After completing several stories about my father’s experiences in Germany during World War II, I thought it was time to write what I know about my mother’s life while he was overseas. Following is the story, ‘Waiting on the Home Front.’
She looks down at the old woman lying in the hospital bed. The shrunken body is all twisted with the legs facing one way and the shoulders another, while the sheets are twining every which way. The old woman looks vaguely familiar and so does the younger woman, though she has gray in her hair, sitting by her side holding her gnarled hand. There is a short knocking sound out in the hallway and while the younger woman turns to see what it is, the old one lets out a sigh and drops her head to her chest. The younger woman turns back and lets out a soft cry. This action has freed her in some way she can’t quite comprehend and she turns away from the tableau before her and starts to run. But she is running up into the air, not across the floor. What is happening? She hears a telephone ringing in the distance and knows she has to get to it. A face pops into her inner vision of a young man in a uniform. He is so handsome with those wide- open blue eyes that have always melted her heart when he looks at her. She can’t quite get his name even though he looks so familiar, like the old woman down below who is rapidly receding with each second that passes. She looks down at her feet and sees scuffed brown oxfords running along an oiled, gravel road. A voice from a porch on the farm house across the road and down a ways, is yelling for her to ‘Hurry’, to ‘Come to the phone, Now! Before the connection is lost!’
And, in an instant, the hospital room disappears and the gravel road and farmland around her comes into sharp focus. She is running from her parents’ place to the house across the road where, fortunately, the Town Supervisor who has the only telephone for miles around, lives. She prays the caller is not the Army telling her something terrible she does not want to hear. She prays it is the call she has been waiting for since the end of the War in Europe last year. She prays it is the voice she has been longing to hear for months upon lonely months. As she steps into the parlor of her neighbor’s house, her closest friend hands over the telephone receiver. She is shaking so much she almost drops the unfamiliar instrument.
“Hello?” she says in a quavering voice made breathless from her sprint across the highway.
“Hello, Duchess? I’m home.”
With those few words spoken she remembers his name. Rudy. Her beloved husband, Rudy.
Rudy is home and her life can begin again.
The truth is Rudy isn’t actually ‘home’ yet. He has called her from New York City. From some office near the dock. He has managed to get a ticket on a train bound for Western New York but when he will get to Middleport is unclear. He will have to travel to Buffalo first and then find a ride home. She knows her brother will pick him up there unless he can catch a freight train right into their small town. So there is more waiting to be done. This waiting will be easier in one way – she knows he is safely back in America – but far harder in another way because he is so close but not standing in front of her yet.
As Rudy starts to tell her what train he hopes to be on, the telephone connection is broken and she replaces the heavy receiver in its cradle, turns around and walks out of the house and back down the road to her parents’ farm. Her friend’s questions are carried along on the breeze: ‘Where is Rudy? When will he get here? Is he OK?’ She shuts the voice out, unable to answer these questions anyway, and lets her mind wander over the past year and a half she has spent without him: the sacrifices she and her parents and brother and sisters had to make for ‘the war effort;’ the uncertainty of Rudy’s survival that plagued her every day; the anxiously awaited letters that came in batches of 15 or 20 after none at all for weeks upon anxious weeks; the furtive praying in church on Sundays; the crying into her pillow most nights.
She knows that other families suffered far greater anxieties than she did. She remembers the lists of names of the dead and missing posted at the Middleport Village Hall every Saturday morning for the past 5 years. The Village Hall had a map of the world taped to the wall with straight pins stuck in where local boys had fallen or were last heard from. The war had stretched wide across the globe with names of countries and islands few could pronounce and most had never heard of before December 7, 1941. The world was at war many years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which plunged the U.S. headfirst into the fray, but people did not pay much attention to where in the world these places were. Since she was a teacher she knew the locations of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, the desert countries of the North African Theatre and Lindenhof, Germany. But trying to picture her beloved Rudy, his little brother Jimmy, several nephews and many childhood and college friends both male and female, in these strange, exotic places boggled her mind. When she lay down at night the Pacific Ocean with small islands like dots on those vast waters, deserts filled with wandering Bedouins and their camels, and the snow covered peaks of the Alps swirled around and around in her head until she fell into a fitful sleep near dawn and awoke more exhausted than when she had turned in the night before. But regardless of this lack of sleep, she did get up each day right after sunrise. She lived on a farm and there were chores to be done before she left for her teaching job in town.
She was lucky to secure this teaching position in Middleport instead of continuing to live in Niagara Falls with no way to visit her parents and siblings unless her dad came up to get her and take her back on the weekends. Rudy had always taken care of the driving and she could take a city bus to work or for shopping or to the occasional picture show. She had friends and her sister-in-law in Niagara Falls and her best friend from childhood lived in Buffalo, but after Rudy enlisted in the Army, she wanted to be home surrounded by the familiar while the rest of the world went mad.
She tried so hard to be supportive and even happy that Rudy was going off to war against Hitler, or would it be the Emperor of Japan? The bombing of Pearl Harbor 3 years before had whipped even the most peaceful people into a frenzy of vengeful thinking. Rudy, of course, wanted to do his part and felt more depressed each time one of his family or friends left for overseas. He kept being rejected by the Army for one thing or the other which made her heart glad while she put on a sad face for him. But by the Autumn 1944 America was running out of eager, healthy young men and finally telegraphed Rudy with his date of departure from Niagara Falls to a basic training camp in Georgia. He was turning 28 his next birthday in April, 1945 and she could not let herself wonder if he would be alive to turn 29 the following year.
She had seen enough men wandering the streets of Niagara Falls and Buffalo, on crutches, body parts missing, blind and using walking sticks, to know his chances of coming back home to her as a whole person were getting slimmer as the war dragged on.
When Rudy received his Army uniform they drove to his hometown of Silver Springs, NY to say goodbye to his parents and numerous nieces and nephews. The nephews crawled all over him, as usual, the nieces agog with how handsome he looked in his uniform. His father shook his hand goodbye then went back into his restaurant and his mother clung to him sobbing, both as expected.
She stood to the side letting his family get their fill of him, and kept a smile plastered on her face. He seemed so happy to be leaving all of them. How could he be? How could her usually calm and steady Rudy be happy about going to war? He had longings she knew nothing about and would never understand.
They drove back to Niagara Falls where he boarded the train for Georgia. They had decided that she would not accompany him there as some of the younger wives were doing. Instead her brother Charlie came by train to Niagara Falls and drove her back to the farm in Rudy’s car. Her parents could use his gas rations for their tractors while the car stayed in storage in one of the barns. All neat and tidy, this transition, from her life as a wife and teacher in a city school, back to being a daughter, older sister, farm worker and young woman seeking a teaching job in the one – building – for – all – grades school in her tiny home town.
What would happen to her now?
Here is what happened. She moved home from Niagara Falls to Middleport to live with her parents. She and Rudy had recently purchased a nearby farm not knowing he would be leaving so soon, but she did not want to live in the drafty old farmhouse by herself. In fact she was afraid to live there alone so contented herself with walking down to it every day and dreaming about how it would look when they officially moved in. Next, because of the shortage of male teachers, she was given the position of Business Teacher for all Middleport High School grades. She is 27 years old and teaching the younger brothers and sisters of her childhood friends. How strange.
