Pining Picnic

After Noelle loses her husband to war, Gran takes her on a picnic.

Noelle held the flag to her chest, pleading with herself to not cry. Not again. Months had passed since Dave had returned home in a box draped by the flag in her arms. His dream of serving the nation through military service had been realized. So had her greatest fear. Now she spent her days wishing his arms still wrapped around her.

A knock on her bedroom door brought her glassy-eyed gaze into focus. “Come in.”

As the door swung toward the wall, Gran peeked from behind it. “I thought I’d find you in here.”

Noelle pulled her knees to her chest and folded her arms around them—the flag ensconced by her body.

“Why don’t we go visit our men?”

Eyeing her grandmother, Noelle shook her head.

“Come on, I’ve got a special day planned.”

Gran held out her hand, and Noelle eased hers into it. “Can we pick up some flowers?”

“They’re waiting for us in the car.”

Shuffling outside, Noelle slipped into the passenger’s seat and stared out the window. She’d knelt at Dave’s grave several times, but words always refused to come. Why would they? It wasn’t like Dave listened. What purpose was there in visiting a grave and whispering to someone who couldn’t hear? Still, she kept trying. Hoping.

“What a beautiful day to remember our husbands,” Gran said as they drove to the cemetery. “I married your grandfather before Vietnam started. A private first class in the army. He was so proud of his enlistment, wanted to serve the country he loved.” Gran smiled wanly. “We had two children by the time the conflict bubbled over. Vietnam brought nothing but ugliness. And the day they told me he’d died, I did too.”

Noelle turned toward Gran without making a sound.

“Dave joined for the same reason, didn’t he?” Gran asked.

“Yeah.”

“Except the business in the Middle East was already full-blown.” Gran raised a brow. “Not much of a question he’d end up there.”

Noelle looked at Gran. “None.”

Gran nodded. “They both protected us and this nation. Same as all the others.

“My father spent his time in France after being drafted during World War II.” Gran tightened her grip on the steering wheel.

“Why do people do this?” Noelle asked as she glared Gran. “Join the military to die?”

“They never join to die. They join to serve and protect.”

“I’m not sure that’s what’s going on now.”

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t change their sacrifice.”

Noelle took a deep breath as they pulled up to the cemetery. Clasping her hands together, she begged her heart to quiet and the pins to stop pricking her lungs. Neither did.

As she stepped out of the car, she turned to help Gran, who shoved a blanket into her arms.

“What’s this for?”

“Our picnic.”

Noelle’s eyes widened.

“It’s an old tradition my mother taught me, used to be a fairly common practice. Some cemeteries don’t allow it anymore.”

“Wonder why?” Noelle’s voice dripped with sarcasm, and she tried again. “So, we go sit on the graves and eat?”

“Something like that,” Gran said with a smile as she smelled the flowers.

The walk from the car to the gravesites invited the sun to burn Noelle’s shoulders. A picnic on a grave in the heat—fun. At least Grandpa had a tree next to him that shaded both headstones.

As Gran set the flowers on top of Grandpa’s tall marker, Noelle dropped the blanket to the ground.

“Spread it out, would you?” the older woman asked.

Gran started dividing the flowers between the two graves. Red, white, and blue carnations. The blanket flicked to the ground with a flourish, just in time for Noelle to see her grandmother post a small flag next to each of their loved ones’ graves. The older woman whispered soft words Noelle couldn’t hear as she traced the edge of Grandpa’s headstone with her fingers. Tears gathered at the edges of her creased eyes, worn from years as a single woman. Noelle startled as Gran broke out into a peal of laughter.

How could she laugh? Pain like this never subsides, it couldn’t, could it?

A moment later, Gran lowered herself to the blanket, her knees popping on the way down. “I can get down, but you might have to help me up later.”

Gran studied her husband’s headstone, then patted her knees and faced Noelle. “Your grandpa wasn’t one of those poster-child soldiers. ”

She paused and smiled at what must have been a memory.

