Tag Archive | writing

It Happens Faster Than You Think

Hi Everybody! I hope those of you who followed me in the past are still willing to do so. I’ve been away to dedicate my time to writing three books. One is the second edition of my first attempt at a novel. During the past several years and six other books, I’ve learned a thing or two. I still like the story, but the writing—not so much. The second book is a sequel to “Finding Gessler.” And the third is the more difficult tale to tell—“Barbie and Ken, A love Story.” This book chronicles our journey through Multiple Sclerosis. So you get it—I’ve been busy.

But I had to write about an important subject—aging. This summer I will have a milestone birthday. Yes, I will turn 65. I think this birthday is tougher than turning any other milestone birthday like 18, 21, 30, 40, 50, 60 etc. Inside, I feel no different than I ever did, but for the first time outside, there are tell-tale signs—gray hair, glasses, and moving a bit slower. What I didn’t count on was the government and different professionals reminding me almost every day  I’m getting close to the big 65.

It started when my Medicare card arrived a month ago. Following that memorable event was a plethora of advertisements for Medicare supplement plans. Next came the phone calls from every insurance agency that sells the old fogy plans. Okay, I’m tough. I can take it. But when my family doctor came into the exam room saying, “So, Barbara, how’s the hip?” Weeks later, the optometrist said, “You’re eyes are in good health, but I do see the start of cataracts.”

It’s bad enough to look at my birth certificate and KNOW I’m getting older, but to have all these outside influences reinforcing the fact, well, it is a bit overwhelming. And considering my birthday is not until the end of July, what’s the rush?

For all of you who are younger than I am, don’t hurry to grow up. It happens sooner than you think. Just saying’.

Change is the Only Thing in Life You Can Count On

Unlike most of the country, Southeast Wisconsin has enjoyed above average temperatures for the month of November. Even the typical gray skies and rainy weather have gone on a hiatus . . . until tonight. Believe it or not, we’re expecting four to eight inches of snow.

I bring this up because when the weather is lovely, I figure it is my responsible to take advantage of it, so I’ve been bumming around instead of plunking my butt in my chair to write. As you might have noticed, I haven’t posted any “words of wisdom” in over a week.

One thing I want to share with you is Ken hasn’t fallen in almost two weeks! It’s an occurrence to celebrate because he was falling at least twice a week. What has caused the change? I’m happy to tell you all it took was a couple of changes.

Because he typically fell during the night, I made a house rule that he was not allowed in the bathroom whenever I was sleeping. To accommodate his late-night bathroom urges, I put a commode in the bedroom. He fought me tooth and nail saying he wasn’t “comfortable” to use it. I told him he’d better get comfortable because I was tired of the firemen seeing me in my jammies in the middle of the night. After a couple of weeks, he admitted the commode was a good idea.

The other change was to have a physical therapist come into the house twice a week. She has shown him better transferring methods from his wheelchair to the bed, recliner, toilet, and car. It’s Ken’s natural tendency to make every thing as difficult as possible; I tease him he chooses the most difficult way because he’s a born engineer. It’s innate.

For over a year, the doctor has insisted Ken do thirty minutes of exercise a day. I’ve worked around him with this therapist because she has given him exercises he can do while sitting. . . of course, he puts them off. Again I need to lay down the law to get him to help himself.

I don’t know whether his reluctance to face something new is due to his fear of failure or just procrastination. Perhaps it’s a little of both. Being the exact opposite of him, I find his willingness to succumb to these little challenges frustrating.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact if I wait long enough, he’ll do what is expected. I really hate having to be a task manager — when I supervised people in corporate I usually had self-starters. I had no tolerance for people I had to micro-manage.

I also realize, though, things are different with Ken. I can’t fire him. He says I can’t lay him off either.  🙂

Creating Your World

A few days ago my daughter called and said she found an outlet for some of my jewelry. Lately, painting has taken the place of my jewelry designing because I have a dresser drawer full of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets just lying dormant. So I was excited a tanning salon wanted to take my creations and sell them. Christmas is coming, after all. The store I had my jewelry displayed downtown closed over a year ago, so I pretty much abandoned my jewelry efforts.That is not to say my paintings are flying off the wall. I’ve found one idea leads to another, then another, and another. Before long, my creative endeavors almost move me out of my house!

I may never sell a painting, but I challenge myself by trying new techniques and practice things like perspective, which I really haven’t mastered yet. The best part is when my artist friend Marie critiques my creations and makes suggestions to improve what I’ve done. Constructive criticism is part of the creative process, so grow a thick skin and ask for it.

I’ve always enjoyed crafting but like everything I seem to take on, I am prolific. I’ve written eight novels and many short stories. I’m working on two more books, too. This is my 482nd blog — and I took a year off.

But I have to do these things. Creating is the reason we are all put here. Really. Maybe you don’t create “art” or “literature” but most people pick something to enrich their soul. My creating keeps me thinking. I hate foggy days (not the weather). When I feel sluggish, I pick up one of my creative outlets and just do it. Nobody has to push me to move into the creative side of me, and before I know it, the fog has lifted and I can go on to tackle more mundane activities like cleaning, paying bills, or cooking the evening meal.

If you don’t indulge your creative side, you’re missing the boat. Pick something you might enjoy. Try it. And if you don’t like the activity, try something else. Creating is in human DNA. You need to express this part to make you whole. Tell me about your creative outlets. I’d love to hear about them.

 

A Day Alone

Yesterday I spent the late morning and early afternoon alone. Ken when to his “Harmony Club,”which is a a a supervised gathering of elderly and handicapped people. The participants exercise, play games, make crafts, and eat lunch together. They have a chance to form friendships, and they end each session by playing Bingo and winning prizes. Ken loves going because he can talk to somebody other than me, plus he enjoys being with older people. Seeing I’m ten years older than he is explains our happy marriage. 🙂

The four or five hours we have apart gives me a chance to have a little fun with my friends. Usually I meet somebody for lunch and then tie up the day with a trip to some shop to nose around for a little while. I love going downtown because there are a lot of restaurants to chose from and plenty of specialty shops where hidden treasure waits for someone to discover it.

But yesterday I chose to just be alone. I hunted new winter tops at the thrift store. (Since I discovered the place, I haven’t darkened the door of any retail shop.) Then I went home, finished my blog posting for the day, and ate lunch with Ernie sitting on my lap. (He watched my food as I enjoyed my soap opera without somebody teasing me for watching such drivel.) I didn’t talk for four hours! Believe me, that’s a record!

When I picked up Ken at 3:30 p.m., we  both looked forward to being together again. With stuffed peppers and acorn squash waiting in the oven, we had a pleasant dinner followed by a night of television. In the past, days like this would have bored me to death, but now the mundane times are cherished. Call it old age, but normalcy in our world is just fine. Achieving contentment in one’s life takes some time, and I’m glad I arrived at that place when a day spent alone becomes time well spent.

A happy life is one of balance and contentment, no matter how old or young, rich or poor a person is. I’ll warn you though. Achieving such a life is hard work. Just try it. I dare you.

When You See Progress

I’ve posted that I’ve been dabbling in painting for the past two years. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because Ken bought me some paints, a desk easel, and a couple of canvases for my birthday many years ago. I wanted to begin then, but my time was absorbed by a corporate job that sucked all the life out of me.