She is rising at the crack of dawn in order to help with the chores on the farm, once again due to the lack of men available for such work. Thank God her brother is not overseas. Since he is the only son of a farmer he is needed at home to help with ‘the home front war effort.’ She never asked him if he wanted to be a soldier. He seemed pretty content to be out of harm’s way and one of the few eligible bachelors for miles around.
Next, she learned to drive a car because she needed to get herself to Middleport each day. Her dad took her out onto Ridge Road for a driving lesson exactly once and promptly paid their neighbor Carl to teach her enough to get her license. Rudy’s car came out of storage and she braved the seasonal elements and slow moving farm equipment back and forth the 4+ miles on the Stone Road 5 days a week. Her first school year was short since she did not start teaching until Rudy left in April. By the end of June she had gotten used to her little paycheck and would like to have some ‘pin money’ over the summer months so answered an ad for a job as bookkeeper for Barden Homes in town. She found she liked this job and the people she worked with and was happy to be feeling more and more independent as the days and weeks and months and then year crawled by.
Among her many hopes and fears during this time was that she might be called upon to report the sighting of enemy aircraft in the skies over her father’s farm. They lived close enough to Niagara Falls and the Air Force Base there to be an enemy target. She had foolishly signed up to be part of the US Army Aircraft Warning Service while teaching in Akron, NY 2 years before. That was before she was married, before Rudy joined the Army and went to Germany, before anyone really believed the war could come to American soil. She sits on her folding lawn chair in front of her parent’s open garage door, scans the skies and wonders when she will hear from her husband again.
Rudy’s letters home are sporadic. Days go by without a one, then 5 or 10 or even 20 will show up together. She puts them in order by date and makes herself read just one a day. She has come to love his stilted handwriting made awkward by his teacher Miss Kent who forced everyone to write right-handed no matter what their natural tendency. There are days her little sister gets a letter from Rudy when she has not and she tries so hard to not seem jealous. The first 6 months after his departure, she had her brother drive her every 2 weeks to Silver Springs to visit her in-laws, but their faces and voices were so worried for Rudy, his brother Jimmy and several nephews she eventually could not take this added heartache nor the fact they might have gotten a letter when she had not. She took to calling once a month from her neighbor’s telephone to their neighbor’s telephone. Stilted, awkward conversations ending with promises to stay in touch.
Where is Rudy now? It is August, 1946 and the war in Europe officially ended over a year ago. Why are our soldiers still in Germany? The Japanese Emperor surrendered weeks ago. At the beginning of the summer she had a few days of panic that Rudy would be sent to the Pacific. Many of the soldiers and sailors and pilots were on their way there for the final push to squash the Japanese. How cruel to survive one front only to be sent to another one. But luckily one of his letters got through that he was staying put in Europe for now. She thanks God for this small miracle. Dare she hope for more?
One dreadfully hot August afternoon she is sitting at her parents’ dining room table trying to think of something clever to write in her letter to Rudy when she hears her name being called – shouted really – from across the road.
‘ Margaret,hurry, it’s a phone call for you. The Middleport operator is waiting. Hurry!’
She pushes back from the table, dropping her fountain pen, scattering the sheets of overseas stationery. They float like feathers all around the dining room as she moves with leaden legs towards the kitchen door. She grasps the wedding ring Rudy made her out of a dime that she wears around her neck on a silver chain. It is too big for her finger but it matches the ring he made for himself from a nickel. Her mother reaches out a hand to touch her shoulder but she moves past her. Her little sister cries out, ‘Is it about Rudy?’ Corkie, her sister’s dog, starts to whine.
She flings the screen door open and starts to walk down the driveway. Faster and faster she walks as she reaches the oiled, gravel road. She crosses the road without looking for cars or tractors and sprints onto her neighbor’s front porch. She won’t let herself think about what this call might be about. She wills herself to not cry or scream when she hears the bad news. She slams their screen door open and can barely breathe as she takes the unfamiliar telephone receiver from her neighbor’s out-stretched hand.
‘Hello?’ Her voice is barely a whisper.
The air around her is suddenly dazzlingly bright. White and shimmering. Below her the old woman in the bed appears again – smiling, one hand reaching out in greeting, holding a telephone receiver. She feels dizzy and disoriented. How did the old woman get the telephone? As they each put the receiver to their ears she hears the operator say,
“Your call is ready sir.”
Then: “ Margaret, is that you? I’ve been waiting here for you. Join me.”
And with those words Rudy is standing before her, tall and handsome in his Army uniform, smiling his dazzling smile. He takes her hand which no longer holds the telephone receiver and they step upwards together, above the hospital bed, above the village of Medina, above the Earth. Shadowy figures are all around, welcoming them. She looks down and sees their farmhouse and acres of plowed fields, flowers stretching on and on to the horizon.
He turns to her and says, ‘Welcome home, Duchess. What took you so long?’
I am so curious about what is happening next door. The little house behind our tall fence and taller trees, that I have always called the Enchanted Cottage, has been empty for as long as I can remember. I’m 6 now, all grown up and going into the 1st grade soon, so I am a curious girl and also want to be a detective like the girl I read about in my grandmother’s Nancy Drew books in the attic. I learned the word curious in one of those books and like the sound of it.
At first, cars were coming and going in the driveway next door at odd hours. I wrote that down in my notebook. Then, one day, a bright orange truck and a dark blue truck with ladders roped on top came. There was banging and sawing and the zing of an electric drill all the livelong day. I could barely keep my mind on my Nancy Drew books with all that noise going on. These trucks came and went for days and days and then it takes me one whole day to realize the trucks have not been back and now a little blue car is pulling into the driveway. I can see only one lady in the car. I hope she has a little girl I can play with. Even a dog will do. I get lonely over here all by myself.
As much as I am kinda thrilled someone is moving in next door, I am also a little bummed because I used to go over into the yard sometimes, well more than just sometimes, and poke around in the shrubs and out-of-control flowers and weeds. There is a little shed in the backyard that looks like a doll house and I love pretending a princess – namely myself – lives in there and can only come out right at sundown when no one is likely to be looking out their windows. Then I look for teeny frogs in the tall grasses. I like to make them hop into the pond that is covered right over with white flowers. I creep around the rocks to the back of the pond and build tiny houses for the faeries I know play around there. I want to catch me a faery and keep it in the tiny house for a pet and friend. Is that bad? I wonder if Nancy Drew would do something like that?
I forget what time it is while busy creeping around the pond and Uh-Oh, my mom is yelling for me to come home and do my chores. Can you imagine a princess having to take out the kitchen garbage? Yuck! But, I go back home and do it.
So now, with someone living in the house next door I won’t be able to play in that little doll house and behind the pond any more. And also there is a Wishing Well over there with a rope and little bucket which is very cool except the rope is broken on one side and the bucket hangs at a funny angle all the time. Once I threw one of the tiny hopping frogs in the well to see if it could jump back out. I forgot about him and 3 or maybe 5 days later when I looked in the well again I saw he didn’t jump out and wouldn’t ever again. I felt kinda sad about that.
So, after days and days of not being able to go next door my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to have a look-see through the fence. I pulled an old milk crate over behind some tall flowers by the fence and, lucky me, it was the right height to look through a peephole right by my eyes!
