Archive for the ‘Historical fiction’ Tag

When Dark Closes In – Chapter X

File:Bruce Crandall's UH-1D.jpg

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Chapter X

Scott – Hue, South Vietnam

June, 1967, Hue, South Vietnam

It was nearly impossible to empty his mind of the things he’d seen, and try to write stuff as if he was a boy scout on a camping trip. Yea! Some trip. Every time he started a letter to Jen or his mom, he didn’t know what to write. What he thought they wanted to read, or hear, he could not write. What he could write they would not want to read, or hear. Too depressing. The media covered enough of the grizzly stuff, but how many bothered to read it, or hear it reported on Nightly News?

He wadded up the letter, another hard ball, and threw it at the latrine. Smack! Wadded another. Threw a curve ball. His mind flashed back to the time he was in high school. They were in the seventh inning, their baseball team’s playoff game for the all-state championship trophy. The opposing team was up at bat. He stood at the pitcher’s plate, slamming home fast balls, right into the catcher’s mitt, strike one, two, three. Another one, “out”!


Bases loaded. Runners up, eagerly waiting. I took my time, made them sweat. Slowly raising my pitching arm, arched my back, turned and, raised my left leg, fooling those on bases. Then, quickly straightened, and threw to third base with the runners sprinting for second and third. The umpire called it. ” Out”!

His writing notebook was not entirely empty. There was much of it that was already filled with things he didn’t share with anyone. He’d been keeping the ‘journal’ since he arrived in Saigon nine months ago. Now, he snatched minutes whenever he could to unleash whatever was in his head. When he didn’t know what to write home to Jennifer and his family, he used the journal to communicate his thoughts, express his frustrations, or just rant with pen on paper.

            ____________

“Here I am, nine months into my tour of duty, these last three in Hue. My M-16 remains the only friend I know that won’t leave me, my constant companion. Sleep deprived, I have dreams of hot showers, cheese burgers and fries, the waves of Puget Sound washing over my bare feet, but, I lie back on burlap bags filled with freeze-dried army rations near the latrine, stink like the village pigs here, and my eardrums vibrate from the drone of planes and helicopters overhead.”

“I still see the faces of the dying villagers lying helpless in our wake as we moved in, after the Viet Cong. Their blood soaks the ground. They are the innocent victims of our bullets and shrapnel. Open, gaping wounds fill with swarming flies to lay claim to their remains. Medics cannot help them all. Only the monsoons help wash the earth of their blood. But, nothing washes away the memory. Their fading cries linger in my head. I hear them over and over.”

“There is no time to grieve the death of friends I’ve made here. I just watch the medics wrap them up and send them home in a body bag. My grief, my emotion is an internal kind, because it’s just not cool to watch a big boy cry. But, when, or if I leave here alive, I will feel more ashamed for not shedding any for the friends I watched die.”

“We don’t know where our enemy lurks. The south will do whatever is necessary to annihilate and wipe out all evidence of VC presence, or compromise. There is infiltration in the South’s army. It is hard to distinguish between the two armies sometimes. At times we don’t know who we’re fighting. We just fire. The South Vietnamese Army formed a special unit for the sole purpose to hunt ‘rats,’ (revolutionists and their spies), another name given the VC. SWARM (Specialized Warfare Against Rat’s Movements) are a brutal bunch of boys. Some say the CIA trained them. No reason to doubt it.”

“Reports from home tell about the apathy for the soldiers here. Does anyone care we are dying? Troops have no real commitment to the South’s cause. They were pulled in, with no choice. This has become a political war. Those in WA., DC that decide our fate should be here. We would choose theirs. And they would go home in body bags. With, or without the U.S. help, the South Vietnamese will fight on, to keep their side free from the north.”

“Things are getting intense around Da Nang, and our unit may be heading north. My only momentary relief comes from looking at Jennifer’s picture, and reading her letters from home. I pray I make it back. I never thought much about praying for anything before. Guess I never needed anything so much until now, so I’ve given it a try. Whether or not God listens, at least I’m giving it a shot.”

            Scott Bradley – 1967, Hue, South Vietnam

                        _____________

Suddenly, the sounds of M-16 s erupted everywhere. Another ambush. The screams of troops falling under fire while launching grenades, the chaos from those running, hitting the ground, diving for cover: they were under attack.
Aim, fire, and kill. Scott emptied his cartridge on all he could see in their black pajamas, then reloaded. They camouflaged themselves in the bush, foliage hanging off them as they crawled along the ground. They laid low in rice paddies, creeping along like maggots. They were dropping, but it was too hard to see how many he’d gotten. They could pop up like ducks at a carnival shoot to gain the surprise. Carnage everywhere. The surprise attacks were coming more frequent.

His knees buckled. He lost balance. He felt a stinging, piercing pain, like a hot knife shoved in, then withdrawn. His grip loosened, his M-16 feeling too heavy to hold. He looked down at the growing red stain, the sticky wet blood oozing from a chest wound. He would not go down. Not today! Tightening his grip, he stumbled up, out of his trench and ran into the fray.

“Bradley! What are you doing? Get down, man. You’re going to get…No!” Mac yelled.

______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson




When Dark Closes In, Chapter VIII – Fallout

English: 1965 Ford Mustang 2D Hardtop frontvie...

English: 1965 Ford Mustang 2D Hardtop

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Chapter VIII

 Fallout

     1966 – Clear Creek, WA.

    Scott boarded the southbound bus, and turned around to find her waving. He smiled, found a seat, and the bus pulled out, headed for Fort Lewis. He promised to write. She could only pray his letters would never stop, that he would return to her, and the child he knew nothing about.

    There could not be a hole anywhere on earth deeper, or greater than the one she felt in her heart as she made the lonely drive home in his 1965 Ford Mustang. Even with a window down the scent of his sweat mixed with his after shave and soap he used when he showered lingered. She caressed the black, leather upholstered bucket seats. She knew how much he loved this car, spending hours buffing and polishing it after a wash. She would call his father and have him pick it up. One day at a time: it was all she could do, and hope for the year to pass quickly.

    But, there was something she could not put off any longer, so locked it and reluctantly went inside where she knew her parents waited. They sat at the kitchen table in their usual place, reading the newspaper over their coffee. It was around the kitchen table where they had their family sessions, laughed, and talked about their day. This time an awkward silence filled the room, as if a pall of doom had followed her inside making its home there, uninvited.

   “I’m very sorry, dear. I know Scott’s leaving has been a sad and difficult thing for you, but perhaps, when you return to school things will be easier then, and you can meet up with some friends there.” Erin said.

    “I’m not returning to school in the fall.” Jennifer said, pointedly.