I had never taken a painting class or even a drawing class. My closest thing to painting on a canvas was in kindergarten when I was a finger painter extraordinaire. I still remember the wonderful feeling of the squishy paint in between my fingers. I remember the exhilarating feeling of being free.

Facing a blank canvas is almost as threatening as a blank computer screen. The first time I attempted to paint I sat in front of canvas afraid. I knew my first attempt would probably be awful. And I was right. Here’s a photo of one of my first attempts.

Early Painting

Early Painting

At the time I thought it was pretty good, so I kept painting. Then my artist friend Marie came home and with her coaching, things got better. Now I think this first painting was butt ugly.

When I look at my early work, I can see I’ve come a long way; that is not to say I don’t have a longer way to go. The same is true about my writing; that’s why I rewrote my first novel and will soon publish the second edition. Nobody commented on the posted rewritten pages, so I only have my own gut feeling to go on.

The important thing is I’m creating and when the bad days come along, I find painting soothing. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me that my art may never bring in a check.

And the writing? Well, even though that craft is more serious for me, I so enjoy when an idea comes along and burrows into my heart and head so I can tell a good story.

I hope all of you have a craft you love to do and are excited when you get a little bit better everyday. Create! Enjoy! Live!

Getting Organized

I love organization where everything is in its place. But, I have a terrible time achieving such neatness. My girlfriends seem to be able to keep everything where it belongs, but for some reason my things move from room to room. I have dishes in the living room along with shoes I wore the day before. My painting supplies are all in one room, but getting more than me in that room is simply impossible.

I seem to work in a whirlwind. I remember one time when I worked in a corporate office, my boss assigned another woman to help me get my cube organized to make me more efficient. I guess somewhere there’s a rule somewhere that says “only touch a piece of paper once.” Any more touches breeds disorganization and wasted time. I never did get the knack of it. However, I also never missed a deadline. I told my boss I work more effective in organized chaos. She said, “Whatever works, Barb. Just keep hitting those deadlines.”

I believe part of me doesn’t want to work myself to death to keep everything in place because my mother was a fanatical housekeeper. She put keeping things clean ahead of everything else. One time she came into my bedroom with a white glove after I cleaned. She found a trace of dust under my bed and made me clean again. See what I mean?

I tell myself I am far too artistic to keep everything neat all the time. I also love my friends enough to put them first even if I scheduled the day to scrub the kitchen floor. I do have priorities.

I also live with two animals and a husband. I rest my case.

Even though my home is somewhat disheveled, I am organized in my writing. In fact, to keep the timeline correct in the second edition of “Apple Pie and Strudel Girls” I keep a spreadsheet to make sure real history is weaved with the fiction element of the story properly.

The moral to this story: Everyone’s definition of organization is different. Make your world perfect for YOU.

######

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 24

London, England – Christmas Eve—On his wedding day, Danny decided to dress at the base to allow Heidi her privacy as she prepared to make marriage promises again. His wool chocolate brown dress uniform with brass buttons provided a stunning backdrop for his jacket ribbon bar and the silver wings he wore over his heart. He spit shined his black shoes so bright he saw his himself. He studied his reflection in the mirror before he left his room and realized the boy who came to England to fly planes and kill Germans had disappeared. In his place, a man who experienced friends falling from the sky, became a prisoner of war, and found the love of his life stared back at him..

At the flat Mrs. Smithe draped the lace and satin dress over Heidi’s slim figure. After Heidi gazed at her reflection in the mirror, she didn’t believe the beautiful woman smiling back at her could be the same girl who didn’t think she possessed a happy future after graduating from secondary school. A Jewish family and three long journeys changed her forever. The children made her an adult. Her only disappointment was the wonderful people who entered her life during the past five years could be with her now. Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of her parents, Leisel, Marta, Dora, the Rabbi and Gavriella and Dominik.

A lace veil trimmed in pearls fell from a tiara Mrs. Smithe pinned on Heidi’s head.  She carried a bouquet of Christmas cactus flowers Mrs. Smith grew in her apartment.

“There, my dear.” Tears formed in the landlady’s eyes.

Heidi saw the older woman’s distress. “Oh, Mrs. Smithe. I knew I should not wear Catherine’s wedding dress. It causes you such pain.”

“Don’t be foolish, sweetie. I am not thinking of Catherine; I’m overcome by what a beautiful bride you are.” Mrs. Smithe dried a tear rolling down her cheek. “We better make sure the children are ready to go. We don’t want you to be late.”

Ruthie wore a pretty pink velvet dress Mrs. Smithe made from a pair of curtains she had at the window in one of the rentals. She even solicited her friends and neighbors to find suits to fit both boys. As Heidi and the children emerged from the apartment, no one would guess soldiers still fought and citizens still died. For the few hours they’d be in their wedding clothes, as their lives appeared normal.

Danny arranged for a car to pick up his family and bring them to the base where the Major, the Chaplain, and Danny waited. As soon as Heidi and the children entered the chapel, Danny’s jaw dropped. Heidi reminded him of a drawing of a princess he reembered in one of his sister’s childhood storybooks. At one time he believed Rosalie Lombardo was the most beautiful bride in the world, but now Heidi took that honor.

Ruthie ran to Danny. “Papa Danny, Mama looks pretty, huh?”

“Yes, sweetheart. Mama is the most beautiful bride in the world.”

“So kiss her!” Ruthie said.

Everyone laughed. Ruthie wrinkled her forehead not understanding why everyone laughed. Brides and grooms kissed in her story books, so why did people laugh at her?

Mrs. Smithe wore her “mother of the bride” dress she hid in the back of her closet after Catherine died. When Heidi asked her to be the matron of Honor, she pulled out the dress and could smile again. Major Jamison stood in as Danny’s best man along with David. The whole group gathered around the altar with Chaplain and the intimate wedding ceremony began.

“We are gathered here together to marry Daniel and Heidi in holy matrimony.”

Jacob yelled. “What is mat-tri-monee?”

Everyone turned toward the little boy in short pants, and said, “Shhhh.” The child looked down at his shoes and started to cry. Danny picked him up. “Everything is okay, son,” he whispered to Jacob. “I’ll tell you later.”

Jacob wiped his tears and smiled. “Okay, Daddy.”

Danny returned Jacob to the floor and held his hand as the ceremony continued.

The chaplain said, “Repeat after me, Daniel. “I, Daniel, take you Heidi to be my lawfully wedded wife  . . .

Chapter 25

Naples, Italy—As Christmas got closer, Josie wore a melancholy expression. This would be her third year of celebrating Christmas without snow and family. She became uncharacteristically nostalgic. As she gazed at the palm trees, she thought about Christmas back home. Sap on logs would crackle in the fireplace; a fresh pine scent would waft through the living room while the sweet aroma of cinnamon would come from the kitchen. Her mother always baked dozens of different cookies, but the entire family decorated sugar cookies together around the kitchen table. Christmas in Italy this year would come with cold winds, rain, canned turkey, and hydrated potato flakes.

Mario found her starting out into space in the courtyard. “Hi Sweetheart. Whatcha thinkin’?”

Josie turned toward him with glistening eyes. “About home. I envisioned my parents drinking eggnog in front of a fire as the snow fell and laid a beautiful white covering over the bare trees and brown grass.”

Mario sat beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. “Yeah. Christmastime here leaves something to be desired. I want to go home too. But seeing we can’t, how about we spice the holiday up a little?” He grinned.

“How?”

“Let’s go to Rome and celebrate Christmas Eve at the Vatican.”

