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Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Friday routine. An excerpt from my unpublished novel, S'mothered

This week's excerpt is from an early chapter and takes place in November,1941,a few weeks before the Pearl Harbor attacks by Japan:

At the weekly Friday night dance at the NCO club, Suzie and Hank were dancing the night away. The club was only a few hundred yards from the residence quarters where they had lived since their marriage two years ago.

Both were excellent dancers, moving effortlessly and fluidly to the Glenn Miller “eight to the bar” recording being piped over the ballroom speakers. He was wearing his military NCO uniform while Suzie was in her brand new jewel-toned, ankle length satin gown.

“You look dreamy, Monkey,” Hank whispered, while nibbling her ear. The gown was covered with rhinestone jelly buttons which sparkled in the soft romantic lighting, The front was low cut showing her bosom, but in an appropriate way. “It looks expensive hon,” he said and immediately wished he hadn’t expressed it that way.

Suzie's impoverished upbringing made her sensitive to remarks about her spending habits.

She worked in the Base Commissary and the gown had only cost $5.00 after her employee discount. Money was an issue only because she sent $20.00 a back home to her mother each month to help pay for the kid’s clothing and school expenses. Hank never objected to any help they could send to his mother-in-law. Without her they could not be out here together.

They fully intended to send for the children soon. Suzie told her sister Vera and her mother this before she left home. She reiterated this promise when they made a emergency visit home a few months ago.

She was out here with Hank less than a year when she received word her father had died suddenly. He was only fifty-five. She was saddened but not shocked. He dealt with so many hardships in his life without once letting them affect him emotionally. He was a Rock of Gibraltar to his wife and his children. Inside his strong muscular, seemingly impregnable body his heart absorbed the stress which slowly weakened it. Before she left home, she noticed how easily he tired.

She remembered with sadness the night he approved of her plan to marry Hank and the agreement to take care of the children but “only until they were settled in California.” Hank now was her rock. Her Papa was gone. She sobbed in her new husband's arms the night she learned of his death

When they flew home for the funeral, Vera reminded her of the things she had promised their father before she left for California.

Suzie told her “we have been trying to get permission from the base Commander, Momma; it should only be a few more months.” She was telling the truth, but only partially. Because of rising tensions all over the world, Germany invading Poland and a threat of a conflict in the Pacific, the base Commander temporarily prohibited any children on the base. There was very little likelihood the ban would be lifted in the near future.

Suzie could not tell her Momma this right now. Rose Villani was in deep mourning over the loss of her husband of thirty-eight years, Suzie knew the right thing for her to do would be to move back to New Jersey and take the children off her hands. Many times, she faced similar situations where she let her mind overrule her heart. She no longer was capable of doing this, faced with a choice of staying with her husband or being with her children, she went with her heart.

Suzie was not a deep thinker.When she made a decision her heart told her was right she never brooded about the consequences. She was always aware of her shortcomings as a mother. She laid the blame for this directly at the feet of her own parents.

She did not have a normal childhood; her parents were not affectionate, did not provide her an adequate education, and never really treated her as a child.
She would never abuse her children or deliberately neglect them but she could give them no more, and no less than she was given. Society might consider her cold-hearted, so be it. She was a survivor and dealt with life with the cards dealt her. Society could go to hell.

The band had picked up the tempo and the man she loved was twirling her around the floor, she was laughing and jiving and New Jersey and her children were the last things on her mind.

“Monkey, were any two people ever happier than we are right now?” Hank whispered into her ear.

He had a nice voice and liked to sing to her when they slow danced. He smiled and began singing a song in her ear from the Broadway play they saw before he left for California:

“If they asked me, I could write a book, about the way you walk and whisper and look. I could write a preface on how we met. So the world would never forget, and the simple secret of the plot, is just to tell them I love you a lot. and the world discovers la la ...”

She looked up at him. Now they were both crying unashamedly, hugging, kissing and lost in each other.

They snapped out of their reverie when the band picked up the beat. She scolded him with a smile on her face “no more silly, sappy, weeping monkey, let's show these people how to have fun.” He twirled her around inhaling her fragrance, totally bewitched by her.

After an hour or more of wild dancing and two cocktails each, they now had enough and went back to their quarters. In their bedroom now, Hank waltzed her towards their bed and slowly, gently began to make love to her.

He was an incredibly thoughtful and sensitive lover, always putting her needs first. She loved him for this but sometimes wished he would just take her. She never told him this. She had been too open about this kind of stuff when she was younger. The fewer men knew how much she needed them, the easier they were to keep in line. Any sex, any kind of sex, was better than no sex at all to her. That would never change.