    Her father’s head shot up, his facial expression always an easy barometer to read. His broad, bent shoulders stiffened, as he straightened in his chair. Jennifer did not look forward to this.

    “What kind of nonsense is that? You’re going back to school. I won’t allow you to quit school, and mope around here over that boy.”

    “I’m not going back, daddy. Not now. I need to tell you both something. About why I can’t. I’m…Scott and I… I mean, I am going to have a baby. I’m pregnant.”

    Her words fell on them like the mammoth trees felled in the Olympic National forests where her father managed the logging camps. He could determine the exact angle and position as each was felled to the ground. But, he could not determine her fate. Right or wrong, alone or with their help, she would make her own way. Another long pause.

    Erin McAlister found her voice. “Have you been to a doctor? How far along are you?” she asked.

    “Yes, I saw the doctor. I’m three months.”

    “Does Scott know?” Erin asked.

    “No. I didn’t tell him. I’m not going to. Until he returns home. I don’t want anyone else to. I don’t want his family to know, because they will think it their duty to tell him. He has enough to deal with just being over there in that war.” The days of holding back tears, the stress: all of it was gone now, as she unleashed it all.

    “Mom, could you get me some water. I feel…light headed.”

    Erin got up, and brought her some water and a cold compress.

    “Thank you.”

    “Jenny. Jenny. What have you gone, and done?” Her father slowly shook his head. “Does anyone else know about this?”

    “Dana does. I told her when I found out. I just wanted to share it with someone that… would understand.”

    “How can a girl like that ‘understand?’ Someone who has no morals of her own.” Jim said, his Scotch-Irish brogue more noticeable when angry.

    “Jim. That’s enough. Maybe she wasn’t taught the things we have taught Jenny, so what else would you expect? It is rather sad they let her do all the things she was allowed to do. She lives the way she wants.”

    “Which is why our Jenny should not be hanging around with the girl.”

     “Jim! Stop that kind of talk. You don’t know…”

     “Daddy. I’m tired of you calling Scott, ‘that boy,’ and Dana, ‘that girl.’ They’re my friends. I love Scott. We plan to be married… when he comes home.” She cried into the wet compress, shoulders shaking.

    “Jenny, it will be alright. Your father is just trying to be…”

     “Sensible. Someone needs to be. I hope you have gone to confession, talked with the priest.” her father said.

    “No. I don’t need a priest. They hide behind their confessional like an imposter as if afraid, or too ashamed of you to even look at your face, and tell you what you need to hear.”

    “Jenny! That’s enough. You cannot speak that way. It’s…” Jim spat the angry words back.

    “What? Disrespectful? Are they hiding from our shame? Or theirs? Aren’t they guilty of sin, too? Isn’t it God we should confess to, and ask for help?”

    “God knows we can use his help.” Erin said, quietly.

    Jennifer walked upstairs to her room. She picked up her rosary beads sitting on the night stand. As a child she was taught to practice the good Catholic rites of faith. A confession when she did things that were wrong, regular attendance at Mass, bowing and saying her prayers before the Virgin Mary. It all seems so pointless, so empty now.

    She looked out into a clear night sky from her upstairs bedroom window. The moon was out, and the stars looked like shiny crystals scattered about. She wasn’t into astrology like some, but she found them more comforting than rosary beads.

    She fingered the tiny diamond ear studs she wore. Scot had given them to her the night they watched the sky explode in every shape and color, bursting through the dark void on July 4th, over Puget Sound.

    She went to bed, but slept little.

__________________________________

To be continued

Joyce E. Johnson (2013)

         

When Dark Closes In, Chapter VII – Ferry Crossing

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Chapter VII – Ferry Crossing

1966, Puget Sound, WA.

    They stood at the rail watching as the Space Needle loomed larger, closer, beckoning them back to Seattle’s metropolis. Their day excursion was coming to a close like the near perfect last three months of summer. The ferry’s wake from waves rolling in, then out, and in again to sea was hypnotic, soothing as she snuggled in his embrace. The choppy water sent cold sprays into their face as the wind smacked the sea with each assault. Seagulls squawked and flew between the quay and ferry announcing its scheduled return.

The official draft notice came that week allowing him two weeks to put things in order. He turned in his resignation at work, withdrew his fall enrollment from the engineering institute, had started packing up things in his apartment, said goodbyes to friends and family, and would report to Fort Lewis the following week. The remaining days went too fast with precious little time together.

They purchased some things from a store early that morning, then headed for the ferry crossings, pulled into a line with other cars being loaded and drove over to Port Angeles. They found a quiet shore, picnicked on the sand with smoked salmon, cheese and crackers, and bottle of wine, and browsed through quaint shops along the piers. Now, as the familiar and predictable came into view, they thought how soon it too, would end.

She would not be returning to Notre Dame for her sophomore year, but have her baby, work in town, live at home, and wait for his tour to end. Wait for the day when he would return to find her, and their child here. She had not told him that he would be a father. She was three months into her pregnancy. Larger, lose tee shirts and shorts helped hide the small swell of her abdomen. It was more difficult hiding the increasing nausea she had daily now. She did not want him going into a war feeling anxious, worrying about her, making himself vulnerable. She would try to not dwell on tomorrow, only today, this moment, looking into the setting sun over Puget Sound. But, the uncertain, unknown gnawed at her like dark shadows. She wanted only sunrises, with promising bright skies, and sunsets with restful nights.

Scott was the first to break the silence. “Are you feeling OK? Still having that nausea thing?”

“A little. I think it’s just… the choppiness of the water, crossing over today that made me a little queasy. But, I had the most wonderful time. It was one of the happiest days we’ve ever spent together. I wish we could make it last indefinitely.”

“There will be plenty more, Jen. I promise. When I’m back. You’re not getting away from me that easily, you know?”

She looked up, searching his eyes. “I don’t intend to. I will be here, Scott.” There is that little bit of extra that holds us together, more than a single day, or single moment in time.

“Good. Because, when I come back, after Vietnam, we’re going back out to Port Angeles again, to the same shore, same spot where we had our picnic, and carved our names in the sand. And do it all over again.”

And we will add another name in the sand, with ours.

“Do you think it’s presumptuous for of us to believe things can return to normal one day, after the war?” she asked.

“I don’t know, Jen. But, the one thing that will never change is that I love you. I always have. I always will. I think I knew it back when we were in high school.”

She laughed. “Every time you showed up at my front door, my dad would say, ‘That boy is back.’

“And, before him and your mom, I will get down on one knee and propose, so he can see that ‘that boy’ is serious about his daughter and wants to marry her.”