“Don’t tease me, Mario.”

“I’m not teasing. We can go. It’s safe there now.”

“How will we get there, genius?”

“Details. Details.” A Cheshire cat smile crossed his broad face. “I got a buddy in the motor pool; he’s got a jeep all gassed up for us, Miss Smarty Pants.”

“You’re the only guy I ever met who can get the impossible done.”  Josie laughed. “Mario, I’m glad you didn’t give up pursuing me. I love being with you. You make me so happy.” She leaned over and put a peck of a kiss on his cheek.

Mario blushed. “Thanks, doll. I’m glad you appreciate me because I never worked so hard to get a date. Hell, I almost died to get one with you!” He chuckled as his eyes twinkled. “So is Rome a date?”

“I’d be nuts to turn down a trip to Rome. After I get home, I’ll probably never want to come to Italy again.”

“Only time will tell.” Mario said. “Life can be a constant surprise if you let it be.”

Josie smiled. “Amen!”

*****

On Christmas Eve morning, Josie and Mario took off for Rome. They remained silent as they whizzed through the hills and valleys of the countryside. As they got closer to the city, Josie expressed her fears of what they might find in the Eternal City. “Do you think the Krauts bombed Rome into oblivion?”

“Nah. They got in bed with Mussolini. I think the Italian dictator put down a few rules. I don’t think the Krauts are that barbarian.”

Josie said. “Really?  I think bombing hospitals is pretty barbarous.”

Mario answered.  “You’re right about that. I just hope Vatican Square didn’t appear on their radar.”

“Me, too.”

Once they passed Rome ‘s city limits Josie basked in the city’s beauty. The evening stayed warm and balmy. The stars burned bright and a full moon gave Vatican Square a warm glow. Mario and Josie waited with a throng of people in the courtyard for Pope Pius XII to appear on the balcony.

The Pope appeared through an open window and prayed the familiar prayers in Latin. A choir of beautiful voices sang out, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” and Josie thought about her little church back home where she sang the same song every Christmas Eve. In about eight hours her parents would celebrate Christmas with the same ceremony. For the first time in a long time, she thought about Peter. This would be the first Christmas without his funny sense of humor and sweet demeanor. Josie bowed her head and prayed for her parents because Christmas would be so difficult without any of their children close at hand.

Mario held Josie close. He loved everything about her. He loved her spunk, her courage, and her ability to banter with him. He loved the empathy she showed everyone. He loved her self-confidence and fearlessness. He bent down and kissed the top of her head as the Pope asked God for peace. Josie looked up at Mario with a tender smile.

After the Mass, people left the square, but Mario lingered. He didn’t want the magical night to end. He turned Josie to face him and placed a kiss on her lips. He whispered. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”

With tears in her eyes, Josie whispered. “Merry Christmas, my sweet Mario. Thank you for bringing me here. This Christmas turned out to be more special than I ever imagined.”

He handed her a small box.

“What’s this?”

He grinned. “A present, silly. Open it.”

“Mario—

He interrupted her. “Will you just open the GD present.”

“But we agreed to wait until tomorrow to exchange gifts.”

“Look at your watch. Miss Smarty Pants. Isn’t it after midnight?”

“Yes, but—

His voice took a tender tone. “I want you to remember this night forever. Please open the gift.”

“Okay. You win.”

Josie tipped open the lid of little wooden box to find a beautiful solitaire diamond perched in the center of a white gold band. “Mario! Oh my God! It’s beautiful!”

Before she said another word, Mario went down on one knee. “Josie, my love, will you be my wife?”

She said the one word he wanted to hear. “Yes. Oh God, yes!” She pulled him to his feet, wrapped her arms around him, and kissed him like never before.

His eyes glowed with love. “Let’s try the ring on for size.” He took the engagement ring in his thick fingers and slipped it onto her left-hand ring finger. The ring fit perfectly.

Josie couldn’t take her eye off the sparkling stone. “How did you ever buy such a beautiful thing?”

“Let’s just say, I know a guy, who knows a guy, okay?” He paused, “It helps to be Italian in Italy.”

She laughed and kissed again him, while happy strangers shared their joy with applause.

 

Watered Down Dreams

 

I never was a person who had a clear plan for my life. As a child, I wanted to be a “Mouseketeer” or a pretty lady who rode on a 4th of July float in the parade. One of these dreams came true. Wanna guess which one? That’s right. At eighteen I wore a white flowing gown on a float filled with live petunias that attracted bees. There I was a Greek Goddess standing by a garden trellis swatting away the little buggers, but nobody said portraying a goddess would be easy.

In high school, I wanted to sing on Broadway. My other option was to write a best seller. Guess which one of these two came true. Well, the answer is none. I did sing in a local choral group and many times got the solos; and I did write seven novels, all of them published, but none of them has become a best seller. Yet.

When I got a little older, I decided I wanted to marry a good, kind man. The first one didn’t work out, but on the second try I’m happy to say I found one. Ken and I had four or five fun-filled years–two years of dating and another three before he got sick. I dreamed we’d sail into the sunset and travel in retirement, but that can’t happen because he’s too weak to even travel to Chicago these days.

People applaud me for my efforts, but I don’t feel worry of their praise. In my mind, reality has watered down my dreams and I feel like I missed the boat of what I really wanted to achieve. So like a harnessed plow horse, I keep plugging away. I realize most of my good years are in the rear view mirror, and as I gaze ahead I wonder what is next.

These thoughts haunt me because Ken had a terrible weekend. I had to call the fire department three times to have the men pick him up from the floor. He even toppled over in the garage, hitting his head on the pavement. A quick forming lump and a bit of blood freaked me out. The good news is — it was just a bump.

Such episodes make me feel inadequate in the caregiver department. Nobody signs up for this situation. It just happens, and I suppose when you find yourself in such a place, one does get to the point when life is too heavy. Love you have for the person for whom you are caring wanes even when it’s the last thing you want to do. When the person needing help is a spouse, the dynamics of the marriage change forever. And always being in the shadow of another brings darkness, doesn’t it?

I’ll search for the light, but seeing I don’t know what direction to search, it will take me some time. Eventually I’ll have enough information to make a good decision for him and for me, and it’s coming sooner than later.

Until then, I’m sending you a couple more chapters of the second edition of Apple Pie and Strudel Girls. We’re nearing the end, so stay with me.

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 9

Naples, Italy – March—Josie found working in the wards satisfying in a different way; instead of the excitement of the operating room, she found her nurturing side as she helped wounded soldiers make the journey back to health. By the end of March the weather turned pleasant enough to wheel her patients outside to enjoy the sunshine. Somehow the outdoors lifted their depressed spirits better than any medication in a syringe or a bottle. Mario especially looked forward to his time with Josie. He healed enough to get out of bed and walk short distances with a cane, but he would never be fit for combat again.

The more time he spent with Josie, he confirmed to himself he didn’t want to live without her in his life. She, on the other hand, didn’t show she might be ready to listen to his serious intentions. For the time being, he stayed satisfied to admit she prevailed as the checkers champ, while he taught her the finer points of poker.

As Josie finished her shift, she picked up her mail and discovered she received three letters. One from Anna, Johnny, and Rosalie. After months of not getting any mail at all. Josie almost skipped to her quarters to read the news from her friends.

Dear Josie,

Hope this letter finds you with your “head down.” A rumor circled around the camp a field evac center in Italy got bombed. Please, if you’re reading this letter, write to me as soon as you can so I can relax.