Wow! The porch looks all pretty with screens all around what used to be wide open, a new door, big round paper lanterns with pretty paintings on them hanging from the ceiling and swaying in the breeze, chimes that most people hang outside but they are inside here, flowers in glass jars and candles burning just everywhere I look. There is music playing inside – I don’t know the singer or the song – but the lady is dancing around barefoot and smiling. Watching her makes me smile too. I wish I was old like her so I could dance whenever and wherever I wanted without someone telling me ‘No’ and Uh-Oh here’s my mom again yelling about the kitchen garbage needing to be thrown out.
I step down from the crate and see out of the corner of my eye a black cat dancing around on the porch too.
As I take the kitchen garbage out to the trash can I make a detective list in my head:
- Candles burning in the daylight
- Lady dancing barefoot all by herself
- She wears a long skirt and red scarf with long fringe
- Her black cat is dancing, too
- She has an herb and flower garden right on the other side of the fence with lights that come on after dark
Everything looks so pretty over there and smells so nice and I want to pet that black cat and dance with him, too.
I write this list down when I get into bed and looking it over I think, Wow! That lady must be a witch! Hopefully she is a good witch, but any kind of witch is exciting to have right next door. I wish I had Nancy Drew’s nerve to walk over there and meet her. Every time she drives by my house I duck down below a window sill so she can’t see me even though she has never once looked my way. Can’t be too careful.
One day I see her walk down the lane to the lake where she lies down on one of the old docks. She stays there for over an hour and I think she is crying sometimes. How do I know this? I snuck through everyone’s back yards and hid behind a bunch of tall flowers and watched her. No one else has never, ever done such a thing as lie down on a dock. They go fishing or get into a boat or try to capture dragonflies with a paper cup. That’s just me doing the last thing. But no one lies down like she does. I’m adding this to my detective list:
-strange dock behavior
– wears a long skirt while on the dock!
I want so bad to look into the little Wishing Well and see if the frog body is still in there. It’s been weeks now so maybe nothing is left of him. While the witch is sleeping on the dock I sneak into her yard and tiptoe up to the Wishing Well. Hey! the rope is fixed and the bucket can now go up and down when I turn the handle. I pull the bucket up and inside there is a shiny penny, a blue jay feather, a white stone and a live frog! I am so amazed to see the frog alive again I don’t hear anyone behind me until a voice says, ‘You can take whatever is in there. The faeries left them for you. They fixed the frog you threw in there a few weeks back.’
I jump sky high and crack my head on the roof of the Wishing Well. I make myself not cry although it hurts real bad. I let go of the handle and as the bucket falls back into the well, the frog jumps out and into my hand. The rest of the faery gifts spill out onto the floor of the Well. At the same time I hear my mother yell for me to get on in for supper. I turn around and run like the wind. Behind me I hear the witch laugh softly and say come back again anytime.
That will never happen.
When I can calm down enough to write in my detective book I add:
- She brought a frog back to life so that proves she is a real witch
What a day this has been. When I go outside to put out the kitchen garbage I hear her singing on her front porch. I can see the glow from all the lighted candles. I just know she is wearing that red scarf with long fringe that I want to run my fingers through. I still want to pet her black cat even though I now know for sure he is a witch’s cat.
Well, it is time for me to go back to school. Did I say I was in the 1st grade now and all grown up? My summer days of spying on the witch and running through her yard when her car isn’t there are over. Now I not only have to take the kitchen garbage out each night, I have to do homework. Homework? I’m only in the 1st grade!
Now that the nights are getting cooler the witch has been lighting a fire in the sweet little fireplace she put in the backyard by the pond. I know about the fireplace because I saw it when I was doing detective work last weekend. Sometimes I hear her beat a drum and play something that sounds like it is raining on a tin roof. Her fire crackles and smells so nice. Sweet sometimes, minty sometimes, like pine needles other times. I hear her sing the same few notes over and over while beating her drum. These notes stick in my head and I hum them over and over all day long. The teacher gives me a hard look sometimes so I know I am humming too loud. Then I switch back to humming in my head: ‘Heya Hayo, Heya Heyo.’
It’s Fall now and the witch is cutting back the dead flowers and trimming her trees with big clippers. I like to listen to her sing softly while doing these things. I lie in the grass on the other side of the tall fence so she doesn’t know I’m there. I’m trying to get her black cat to come over to my yard but he just pokes a paw under the fence for me to tickle.
People come alot to visit next door. They are almost always girlfriends. Sometimes I hear her say ‘no boys allowed here’ and they all laugh. I smile, too. I don’t like boys either.
Halloween will be here soon and I am so excited about being dressed up to go trick and treating that I have to go to the bathroom every time I think about it. I change my mind every day about what I will dress up as. My mom is getting a little mad at me and says I have to make a choice and stick with it or else I’m not going at all!
Secretly, I want to dress like the witch next door but I decide to be a black cat. Close enough.
Hurray! Halloween is here and I am the luckiest kid in school because I have a real witch living right next door. My mom and I walk down our little lane going to the houses on the one side right to the lake. Then we start up the other side, the witch’s side, and I get so excited and scared I forget to say ‘trick or treat’ at 2 of the houses. They give me candy anyway.
As we turn into the witch’s driveway I smell popcorn and apple cider and, can that be chocolate chip cookies? Her porch is all glowing with orange and black candles burning just everywhere. My mom knocks on the screen door and whispers to me to yell ‘trick or treat’ but I am suddenly shy. Well, here she comes to the door anyway and I am getting worried. Does my mom know she is a witch? What if she tells my mom about my spying? Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to be dressed like a black cat. Maybe the cat will get mad and put a spell on me and my mom. Oh no!
The door creaks open and the witch stands there smiling. She is wearing the red scarf with the fringe I long to touch. She says, ‘come on inside and stay a while. Not too many trick or treaters tonight and I made all these goodies. The black cat is swirling around her legs and I lean down to pet him. He purrs so loud we all can hear him and I giggle. My mom says that sure, we can come in for a spell. A spell? Does she know what she is saying? I start backing up towards the door. Her and the witch look at me and laugh.
‘That’s just a saying, to sit a spell. It means to stay for a while and talk. I have wanted to get a look inside the house since you moved in. Mind if I walk around?’
The witch says to go ahead and she and I will sit and try out the popcorn and hot apple cider with a real cinnamon stick sticking out of the mug. When I finally look around I see the place is just perfect. Soft lights, soft music, soft-colored paintings on all the walls, a little fireplace with soft flames.
When I sit on the couch the black cat jumps right into my lap and paws at my fake whiskers.
‘This here is Angel.’
Whew! I don’t think a bad witch would name her cat Angel and she’s a girl cat, not a boy cat. No boys allowed at all! I smile.
The witch sits down next to me and holds out her hand, palm up. On it are the shiny penny, the blue jay feather and white stone.
‘You left these here last summer. The faeries want you to have them. It will be our little secret that you came over here to spy on me. Now you can come over whenever you have a mind to and sit on the porch with Angel here.’
She winks at me.I put my face near Angel’s face and she winks at me too.
A perfect Halloween with my new friend the good witch next door.
She thinks the gift of healing came to her in 1918 when, at age 10, she survived the world-wide flu epidemic that killed millions while she lived.
During the weeks of fever and chills her mind travelled to far away terrains: Nepal, Antarctica, Venus and the Moon .They all looked pretty much the same. Stark and desolate on the outside but teeming with life underneath.