“I think sometimes you misunderstood my father. A lot of his bull crap was just his way of testing you. I think down deep somewhere he actually likes you. My mom, too.”

“Really? You could have fooled me. For a lumberjack I half expected him to pull out an ax or something from behind his back when I came over to see you. Your mom kind of looked at me with that little half-smile like the proper British folks do when they’re thinking something, but don’t want to really say it, so give you that kind of look. You’re the little bit of sweetness in between them.” He cupped her head in his hands and kissed her, not wanting to stop.

When their lips separated, she asked, “Do you want kids of your own…someday, Scott?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“Well, I just thought I would ask how you felt about them. I wanted to be certain we think alike on those kinds of things, you know, since you plan on asking me to marry you.” She smiled at him.

The skyline came into focus, moving from out of a heavy haze into a clear night, dusk settling like the noisy seagulls on wharves looking for food scraps.

“You bet.” Taking her hand, he added, ” Come on. Let’s go find my car.” Passengers started for the stairwells down to the vehicle holding decks to retrieve their cars. Scott drove off the ramp and they merged out into Seattle’s crowded, congestive traffic.

_________________

To be continued

Joyce E. Johnson


When Dark Closes In – Revelation, Chapter VI

When Dark Closes In

Revelation

Chapter VI

She was apprehensive as she entered the clinic. The stenciled sign on the door read: Andrew Crowley, MD; Gynecology, Family planning and Reproductive services.

“Hello. I’m Jennifer McAlister. I have an appointment to see Dr. Crowley?”

“Just a moment while I check the appointment calendar. Oh, yes, you called earlier with some questions…I have some papers here for you to read and review. It will answer any questions you might have. May I ask who referred you to our office?” She said.

“A friend. Dana Martinelli.” Jennifer answered, accepting the handouts. “I was told there would not be a lot of paperwork.”

“We respect your issues with privacy. All information is kept confidential, and all are kept secure. But, we need pertinent information like place of employment, home address, a phone number, and an emergency contact number of a friend, or someone we can call, if needed. And, your signature on these forms agreeing to the terms of financial obligation and assuring payment before the procedure…” She said curtly, as if tired of explaining, and repeating all of it too many times.

“Well, Ok.” Jennifer took a seat and began working through the paperwork when she noticed the girl sitting near, bent over, with her arms covered protectively over her abdomen.

Jennifer leaned forward and asked quietly, “Are you alright? I couldn’t help but notice you don’t look so well and…would you like me to ask if a nurse could come out to help you?”

“They know I’m here. I don’t have an appointment. I called them and told them what was going on. They said the doctor was booked, but I could come in. I got this fever and pain…”

“I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do? Get you some water, maybe?”

“No. But, thank you. I took the pills he gave me, but they haven’t helped.”

“What pills?”

“The ones the doctor gave me, after he…killed…took my baby from me.” Tears fell from her flushed cheeks.

Her answer startled Jennifer as if suddenly jolted awake from a bad dream.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“How does your boyfriend feel about your…?”

“He told me to get rid of it. Said it would just get in the way, and didn’t want no ‘screaming little brat’ to raise.”

“Miss McAlister, the doctor will see you now. I will direct you back to his office.”

Jennifer was sure the receptionist had heard them talking, maybe hearing every word by the way she kept glancing back at them. Jennifer had tried to keep her voice down.

“What is your name?” Jennifer asked.

“Rebecca.”

“That is a pretty name.”

Jennifer stood up, afraid to just walk away from the girl, but, more afraid for herself for the kind of cold-hearted thing she was about to do to her own baby. She didn’t want to become like one who worked in this place.

She turned to the receptionist and said. “Rebecca needs some attention. She isn’t well. Could you help her?”

“We will. But, I was asked to show you into the doctor’s office for your ‘consultation.’

“I am not going anywhere until a nurse or someone comes out to help her.” Jennifer replied.

“Miss McAlister, we try to stay on schedule. The doctor is busy and doesn’t have time to stop to examine everyone who walks in without an appointment.”

Jennifer looked at Rebecca, bent over and then noticed the blood spots on the floor near her seat, and pointed to them for emphasis. “I think there is reason enough why you need to see her now, or I am going to go call an ambulance for her so she can be taken to the nearest hospital to be checked. I don’t think you will want the publicity when they begin asking questions. And as for me, I don’t think you will be needing these, and I won’t be needing the ‘procedure.'”

She took the papers and ripped them up, leaving the wad on the receptionist’s desk. Except for a small piece she ripped off to hurriedly write down her name and phone number, for Rebecca.

“Miss McAlister, are you certain about this?”

“Yes, more certain than I have ever been about anything.”

She turned back to Rebecca, gave her a pat on the shoulder, and said. “Please take care of yourself. And dump the boyfriend. You don’t need him. He didn’t want your baby, and it sounds like he doesn’t love you. He doesn’t deserve you.” Jennifer handed Rebecca the corner piece of paper with her contact information. “Please call me later, and let me know how you are doing?”

Rebecca nodded.

A nurse hurried out to the waiting room, after being summoned. She put a supportive arm under Rebecca’s to lead her back into an examining room. “We’ll check you over, and see if we can get you to feeling a little better.”

Except for maybe, Rebecca, Jennifer left the clinic, hoping never to see those people again. On her way out, she placed her right hand over her belly, as if shielding the tiny person inside.

I don’t know what is going to happen, but we will go through it together, even if it is just you and I alone in this.

_________________

To be continued

Joyce E. Johnson


When Dark Closes In – Chapter V, – Into The Storm

Into The Storm

Chapter V – WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

     1966 – Seattle, WA.

    Dana led Jennifer through the apartment, opening doors to spacious closets, pointing out the built-in dresser shelves and walnut bar, fully equipped kitchen with pantry, and large windows that looked down four stories from a formal dining room to a courtyard and pool with landscaped gardens. The giant Space Needle, seen from a little balcony from off the bedroom towered over Seattle’s skyline. Jennifer watched as a large gray cloud formed, much like the dark one that descended over her now.

    “So, what do you think?” asked Dana.

    “It’s beautiful. The view from up here is incredible.”

    “Isn’t it? I love it. Daddy worked with the contractors and Nick has connections in real estate and was ready to move out of his old place the moment these units were finished and ready. So we signed the lease and got our keys yesterday. We’re moving in this weekend.”

    Jennifer nodded, looking down over the courtyard and pool below, pensive and quiet.

    “Ok. Let’s have it.”

    “What?” Jennifer asked.

    “You’ve been moody, and quiet all day.”

    “Oh, just a little envious of your apartment and independence I guess. I’m fine.”

    “No, you’re not. You don’t hide things that easily. Something is going on.”

