Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas 2011

OK so I am not in the mood for Christmas, New Years, Ground Hog Day, Easter, Valentine's Day, St Patricks day and all the rest of it including mothers day.
That is just me.
My husband made sure that every nook and cranny was filled with red berries (his favorites) red bows, ornaments and anything red and green he could find.
Now I am thinking about decorating since Sabrina's house was so inviting (it was the candles!!!) and I keep thinking if I should dig up some old ornaments somewhere...then I think : "Gosh I have to take it all down again in a few weeks"
Nah! Fogettaboutit!

I wrote in several publications and here in this blog about the childhood Christmas which was the very best for me in 1944, unfortunately it also co-incides with the Battle of the Bulge about a 4 hour ride from the Flanders. BUT still occupied.
I will not repeat my story as I know most of you know it by heart.

My second best Christmas was about 14 or more years ago.
The story starts in my youth, in fact in January 1945 when a ship by the name of "Seapower" parked on the Canal of Terneuzen right in front of my house.
The corps of Engineers aboard where there to fix the electrical plant a 100 yards or so away (in my back yard so to speak, or was I in their backyard?)
The plant had been bombed many times and was not operating yet.

My father had decided to leave my mother and join his mistress a few miles away leaving us with a broken down house, roof and windows broken from the bombing and no food, garden empty except for some Brussels sprout and rutabagan. The cats were now all wild and the rabbits we had let go when we fled before the battle started in our neck of the woods.

My mother was very Victorian and in awesome pain that the only man she had ever known had deserted her for an ugly bar lady who owned her own bar and several houses too. So mother decides to keep the green shutters closed and sit around with candles as to pretend that no one was there. She was sure we would be raped,
2 women alone she would say.....then she summoned my grandfather to come and stay with us to show a male presence. Albeit by now not so young male.

One day a knock on the front door, no one ever used that door, a shiver up our back..remembering that the SS had done that too when they came to search our house, in front of us a Master Sergeant not that we knew about his stripes but we found all this out later. He asked my mother if she knew anyone who could iron his shirts to his satisfaction, evidently the laundry man on board were not doing a good job.
My mother was suddenly coming to life and invited the man in and told him that she would iron anything while she showed her coal stove and old fashion irons which always sat on the back of the stove. He was a bit puzzled by these antique instruments and brought his shirts. Before the week was over mother had a traffic of some very picky soldiers who liked her ironing even with an antique iron.

The Sergeant was Walter E. S. he had a wife and two girls in DC working at the Pentagon and a son in State of North Carolina playing football and studying engineering. He was from Boston, told us his wife had been a beauty queen and was from the same region.
The second soldier who became part of our household was a bright red haired young kid of 20 who had married Lois the day before he left for the army. He was from coal country in PA. his father and a bunch of relatives all coal miners.
He told my mother that he had never seen so much poverty as there was in our house (imagine he came from coal country, not exactly chateau country). He decided to bring us food. It was "ferbotten" by the Captain a Republican to the core man who decided that there would be no fraternizing with the locals.
"Red" decided to chance it, I still see him coming down the path to our backdoor with his Eisenhower jacket on , he opened it up and dropped an enormous large piece of meat on my mothers table and said: "My hands are clean, Mrs Droesbeke"
Mrs. Droesbeke was in awe, what difference did it make if his hands were clean?
This much meat she had not seen in ages and surely could not afford it if we found it. Red continued to be our supplier, he "procured" a grey all wool blanket from a British soldier and mother made a coat out of it for me. I remember it being itchy as hell but warm and with sleeves that were long enough to cover my growing long arms. Red brought us "Camay" soap, we had made our soap for years now, this was LUXURY and mother made me smell it , I waited anxiously for her to open the paper and lets just try it...not my Mother...I do not know if she was waiting for WW3 but she quickly put it in the drawer of the armoire her father had made.
This armoire is in my dressing room and guess what is in the drawer????

During the war it was "de la mode" for young girls to have a "Poesie" book.
It would be a small book with empty pages so your friend could fill it with poetry.
I dragged that with me (and will write about it soon) wherever I went, not having many friends and thinking the grown ups were my equals I would not leave one soul untouched. I approached the engineers when we sat in the bunker waiting for the bombs to fall, I approached anyone to write anything in my book.
It is my most precious book of my 80 years and I will try and take it with me when I leave this earth, do not have a plan yet but I am thinking.....
No , it can not be burned with my ashes, back to the drawing board...

So, naturally I presented my book to the soldiers and they wrote poems or just wrote words like :"Paddy from Liverpool"
How I explained all this must have been via my mother who was fluent in English, I had just learned a four letter word which I had no idea about and it started with F... SOldiers would often yell it out as their trucks drove by.
Good thing Mom told me it was not "good morning".