The few times she surfaced from these dreams to find herself in her little iron bed, she saw the opposite phenomenon written on her parents faces as they bent over her: fake smiles on their faces with desolation and fear underneath.
She wondered, briefly, what they were so worried about. Didn’t they know how beautiful and welcoming it was on the underside of this life? There was nothing to fear.
Finally, after 6 weeks that tortured her parents but flew by for her, she surfaced into her earthly life for good. But from that day on she wavered between seeing the world through a mist and being struck with crystal-clear insights. These insights were so intense – the sights, the sounds, the smells – that she had to stop whatever task she was doing and simply give in to the messages. She saw faces she didn’t recognize and heard voices that weren’t familiar, but she took it all in and stored it away in the file cabinet of her mind. She knew the significance of each vision would reveal itself in time.
Her mother was afraid. ‘For’ her or ‘of’ her was never truly clear. Probably a bit of each. She tried once to tell her mother about the visions and messages she received while ill, but her mother quickly told her to ‘Hush!’ and not tell anyone else. Women with ‘the sight’ and ability to heal with herbs or a touch of their hands were still considered witches. The twentieth century had begun, but people remembered stories told of Voo-doo and Witchcraft practiced in the deep south that found their way north via the freed slaves after the Civil War. The girl learned to keep her visions to herself.
One evening when her father found her crying on the back stoop outside their kitchen, he put his arm around her shoulders and asked her to look up into the sky and tell him what she saw.
The full moon had risen above the treetops. She always loved to see the many images in the moon’s full face: a rabbit running up the side of the bright disk, an old man bent over from his burden of sticks, the face that looked surprised with eyes and mouth wide open. Her favorite image was the woman with her hair twisted on top of her head, bent forward reading a book. The woman had always given her comfort. There was a female watching over her even if it wasn’t her own mother. But tonight was different. She saw none of these images, for the full moon had turned into a cross with golden light shooting out in every direction. She gasped and sat up straighter. Her father whispered, ‘What do you see, daughter?’
‘I see a cross of beautiful golden light.’
‘Ah, yes, indeed. This is the night of your anointing. The spirits have accepted you as their student in all things connected with nature, the realm of the faeries, the healing properties of plants and animals. Over time all will be revealed to you.’
She shot a glance over her shoulder into the kitchen where her mother washed up the supper dishes.
‘Don’t worry, daughter, this will be our little secret. Your mother doesn’t need to know.’
That night, for the first time since she was ill, she slept soundly and dreamlessly. Perhaps her mind and body were being prepared for the healing powers to settle in and flourish.
The first thing she healed was a chicken with a bad leg. She held it in her hands sending healing thoughts through her fingers into the little body. The chick jumped to the ground and scurried around on two good legs.
After a few more successful healings of barnyard creatures, word got around in their close knit farming community that she could fix broken legs and wings. People started bringing their injured fowl and farm animals to her and she cured every one.
She still wasn’t sure how she did this. She would hold the injured creature and think hard about it and where the injury appeared to be. Sometimes the injury was in a spot different from where it showed up. A dog that limped might have a pinched nerve in his neck, a cat with bumps on her stomach might have an allergy to the catnip she loved to roll in. She didn’t have to write any of these treatments down. She filed them away in her mind and could recall them at will.
Now she is 14 and has finished the 8th grade. Her mother doesn’t want her to go on to the High School. “What for?” The large family needs her to earn money and start looking for a husband so she can be out of the house in another 2 years. She begs her parents to let her stay in school as a teacher of the younger children. She has sat through the lessons of every grade level for 8 years in the one-room school house and can recite the times tables in her sleep. Part of the reason she wants to stay in school is so she can look through the history books again, spin the worn, brown globe as her fingers glide over the ridges and valleys of the world, and talk with the head teacher who she greatly admires. Her father understands this thirst for knowledge and wants his daughter to have any advantage she can get in this world, especially since she has ‘the sight.’ He knows what a precious gift his daughter has been given, both wonderful and terrible, so he has been able to convince her mother to let her stay in the school for another year at least. She promises to study right along with her students and to give her mother the few dollars she will be earning each month. The poorer children will bring potatoes and apples, sprigs of parsley and basil, or lamb chops as payment for their education. These will be welcomed along with the pennies some drop off each week.
One frosty morning on her way to school at 5 a.m. – she has to walk 2 miles and start the fire in the pot-bellied stove before the students arrive – she is met on the dirt road by a young woman clutching a bundle to her chest.
‘Please,’ the woman begs. ‘My baby girl is sick and I heard from the farmer’s wife I work for that you can maybe help her.’
She takes the baby into her arms from the frightened mother. The child’s breathing is so shallow she can barely see her chest rise and fall. She puts her forehead to the baby’s and whispers, ‘Are you stayin’ in this life, or are you goin’?’ The mysterious energy surges through her fingers and forehead into the little body and, after about 5 minutes, the baby’s eyes snap open and she smiles while reaching into the air with one tiny fist.
This is the first time she has healed a person and the feeling of gratitude for this gift is overwhelming.
She hands the baby back to the young mother and starts to hurry on her way. She is late now for starting the school room fire.
The mother calls out through her tears of joy, ‘Wait! I want to thank you in some way but I have no money.’
‘I don’t want money. I don’t even understand what I am doing or where the energy in my fingers comes from. I’m just happy I could help you and the little one.’
‘At least tell me your name. Everyone calls you that girl with the magic fingers.’
‘I am Rita. My father tells me I am named after the Saint of Lost Causes.’
‘Ah, your father named you well. You fixed my baby when no one else could. You are a healer.’
Rita turns and starts running down the road. She smiles to herself and thinks: ‘Now I will be known as Rita, the Healer. What will happen to my life now.’
My next step will take me as far away from home as I have ever been even though, when I turn my head, I can still see my mud and grass hut and hear the chickens in my yard.
I can hear what is left of my family crying, just like my little sister whose hand I hold tightly, is crying.
‘Shh…little sister, shh….’ I croon. Later my soothing voice will turn harsh and my hand that caresses her little fingers will become a vise over her twisted mouth.
But for now we are merely strolling along the forest path looking for all the world like two sisters on our way to pick some fruit or find scraps of firewood that have become scarcer and scarcer in our village. We live in a forest but the wood from these trees is not good for burning, producing only smoke and ash in our fire pits. There is barely any food to cook anyway and water has become too precious for washing. We take sips throughout the day from the one bucket we have hauled from the muddy river.
The soldiers have passed this way many times in the past months taking all but two scrawny chickens we hid in the forest, our wilting vegetables, most of our buckets for carrying water from the river far away, and our men.
The first soldiers, who wore red arm bands, took my qajaw. No matter how much my chuch(we used the K’iche’ Indian names for father-qajaw and mother-chuch in my village), her chuch, my little sister and I begged and cried and beat at the soldiers with our fists, he was dragged away into the forest and we never saw him again.
Then the soldiers with black arm bands came and gave my brothers, 15 years old and 10 years old, sugar cane sticks and guns and took them away with the other young boys of my village. The last I saw of them, my older brother was marching away proudly cradling his gun. My little brother was crying, dragging the heavy weapon through the dirt and peeking at me over his shoulder while sucking on the sugar cane stick. The old men, like my chuch’s qajaw, were shot and thrown into a shallow ditch.
