Toronto – January 30, 1944

(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Here’s Kathy’s first letter of 1944, in response.)

Dear Tommy,
…..Shame on you!
…..They barely have time to patch you up, and you go blundering right back into shellfire again. Have you no consideration at all for the poor folks, safe at home, worrying about you? How could you be so thoughtless?
I finally received your last two letters. Of course, when we heard about the battle for Ortona, …..I just knew you’d try to find a way to shoulder your way into it…even if that shoulder had a recent hole in it. I could only hope you’d be too late. And you very nearly were! Did they wait for you, for god’s sake? Why would they do that? Tell them to call me…I want an explanation!
…..Your Christmas sounds really…well, I’m going to say crappy, although that hardly seems to cover it. And more than a little dangerous! I’m sure figs in the desert would have been much more festive, after you’d brushed the sand off a bit.

…..No snow surprised us Christmas morning, but Dad woke us up at the crack of dawn as always, eager as a kid to start the day. We opened our gifts first, of course, and I scored a couple of huge successes. I’m earning a bit more now, so I indulged a whim by buying Dad the most elegant white silk opera scarf. He looked way too debonair for his own good…and he knew it! (You know, you’re going to look just like him, when you grow up.) And for Mom: a stunning pair of 8-button black kid gloves with beautiful silk stitching. (No, they do not actually have 8 pesky buttons. It just means they come up to the elbow as if they had 8 buttons–it’s a snooty high fashion thing–and they’ll keep her arms warm under her coat.) They strutted around like royalty until it was time for breakfast, feeling very good about themselves.
…..Of course, they had managed to track down a few of the things I most wanted as well, but then, you know they always do. And, of course, there was a toy. There still always has to be a toy. This year it was a Monopoly game. It’s for both of us, so I won’t use it all up before you get back.
…..I’m sure Dad would have worn that silk scarf all day long if he wasn’t afraid he might splatter it with grease.
…..“Everybody relax,” he announced. “I’m making breakfast.”
…..Of course. He always makes breakfast on Christmas morning.
….“Ooohhh,” we cooed, “That’s lovely! What are we having?”
…..“Bacon and eggs. Don’t you want bacon and eggs?” He was wondering whether to feel a little hurt. He always makes bacon and eggs. It’s the only dish he’s mastered.
…..“Perfect!” I assured him, just in the nick of time. “Exactly what I wanted!”
…..Mom, of course, would gladly choke down gruel as long as she didn’t have to cook it herself. You know, I really only enjoy bacon and eggs at Christmas; it’s because he gets such a kick out of cooking it for us. And every year, it just gets better!

…..I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of Mom’s casual approach to Christmas dinner. We always manage a bird of some sort, and it is usually cooked, more or less…but when? Ah…that can vary wildly. And the vegetables might appear on the table at any time before, during or after the meat. Well, I’d been innocently lured by tempting illustrations in the wicked Christmas issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine to take over responsibility for the meal this year. And I was determined to serve it more or less at dinnertime. With vegetables: mashed potatoes (without lumps this time), peas and turnip. (The turnip was a huge concession. It smells up the house, but Dad loves turnip so turnip we must have.) Mom, of course, was quite content to be relegated to the position of inept kitchen help.
…..We had ordered the turkey from the butcher well ahead, and Dad was to pick it up on his way home the day before Christmas. He finally arrived home, late…but with turkey intact.
…..“Greetings, family! We’re home.”
…..“We?” I asked.
…..He held up the turkey. “We’ve been celebrating the season with a few friends…I picked him up early, and we were just passing by the Horseshoe Tavern…”
…..“Okay, Dad,” I interjected, before Mom could point out that the Horseshoe Tavern was not on the way home from the butcher shop. “I’ll take him now.”
…..“Goodbye, mate,” he said, to the turkey. “I hope you enjoyed the outing.”
…..I think it did.
…..“And I have a surprise,” he added. “I met a young lieutenant there and invited him for dinner tomorrow. He seems like a nice lad, and he can’t get home to his family for Christmas. I didn’t think you’d mind…we have enough to share…”
…..“Of course, Dad.” I knew he was thinking about you. “It’ll be fun to have company.” Mom must have been thinking about you too because she forgot to bring the discussion back to the Horseshoe Tavern…and I knew she hadn’t been done with that topic.
…..So I wanted to get the turkey into the oven early. I needed time to dress for dinner before our guest arrived, and it takes a while to cook a turkey anyway. Better Homes recommended roasting the turkey in a greased paper bag. It’s foolproof, it said. I needed something foolproof.
…..Have you ever tried to wrestle a dead turkey into a greased paper bag? I thought not. It’s awkward. And greasy. And you get no co-operation at all from the turkey. I struggled with it till I was all grease up to my elbows. Finally Dad rolled up his sleeves and managed the manoeuvre. I know he was counting on this to buy his way clear of the remaining dinner preparations. He’d be free to entertain our guest. It was only fair.


About Wendy Bertsch

I’m a Canadian author—a pragmatic optimist with rather eclectic interests and a pervasive sense of humour. Toronto born and bred, I live by the lake with a motley array of dogs and a cat, all but myself being of unknown origin, in a comfortable old house filled with books. Over a thousand books. Books in every nook and cranny. And now, since there can never be too many books, I'm writing more. Once More, From the Beginning highlights the women in the bible. It's about time! And believe me, they see things quite differently. And in Dodging Shells, you'll meet the irrepressible Tommy, as he fights his way through Italy in World War II. You'll love Tommy. I do. Next? Well, that's a secret yet. Stay tuned... I recently initiated the fledgling Ocean Highway Books, providing editing, formatting and cover design services to authors wishing to self-publish.
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