Since we last met, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.  Our pilot got lost in a storm and crashed somewhere in Albania behind German lines. I got stranded with four wounded patients and only one corpsman. The pilot died in the crash. I thought about you during those first minutes, asking myself, “What would Josie do?” And I got my answer right away. Josie would pray. So I did. Yes–this kid finally believes.

In a couple of minutes, my prayer seemed to be fast-tracked. A band of Albanian resistance fighters came to our rescue, although at the time, I thought I might be a goner. The leader called himself Jack. I wish I could send you a picture. A colorful turban hid Jack’s long grimy hair. His face sported, a full scraggly beard, and he dressed like something straight out of an Allie-Baba movie. His body odor was ripe. I don’t think he bathed in a month, but he turned out to be our guardian angel. Through his knowledge of the area and his cleverness to solve problems along the way, we walked eight hundred miles through mountain wilderness back to our lines.

This is an adventure I never want to repeat. The good news is everyone lived. No fatalities. Everyone suffered frostbite. Mike, my corpsman lost a couple of toes, and he developed pneumonia. I kept trotting from a bad case of dysentery.  A month later I returned to the air. Most people think I’m crazy not to ask for a transfer.

For my efforts, I received a raise and a promotion to First Lieutenant. I suppose you’re a general by now, but pretend to be impressed, okay? (Ha,ha) I never acquired the knack of out-performing you, but I hope this experience at least ties with your escapades.

Write soon if you can, and I’ll look forward to meeting you again in peace time. Sending you my love and respect,

 Your friend, Anna

As Josie read Anna’s tale, she didn’t think she possessed the strength or fortitude to make such a horrendous journey. Walking eight hundred miles through the snowy mountains seemed impossible.  Josie considered herself a tomboy, but Anna proved she always had more gas in her tank than Josie ever did. What a story! She looked forward to sharing Anna’s letter with Mario who bragged about walking the length of Italy.

She opened Rosalie’s letter next.

Dear Josie,

 Here I am in the safety of my home with two beautiful babies. (I’m sending you a new picture to brag a little). If you came home for Christmas, I’d be as happy as a pig in slop. (Can you tell your Dad has rubbed off on me?)

My good mood got a boost when I found Angelo on my doorstep. He returned home just before Christmas with a medical discharge. He got severely burned and wounded on a Pacific Island. (I can’t tell you where because of the censors.) Angelo suffered so much. For awhile the doctors only gave him a thirty percent chance he would live because he stayed in a coma for weeks after surgery. He lay on a field hospital cot for weeks because the air strip needed to be completed before they could send him to a better hospital.

The most amazing thing happened to him while he lay asleep. Angelo told me he went to a quiet, peaceful place during those two weeks. He recalled he jumped on the wings of a butterfly and flew home to check on me and the babies. He also said he saw Tony again. They laughed together, but then Tony told Angelo his time with him expired because I needed him at home. After Tony walked away from him, Angelo woke up.  Isn’t that incredible?

When Angelo saw the Blue Star flag I hung in the front window, he cried. Then I showed him the scrapbook of stories I cut out of the newspaper about his unit.  We made up a silly ceremony and retired the banner laying it to rest in my war scrapbook. We put both in the attic, hoping never to go through such a long separation again.

Angelo’s walks with a cane, and he still suffers terrible pain in his leg, but he’s still my sweet Angelo. He’s so proud of our kids and spoils them rotten. Even though they are so small, I can tell they love having their Daddy home again.

Angelo’s boss gave him his job back, but instead of doing all the hard labor, he made Angelo a foreman. He got a big pay raise because the factory received a huge government contract. It’s such a relief to not worry about money. I really got scared I might lose our house, but Donna chipped in rent money, and we muddled through together. She’s such a doll. I really miss her.

 Besides bringing home a bum leg and a lot of scars, Angelo brought home his young friend Bobby. Honestly Josie, he’s just a kid. He enlisted in the Marines at sixteen years old! Can you imagine that? He’s living upstairs in Donna’s old room for the time being. He tells everybody he found his feminine side because he sleeps a pink bedroom. (ha, ha)

Bobby never experienced a loving family before and I think Angelo believes God sent him a little brother to help ease the loss of Tony. He’s a decent kid, and he loves little Angelo. He calls him “AJ,” and I think the new nickname will stick.

Things are almost back to normal, except for rationing, air raid practices, and blackouts, of course. (ha, ha)

I miss you and Donna so much. I hope you’ll come home REAL soon.

 Love you always,

Rosie

After Josie finished reading Rosalie’s letter, she thought about her role as a wife of a veteran and a mother of two babies. Sweet Rosie. She’s a veteran, but she’ll never get any credit for her contribution to the war effort. No one will give her a medal for the personal hardship and loneliness she endured. And no one will honor her for having a baby without her husband standing by. She sacrificed as much as any of us. Josie sighed and picked up the letter from Johnny. She hoped he completed his thirty-five missions and went home.

Dear Josie,

Hi, kid! Hope you’re up to no good for a change, but somehow I doubt it. You’re the type who makes up sins when you go to confession. 

Things here are stepping up. The new planes are a dream and our new Captain is crazier than my old friend Graham. I fly as Baker’s wing man and we’re a winning combination.

When Alistair and Graham died in combat, I never thought I would fly with anybody with the same talent, but the Captain gives Graham a run for his money. He challenges me every day.

We finally own the skies over Europe and are pounding the hell out of the Krauts. Turnabout is fair play, right? I believe this war is coming to a painful climax–like when you get a pimple and the damn thing needs to be squeezed. (ha, ha)

At least I hope so. I’m weary of flying mission after mission and wondering who will come back . . . the worst part is, not knowing the fate of the fliers –are they dead or POWs? Rumors of German prison conditions make me think the better choice of the two is death.

I want to tell you some good news and bad news. Mary and I broke off our engagement. Being separated for three years took its toll on both of us. I got close to Alistair’s widow, and Mary admitted she didn’t feel the same about me either.

The more Katie and I wrote and the few times we saw each other developed into something serious. I didn’t plan this. But Katie is beautiful and smart, and someday soon, we’ll marry before the war is over so I can take her home with me after the Krauts surrender.

You’ll never guess what I found in a pub last week. Peter! He’s part of a million other “yanks.” You can imagine how much fun we got out of sharing a couple of beers together, although, I can say one thing-I’ll be glad when I get home and drink a COLD beer-these crazy Brits drink their pints of “bitter” warm. As long as I live, I’ll never get used to that.

Well, that’s all the news. Hope you’re safe and well.

Love,

Johnny

Josie reread each letter before she put all the letters in the cigar box where she kept all her correspondence. She realized a common thread ran through all of the letters. The war changed everybody, but somehow life goes on. She heart broke for Mary because being Johnny’s fiancé meant something very special to her.  Josie realized even the best relationship gets tough when it must endure a long separation. Rosalie’s letter once again showed a lively spark which disappeared after Angelo left. Thank God he made it home. The two of them should enjoy a long happy life together; after all they loved each other since freshman year in high school.

The letters did more for Josie’s spirits than any counseling session. She planned to share her news from home with Mario because he enjoyed hearing stories about her friends. Josie told him so much about about Rosalie, Angelo, and Donna he considered them an extended family.