    Jennifer shrugged. “I’m sorry. I guess it’s just worry, you know? Scott had to fill out all those papers and answer a zillion questions about his job, what he does, hours he works, if he has dependents, single status. They want to know everything, and then they make guys sweat and wait to see if they will be called up to serve…” Jennifer quickly dabbed her eyes.

    “Look, Jen. Scott will be fine. Don’t worry. I bet his uncle could pull some strings.”

    “I doubt it. And…I’m not so sure about me, either. Dana, I’m pregnant.”

    “No way! Are you certain?”

    “Of course I am. Do you think I would tell you if I wasn’t? You look as if my halo has fallen off and I’ve sprouted horns or something. “Say something, but don’t say, ‘You should have used birth control pills.'”

    “Well, you should have. I have for… a long time. ”

    “I know. Everyone else knows too. The way you… Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…. But, it’s different with me. My dad would hit the roof if he knew I ever took birth control pills.”

    “And now he’s going to kill you, unless you…take care of it before anyone finds out. Does Scott know? Have you told him?”

    “No. Just you. And I want to keep it that way. I mean it, Dana. I am not telling my parents right now and for sure don’t want Scott to know. He has enough to worry about, with the draft board. And, what makes you think I am going to run off and find a quack doctor to get ‘it’ ‘taken care of’ as you so blatantly put it? Is that how you took care of yours?”

    “Jen. Be real. You don’t have to go through with this. You have three more years of college, live at home, have only a part-time job; hardly enough to take care of a kid, and the father that might have to go to war. This will mess up your life, big time. You don’t have to run off to find a ‘quack doctor’. I know a good doctor that does illegal abortions. I mean, it’s expensive, but I can loan you the money for it. You can pay me later, and there is no paperwork, nothing to sign. It is set up by appointment after a consultation and done in a clean, sterile office.”

    “That sounds… cruel… heartless. I don’t know. Even dangerous, and risky. Don’t those doctors get into trouble with the state medical boards or someone if they’re caught doing illegal abortions?”

    “Not if it is done in secret, kept confidential and there are no records. You would be surprised at how many doctors are doing illegal abortions for women who don’t want to carry a baby to full term, or can’t afford one.”

    “How do they come up with the money to pay for one? How much do they cost?”

    “Never mind that. There are desperate people out there, Jen. They find a way. Right now, you’re one of them. How far along are you?”

    “Two months.”

    “That’s good.”

    “Why?”

    “Because, the doctor I know does most of them between two to three months. He claims it’s easier during the first trimester, and safer. I could contact him if you want, and give him your phone number. He’s a friend of my father’s.”

    Jennifer mumbled. “That doesn’t surprise me.” Then a bit louder, “Alright. But, please don’t speak to anyone else about this. Not even Nick.”

    When Jennifer left, rode the elevator down and came out into the lobby, a young woman and little boy stood inside the entrance watching as lightning lit up the skies, and thunder followed sounding like a sledge-hammer banging on clouds, releasing rain. Her hand was clasped tightly around his small one. Seattle’s afternoon monsoons.

   “Mommy. I don’t want to go out there. It’s too scary.” He said, his eyes looking as big as half dollars.

   “It’s OK, honey. Don’t be afraid. God is just watering his big garden, and makes a bit of racket with his watering can. He’s giving the pond frogs a drink, too. He watches out for all of us.”

   Jennifer raced across the parking lot to her car, and started it up for the long drive home. She could not stop thinking about the young mother with her little boy. ‘He watches out for all of us.’


   She wondered what she was carrying. A boy or a girl. As the rain beat hard against her windshield, her tears came too, unrelenting, as did the small silent heartbeat of one, beating rhythmically, unbeknownst its fate.

_________________

To be continued

Joyce E. Johnson      

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN – Bender’s Garage, Chapter III, Part 2

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN (Historical Fiction)

Chapter 3, Part 2

Bender’s Garage, Seattle, WA. 1966

____________________

“OK, then. I’ll meet you inside, when you’re ready.” Jennifer said to Scott.

“I’ll hurry.” He said.

“I’m sure. Am I the motivation you need to work a little faster?” She smiled.

“Something like that. Do I need another reason?” He said, grinning.

It grew quieter as they talked. The banging under the noisy heap stopped when she saw the pair of legs from under it slide out revealing a face dirtier than Scott’s grinning up at her. He quickly got up from the mechanic’s creeper as if hopeful to get an introduction.

Other mechanics stood watching as she turned to walk across the work bay to the door of the customer service center. Their staring made her feel uncomfortable, but she knew they were just harmless big boys in dirty overalls.

“Hi, fellas.” She said, giving them her winning smile.

When she approached the door she noticed a wadded greasy shop towel thrown across the bay area smacking the mechanic with the dirty face. It phased him little. His eyes barely blinked, still on Jennifer as he stood like a fixture in stone, on the concrete under him.

She knew Scot could still pitch. He’d pitched all through high school, fast ball, slow curves, all while on the school softball team. He seldom ever failed to strike out players on opposing teams, anticipating their moves, judging his next pitch. But, this time he was unable to move the guy, or wipe the lascivious smile from his dirty face.

She punched in a quarter for the soda machine, and waited as a lever inside lifted and released her choice. The Coke rolled down into the slot.

Arnie Bender, Scot’s uncle came through the door and greeted her, picked up his mail from Shirley, the receptionist and entered his office.

She settled down in a chair to read the book she’d brought. But, the newspapers on a side table caught her eye. She read the titles, and subtitles of enclosed articles, “Stepping up troop movement for escalating war in Southeast Asia,” “Fighting results in increased college enrollment,” “Mothers weep at departure gates; their sons promising to write,” “Debate over U.S. involvement causes division in Congress,” “Parades and demonstrations take to the streets.” Pictures showed hippies holding signs, “Make Love, Not War!Some had those with their two middle fingers raised in a ‘peace sign.’ Others stood defiant, in their face using just their middle finger raised in a lewd gesture. The scenes and news reports were coming with more regularity for the times they lived in.

She stopped reading when she heard Scot’s name mentioned in the adjoining office. She knew it wasn’t right, but couldn’t resist listening to the conversation between Mr. Bender and the receptionist.

    “Mr. Bender, there was a call for you earlier from an Army officer by the name of…”

    “Riggs?”

    “Yes. He asked if you had filled out the necessary papers regarding your nephew, Scot’s employment here. He wanted to remind you that those papers they sent you requesting confirmation of his employment needed to be filled out and sent back ASAP to their office here in Seattle, by the deadline date.”

    “OK. Is there anything else, other calls, or messages?” he asked.