I remember one day he showed up at home with his uniform ripped in several places, buttons missing, mud covering him from the top of his head to the end of his boots, and the biggest dumb grin on his face I’d ever seen. After I pushed him into the backyard and told him to strip down before coming in my house again, he took the hose and sprayed it right at my backside.

Next thing I knew, we were wrestling for control of the hose. In the end, he wrapped his arms around me, his shirt off and his pants dripping with water, and told me he’d fought the grizzly and won.

“What do you mean, you fought the grizzly?” I asked.

His deep voice thundered next to my ear. “You don’t know about the grizzly?”

I’d heard about a lot a different antics with the boys, but nothing about fighting a grizzly, so I shook my head.

“Well, let me tell you, it’s the scariest bear you’ve never seen. The boys took me up the mountain, blindfolded me, and set me in the middle of a field. Next thing I knew, a claw swiped across my back. Tore my shirt, right there.”

He held up his shirt, his fingers wiggling through four sharp-cut slits in the back. I whipped him around fast, but he just threw his head back and hooted, “It doesn’t hurt.”

Four shallow scratches lined his back. I searched the rest of his torso and arms. Little pricks appeared on his forearms, and he had a decent scratch along one of his hands.

“No bear did this.” I eyed him until he slowly shook his head.

“Not a bear. Three men with razors attached to broom handles.”

“What?” The scream left my mouth before I could reign it in. I smacked his arm. “How do you get involved with this stupidity?”

“There was no harm. Only I was blindfolded, and they were careful.”

“Careful?” I huffed. “Those scratches and your sliced uniform say different.”

“Nah, it’s just an initiation of sorts.”

“Into what?”

“The squad. I’m the new guy, remember?”

“Hazing.”

“Hazing or not,” he said as he sidled back up to me, “I took that grizzly down faster than anyone else. Beat the record.”

Gran shook her head, laughing as she stared at the headstone. “Crazy coot!”

Noelle leaned her head back. The sunlight spread over her face as her body filled with laughter too.

“Dave’s squad dropped him two miles from base with a gallon of water and a pink camo T-shirt they’d picked up from who knows where.” Noelle rubbed her hand across her husband’s headstone. “Luckily, he ran into a 24-hour-fast-food joint and talked some soldier-smitten girl into letting him call me. When I picked him up, he turned my angry glare into a fit of giggles.”

She turned and patted the grass below her. “You always knew how to make me smile.”

Tears ran down her face, and she rolled to her belly, facing his headstone, but away from Gran. “I miss you. You whisked me off my feet and then left me alone. I love you for who you were and hate you for dying.” She brushed the dirt away from his name. “I’ll get over that last part.”

She sniffed and let out a little giggle. “I found all those notes you left me. The one behind the toilet—it’s a good thing I love you.”

Her words continued, and as they did, the tension that had roiled through her muscles and stiffened her joints eased.

She picked up the sandwich Gran had set next to her and ate it as she talked about her life. The way people at work looked at her and stopped talking when she walked by. The old women at church who took her hand and held it while studying her with sad eyes before shuffling away in silence. She mentioned crying herself to sleep. Then she told him how his squad members stopped by one at a time.

“They loved you.”

Stories of their past together slipped from her lips as she ate the apple pie Gran had packed. These she shared with Gran, and Gran shared others with her.

Decades that had once divided the two widows collided. Styles changed, technology advanced, but grief and loss seemed to transcend time.

The day slipped by, as they walked, cried, hugged, and shared. Soon, the sun dipped in the western sky, and Noelle exhaled peacefully, a smile reflecting nothing but tranquility on her face. “Thanks, Gran.”

Gran clutched her hand. “It won’t go away—the pain. Tears return. But holding it inside yourself only hurts more.” She nodded toward Dave’s grave. “He’s stronger now than he ever was. Let him carry it with Christ. You can do that, right?”