Two days later my chuch and her chuch had a plan all worked out for sending me and my little sister ‘North’ to a place called America, to safety. It was a grand plan while they were talking about it, but in reality, how could we do this? Two young girls, me 13, my sister 6, walking away from everything and everyone we had ever known to go into the unknown ‘North.’
We would have to walk by night and rest during the heat of the day under cover of trees and tall grasses. My chuch’s chuch told me how to find water and which fruits and plants were safe to eat and how to spot a snake or spider hiding in the fruit ready to bite us. We had to leave the village as if we were taking a walk with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a small sack with nuts, seeds and one bottle of water in it. We had to be very careful to look casual as there were spies everywhere nowadays. With all the men dead or taken away, the women had resorted to watching one another very closely for any indication of collaboration with either the red or black arm-banded soldiers. They wanted their men and boys back and some would do almost anything to achieve this. Spying became commonplace.
I am 13 so I know some things about life. I know I better not be caught by either group of soldiers, whether my brothers are with them or not. They are hungry and exhausted and some have a crazy look in their eyes. My 6 year old sister is not safe from their physical demands, nor is my chuch, nor her chuch. Young or old these soldiers want females to have sex with. We must flee while we can.
So, as the sun gets lower in the sky, my little sister and I walk as casually, but purposefully, as we can away from our hut. We wave goodbye to our chuch and I yell, ‘See you for supper!’ so everyone can hear me and think we will be back soon after gathering fire wood in the forest for cooking our meager supper. My little sister says nothing. She has not spoken since our qajaw was beaten and dragged away, our brothers lured away with sugar cane and guns and our chuch’s qajaw shot in front of our eyes and thrown away like garbage. I don’t know if she will ever speak again. Her thumb, firmly planted in her mouth, looks like a cork stopping up a clay jug used for saving the bones of our dear, dead ancestors. She is sealed and silent as the grave.
I wipe the tears from her cheeks and start to sing a song she liked as a baby and swing her arm as we walk away into the forest.
I used to love to walk here when my older brother was still playing games with me. I would hide in all sorts of crazy places while he ran around shouting my name, all the while knowing exactly where I was. I could not stop myself from giggling. He would creep up behind me as I hid under an elephant grass leaf, tap me on the shoulder, then roll in the dirt laughing while I shrieked.
But today there is no laughter. We are walking off the beaten path so we can hide quickly if anyone comes along, but this is not a game.
I imagine I hear footsteps behind us all the time and am constantly pulling my little sister under a fern or behind a banana tree. I quickly realize we did not wear the proper clothes and shoes for this journey to the mysterious ‘North.’ We have on shorts, white t-shirts and white canvas sneakers. They are our best clothes as far as having no holes in them, but white can be easily spotted amongst the green leaves and grasses. I take off my t-shirt and sneakers and make my little sister do the same. I roll them in the dirt and tell her we are now wearing camouflage outfits like our brothers, the new soldiers.
She smiles a tiny smile around her thumb, the first in weeks. I pick up long sticks to use as our ‘guns’ to frighten off snakes and lizards. I also use mine to knock down a small bunch of green bananas and then whack them to make sure there are no snakes or spiders wrapped up inside. We have food for this evening.
As we walk along I begin to think of our journey in terms of ‘borderlines’ to be crossed. If I think too far ahead I might go crazy wondering where we were going, how far to the next village, where is this path taking us?
The first borderline was the doorway at my mud house. That was the hardest one to step over. The next was the border between my village and the road into the forest. The next is up ahead somewhere. My chuch said to keep following the dirt road until I crossed a river that should be shallow enough this time of year to wade through.
We walk on until the sun begins to rise to our right. At least we had been walking north through the night. Soon I will need to find a place for us to hide during the day.
What’s that noise? A branch snapping? Have the villagers realized we did not come back last night and are looking for us?
I pull my little sister deeper into the forest to our left. When I peek out between the ferns I see men and boys with guns and black arm bands. One of the boys turns his head and looks right at me but doesn’t seem to see me. It is our older brother! His eyes look crazy and are rolling around this way and that, his head whipping back and forth, his finger jiggling on the trigger of his gun. I crouch lower, covering my little sister with my body. She starts making strangling noises in her throat and I know a full-fledged scream is not far behind so I clamp my hand hard over her mouth and whisper harshly into her ear, ‘Shut up!’
My brother stops for a moment, then moves on down the road with the others, crazy-eyes looking all around. My little brother is not with him. I wonder what has become of him and why my older brother is still with these soldiers and not protecting the younger one. I can’t think about this now or it will make me crazy, too.
It takes many hours for my little sister to calm down enough to try to sleep this first full day away from our home. It is difficult to get comfortable with the blazing sun overhead and our bellies growling. The little green bananas have probably made us sick. I tell her over and over how sorry I am for hurting her, but we have to stay absolutely silent. Even our beloved older brother is an enemy to us now. Finally we sleep. Fitfully, but we manage to sleep the day away.
Darkness descends like a blanket as the almost full moon rises in the east. We have enough light to find some dewdrops captured in the leaves of low-hanging branches to quench our thirst. Our bellies are still grumbling, but my little sister does not complain, just corks her mouth up with her thumb after sipping the dewdrops. I am determined to save the things in my bag until we really need them.
How much worse will things get?
We walk all night by the light of the moon and stars. I sing songs and tell stories aloud of things I remember of our life in the village. My little sister stumbles a few times and I know I will have to carry her soon. When she stops dead in her tracks I hoist her onto my right hip. Quite soon I have to switch her to my left hip, then straddle her thin legs across my lower back. She takes her thumb out of her mouth to hold onto my neck but once she finds her balance, corks it back in.
Just before daybreak the river appears before us. I can hear the rushing water and realize we are not going to be able to wade across like my chuch assured us would happen. We might even need a boat.
Along the bank of the river are many other people. Mostly children, like us. Mostly girls, like us. Where have they all come from? We have seen no one the past day and a half. Only the soldiers, our crazy-eyed brother and a few screeching monkeys.
We all stand in a line looking at the rushing water as the sun sets to our left. We are probably all thinking the same thing.
Now what do we do?
One taller girl points across the river and says: ‘Mexico.’
That’s where we were headed? Mexico? My chuch kept saying ‘North’ to America. But Mexico is in the way?’ How big is Mexico?
Some of the girls step into the water and when it does not sweep them away I run in with my little sister and we wash ourselves and our clothes as best we can. Our white t-shirts and sneakers are permanently brown now but they no longer smell so bad. I find a soap plant near the river bank and wash my little sister’s hair and mine so we smell and look a little better also.
We are shy with the others at first and not everyone speaks the exact same language, but we are together now, a force of 20 girls. We share our horror stories of fathers and grandfathers being beaten and killed, brothers taken away by soldiers, mothers and aunts raped. Some of these girls had been raped by the soldiers too. I pray my older brother has not been a part of that, or the killing either, but remembering his crazy eyes I can no longer be sure he is the same innocent boy I knew and loved. He has crossed over a borderline of his own.
As we sit shivering in the dark a large raft appears in the river, two men pushing it with long poles. They yell to us.
‘We are friends. We will help you cross this river.’
What can we do but nod ‘OK’ and step aboard.
Another borderline is crossed. The river that takes us into Mexico.
What lay ahead for us in this desert land?