    “No sir. That’s all. The rest are on your appointment calendar, or spindle. This one I highlighted because of its importance. I thought you would want to know. He said it was vital they get those papers back by that date. He left his number for you, to call.”

    “Thank you, Shirley. That is all.”

    Shirley walked out to resume her work behind the ‘Information’ desk.

    Jennifer sat, the newspapers still in her lap, with little interest in them, or her book. She quickly tossed them back onto the table in a heap, as if she’d just been bitten or stung by an angry bee. She decided she would not tell Scott what she overheard or knew, about the ‘confirmation’ papers with his employment status requiring his uncle’s ‘immediate attention.’

    When Scott was finished, he walked inside, took his time card, clocked out, and peeked into his uncle’s office telling him, “Goodnight, uncle Arnie. See you tomorrow.”

    “Sure thing, Scott. I’ll get someone on her car first thing tomorrow.”

    “Thanks. I’ll get her home tonight and pick her up tomorrow when it’s done.”

    He turned back to Jennifer, smiling. “All ready?”

    “Yes. Thanks for the ride home, and promise of dinner.” she said.

    “My pleasure.” He said, grinning.

_________________________________

Joyce E. Johnson

        

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN – Flashback, Chapter I, Part 2

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN

Flashback

Chapter I – Part 2

1975 – Seattle, Washington

“Hey, honey, are you ready yet?” he asked, coming into the dressing room, grabbing up his car keys from the nightstand. “If you primp anymore we’ll be…” His whistle was the only approval she needed .

“You look spectacular! Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.” he added.

“Thank you. What ‘idea’?”

“Our being late, or maybe not going at all. We could stay here and have our own party,” he answered, wrapping his arms around her. “Do we really have to go?”

“Are you kidding? Miss a chance to meet my old school chums? Those girls are waiting to meet you. They would hate me if we didn’t show up. You can’t back out now.”

“Right. The enthusiastic, supportive husband parading through the gauntlet. I can hardly wait.”    

“Yes, I can see the excitement on your face. But, if you can suffer through Dana, and her boyfriend, I will make our time alone later, unforgettable.”

“Is that a promise?” he asked, a smile spreading across his face, his blue eyes searching hers.

“Yes.”

“So. Was she a bad girl in high school?”

“She was kind of…, how to say this…she was…”

“Easy?”

“Yes. But other than that, OK. The daughter of a rich Italian guy. She will try her wiles on you too I suppose, so don’t give her any opportunity to…”

“Come on to me? Gotcha. I’ll just wave my gold band at her, and let her know I’m a marked man. You have indelibly so planted your mark on me, that I couldn’t get it off if I tried.” He held up his left hand, wiggling his ring finger.

She laughed. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“And what’s the other one like?”

“Carolyn? Well, she is genuine, honest, but rather opinionated. The guys all called her, “nerdy and wordy,” an educated type, who often corrected our grammar in speech and English class, wrote poetry and essays with words no one else could even pronounce, and scored with the debate club.”

He laughed. “And then there’s you, in between. How did you get those two to even tolerate one another?”

“I didn’t. I just let them scrap it out, until one would walk away mad at the other. Scott was a couple of years ahead of us, and would just laugh at them, and try to mimic them when they weren’t around.” she said.

They were pulling out of the hotel’s parking lot when Marc flipped on a news station.

A returning war correspondent was reporting from his perspective on his assignment in Saigon. “Who would ever think life to take such turns in people’s lives? The world and its inhabitants does for certain contain volumes of history, wars won and lost, leaving still mysteries as to the fate of some, never a promised guarantee for the safe return of another…”

Jennifer reached over and turned off the radio, silencing the news correspondent. She grew pensive, quiet, and reflective.

No! Oh, God. What am I going to do? How can I avoid the questions, the gossip tonight?

She dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

“Honey, are you O.K.? You got so quiet and…” He looked over at her. “Are you crying? What gives? Jennifer! Look at me! Tell me!”

She just shook her head, cutting him off with a hand gesture.

How could she stop the dreams she had? The recent news stories just brought it all back.

They all have the same faces, but no names or recognition with the faces. She keeps seeing the back of a young woman walking through the shadows, her steps slow and halting. Body bags are filled with the corpses of dead soldiers, or their remains. A man is checking off names from military records, matching I.D. tags with identified remains using any possessions available to send home to families or wives. The woman looks through the possessions, I.D. tags, and finally the bodies and faces of the most recently found. She shakes her head each time to the military officer. She approaches the last corpse but cannot look. There is a premonition, a fear of the unknown. She hurries through the shadows of darkness trying to reach the light. But, the light is too far, the shadows, too great, the darkness permeating everywhere. The woman turns around looking for a place to run, a way out of the darkness.

_________________________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN – Flashback, Chapter I, Part I

WHEN DARK CLOSES IN  

Flashback

Chapter I, Part I

Newspapers lay scattered across a table in the hotel room. The pages were opened to the stories running daily as one story followed another. On April 30th, 1975, headlines read, “Saigon Falls. U.S. Pulls Out,”  South Vietnamese Army and Marines Flee,  Helicopters Scramble to Lift off of Embassy Roof.”

Pictures covered the pages where print allowed space. People were hanging from the helicopter skids, trying to climb aboard the crowded aircraft. Desperate people, frightened for their lives and what was coming. Jennifer read it all. She couldn’t think of anything else when she did. Now, she tried to forget what she had read. She couldn’t. It would be an impossible feat to pretend to enjoy herself tonight. But she would try. She reminded herself she was happy.

It was May 20th, 1975. The war was over. No one had heard from him. No one.

She fluffed and sprayed her chestnut colored hair, applied the last of her makeup, lipstick, then scrutinized herself in the mirror. Looking hard at her reflection, she turned, checking for bulges, or creases in her dress.  She looked critically back at her young, five feet, four-inch frame. Twenty eight years old, she worked out daily to keep it fit.

She smoothed the clinging navy blue, silk dress that fell to mid calves. She hoped it would look right with the silver toned, high-heeled sandal shoes. The diamond necklace and earring set Marc had given her for Christmas completed the look. She touched the earrings gently. It reminded her of another night she would never forget, in 1966.

The moon cast a soft glow over the clear night sky looking like royal blue velvet, its stars winking on a still, glassy sea. They stood again on the pier at Puget Sound. Scott took out the envelope inside his shirt pocket.

“I got my orders from the Army.”

She was silent for a few moments.

“When?”

“Today. I report Monday at Fort Lewis. I’m sorry, Jen. I was hoping we could…make some plans for our future together.”

“We will someday. There will be time…later…when you’re back home. Everything will be alright. You’ll see.” Even as she said it, she didn’t believe it.