Their weekends were idyllic, touring the wineries, a Saturday night movie and usually a leisurely late Sunday morning breakfast at their favorite cafe overlooking the river.

Their only conflicts arose when she caught him glancing at women. It was as if a
switch was suddenly turned off inside her, a bolt of lightening short circuited the lights and darkened her mood. She turned ice cold and stop talking to him for hours.

He first denied looking at anyone, and then minimized it as inconsequential.
Soon, his pleadings turned to begging, he assured her she was the only woman he could ever love. He would rave about how beautiful she was, cajole and implore her, but it was too late.

Immediately, the very instant she doubted for one second his faithfulness, she withdrew into a protective mode. Images of her ex-husband flashed before her; she despised the very thought of him. When she withheld from her new husband what he wanted sexually, she symbolically struck back at Johnny and all men.

Hank Chiego spent his days at March Air Field preparing to defend his country in the event the looming war became reality. He was in a pursuit squadron being trained to strike back at enemy forces in daring nighttime raids most likely in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

In his position as a tail gunner, his extraordinary night vision and dogged bulldog type patience would serve him well. His supervising Officers greatly admired how calm and yet alert he could be in the almost daily training flights.

These very same qualities kept the marital arguments and subsequent silent spells from escalating into major crises. The intensive physical nature of the routine maneuvers left him little time to brood over his wife’s petulance. He kept busy and did not overreact to her moodiness. Their relationship eventually returned to normal.

What happened on a dreary December Sunday a few months later was anything but normal. At almost the same moment Suzie's son, Johnny Orlando, Jr. was patrolling his 5th grade school patrol guard corner station in New Jersey, every siren at the March air Field was blasting loudly through the base speakers.

Pearl Harbor with all its gory forebodings was bursting rudely into the lives of all Americans and nowhere more spectacularly than at this large U.S. Army Air Corps Base.

Hank jumped from their bed and, while dressing, told Suzie he had to report immediately to a reassigned area. He knew something extremely serious had happened but for now could tell her nothing more.

She was terrified, started crying, and wanted to make him some coffee. There was no time for coffee. Before he left, he told her “Monkey, something is wrong and I’ve got to get to my position fast. I’ll try to get back to you later, give me a kiss quick. I have to get outta here!”

As soon as he left, Suzie turned on the radio and immediately learned why the alarms had sounded and droned on. An announcer, somberly, in a crisply enunciated tone, told the country of the surprise attack. Suzie didn’t read newspapers. The announcer’s mood, and the rapid departure of Hank, shocked her into hyperventilating. She sat down, poured herself a cup of coffee, lit a cigarette and tried to calm down.

Panic began to develop among the civilians later in the day. Rumors spread that Japanese bomber formations were headed toward the California coast. Hank finally called at noon and told her "Calm down Suzie,the reports haven't been confirmed.We are sure they are rumors. Our forces in the Pacific are already starting to respond. But Monkey the base is being put on alert and all dependents living on the base have to leave by the weekend.

Suzie immediately phoned her mother and told her what was going on and to prepare for her return the following week.

Rose Villani had predicted to Suzie two years earlier this would happen and warned she would not take her back this time. Once again, Suzie had her backed into a corner. Following the phone call,Rose slumped in her favorite soft, billowy chair and reflected.

She had given birth to nine children, immigrated to a strange land and survived a depression, illnesses and countless other challenges. Now,she was a widow with eight of her children still living under her roof. Another World War had broken out and she must absorb some of the consequences.

Scrambling through her handbag, she took out her rosary beads and silently prayed for direction to the Virgin Mary. Old Italian women seldom prayed directly to Jesus, His Holy Mother was their spokesperson. She was expected to intercede with her son on their behalf. Rose was raised in this manner by her mother who she never saw again after she sailed to America. The unspoken orders handed down from generation to generation for centuries, ordained women deferred to men but not in issues involving the raising of children.

Alone now, near the end of her life, she could no longer turn to her husband and have him tell Suzie to find her own place to live. She knew in her heart what his decision would have been.

“Rose, we can’t blame Pearl Harbor on Suzie” he most certainly would have argued.
Of course it also wasn’t Suzie’s fault Johnny Sr. was a bum and it wasn’t Suzie’s fault the base Commander wouldn’t let the kids live with them in California.
Whose fault was it Suzie hadn’t stayed in New Jersey? She might have saved her money and been able to afford her own apartment. It was never Suzie’s fault. Rose sighed resignedly. She knew she would take her daughter back in again.