I hold my little sister tightly against my chest. I am terrified this boat with no sides will roll over and dump us all into the river. We will drown and our chuch and her chuch will never know what has happened to us. Were we safe in America? Were we in school? Were we living with a nice family who would send for them next year? Or…did we die on the road, no one knowing who we were?
The raft bumps roughly into the opposite bank and presto! we are in another country. The two men do not ask for money which is a good thing since we have none.
Why are they helping us, then?
A big truck is waiting by some trees and we all climb inside. Again, what else can we do? I hand my little sister up to another girl we met on the raft, pull myself up and sprawl on the hot metal floor. The back door slides down with a clang as the sun comes up on day three.
We are encased in darkness once again only with no moon or stars to give some light and guidance. I try to sing a song but my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I hear the word ‘mama’ whispered in the darkness. It is the first word my little sister has said in over a week. I hold her tightly, choke out “Adios, Guatemala” and weep.
I would have said ‘Hola!’ to Mexico but we never saw it. We sat or lay down on the hot metal floor, or leaned against one another for comfort for many, many hours. The air became thick with whispers, sobs, body odor and other smells.
The man who drives the truck pulls to the side of the road once to let us out to relieve ourselves in the dark and stretch a little. But in ten minutes we are shoved back into the truck and told to stay quiet. We don’t need this reminder. More long, hot hours slide by.
Another borderline to cross:
The truck stops and I can hear a gate going up. Someone is knocking a stick or gun against the sides of the truck. Men’s voices argue back and forth. No one opens the back door. The truck starts up again after a few more minutes and we all let our breath out in one big ‘whoosh.’ We stay tense and alert. Anything can happen as we cross this border.
My little sister is feverish. All we have eaten are the seeds and nuts I saved in my bag and sips of hot water from the plastic bottle. She is too weak to cry but her thumb is still securely corked in her mouth. All the girls are sick in some way.
Will we ever make it ‘North’ to America alive?
The truck slows down to a full stop. Has a day gone by? Two? The back door slides up. The bright sun hurts our eyes. I jump down and my little sister is handed to me. She winds her thin legs around my waist as I hoist her onto my sore right hip. The driver of the truck says simply, ‘America.’
We made it! We are alive and in the ‘North.’ In America! I feel sad that the rest of my family cannot share this joyous moment, but so happy to be here! I think of all the things that will be possible for me and my little sister now. We will be free of hunger and the extreme poverty of our village. We will no longer have to fear the soldiers with their red bands or black bands and guns pointed at our heads. We will be free to go to school and get a job at a magical place called ‘Walmarts.’ We will send for our chuch and her chuch next year and have them live with us in a brick house on a street lined with trees. We will find my brothers somehow and bring them over too. Maybe we will have a cat and a dog.
I hear cheering voices and see flags and signs fluttering in the hot breeze. The people of this place are excited to see us, are welcoming us to America. I never expected such a wonderful thing!
I turn to the driver of our truck and ask him to translate these words of welcome. The voices are rising as one now, the banners held higher.
He looks at me with pity.
“They are saying, ‘Go home! Back to Mexico! Go home!’”
I look harder at these people. I see now that their faces are angry. They are shaking their fists at us. One man has a gun pointed at us.
I say to the driver, ‘But we’re from Guatemala. If we go back home we will be killed or worse! We’re Guatemalan, not Mexican, so we can stay, right?’
He shrugs his shoulders as if to say, ‘Who knows?’
The crack in my broken heart.
I know I have left Rudy on the dock in Scotland waiting for a troop ship to bring him home to his Duchess. At last he is on his way across the Atlantic with an unexpected encounter awaiting him on the dock at New York harbor.
August 10, 1946
I am back on the dock in Scotland waiting for another troop ship to take me home to you. We set sail on August 8th, but had engine trouble a day out to sea and had to turn around. We are all very disappointed but what can we do? That’s the Army for you, ‘hurry up and wait’ right till the end.
I hope to send this letter on another ship sailing today and maybe it will get to you before I do. I have been dreaming about you and our farm every night for the last week, finally letting myself think about going home. I never want to travel again.
Your loving husband,
He folds the delicate blue airmail letter/envelope, addresses it and walks across the dock to another ship getting ready to steam across the Atlantic. He doesn’t let himself think about how he longs to be on this other ship. He keeps his mind on rounding up the boys, now men, who are still under his care and command until they reach the port of New York. He hefts the duffle bag holding the dog tags of those he lost over the past year and sighs. There are so many things he didn’t tell his Duchess in his letters home – his mother either. The most recent secret is why it is taking so long to get onto another troop ship. The hold of his ship was filled with so many coffins it’s taking at least 3 days to unload them from the one hold and then load them into the other one. He sits and watches this process for a while wondering how there can be so many coffins a year after the war officially ended. He has seen the rows upon rows of white crosses marking the graves of U.S. and other soldiers buried in foreign soil. Why do some get taken back home while others still remain in France and Belgium and the little country with the funny name, Luxembourg? Even General Patton lies buried in France. He cannot imagine his own dear mother and wife not being able to visit his grave, not being able to picture the cemetery and surrounding countryside he might be buried in. This thought gives him a shiver and he turns away from the ships and looks for his ‘boys.’
The Mexican and the Indian are throwing knives into the dock, like they always have. They are almost twenty now but look like they are 40. The laughter they share as each one throws the knife further and further down the dock does not make it to their eyes. They have seen too much, experienced too much in the past year and a half, to smile all the way through their bodies yet. He spies his friend Al who will be going back to the coal mines in Pennsylvania in another week or so. And over there is ‘Ole Pitt’ who wrote with such a fine hand the other fellas had him write letters home for them. Pitt had grown up in a little shack in the mountains of North Carolina, so how he learned to write so beautifully was anybody’s guess. It was his secret to keep.
They all had secrets to keep. Secrets about the war, secrets about their former lives, secrets about their hopes and dreams when they got back home again.
He had wanted to be someone who made a difference and do something grand in the world. Well, he surely had participated in a grand undertaking to destroy Hitler and his armies. Unfortunately, along the way people on both sides had their everyday lives destroyed, homes reduced to rubble, livelihoods ruined.
He hears a commotion down the docks and realizes the new troop ship is ready for boarding by him and his unit and the thousands of other soldiers and sailors and airplane pilots heading back to the USA.
They walk briskly up the gangway, but even at a relatively fast pace it takes another whole day to get all the guys and their gear on board. Standing at the rail he watches a group of women in uniform, probably nurses, being escorted to another part of the ship. He can only imagine what they witnessed and took part in while in war-torn Europe. He can’t even envision his Duchess being a part of the war and its aftermath. He is so glad she is safe at home with her parents, teaching school and not having to deal with the memories of the smell and sounds of the dead and dying in every village he walked through.
They set sail once again and this time will keep steaming across the Atlantic until they reach New York harbor. He tries to keep the remaining members of his unit together. It is clearly not so important now that they are heading home, but he doesn’t want to have any of his boys getting hurt or falling overboard. They have managed to survive all the horror, and a freak accident now would be too much for him to bear.
The Army food is still awful, but there is plenty of it for a change and he and ‘his boys’ can sleep above-deck if they want. There are no more mandatory blackouts to keep them safe from enemy aircraft. They doubt the Japanese will be flying overhead. It gives him a chill just to think that could be possible.