Her assignment in the convalescent wards brought Josie and Mario close. He cajoled her and she bantered back. They laughed together, and once in a while shared a tender moment of silence. When he told her he never would face combat again, she rejoiced. Lately, she didn’t want to think of living without him in her life.

Chapter 10

Normandy, France-June—Peter and millions of other American boys realized the invasion of Europe couldn’t be far off. As they went through daily drills, a crusty sergeant made sure his men understood there were no rules in combat. As they crawled on their bellies under barbed wire, the sergeant yelled. “If you get a chance to kill a Kraut by shooting him in the back, you shoot. If you can blow him up with a grenade, throw the grenade. If you can kill him with a bayonet, you stab him. You kill the son-of-a-bitch the quickest and most effective way you can. If you don’t, I guarantee you won’t live to tell the story. Remember this: The enemy’s main desire is to kill YOU!”

Every day and every training session the drill sergeants yelled such words of wisdom to toughen up the troops. As the soldiers practiced climbing ropes, the sergeant drilled them. “Jerry will trick and cheat you. There are no ethics in war, boys. If you don’t beat Jerry at his own game, you won’t live to appreciate your own nobleness.”

As Peter drilled and practiced his role in the upcoming invasion, he wondered if he could really kill anyone. As a child, he learned in catechism class “Thou shall not kill.”  He understood killing was a sin. Killing puts you in prison. But now he found himself with a rifle in his hand surrounded by people who expected him to use it.

One day, he got enough nerve to ask his sergeant about his dilemma. The crusty drill sergeant recognized Peter struggled. “Kid. Listen. I won’t say this twice. You are not a killer. We are here to do a job. Our superiors expect success. We must give one hundred and ten percent all of the time. Nothing but your best effort is required. Any man who witnesses and sniffs the ugliness of war wants no more of it–GUARANTEED.  Don’t believe anyone who says war is glorious. The truth is exactly the opposite. War is grimy, dusty, noisy, and disgusting. Once you come under fire, you’ll witness unbelievable sights. Believe me, the only guys picking fights after this war, will be the cowards who want others to think they were tough combat men. When the truth is, they peed their pants the minute a bullet whizzed by ’em. Believe me, private, the surest way to become a pacifist is to join the infantry. You mark my words.”

After listening to the sergeant ‘s war philosophies day in and day out, Peter accepted his logic. Americans got permission to shoot the enemy because they didn’t start this fight. The Germans did. But by god, the allies planned to finish it.

Peter just wanted to get the invasion over, so he could enjoy his Mom’s good cooking and run the farm again with his dad. He never thought going home again would be so important to him.

*****

On June 4th orders came down the chain of command the invasion would commence at 0300 hours. Peter and his buddies dressed in their combat gear and waited on deck for the order to disembark. The ship rolled so much in the heavy surf; standing upright on the deck proved to be nearly impossible. The sky stayed black even after sun-up. Rain pelted down like a fire hose sprayed them at a close distance. But no one thought bad weather might prevent the biggest invasion in history.

The high swells in the English Channel bounced the Higgins boats like bathtub toys. GIs became so violently sick before getting to shore they didn’t stand a chance facing an enemy as savvy as the Germans. After the brass witnessed a few futile attempts to get the boats ashore, they called off the invasion.

The storm on June 4th turned out to be the worst storm in the area for over one hundred years, and Peter and his crew returned to port, cold, wet and even more anxious than when they woke that morning.

*****

Two days later, the weather cleared, and the seas calmed enough to go forward with the invasion. The soldiers climbed down the ropes to the waiting landing craft boats in the dark. The men crunched together while they kept their heads down to avoid the bullets whizzing by them. Small subs slithered through the seas to protect the landing craft. Large balloons shaped like blimps hovered over the LCVPs to protect the men from German Stuka bombers diving and strafing them.

As the boats got closer to the beach, the Germans knocked out the balloons with rapid fire. Peter cut the cable to the balloon with bullets skimming his head; he belly-flopped into the pile of men in the bottom of the boat. Lying on his back, Peter gazed at a flock of barrage balloons filling the sky. In a strange way, he felt like a kid at the country fair who just lost his helium balloon.

The battleships behind the landing crafts fired shells from their fifteen-inch guns over the heads of the men in the smaller boats. Every once in a while a huge explosion erupted, and the men in the landing boats realized an American battleship successfully hit one of the Kraut’s ammo dumps. Peter’s throat grew dry and constricted. He couldn’t  utter a sound. His heart pounded in his ears and  his pulse raised.

Everyone stared ahead too afraid this might be the end. No one spoke.

Peter silently prayed. “Please, Lord let me get to the beach. Help me live through this.”

The ramps dropped and Sergeant Castle let his team into the waist-high water. The fifty pound backpacks pulled many of the smaller guys down into the sea. Some sunk like rocks, as rip currents pulled them out into the ocean drowning many of them. Sharp iron anti-boat rails impaled others as they jumped into the water.

Disregarding his personal danger, Peter pulled man after man onto the beach. He returned to the surf again and again to help floundering comrades.

Pillboxes and concrete bunkers six-feet thick lined the coast above the beach. Machine guns rat-ta-tat accompanied the screams of dying men. Larger guns shot shell after shell at the landing crews. The concussion of the shells knocked floundering men off their field. Grenades fell on the Americans who made it to the beach and waited for the rest of their units at the base of the bluff. Herr Rommel had done his best to deter an Allied invasion. But the Americans pushed on. The mission was to take control of the beach and surrounding area.

Confusion and agony covered the men on Omaha beach. The ear-splitting barrage of bullets and shells exploding deafened the landing soldiers. The infantry quickly found out the earlier naval gunfire and pre-landing air bombardments did nothing to softened German defenses. If men didn’t fall dead from bombs or bullets, a mine buried on the beach might do the job.

Shells whined over each wave of troops attempting to land. Great splashes erupted as they exploded in the water. Peter ran to the beach pumping his legs on the wet sand. He fell on his belly on the cold gravel beach. With so many bullets, shrapnel fragments, and explosions all around him, he touched his leg and arm to assure he remained alive. Then he fought to get to his feet firing his weapon blindly as he advanced.

The nightmarish scene didn’t seem real. The sea turned redder as the battle went on. Dead men lay where they dropped, and because Peter saved three men from drowning, he got separated from his unit. Through the fire and smoke, he scanned the beach for his sergeant. He yelled his name again and again, but received no answer. Screams of wounded men and exploding shells drowned out his shouts. Mayhem prevailed. With every step, Peter prayed. “God be with me. God be with me. Please don’t let me die here! I want to go home. I want to go home. Please Lord, be with me.”

As he moved forward a searing pain ripped through Peter’s belly. Blood oozed out a wound which nearly cut him in half. He gasped from the pain and collapsed. He put pressure on his wound and crawled behind a corpse. He said one more prayer and passed out.

Peter lay unconscious while a medic packed his wounds with gauze dressings and gave him a shot of morphine. The eighteen year old opened his eyes for a second to stare at a grimy face with a wide handlebar mustached say, “You’ll be okay mate. The worst part will be when we move ya.”

Corpsmen lifted Peter onto a stretcher and ran to a waiting LCVP which ferried the wounded to the off-shore hospital ships. The wounded men needed to be transferred from the Higgins boats to the hospital ship by hand. The men lifting the wounded needed to keep the stretcher level hoisting their patient over their heads or the patient would slip off the stretcher into the icy waters of the Channel. Choppy seas and exploding shells made the transfers a monumental task.