He placed his hands behind her head, pulling her closer, wiping the tears and streaks of eye makeup from her face. His thumbs brushed gently over the tiny star-shaped crystal earrings he’d given her a year earlier the weekend of the fourth of July.

“You’re not very convincing you know.”

The following Monday he told his parents and sister goodbye, and Jennifer drove him to the bus station. The mood was somber; the silence worse than a morgue. Just before he boarded the bus, he did an imitation from a line of his favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart in the movie, Casablanca, one they loved watching together, substituting the last word.

“Here’s looking at you, babe.” His kiss was slow, lingering as were her tears, then he pulled away and quickly hopped up onto the departing bus.

“Come back to us.” She whispered to the bus merging out into the flow of traffic, and out of sight. She ran, crying uncontrollably towards the car.

_______________________

To be continued…

Joyce E. Johnson

“Missing” – Friday Fictioneers 100 word story – Historical Fiction, Jan. 16, 2013

“Sasha. I told you before. You cannot color on mama’s pictures. They are very old, very special.”

She picked up the crayons, handing them to him. “Here, you go color on the paper I gave you.”

“Yes, Mama.”

Irina set out fresh candles for the menorah, gleaming from a recent polish.

The phone rang. She was too busy to talk, but answered.

Maybe it is Jacob. Why is he so late getting home?

“Irina? It is I, Isaac. Jacob did not report for work. Some of the workers were roughed up, outside the factory. Jacob was…”

“No!”

Not my Jacob!

*****************


The Ghetto Jews

The Ghetto Jews

Odessa, Russia 1944

Jacob pressed his face to the glass. The window, comforting like a chunk of ice soothed his brow, feeling hot to the  touch.

Large, frosty flakes drifted slowly from a dark, cold sky crystallizing on the dirty window.  Shapes and patterns came together in delicate designs like mama’s lace tablecloth she once owned. Used for special occasions like Passover Seder she would spread it out on their dining room table and place the menorah in the center. She would then add the special Passover dishes and papa would lead in the Hebraic prayer. A long time ago, with Joseph and their friends.

He remembered something his papa once said. “Jacob, each person is unique to God and has been given a gift; all have their own identity making them unlike anyone else. We can all give something back to God by contributing to the world, each in their own way. No one is made just like another. Like snowflakes, people are all different. But there is a beauty, distinct in us all.”

Then papa’s face became sad and his shoulders slumped as if shrinking into his chair.  “Sometimes though, it is not the good in them we see, but the bad things they do …that we remember…and cannot forget.” he said, quietly.

Jacob thought about that, then asked, “Why does God make them then, if they do bad things? Why aren’t they like the snowflakes? Why does God make the snowflakes disappear, but not the bad people?”

“Ah. Well Jacob, perhaps the beauty of such things as snowflakes is with us for just a short time, so God will remind us how important it is to appreciate them when they are with us. Then, he rewards us by sending us more again, later, all in different patterns, different designs, all of them beautiful.”

Jacob remembered how he used to try catching them in his hands as they fell from the sky, but too soon they were gone leaving only a trace of their dampness absorbed into the red mittens his mother knitted for him. He no longer had the mittens.

“But, you asked about the, “bad people” that do not disappear. I think perhaps God allows the evil to remain with us for a time too, like the beautiful snowflakes before He makes them go away. One day maybe, I hope they will all be gone too, and we can see only God’s beautiful creations, again.”

His papa was a doctor and a very smart man. Jacob always had questions. Sometimes, when papa did not have an answer to every question he would ponder for a while and say, “Jacob, some things I believe you will just learn about on your own. It is the way we learn best.”

Jacob remembered a time when he and his brother played out in the snow. Mama would let them stay up past dark and the sky became white with a soft like glow. They built forts and bunkers using boxes and buckets, made bayonets from long sticks, and turned bowls upside down on their heads for helmets. Their snowmen wore helmets too and stood as sentries to their fort. While hiding behind them, or running around they would sometimes knock off their head or helmet playing soldiers at war. They would laugh and roll in the snow and when they came in mama would have ready cups of hot sweet cider. They warmed themselves in front of a hearth fire watching the flames dance, the logs crackle, and pop, then go to bed in clean warm beds.

Now Joseph, his brother was gone. And there was no yard to play in the snow or build a safe fort. There was no hearth fire. But there were real soldiers, and there were real guns aimed at the Jews in their crowded ghetto. The terror continued and the sick and old gave up and died.

“Mama, where did papa go?” he asked her, again.  Peering intently through the window gazing out at the swirling flakes accumulating on the ground he saw no sign of him anywhere. Just the snow that fell, leaving the ground covered in white. He would not leave his post, so he stood there, watched, and waited. But unless papa returned to them soon and they could be together again tears would threaten to fall untended and his heart for papa would ache.

An hour passed; three hours, then more. His mother stood silent. What could she say to a child so young? Now burning with fever from this hated curse, will she mourn yet another son to disease? How many more would they bury tonight? For the thousands of Jews forced to live in the ghetto, with the filth and despair they would surely all die. Like a herd of swine in a holding tank, awaiting their fate, their “transport” to where? To be Jewish, or “different,” this was their fate? What could they do but wait here and die? Typhus and hunger ravaged them all. There were rumors in the ghetto of massacres and killings, of Jews rounded up, digging graves, then shot and burned. Of soldiers laughing, making lewd comments, imitating “pious” gestures, and drinking to their deaths.

Stroking his shoulders, she wore a sad smile. “Jacob, come. Lie down. Try to sleep. Papa will scurry fast like the mice that run away when they scatter and hide.”