My "Red" friend one day picked me up at my school downtown , he sat in front of the school building as we came ready to run for the street car and I stopped in my tracks, saw the red hair ,grew 3 inches taller and felt like he was my boy friend who came to rescue me....he drove me home and mother yelled at him that I could have fallen out of the Jeep.....but Red wrote his name under someone elses drawing, a very unusual name.

By june 1945 the factory was working , we had electricity and mother had a job in the office of the paper plant near us. Grandpa stayed for quite awhile.
My heart was broken. No one had told me the ship was leaving, they knew how attached I had become to the new fathers in my life, men who cared if I had something to eat, men who gave me chewing gum by the dozens of packages so I
started to sell it at school and introduce my friends to the wonder of chewing all
day long on a piece of rubber (while I hated it) I became the "dealer" of gum.
These men taught me Canasta and I soon was an expert at the game, the sergeant left us his decks and container so we could continue to play with grandpa.
It was great being liberated and knowing this new security of men in uniform.

The Sergeant I had named Uncle Pam and his wife Aunt Julie, the family in DC had started to send clothing for me and I became the American model, I could not fill the tops of the dresses but Mother would readjust and sew and sew.
I was 13 that year , very tall for my age but flat as an ironing board, I did play catch up later...So the family promised me that if I ever wanted to come to America they would be there waiting for me and sponsor me.
My dream had started. I wanted American children.

So in 1955 I walked the streets of NY with my Belgian husband, I was 23 and had married at 19 and waited in Montreal for the last 2 years for a permanent visa.
It took 4 years in all to get to come here to the USA and get the coveted green card.

Over the years we got to know the whole Uncle Pam clan and visited all their relatives and became part of them.
Both of the elders are now buried in Arlington. They were extremely giving people.
Gave me my life here.

in 1957 I had my first American daughter.

The story does not end there as I was totally indebted to "Red" he had been such
a fun guy and had given us hours of his company and goodies from the ship.
Being underfed he had taken me to see the ships doctor and with vitamins I had become whole again. I had suffered 6 months from pleurisy and that had knocked me on my knees.

I lived in New Jersey, Campbell CA, Brookdale Ca, Nerja, Spain for 5 years, NC for the last decades but in every town I went on all the travels we did in different towns and states I would check the phone book for Red's name. Never found it UNTIL my son introduced me to a WebTV and I began searches on there in 1997 , found nothing until I emailed with a man who ran the site for Marauders (my brother in law was a Marauder) the man gave me 4 names which could have been Red and I was on a mission. I wrote to a man in Harrisburg PA remembering that he had come from coal mining country in PA. Did not get an answer for awhile and was ready to start all the other names. But the holidays were coming and I was very busy making Father Christmas dolls and doing shows every week end. So Christmas eve came along and all the kids and grandkids piled into the house full of joy and noise admiring the
"red berries cottage" and all the packages under the tree. I had been cooking for 3 days, I always cook for an army. The phone rang and I looked around and wondered who it could be as my gang was underfoot, all of them, picked up the phone and a voice said : "Janet (they called me that) I am back in your life after 52 the way this is Red!". I ran to the quiet bedroom and started to cry,
he said "Merry Christmas girl, I often thought about you and your mother".
I was in a total shock, I found out he was indeed still in PA and was now retired from the telephone company where he had worked all his life.
I was so afraid to ask about his wife "Lois" I had a photo of her on a stamp which he had given me in 1944. So...I stuttered and said a lot of hm hm hm "I have to ask about Lois, Red, what happened?" He said:"She is sitting in a chair right here knitting for the grandchildren". We promised to visit each other which we did but Lois had Alzheimer and he did not want to know it, he just took care of her and hid what he truly knew in his heart. Both passed on within a year from each other. My children and grandchildren all got to hear his war stories and stories about me.
A lot I had not remembered, the ship's crew had shot down a German plane and it fell within yards of my house totally in flames and he said: "remember that day?"
I have not. I have many other incidents burned into my brain but that one I choose to forget.

I honor every soldier , the last wars were not so great for returning Vets, we have ignored a lot of them, even today as I write this ,many are in hospitals without limbs, memory and on and on. At their homes without work and with a mental memory that no one should have to endure. I think about the kids in Iraq and all what they saw and one day when they turn 80 will they write down about the pains and about the joys of seeing Americans ?????I Wonder.

My second best Christmas in my lifetime was the night Red called. My hero!


Unknown said...

I remember you telling me some of all that when you watched the kids. So fascinating to read it! It really makes history come alive to read/hear your story!

Jeannot said...

Some of it needs to be told before we all vanish, every day WW2 vets are leaving us in the thousands.