Once aboard the hospital ship, medical personnel triaged the wounded men. Peter lost a tremendous amount of blood so his critical condition moved him to the head of the queue for surgery. Nurses worked furiously to keep him alive until the doctors brought him into surgery. Finding veins to start IV’s in both arms for the plasma and saline proved to be difficult, but after injections of penicillin and morphine, Peter lay semi-conscious as medical personnel buzzed around him.

He listened to a doctor say, “We’re going to put you to sleep, now son.”

Peter tried to nod but blinking his eyes turned out to be the only movement he could make. The doctor put a rubber mask over his face and the effect of the drug put him into a deep sleep. He drifted into a quiet zone. No more bombs exploding. No more bullets ripping through flesh. No more pain. No more screaming. He traveled to a very white and peaceful place. A sense of calm washed over him. He loved the silence. Then a familiar person walked toward him.  Tony Armani held out his arms to embrace Peter. “Hey old, buddy. Good to see you again.”

Peter stared at his brother’s old friend. “Where are we, Tony?”

“Some people call this place heaven. Come on. I want you to meet some other guys.” Tony put his arm around Peter’s shoulder, and they walked toward a bright light together. ”

 

 

 

The Price of Freedom

Ken and I have been watching the PBS special THE CIVIL WAR directed by Ken Burns.  I love Ken Burns productions because they are so well done, and I always learn something. As you might have guessed by now, life long learning (LLL) is important to me.

As I watched this critical period in our American history, I wondered what would have happened if the Confederate states had won the war. How different our history would  have been if our country was split into two separate countries. First, we’d have to come up with an entirely new name. We certainly couldn’t be called “THE UNITED STATES”could we?  It could have happened if Britain and France would have supported the South. The two European countries needed the cotton the South produced, so it’s not far fetched they may have entered the war.

The other thing that impressed me about this series is the language which is used to tell the story. Burns artfully inserts excerpts from speeches made by principals. He also uses writings and journal entries of soldiers. Their correspondence artfully uses the English language. Hearing words written so well from common citizens put our present use of the English language to shame.

A little tangent: It drives me nuts when I hear incorrect grammar usage by people who should know better. Educated people like newscasters, anchor people, and politicians. For instance, so often you hear “People that” instead of “People who” or “By who” instead of “By whom.” Does anybody care about such things any more in our warp-speed world?

Another thing which impressed me about this program is how strong Abraham Lincoln needed to be to hold things together. His critics were many. Even his head honcho General McCullen blasted Lincoln, which is really funny because for the first two years of the war, McCullen sat on his hands and did nothing. He had every excuse–not enough men, not enough weapons, not the right time. He trained a strong army but he was afraid to use it. So Lincoln got involved, fired the jerk, and put Grant in charge. Boy did people talk about that sudden change of events!

The other event which riled the country was the Emancipation Proclamation. The U. S. had to define itself. People needed to think about freedom and if every person was entitled to it. If freedom is truly at the core of who we are, then slavery had to be eradicated. The war began to save the union, it ended emancipating the slaves and providing freedom for everyone who lived here.

We have one more episode to watch tonight, and even though we know the outcome, we don’t know many of the details which makes this struggle human. History is more than facts and figures. It is created by the people who lived and survived the time period. More people died in the Civil War than in any other war in our history. Through suffering and bloodshed the United States found her identity. Being able to live in a free country is not free. The price has been paid in blood. Just visit Arlington which was formerly the front yard of General Robert E. Lee.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 6 – 1943

Chapter 1

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – January—Since Angelo invited Bobby to live with his family, the little house on Main street too crowded. Donna realized she needed to move on. As she helped Rosalie hang baby Angelo’s diapers on the basement clotheslines, she approached the subject. “Rosie?”

“Yeah?”

“With Angelo home and Bobby living here, the house is a little crowded.”

Rosie dropped the clothespin she held. “What are you saying, Donna?”

“It’s time for me to move out.”

“No! I love you living with us.”

“I accepted a new job and made some plans. A girl’s jazz band needs a lead singer, so I auditioned and got the job. I’ll be with the USO in Chicago. Isn’t that exciting?”

“Yeah, but aren’t you scared to go to such a big city? People are different in cities.”

“Hey, if you can get through a birth of a baby alone, I can certainly go to Chicago alone.”

Tears sprang up in Rosalie’s eyes. “Chicago? It’s too far away! I’ll never see you.”

“I realize this is a big step, but Rosie, this is a chance of a lifetime! Maybe some big shot will like my voice, and I’ll be on my way to a recording contract. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”  Donna threw her arms out to the side like a star does after they complete a number.

Rosalie hugged her while her voice inferred her disappointment. “That would be swell.”

“So you’re okay with this?”

“No. But I know you’ll go anyhow. Everybody has a right to follow their dreams.  I know you dreamed about something like this since first grade talent show. Chances like this rarely come along. And if you’re a big flop, you can always come back here.”

Donna pulled away. “Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence!”

Rosie laughed and hugged her again. “Donna Jean, I’m just kidding. After you get your first recording contract, I can say I knew you when we hung up diapers on the basement clotheslines.”

The two friends laughed and cried in each other’s arms.

*****

Two weeks later, Donna packed a bag and hopped a train headed for Chicago. She saved her wages for the past few months to make the trip. She needed enough money for a security deposit on an apartment and to buy the glamorous strapless gowns and high heels required by the band for their performances.

Donna met up with the other members of the band at the USO Club as soon as she arrived in Chicago. From now on Donna’s husky, sexy voice would complement the four-piece jazz combo. They scheduled to practice at nine tomorrow.

In the meantime, every week the USO hosted a dance and tonight the hall buzzed with girls pushing tables around so there would be enough room to dance. They decorated the place in red and white for Valentine’s evening. Donna and the other members of the band needed to be on hand to dance with the soldiers who might be shipping out to join the troops in Europe or the South Pacific.

Every USO dance adopted a theme chosen by the USO girls. They decorated the hall, planned and made the refreshments, and then arrived at the appointed hour in their prettiest dresses, solely to make a memorable evening for the soldiers, sailors, and marines in attendance.

As the girls dressed for the dance, Marilyn the drummer offered Donna a room in her apartment. Donna felt relieved she had a place to stay until she had time to go apartment hunting. The two girls fell in sync with each other like old friends. Marilyn and Donna got on a bus and stopped at a six-floor walk-up. Marilyn unlocked the door with the number 620 and ushered Donna to a small bedroom on the Lake Michigan side of the building. “This room is cool in the summer, and unfortunately, cold in the winter. I’ll get extra blankets in case you need them. I share a bathroom down the hall with the next door neighbor, but the arrangement isn’t too bad. He’s a soldier, who just shipped out, but he wanted to keep the apartment, and so far he hasn’t subleased the place.”

“This is so nice of you, Marilyn; truly, I fully expected to stay at the “Y” until I found a place.” Donna said.

“Nah, why should you do that when there’s an extra bed here?”

“What can I pay you?”

“Nothing right now. But if we get along, half of the rent is $50 a month.”

“Seems reasonable.”

They shook hands to seal the deal.

Chapter 2

North Africa, February 1943—Josie never worked so hard in her all of life as she did with the 48th Surgical Unit. The daily oppressive heat and humidity drained the life out of her, but the positive attitude of the constant flow of wounded soldiers kept her motivated. Her nurses learned to take the challenges of combat in stride, as they fought to keep conditions as sterile and comfortable.