His tears fell to the sill in tiny puddles on grime. Some of the ice crystals forming outside still remained, as if lingering; stubborn they stayed, as if wanting to remain for Jacob, this night.

~~~~

Aaron ran, his legs feeling like lead, tired from the effort. If only he’d kept himself, more fit, playing and hiking with his sons in the forest. He stumbled, his gait awkward, his body feeling weak, weary. His breaths filled the air like little puffs of steam, building with each effort.   Ice sickles hung off slouching roofs heavy from layers of old snow, frozen in place from an earlier thaw. Ugly and dirty like the pointy nails of an old witch’s gnarled hands they clawed their way down drainage pipes. No beauty remained from an earlier reflection, “like prisms cascading from an ice castle in the sky,” he once told Jacob. The boys often broke them off to suck on, pretending they were, “iced treats.”

Aaron had no way of knowing how late the hour. Down a dark, narrow alley he ran staying in the shadows. He had to make it back before a guard detachment saw him.  Clutching the small vial and syringe with stiff fingers, his arthritic hands felt numb from the cold, stuffed into thin worn pockets of his tattered coat. The medicine, he found in the doctor’s fine house, the one with the yard where his sons always played, building their forts, their bunkers and caves, under a misty, cold sky after a fresh fallen snow.

Now another doctor lived in their house, seeing his patients and collecting their payments. If he were to hope for just one miracle this night, it would be that he make it back to the ghetto before being caught.

From inside the other pocket he took out two keys, tied together with a shoelace. One fit a lock to their back door and the other to the locked medicine cabinet. He found them in the same place hidden under a porch step. They had been hidden for months before he and his family were rounded up and made to vacate their home. It was not safe to be found with them now. There would never be another time to use them again.  He tossed them into the gutter drain as he ran. He knew he would never see his home, his patients, or practice medicine again.

Painful cramps gripped his legs. He stumbled making too much noise, knocking over a garbage can while rounding a corner. Now they would know, and soon they would learn to where he fled, to a hole in the wall where brick and mortar gave way.

He observed the rats one day watching as they came and went, in and out through the cracked, crumbling wall. Aaron wasted no time, chipping and hacking, enlarging the hole. When he thought it large enough, while still dark, he squeezed through, telling only his wife, Rachel where he was going. It was his only hope if he was to get away and try saving his son from certain death. As much as he wanted to squeeze them all through the hole and try to escape, he had no way of ensuring their safety on the other side until he had tried it first. All sides and entrances to the ghetto were watched, guarded constantly.  Clawing at the hard cold ground under the fence he dug frantically and lifted the wire enough to slide through.  Any escape routes were sealed up and closed off. If he were seen entering it now, he would endanger his family, and everyone else. They would all be shot. He would have to hide somewhere and wait till it was safe.

He thought he heard the soldiers’ jackboots, or was it anxiety born out of fear? Closing in they rounded the corner from where he’d come. Faster now, he thrust himself forward, a determined, defiant attempt of alluding his captors. There were no more alleys to run to, no crevice in the wall where he could squeeze through, no door to bolt to, and no window he could jump through.

His mind raced through a Hebrew prayer he prayed with his family on the eve of Shabbat. Sucking cold air, his breaths coming in ragged short spurts, as if seeing his son before him, he sighed. The light snow continued, snowflakes sticking to his beard. Aaron touched them, moisture forming in his eyes. Jacob, I’m sorry I had to leave, I did not want to watch you die. I will not make it home tonight. Forgive me, son. Be brave, for mama.   

Caught like a deer silhouetted under the night winter sky he came into their gun sights. There would be no escape. Shots rang out. Loud, they echoed, sending the sound and its message beyond to the boy who stood waiting for his papa tonight. Aaron fell to his knees, eyes fixed on the sky, as if in prayerful pose. Another shot, and he lay still, the crimson stain forming under his head.

~~~~

Standing at the window his eyes upon the snowflakes stubbornly affixed to the glass Jacob decided he no longer wanted them there. He wiped furiously at their image as if to make them disappear.  A “work of art, like no other,” his papa would say, “beautiful, unique, like you Jacob.” One remained, as if stuck there. And soon, it too was gone. It didn’t matter anymore.

Snowflakes forgotten, sounds assailed Jacob’s ears like none others he’d heard before.  Closer now, a burst of gunfire in quick succession, screams and shouts, doors kicked loose from their hinges, jackboots came running. Jacob clung tightly to his mama gripped in fear for what would come next. Brown uniformed soldiers stormed in, standing with machine guns raised, the “evil” papa had talked about.

Jacob shut his eyes, his face in deep consternation begging God to, “make the evil disappear.”

But today, the “evil” would be allowed to prevail, and the beautiful would not be allowed to live. In quick succession once more shots shattered the ghetto confines, the sounds of screams pierced the air. Soon, only an occasional sputter from an assailant’s lone gun could be heard. Then it too went silent. The snow stopped falling. An eerie quiet settled over the ghetto. The skies filled with smoke from unknown fires, and the sound of transport trucks was heard rumbling through the streets.

____________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

THE INFORMANT’S AGENDA

THE INFORMANT’S AGENDA

Omaha, Nebraska

Grandfather Jacob, his wine glass raised, as if standing for communion at his Lutheran church stood addressing the Mengelder family on Thanksgiving Day. Forty-eight of us crowded together at my grandparents’ home for the annual family reunion.

“Does this sound familiar?” Jeremy quipped, whispering to me.

“You think? Yes, just a little.” I said, whispering back. “But let him have his moment. It is important to him. He only wants to remind us of the virtues of family values, our beginnings and rich heritage, all of the above we have been taught growing up.” I said. We all bunched together, anxiously waiting for him to finish while he delivered his speech, “embracing family, country, and freedom” once again.

“When our family came here in 1889 they earned the right and privilege of American citizenship. They embraced a new world, a new country. They could vote, go to church, worship God openly, without fear. They could attain an education, exercise free speech, without persecution or imprisonment.  They could visit  friends and not worry about spying eyes, or listening ears. No opportunities were taken for granted.  They were patriots. Today, we are Americans in a free world that will one day seek to return to all once gained, that is now all but lost.”

Winding it up, he said, “At such times as we live in, there might be intervention by the evil one to take our most esteemed privileges from us and place in its stead the works of men with ruinous strife and hatred. But we will fight for our rights and with dignity we will stand before our flag and God, and declare our country, built with pride, perseverance, and respect for all. To God, our flag, our family, and our freedoms.”

At that point, grandfather took a sip from the wine glass in his right hand, while holding a little American flag in his left hand marking the occasion and the day of ‘thanks’ as we raised our glasses, the younger ones their soft drinks, and my uncles their beers, pronouncing a toast to, “freedom, democracy and liberty of one nation, and its people.”

“Hip, hip, hooray! To our flag, freedom, and the grand old U.S.A.”, shouted Chad  with a smart mouthed smirk, gulping down his Coke.

“Here, here! Let us pilgrims march forth into victory. And dinner.” declared John.

“Cheers to the red, white and blue. Cheers to me, and you.” Ben said, rhyming.

My cousins, even uncles enjoyed a good laugh, not meant to be at the expense of grandfather Jacob. It was just that he tended to be a bit overly dramatic, and long-winded when they stood waiting to load up their plates with mounds of homemade German dishes, roast turkey, strudel and pies.

When he was done and the prayer said we raced to our seats at crowded tables spilling out of the dining room, living room and kitchen. It was enough to freak out a fire marshal. Diving into dinner, attacking our food with gusto, we made a noisy bunch, laughing, joking, everyone talking at once in true Mengelder style.