Communication, ship to shore, is still patchy so by the time they hear that U.S. pilots in the Pacific have dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – 2 names he has never heard of and probably can’t spell – the war over there is already over.
When this announcement is made over the ship’s crackly loud speakers everyone cheers. Gone now is the new fear that this troop ship might be diverted to the Pacific Theatre to fight there. He didn’t know how he would have told his wife and mother he was heading to another battlefield. One even more remote and strange than Europe had been. He wonders how his little brother was faring on his island battleground. Was his ship part of this bombing of Japan’s mainland or was he right now steaming towards the United States from the other direction? He wouldn’t know until he himself was back in Western New York. He thought how lucky he was to live in the same state this ship docked in. He could walk home if he absolutely had to. Hadn’t he walked across Germany and parts of France, England and Scotland over the past 1 ½ years? He worried about how ‘his boys’ would all get to their homes. The Mexican to Texas, the Indian to Oklahoma, Al to Pennsylvania, Ole Pitt to North Carolina. The Army moved you where you needed to go on your way to the war, but left you stranded on a dock on y our way back home. He’d help them if he could.
He made sure they all had dimes for making phone calls to their mothers, or wives, or sweethearts. He made sure they understood they had to figure out how to catch a train or Greyhound bus to make their way out of New York City. What he didn’t know and could never have anticipated were how many soldiers, sailors, airmen, medical corps and support personnel were swarming the docks of New York harbor trying to do the same things he and his unit were. The lines at the few phone booths were impossibly long and mustering out could take hours or even a day. But for now he had time and space to dream about home.
At night he would look up at the stars over the Atlantic and send a prayer of thanks skyward that he was alive and had all his limbs and both blue eyes. So many of his fellow passengers were on crutches or in wheelchairs or with bandages wrapped around their heads. Some were crying or muttering to themselves. He sent up another prayer for the souls of the boys he had lost in Europe, for the released prisoners of Dachau, the woman whose house he had commandeered, her lost family. He thought this would be the last time he thought about any of them.
The next morning as the dazzling sun came up behind the ship, land was sighted up ahead by the lookouts. It was a wonder the ship didn’t do a somersault as everyone rushed forward to get a look. Now they saw many other troop ships all around them and some aircraft overhead streaming ‘Welcome Home’ banners behind them. He could hear the men shouting on the other ships and they all tried to out-shout one another. He was jostled and elbowed as more men and some of the nurses attempted to get closer to the railing. He stepped back to give others a chance and stepped on the foot of his friend, Al.
‘We made it, Al. We’re home.’
They punched one another in the shoulder and grinned and grinned as the Statue of Liberty loomed ahead.
Now they were being directed by tugboats into a slot at the over-crowded docks. Music filled the air as swing bands played Glen Miller songs. Welcome Home banners fluttered down from the tall buildings while thousands of people filled the streets and sidewalks and docks or hung out of windows for as far as he could see. He thought they must have landed on a National Holiday, then realized their return was the cause for celebration. With Japan’s surrender the war was truly over and all of New York City was in a party mood.
Three hours after docking, he stood at the top of the gangway with his duffle bag on one shoulder and the smaller bag with his dead comrades’ dog tags in the other. The delicate cup and saucer Lisle had given him wrapped tightly in a scarf and nestled in with the tags. He took the last step off the ship, leaving the brutal, heartbreaking past year and a half behind him and stepped onto the wooden planks of the dock and out into his bright, new future.
The mustering out was taking place right on the docks. The Army had given up funneling the troops into offices set up for this purpose and military personnel were trying to get lines formed outside. It was difficult to keep the excited, jostling young men in line, especially now that they no longer felt they needed to follow orders. They were sick and tired of following orders and standing in lines and waiting for the next thing to happen. They just wanted to sign a paper and go home.
At desks, young men and a few women were taking down information for their discharge papers. In the background a group of three women were signing on a platform raised high above the crowds. He wondered if they were the famous Andrews Sisters. He couldn’t be sure, but they sounded divine and were singing in English whoever they were.
The smell of roasting chestnuts and hot dogs and popcorn wafted over the docks from the street vendors lined up along the sidewalks. His mouth watered. He had forgotten food could smell this good.
After 3 hours of switching his heavy duffle bag from shoulder to shoulder, it was his turn. The young woman seated at the desk was perhaps in her mid to late-twenties with blond hair and brown eyes that looked vaguely familiar to him. He had seen so many women in Germany who looked far older than their years that it was hard for him to tell anyone’s age. But those eyes….
She asked him the standard questions: ‘when did you arrive in Europe? Whose command were you under? Where were you stationed? Do you want any help from the Army? Medical, financial, transportation home?’
He answered her questions and said he’d take some counseling sessions just for something to say that would keep him at her desk longer. She said if he wanted to stay in New York City another day or two he could get whatever medals he was entitled to.
‘No, ma’am. I’m going home today if I can. The medals can wait.’
As he turned to leave he saw the name on her lapel, V. Wickersheim, and asked, ‘What does the V. stand for?’
‘Viva. It’s a name I took while living in Paris. It means life or to be alive. I felt grateful to be alive at the end of the war, to have survived the years I hid from the Nazis and finally escaped to France. So grateful to find passage to the United States and get this job, even though it is temporary. All of my family and many of my friends from those days are dead or missing. I don’t know why I am telling you this,’ she says with a nervous laugh as she looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is listening.
Her sad eyes lock onto his for a moment and he turns to leave. But something about what Viva just said make these words come out of his mouth unbidden: ‘I forgot to mention I was in the village of Dachau for a few weeks after that prison camp was liberated.’ He doesn’t know why he said this. He wanted to forget about those few weeks, about the emaciated prisoners he saw there, about the townspeople who pretended they knew nothing about the camp even though the whole town smelled of death and decay.
The pen she had lifted in readiness for the next soldier in line stopped in mid-air.
‘You were there?’ she whispered.
‘Yes. After liberating the camp my unit took over a farm close by to hold the prisoners until they could be safely moved to an Army hospital. The war officially ended during the 2 weeks I was there. Many of the liberated prisoners died though we all tried our best to save them, including Lisle who owned the farm.’
‘You say her name was Lisle?’ Another whispered question.
‘Her husband, Heinrich, had died in 1942 but Lisle was there keeping the farm and buildings the best she could, waiting for her two children to return when the war was over. She thought they were most likely dead. Heinrich, Jr. was a soldier for the Nazis, sent to the Russian Front and Gretchen joined the underground movement in the late 1930s. Lisle hoped she had escaped to France. There had been no word from either child in years.
Viva clutches her chest and cries out, ‘I am Gretchen! My mother is still alive? When I heard Dachau Camp had been liberated I assumed the townspeople were killed by the Allies in retribution for allowing the Camp to be there.’
Gretchen gets up from her folding chair, eyes shining with tears and hugs him tight. She takes his hand and leads him away from the table leaving a long line of soldiers cursing and yelling after them. They wend their way through the crowds and into a building. They stand in front of a glass-paneled door and she points to a telephone on a desk inside the office.
‘Call home from here, Rudy. How else can I ever thank you for giving me back my mother?’
She kisses him lightly on the cheek, takes a deep breath and removes her nametag.
‘I am finished with this French name. Now I can be Gretchen again. I will find my mother and bring her to America where she will be safe.’