It would be a chaotic home once again. Jenny and Gina would raise a commotion, try to talk her out of it and then grudgingly accept it. Vera was practically living with her boyfriend now and would wed him in the spring. Suzie’s brothers would be okay with their sister’s return and too concerned with their draft status to dwell on it anyhow.

Vera just came in from work a few minutes ago. Rose called to her “Vera, come in here honey, I want to talk with you, your sister is coming back to live here.”

With Sal and Suzie both gone, Vera had been a godsend to her. Especially with Junior. She didn’t know how she would have handled him without Vera.

Vera came into the kitchen and kissed her mother, “Momma I’m so glad. Since I heard about the bombings and maybe war breaking out, I've been worried sick about Suzie”

Vera’s main concern was the two children who had such a hard time adjusting to their mother’s absence when she went to live with Hank. She especially worried about Junior. He had been sick almost constantly since Suzie left, a strep throat, tetanus infection in his foot a horrible poison oak rash last summer. Her mother thought it was because Suzie didn’t breast feed Johnny and compared him to Jaycee who never missed a day of school

Johnny was doing so much better now, making friends, studying hard in school, hardly ever getting sick any more. He seemed happier and healthier than he had ever been. Jaycee would be happy to have her Mom back but she didn’t know about Junior.

“Vera, you helped me so much with Johnny,” Rose said, grabbing her daughter and hugging her, “but still, he needs his mother. I don’t understand how that girl can leave kids who have no father and go gallivanting all over the country?”

Johnny’s father was no help of course. He never called either of the kids. He sent an occasional message to her, or by letter to Suzie. He asked how they were doing, but in the past two years, even these infrequent contacts had ceased.

Vera had heard from a friend of a friend Johnny,Sr. was very ill and in a hospital but this was never confirmed. Rose felt he was too nasty to get sick, it was an old Italian superstition. Was he sick or just trying to dodge the draft?

Back in Riverside, Suzie was packing whatever she could take with her on the plane. Hank would ship the rest by rail. Since he was going to be deployed to an overseas base closer to the war front, they decided to sell any furniture they had purchased. When the war ended, they would buy a house and start from scratch.

Meanwhile, back in Riverside, Hank’s impending departure and the long separation they faced, bonded the couple closer than when they had wed. The unthinkable possibility he might never return at all, changed Suzie’s attitude completely. She realized now how deeply she loved him, and felt ashamed of how she had acted just a few days ago at the Sunday breakfast.

The evening before her flight back home, they dined at their favorite Spanish restaurant inside the Mission Inn and vowed to write to each other every single day.

He was stoic about the dangers he faced, but completely heartbroken over leaving Suzie. Her eyes, normally sparkling were misty tonight.

“I’ve been trying to describe your eyes to other people monkey,” he said,"and now I know the words I’ve been searching for. You have frivolous eyes, carefree eyes. They are not that way tonight though; they look lovely, but more serious. I hate to see them this way.”

They talked about how happy they would be when the war ended and they could start a family. “I love your children Suzie,” he said, gazing into her now tear filled eyes “and I’ll be good to them, but you know how much I want children of my own.”

She assured him they would have at least one child when they were back together again but would not commit to any more than one. "Sweetie," Suzie consoled him,"I don’t think I am made to have too many children.I’m too selfish to take on that much responsibility”

He knew this wasn’t the right time for this kind of conversation and changed the subject. “I’m being reassigned to a Bombardment Group, monkey. For a while, we will be staying here to patrol the coast in case the Japs have any ideas about invading, but eventually we will start training on this new plane, a B-24. Don’t worry about me, the plane is unbelievable and the Commander told us the enemy doesn’t have a plane anywhere near as heavy as this. Wish I could show it to you, but no way now. I shouldn’t even talk about it. Don’t mention it to anybody when you get home.”

Suzie didn’t understand most of the military terms he used but she loved how excited he got when he talked about the upcoming battles. He didn’t have an ounce of fear in him so she felt sure the war wouldn’t last long and they would be together again. It was better neither of them knew what was lay ahead. The next few years were horrendous.

Hank’s crew flew hundreds of extremely dangerous missions over the Marshall Islands, Wake Island, Iwo Jima, and Guam.

Suzie worked with her sister Vera in a rug factory recently converted to a munitions factory. Her brothers fought the Germans in Europe. Soon she would be trying to adjust to being a mother again. The War would affect everyone from children to aging parents.

Nothing would ever be the same again.