When the battles moved, so did the field hospitals. A rumor circling around the camp told a story about German forces breaking through the Kasserine Pass. With the enemy so close to the Evacuation Hospital bivouacked near Tebessa, orders came down the chain of command to move the hospital to a safer location. Nurses and other staff packed up and moved one hundred fifty patients sixty miles. Through careful planning and coordination, the medical staff got the hospital up and running in twelve hours. A remarkable achievement.

As the war progressed, moving hospital facilities from one place to another for safety became a normal routine for Army doctors, nurses and corpsmen. Josie thought herself lucky she didn’t need to move her position, even though the hospital she worked in left so little to be desired.

With so many seriously wounded men, Josie’s triage skills got finely hones.  The severity of a patient’s condition determined where, when, and how he would be treated.  The nurses ran into untrained situations daily, so they learned on the job and improvised with what they had. They gallantly performed their duties earning the respect from the male medical staff and military command.

****

Josie often accompanied patients to the airfield to be evacuated to a general hospital. As the C-46 cargo plane landed, the attending nurse would meet her to get the records for the wounded patients. The nurses working on the planes took special training to become flight nurses–one of the most dangerous duties for medical personal. Even though the planes bore the Geneva Red Cross to protect them from enemy, often the designation was ignored and the plane was shot down.

As the ramp dropped and the nurse came forward to accept the patients, Josie recognized the gait of the woman walking toward her.

“As I live and breathe! Anna! . . .” Josie said as she hugged her college roommate.

“I couldn’t let you get all the fun!” Anna shouted over the plane’s engines.

“But you hate flying!” Josie said.

“Not any more! They needed somebody from a cold climate to work on the plane because there’s no heat in these tin cans.”

Anna laughed.

“What?” Josie could barely hear her over the engines of the plane.

“Yeah, the heaters in these “flying coffins” sometimes explode during flight, so the pilots refuse to turn them on. We keep the critical patients warm with heated blankets and warm fluids while we shiver in our combat boots.” Anna flashed her impish smile that always cracked Josie up.

Josie laughed. “You haven’t changed! How great to see you! Will this be your usual run?”

“Are you kidding? I’m never privy to where they send me.”

“Well, then, let’s make a promise. After the war is over, we’ll get together and compare notes.”

“You bet! Do you think we could get our old dorm room home and talk all night?” Annie laughed.

“No. But my Mom still has the roll away, and I don’t think she’s given my room to anyone else.” Josie thought about their midnight conversations which centered on boys, exams, and new classes. What a world away that was now.

After their brief reunion, Josie went over the charts of the men she released to Anna, while corpsmen boarded the patients on the plane. Anna gave Josie one last hug and then ran to the plane.

Josie yelled, “Take good care of my boys!”

Anna waved and yelled over the engines. “They’ll get my very best.”

The brief reunion with Anna provided a small nibble of home for Josie.

The ambulance driver motioned for her to hurry. Josie jumped into the passenger seat and the driver yelled over the plane engine noise, “We gotta go, Josie! More wounded coming in!”

“I’ll say one thing for the Krauts; they provide job security.”

The driver smiled at the feisty nurse as he left a cloud of dust in their wake.

Chapter 3

Berlin, Germany — March 1943—After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Nazis public relations department decided to install a program to bolster the moral of the country. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi “spin doctor” declared the March 21st as Heldengedenktag–a Memorial Day to commemorate all war victims with special recognition given to the soldiers who fell in Stalingrad.  Instead of being a stoic holiday, the German leaders professed the day needed to be a celebration, not a day of morning.

Marta’s mother Olga tried to buy into the celebration because she needed to believe her husband’s death stood for something important.  But Olga’s severe loss of the man she loved for over twenty-five years cut deep into her soul leaving a wide void. She couldn’t imagine how she would live out the rest of her life alone.

With Allied planes bombing major German cities day and night, residential areas turned into landscapes of mud, demolished buildings, and charred corpses. Hitler refused to admit he lost the war and continued with his futile ambitions, while his stubborness destroyed the very country he professed to love so much. He believed if the German people didn’t claim victory, they all needed to suffer for their failure.

Olga received letters from relatives living in Cologne with pictures of dead bodies lying on sidewalks. Other photos of children playing among bricks which had previously been their homes broke her heart. Hell rained down across the country and Olga found nothing to celebrate in such circumstances.

Most Germans realized their side lost the war, but Olga’s old friends held on to Nazi delusions about the Third Reich overcoming their losses. Only a fool thought Germany could rise again. No single army, no matter how great could conquer the entire world.

 

 

No Words for Today

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)

Chapter 28

 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

 Dear Rosie,

 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.

Chapter 29

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.

“Yeah?”

“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.

Chapter 30

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!”

“Likewise, Angelo.”

“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.”

 

Critics and My Soul

One thing I’ve never told my blogging friends is my love of classical music. It started back in high school when our choir sang pieces by the old composers like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I had a dream someday I might sing on Broadway, but I listened to the dream dashers in my life and went on to work in an office instead of pursuing MY dreams in college.

Years went by and as a young mother, I was invited to join a semi-pro group of singers which performed entire movements by the same composers I enjoyed in high school. Up until then, I always had the best voice in the whole choir. Now I was surrounded by sopranos who could sing as well as I could.

After a year in the group, I figured it was time to let the director know I wanted to sing a solo in the Schubert Mass. He agreed and assigned me the Kyrie. I learned very quickly the piece required more skill than I possessed because every time I opened my mouth, unpleasant noises came out of me. As hard as I tried, I could not successfully sing the solo. Luckily, one of the women in the group was a voice teacher, so I asked her if she would take me on as a student. I knew getting help was necessary, but my ego got bruised admitting I didn’t know everything about singing.

Weeks of exercises, vocalises, and hours of practicing got me in shape to sing the Kyrie. When the big moment came, the first couple of bars were a little shaky, but after that, I relaxed and the high notes floated out on pitch. After the concert, the compliments came my way and I felt accomplished, but I wanted more chances to stand out so I continued my voice lessons.

At that point in my life, I needed to be recognized and my voice was the only tool I had. People wanted to listen to me, and that fact made me happy. I was something more than a daughter, wife, and mom. My voice let me be me. And if anyone ever criticized me, I felt wounded. Later on I confessed this fact with the director and he said, “Of course a negative comment would hurt you, Barb; it’s the artist in you; it’s your very soul.”

I don’t sing regularly any more; my arthritic hip doesn’t allow me to stand in one place for an entire hour. Instead I’ve carried my thirst to be special in my writing and in my art work. I “work” at both endeavors and luckily my soul has grown a thick enough skin to let the critics take their best shot because I know every time I sit at the keyboard or at the easel, whatever I produce will be better than it was in the past. It’s called growing. When you think you know it all, dive in and you’ll realize how little you really know.

#####

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 22

North Africa-November—When Josie completed the training in Arizona, she left Camp Young feeling strong, confident, and ready to get to work. She easily adapted to Army life, attributing her easy assimilation to growing up on a farm where she experience hard work and waking in the early hours of the morning.

After four weeks of Army hardening, Josie’s orders sent her to an Army hospital in Topeka Kansas. She cared  for retired and wounded veterans who returned home for rehabilitation. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, she would be one of sixty nurses attached to the 48th Surgical Hospital Unit. This would be her first job as a surgical nurse. She also was chosen to supervise the activities of ten other nurses. She called her mother as soon as she got her orders for deployment to North Africa.