She walks back out to the lines and lines of men waiting impatiently to be discharged. For the first time in years there is a genuine smile on her lips as she looks up and says, ‘Next?’
Rudy’s hand shakes as he dials the number he has been longing to dial. He pictures the telephone wires stretching across New York State to Middleport, the wires humming with the rings. He holds his breath in anticipation of hearing the voice he has been longing to hear these many, lonely months.
‘Hello?’ says a quivering voice still unused to speaking into a telephone.
‘Hello, Duchess? I’m home.’
The Butterfly Alights
By Patricia Carley
The butterfly alights on the daisy’s dewy petal
It is like the kiss of an angel, so soft and gentle
The fluttering wings barely moving the air
I stand there breathless, enchanted, aware.
It is like the kiss of an angel so soft and gentle
Enveloped in the mists of morning on my lawn
I stand there breathless, enchanted, aware
Awed by this gift from the Goddess.
Enveloped in the mists of morning on my lawn
I am barefoot on the dewy grass
Awed by this gift from the Goddess
Watching the silvery moon rise o’er the trees
I am barefoot on the dewy grass
It is like the kiss of an angel so soft and gentle
She looks like a specter by the light of the silvery moon
The butterfly alights on the daisy’s dewy petal
By Patricia Carley
My legs are lolling over the arm of the Adirondack chair
I sip lemonade through a pale green straw
My book forgotten on the grass
I stare at the leaves overhead as they sway in the air.
I sip lemonade through a pale green straw
Wondering, dreamily, what this day will bring
I stare at the leaves overhead as they sway in the air
Will it rain today?
Wondering, dreamily, what this day will bring
My hands brush the tops of buttercups at my sides
Will it rain today?
Or will the clouds just drift apart and vanish?
My hands brush the tops of buttercups at my sides
I sip lemonade through a pale green straw
I think I must look like a painting of summer
My legs are lolling over the arm of the Adirondack chair.
‘Light As A Feather’
By Patricia Carley
Two angels sit on a cloud watching the planets spin by. One says to the other: ‘I want to try out life on the planet called Earth. It looks interesting and challenging and fun down there. They call themselves human beings, but all I can see are humans doing! I want to know what it is like to be a human.’ The other replies: ‘Sounds great! I’ll watch from here and help you when I can. Don’t forget that you’re one of heaven’s angels and I will be reminding you when it’s time to come back home.’ ‘I won’t forget. How could I forget? I’m doing God’s work, aren’t I?’ She flies down to Earth, is born into a human family and for several years remembers she is an angel, a messenger from God. She brings Heaven’s Light to everyone she meets. Family, friends, neighbors and teachers call her their ‘little angel.’ But slowly, day by day, she gets caught up in this dense world of form, like a butterfly in a spider’s web. By the time she becomes a young adult she has forgotten her angelic roots. She does not understand the rules of Earth, so cannot abide by them. She begins to long for something just beyond her reach, but what was it?
She knows she does not fit in with the people around her. She is different. She has difficulty paying attention to what people say to her. She cannot answer their questions. She learns if she smiles and speaks about things in a general way, she can get by. She can hold a job, but it takes a lot of her energy to do these things. To keep pace with everyone else she has to spin around to catch all the sights and sounds bombarding her from every direction. She twirls and dances as fast as she can until her edges become blurred. Sometimes when she twirls real fast she can catch a crystal clear glimpse of something at the edges of this world dashing by. Everything comes together for one glorious moment, then is gone in the mist of confusion surrounding her again.
Even in the midst of this confusion she feels an urgency to figure out why she is here and what life is all about. She wants to learn and experience everything no matter how difficult it is for her physically and emotionally. She becomes passionate about learning what it is to be a ‘human being and not just a human doing.’ She has a wisp of memory about these terms. She spoke them to someone once long, long ago. In a faraway place. But where? To whom was she speaking? Images of feathers and glowing orbs of light drift in and out of her mind. She feels like time is running out for her…..
So, she decides to ask people everywhere she goes: “What does it mean to you to be a human being?” And, amazingly, people answer her. People who are sleeping on sidewalks. People who are hurrying to work and stepping over the people sleeping on sidewalks. People carrying little dogs in their Prada shoulder bags. People carrying their possessions in paper bags, begging in the streets. Some think about their answer for a long time. Others write in haste. Some of them write volumes in answer to her query. Others just a single word: ‘Love.’ She gathers her information, but does not know what to do with it. She wants to know the answer. Is desperate to know the answer. She thinks about it day and night. She becomes overwhelmed by it all, crawls into bed, pulls the covers over her head and sleeps. In her dreams a voice keeps repeating: ‘It’s time to come home. It’s time to come home.’ ‘What do you mean? This isn’t my home?’
One day, knowing her quiet, contemplative time is ended and she can once again join the ‘human citizenry,’ she comes out from under the covers and says: ‘Hey, I know what to do to help her human friends who are caught up in the ‘doing’ and not the ‘being’ of life on Earth. I’ll construct a sensory room so people who are overloaded by sights and sounds and have processing problems like I do can have a place to relax and chill out in soft chairs, on pillows, with music and muted colors on the walls, a place where people can just Be In The Moment in the midst of a hectic, confusing, demanding day…it’ll be great!’ Her head is filled with glorious ideas. She wants to help everyone. Turning her attention to the people labeled ‘disabled’ or ‘suffering from dementia,’ she learns new things about human beings. These people may not be capable of doing many physical things, so they spend more of their time just being. They look forward to her visits when she sings and dances and twirls around while painting rainbow colors on canvases. They forget they have disabilities. They forget they have dementia. She thinks this might be what it means to ‘be human.’ Just being yourself in one, long, glorious moment without labels or expectations.
More and more often now she hears the voice from her dreams inside her head while she is awake: ‘Remember who you are. Come home.’
She feels drawn to wear glittery clothes and butterfly wings. One evening on her way to an art opening she wears a halter top made of little pieces of reflecting glass. She dazzles the passersby, throwing prisms of the setting sun all around the sidewalks. She glimpses her reflection in a store window and is amazed to see herself all glittery and shimmery. The reflected light makes a halo around her golden head. ‘Wow!’ she thinks. ‘I’m reminded of something here, something important just at the edge of my mind. This halo, the glittery clothes. I usually see myself through a mist, all blurry-edged, but right now my image is crystal clear, shining in all its facets. I look like someone from another world.’
On her way home, she has an epiphany. She remembers. She had made a pact with her Spirit friend before coming to Earth. She was supposed to gather information on what it meant to be a ‘human being’ on planet Earth and then return home. But she had gotten caught up in her life here and desire to help the humans she loved. She had stayed too long and because her true self existed in a higher vibration, this world was too dense for her spirit to thrive in. That’s why she was always so exhausted and confused.
But now her mind is clear. She has a flash of insight: ‘I am an angel and it’s time for me to go home.’ She drives to a park, a place she dearly loves. A place she visited often to feel closer to God. She stands with her face tilted towards the sun.
A voice on the breeze whispers: ‘Ah, finally you remember. I’m coming for you now.’
She sees a winged figure approaching her with arms out-stretched. A hand is beckoning her to come forward and meet this figure encased in golden light. She takes one step forward and realizes she is walking above the ground.
She feels light as a feather. Why, she could float right up to Heaven. And she does.