Grandfather Jacob sat at the head of the dining room table in his chair looking every bit the dignified, suited patriarch of the family clan. His once thick silver-gray locks now ringed his pink crown like a soft white halo that glowed in the sunlight pouring through the dining room window. His wire rimmed glasses framing his dark brown eyes twinkled with merriment for the festive occasion. But, when the mood was somber one saw the eyes of a passionate, intense man who masked nothing. High cheekbones with creased wrinkles on ivory skin bore the years of time and age. He worked on the mounds of mashed potatoes, dressing, and corn custard beside a half eaten turkey leg, beaming his approval to the family cooks.  Another small plate with salad and rolls lay beside it disappearing just as fast. While eating he contributed to everyone else’s conversation, not missing a single moment to offer respectfully, his insight and thought on matters.

Grandmother Lisle sat beside him, eating daintily her smaller helpings of the same with the exception of a slice of white meat instead of a turkey leg. She and aunt Libby sat together, both discussing the ingredients in grandma’s Roasted Pecan Sweet Potato Pie sitting on the desert table, and the secret to a “flakier crust.”

Sitting beside my uncle Heinrich at the other end of the table I listened and nodded politely in agreement to all his ramblings about the “things wrong with our government, and all that needs to be fixed in Washington (DC).”

Except for looking a little tired and confessing to some indigestion after dinner grandfather Jacob seemed himself, enjoying the day and all the activity. Everyone else relaxed, watching football games on TV,  playing pool in the basement, or card games, eating pie with coffee. It was typical of all our past family gatherings, for a while.

The day was warm for late November. When grandfather walked outside for, “some fresh air” to watch my young cousins play kickball he claimed he needed, “a little exercise to work off the calories.” We joked about his shirt looking a “little tighter.”

“Can I join your game, for a while?” he asked the boys.

“Sure, grandpa.” Ben said, kicking the ball his direction.

Grandfather had a harder time keeping up with the ones he once bounced on his knees proclaiming them his “little patriots”. He jostled around, returning the ball a few times when suddenly he clutched his chest, collapsing to the ground.

Seeing it all from a kitchen window above the sink I raced through the back door, yelling at my father to come.

My aunt wasted no time calling an ambulance. We prayed he would be OK. But, he looked winded, his face red, perspiring as he struggled to breathe.

His words came slowly, his eyes turning to grandmother Lisle now sitting on the ground, as she lifted his head gently onto her lap.  “Tell them the truth. Make them…. proud….of… their heritage. My dear Lisle,… love. I will…see you, one day. Tell… Monica….”

Grandmother Lisle shook her head.“No, Jacob! You cannot leave me. There is no time for you to be sick.” she said, her voice breaking. She sobbed, imploring our help, praying for mercy.

My uncle and cousin tried CPR, not waiting for the paramedics to arrive. It was no use. A final breath, and he lay quiet. A white cloud moved across the midday sun as his eyes stared upward. A strange calm came over me as I looked down at his still form, realizing we had just lost him. In my mind I had an image of grandfather Jacob soaring through clouds, into the heavens, enlightening all the angels carrying him. And God smiling, while he “went on, and on,” his speech to all who would listen.

When the paramedics arrived their attempt to revive him was futile.  He was rushed to ER, but was pronounced dead from a “massive coronary,” turning our day of “thanks” into one of mourning.

A week later bouquets of flowers draped his coffin, as his Lutheran minister delivered the eulogy. The family gathered again in Omaha, Nebraska for his funeral, wept and mourned, then went home returning once again to busy lives, their jobs, all except me. It was grandfather Jacob’s wish to make me the “keeper” of our records, archive our history, and “preserve it for the coming generations.”

“Moni, – he always called me that – do not memorialize me when I am gone.  Learn the truth of our family’s history.  My grave will be but a stone to the quarry you will come to find. Learn our heritage. Write our story that it may be remembered. The patriotism to our country will live on in the hearts of the descendants that carry the banner of our beliefs. Those who value the words honored in our constitution will uphold the principles our nation’s founders swore to live by,” he wrote in his letter to me, saved and kept with his old German Bible, passport, photos and naturalization papers.

Known jokingly as the ‘reporter’ in the family I did not disappoint them, receiving my BA degree in journalism from UN, Lincoln, Nebraska. My father once told me, “Monica, develop your rapport with people instead of the report on them. Be sensitive to those whose lives and stories are subjected to someone else’s disclosure.”

As the creator of the literary press research paper, THE QUILL AND QUEST while in college I developed a web site and blog, enhancing it with new features.  By updating our site daily our readers could read articles, post and blog on political issues at home and abroad. Our newest feature; genealogy and archival research on diverse ethnic groups became a special project promoting interest, inquiries and questions from people wanting to research their ‘family tree,’ many of them becoming regular contributors or bloggers. Its success drew the interest of other professors and students majoring in history and genealogy studies in other schools. German, Russian and East European Jewish ethnic history became the most popular of our research project. And my obsession.

After earning my Master’s degree in history and genealogy studies I began assessing what I had on my own family history. Grandmother Lisle and I went through old documents, files and photos during our coffee talks, always with a plate of her “fresh from the oven,” Oatmeal Raisin cookies, my favorite.

Carefully turning pages of grandfather Jacob’s German Bible, I read the scrawled names, birth and death dates on family record pages, personal notes, mementos and bookmarks stuffed inside, even favorite scriptures underlined and noted.

The worn, antiquated passport of my great-grandfather with pages as fine as tissue spilled loosely into my hands, well over a hundred years old now. Names and dates of family members’ immigration were scribbled on lines in Old Russian Cyrillic script.

Then she brought out another box. A kind of reverence settled over it like the dust collected as she explained their historical significance and importance to the family. With awe I watched as she pulled things out, and it was then I learned a secret kept, like a hidden piece to a puzzle needed to complete the picture. And I realized the reason for grandfather Jacob’s fanatical patriotism.

Months later grandmother Lisle became weak and frail after suffering the flu the previous winter. Unable to regain her strength and recover she died peacefully in her sleep. Our family once again came together to mourn their loss. Like grandfather Jacob she believed anyone could be, “an American forging paths with a spirit of adventure and greatness,” like the first patriots and immigrants who came to shore pioneering the way.

We buried her a week later, laying her to rest beside grandfather Jacob. Their adjoining grave site now held another fresh bouquet of yellow daffodils, her favorite. It was Memorial Day.

While applying for a current passport and visa papers to travel abroad I received a call from the U.S. Genealogy Department of History and Research in Washington, D.C. wanting to interview me for a job. Three weeks later I was hired. Another four months of training and I was sent on assignment to Europe with a team of archivists. Then into Russia.

***************

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