if I have the surgery. What do you think I should do? ”
“Geez, Ang. I had no idea. You’ve had so many surgeries already. It’s a gamble one way or another. What will happen if the shrapnel moves?”
“They don’t know. I just want to go home.”
“I think you have your answer then, huh?”
Angelo nodded. Bobby affirmed what Angelo thought. Sometimes the kid was really smart.
Bobby and Angelo received Purple Hearts for the wounds they sustained on Guadalcanal, but more importantly, they received orders to continue their therapy in the states. Angelo told the doctor he would take his chances by not having more surgery, and the doctor said he needed to contact the medical facility on the mainland before Angelo could be released.
The doctor believed Angelo would struggle the rest of his life with a bum leg without the surgery, but he also understood the marine had gone through so much already it was impossible to face another surgery and the recovery it required. He approved Angelo’s release from Hawaii.
Angelo read his orders with a big grin. “I’ll be home for Christmas!”
“Yeah, Christmas. I suppose you’ll want to play Santa for little Gina and little Angelo, huh?”
“Good thought. I wonder where I can get a Santa suit.” Angelo grinned as he thought about hugging his kids and kissing Rosalie for the first time in almost a year. “And you can be my number one elf!”
Bobby laughed and threw a comic book at Angelo.
A week after Angelo and Bobby received their medals their next stop on the road to recovery turned out to be at Camp Pendleton in California. They would finish their physical and occupational therapy at the base hospital. Every day they challenged each other to dig deep, work through the pain, and succeed at the exercises which would free them to go home. Their military careers neared the finish line. The only remnants of their time in the South Pacific were occasional nightmares for Bobby, and a piece of shrapnel near Angelo’s spine.
Lacrosse, Wisconsin-December 1942—Donna and Rosalie spent the week before Christmas decorating the house in festive colors of red, gold, and silver. At two years old, Gina found the pretty tree in the house a curiosity and learned quickly not to touch the delicate glass ornaments or the hot glass light bulbs.
Two nights before Christmas, Donna and Rosalie sat by a warm fire sipping eggnog.
“This is such a treat, Rosie. How did you ever make eggnog?”
“Mrs. Schneider helped me out. I remember the first time I drank eggnog at Josie’s house. We were about eight years old. We came in from sledding for most of the day with red cheeks. We took off our rubber boots, wet snowsuits and ice-coated mittens in the back entrance, while we jumped around to get warm again. Just thinking about that day gives me shivers. We hung our snowy mittens and hats on that little wooden clothes rack in the mud room and our coats on hooks. Remember?” Donna took a sip as she drifted back to a happy memory. “Mrs. Schneider sat the three of us in front of the fire with a hot cup of eggnog and a plate full of warm chocolate chip cookies. Just thinking of it makes me warm inside.”
“Mrs. Schneider always loved all of us. Remember at their Christmas party they always put two bowls full of eggnog on the table –one for kids and one for grown-ups. I guess the grown-up version contained some brandy.”
“Not to disappoint, Donna, but I made the kid’s version.”
Donna laughed. “Between you and me, I like this version better, but if you tell anybody I don’t like brandy, you’ll pay with your life. A girl’s got to maintain an image.” Donna fluffed her hair and threw her head back.
A knock on the front door interrupted their conversation. Rosalie got up from the chair and walked to the door. “Who in the world is out on such a dark and cold night?”
“You better check. I’ll get the baseball bat in case they turn out to be perverts.”
“You’re in rare form tonight.” Rosalie laughed. She opened the door to find two soldiers on her doorstep. “Can I help you boys?”
Angelo said, “I dreamed you missed me and hoped you might let me in with a big kiss.”
The moment he spoke, Rosalie realized the skinny soldier with the cane was Angelo. “Oh my God! You’re home!” She fell into his arms and didn’t let go. They kissed until Bobby cleared his throat after several minutes.
“Can we take this inside, you two? I’m freezing.”
Angelo laughed. “Sweetheart, this is Bobby. He’s the kid who insisted on being my friend.”
Rosalie blushed. “How rude of us, Bobby. Of course. Come on in. Donna and I are enjoying some eggnog. Would you two like a cup?”
Bobby smiled. “Eggnog?”
Angelo said. “You’ll love it. My Rosie is the best cook in the kitchen.” Rosalie laughed because her inexperienced cooking seemed to be a source of jokes in the family.
The boys dragged their duffle bags into the living room where Donna waited. Angelo went to her and hugged her. “Donna! It’s so good to see you again!”
“How can I ever thank you for taking care of my girls?”
“You can’t. No thanks are necessary.” Donna smiled. “Auntie Doe Doe is on the job!”
Angelo dropped his embrace and turned toward Bobby. “Donna, this is my friend, Bobby.”
Donna smiled at the boy. “Not the famous Bobby!”
Bobby blushed. “The one and only, but don’t hold the rumors against me ma’am.”
“Only if you call me ma’am again!” She laughed.
Rosalie took control much like her mother would. “You boys make yourself comfortable, and I’ll get the eggnog and cookies.”
“Cookies?” Bobby said. “This Christmas is the best ever!
Angelo laughed. “Out of the mouths of babes.”