“Hi, Mom!” Josie said with excitement in her voice.

“Josie, how wonderful! How are you, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine. I’m calling to tell you I received new orders.”

Mrs. Schneider held her breath. “Oh, that’s nice, dear.”

“I’m assigned to the 48th Surgical Hospital.” She took a deep breath before she uttered the next sentence. “We’re going Africa.”

“What?”

“Please be happy for me, Mom. I finally get a chance to use my training.  I’m going to be a surgical nurse!”

“You’re going to Africa? Isn’t it really hot there?”

“Of course the weather is hot in Africa; that’s why we trained in the Arizona desert for six weeks. I ship out in two weeks.”

Mrs. Schneider’s stomach churned. “Will you come home before you leave?”

Josie recognized a quiver in her mother’s voice. “Now, Mom. I’ll be fine. If I can survive boot camp, I can do anything.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes. The Army is sending me home for a few days before I ship out. I bet after being under your feet for a few days, you’ll be glad to send me packing after you see what the army has done to me.”

“You aren’t going to sound revelry, are you?” Her mother forced a laugh. “A bugle will scare the chickens!”

Josie smiled at her mother’s attempt at humor. “I love you, Mom. I’ll be home soon.”

“I love you too, Josie.” Her mother sat down on a kitchen chair and took deep breaths. She closed her eyes and forced herself not to think her little girl going to war.

Chapter 23

New York – October—After flying from Kansas to New York City, Josie and sixty other nurses met at the dock where a transport ship would take them and hundreds of soldiers to the coast of North Africa. Once they boarded the ship, the nurses learned they would be part of the first wave of Operation TORCH to hit the beach in North Africa.

On the morning of November 8th, Josie climbed down an rope ladder on the side of the destroyer to a Higgins boat bobbing in the surf below. She and the other nurses were dressed in fatigues, army boots, and four-pound steel helmets. They were  indistinguishable from the men except for the Red Cross patch they wore on their sleeve. Instead of a rifle and ammunition, each nurse carried a backpack of medical supplies, a small canvas bag with a shoulder strap called a musette bag, a gas mask, and a canteen filled with drinking water, which hung on a belt around her waist.

The boats sped to the beach and dropped the ramps in waist-high water; soldiered ran ahead firing as the nurses followed them onto the beach. Gunfire whizzed by, and the unarmed nurses got down on their bellies and crawled on their elbows to the nearest sand dune. Josie huddled with five other nurses as the enemy snipers shot at anything moving. The girls lay pinned down for hours with no escape. When darkness fell, a handsome lieutenant and his patrol escorted them to an abandoned shack along the shoreline where casualties of the day waited for treatment. Josie gasped she got close to the shack they used as a hospital. Thoughts swam in her head. “How are we ever going to keep instruments sterile in such a place? Will our supplies be enough? How in the world am I going to organize such a dump?”

When they entered the “hospital” the odors of filth, dirt, blood, and urine lingered in the air. Seeing the deplorable conditions made several nurses gag and vomit. They soon learned the building had no electricity and running water. Worse yet, the medical supplies they ferried in on their backs didn’t provide nearly enough to properly treat every wounded man. Josie looked beyond the horrid conditions and took command. She assigned two nurses to cover the blown out windows with rough green army blankets to prevent snipers from picking them off in any light. Next she triaged the wounded, and  at her direction corpsmen  moved the most severely wounded upstairs to the make-shift operating room. The rest of the wounded  laid in pools of their blood on the concrete floor while nurses bandaged what they could while rats and other vermin nosed about. Some men cried out, but others bit their lips trying not to cry out in pain. None of them complained.  They understood help  finally was within reach, and they thanked the nurses for any kindness or pain relief.

Doctors operated by flashlights held by corpsmen in the make-shift operating room. Surgical nurses stood beside doctors for hours repairing what they could with the limited supplies they carried ashore. When the doctors closed the wounds of one soldier, another wounded GI took his place. Surgery went on through the night. As the sun rose, six more soldiers held on for their turn on the table. But supplies dwindled. Morphine and either got to critical levels. The continued fighting on the beach prohibited getting the much needed supplies to the hospital. In the meantime medical personnel did their best to keep the men alive.

The doctors and nurses hung on for two days. With no sleep for forty-eight hours, Josie collapsed where she stood. A sergeant hoisted her willowy frame and laid her down on a blanket in the hallway. As she slept, a surging anger fired combative dreams. Why would any nation inflict such suffering and misery on so many?

Chapter 24

Anrath, Germany – December—Prisoners at the Anrath facility toiled sixty hours per week, while civilian workers only worked forty. They worked in abhorrent conditions. Rayon dust produced breathing problems. Vapors from the highly acidic material nearly blinded workers. If a civilian worker complained, she received treatment immediately, but prisoners did not get such care. German overseers forced prisoners to stay at their machines until they went totally blind.

As Emma toiled, the wardress stood in front of Emma and announced, “You received a letter from Paris, frauline.” She waved the envelope. In a glance Emma recognized Marta’s distinct handwriting. She lunged at the wardress and tried to snatch the letter from her. The witch pulled back and laughed. “You cannot read this, frauline. Remember no letters allowed. I just wanted to tell you that you got mail.”

Emma slumped back into her chair. She lowered her head as her vision blurred with tears. Up until now, nothing defeated her, but seeing Marta’s letter and not being able to read her words defeated her to the point of not caring any more.

*****

Viscose burns were a constant source of agony for the women who worked in the rayon factory. Civilians received gloves to protect their hands, while the prisoners received none. Working with bare hands produced cuts and blisters. Emma’s left hand developed six viscose wounds and her right hand suffered from three. The acid ate into her untreated wounds, making them swell and blister. She endured excruciating pain, and if she complained, the guards would beat her.

The wounds on Emma’s hands got worse as the weeks passed, but the factory doctor still considered her fit to work. She needed water to make a dressing for her wounds, but prisoners received no water for wounds or thirst.

After returning to her cell after a ten-hour day, Emma tore a strip of cloth from her work dress hem and soaked the fabric with her own urine. Then she wrapped the wet rags around her hands. Much to her surprise, the pain eased, and she fell fast asleep. After that first night, Emma repeated the process every night.  In a few days, her hands began to heal. The improvement empowered her to fight on. She outwitted the cruelty of everyone in power at the prison. Her cleverness brought a small miracle.

*****

Weeks after Emma’s hands healed, her eyes got so bad from the vapors, she not only experienced blurred vision but suffered debilitating stabbing pains in her irritated eyes. Splitting headaches accompanied the lingering neck pains. Then blindness and the pain made it impossible for her to work. Emma complained to wardress and didn’t care if she received a beating. Her reflection in the store windows attested she appeared half dead already.

The overseer shook his head and dragged her to the factory medic. The doctor probed her eyelids with filthy fingers. He deemed Emma unfit for work, but instead of receiving treatment for her injuries, she found herself in a group of women who suffered the same injuries.  The pitiful women sobbed in pain; Emma wanted to cry with them, but her pride wouldn’t let her. Worst of all, the time away from her machine gave Emma time to think. Of course, her first thought wondered what Marta wrote in her letter. Part of her wished to ignore the letter’s existence, but she consoled herself that now with inflamed eyes, she probably couldn’t read it anyway.