Noelle wrapped her arms around Gran. “Next time I’ll pack the lunch.”

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Book Review: Love From Left Field: A Billionaire Romance

After losing her husband to PTSD, Cambria Henshaw searches for a way to start over in Love From Left Field: A Billionaire Romance by Jenny Rabe.

Jenny Rabe, author of three sweet romance novels, has a knack for bringing love to life, especially in the beginning stages. Perhaps that’s because she experienced 150 first dates before getting married. Either way, Love From Left Field will cause your skin to tingle and your heart to flutter, just like when you first met the love of your life.

My Thoughts on Love From Left Field

While I often explore love in my writing, I’m not always so keen on reading romance novels that don’t delve deeper into the raw parts of the experience. And love is an experience. We feel it, yearn for it, seek it, and revel in it once we have it. It’s no wonder so many books are filled with it. But it takes an understanding, a connection to oneself and others, to create a romance story that doesn’t come off as ridiculously cheesy. Rabe has that understanding.

Love From Left Field explores love after loss, love after betrayal, PTSD, and grief. It honors those who have served and those who are serving in the military. The characters come across as real human beings, albeit, one is incredibly rich. It’s the kind of book you read on the beach because it’s easy to follow, and the kind you read in the library because you want to digest the whys and what fors.

This incredibly clean read won’t drag you down, but it will help you better appreciate your life and the lives given to keep you free. Enjoy splatters of paint, dusty baseball fields, good looking people, and dutiful dogs.

The Official Blurb

After losing her husband to PTSD, Cambria Henshaw desperately needs to start over, so she packs up her paints and moves to Harker Heights, Texas. Inspired by welcoming surroundings and friendly people, Cambria begins to paint one portrait after another, with one small problem: haunted by survivor’s guilt that keeps everyone at a distance—and her heart safely guarded—she can’t bring herself to finish any of them.

Brian Davidson thinks he’s finally put his past behind him. As an anonymous CEO billionaire, he’s sure this small Texas town will be his refuge from the spiteful ex who smeared his name through the mud in the national papers. But when someone starts stalking his baseball practices, threatening to expose his identity, he worries his ex is back for more revenge.

When Cambria and Brian are thrown together during a service opportunity through their grief group, the attraction is undeniable, but so is their hesitation. As the two of them battle their inner demons and their real-life enemies, they must both decide what they’re willing to risk for a 9th-inning chance at “home-run” love.

More Info

Purchase your e-book or print copy of Love From Left Field on Amazon.

Follow Jenny Rabe on Facebook   Twitter   Goodreads
Visit Jenny’s website and her newsletter.


I ordered this book free from Amazon. All opinions are my own.
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The Boatswains

The Boatswains captures events that took place in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, on the USS Arizona. And was written in remembrance of those who died serving our great nation.

USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

John climbed from below to the deck of the USS Arizona still drowsy from the night ashore Oahu with his twin brother, Jake. Being assigned to the same battleship made his time in the service more endurable. The two had enlisted together, and although they hadn’t always served on the same ship, a sailor on the Ellet had provided the means for John to return to the Arizona a year ago.

The sun pelted John’s eyes with light, and he squinted as they adjusted to the open sky. After strolling to the fantail deck, he pushed a broom over the wooden planks, his mind filled with memories of his night on the town. A dull scratching reached his ears as a vibration buzzed at his hands. Pausing, he bent down and pocketed the small screw picked up by the straw bristles. He always found something.

Glancing up, John casually waved to the burly sailor who nodded as he strolled past, probably on his way to the mess hall.

Grabbing chairs, John’s crew quickly worked to set up for church services. His stomach growled at the thought of breakfast, and he looked forward to eating his scrambled eggs and ham next to his brother. Luckily, with enough people, setting up chairs took little time.

Moments later, a few beads of sweat formed on John’s brow from the humidity gathered in the mess hall. Maybe he could snag a table near a fan. Either way, his tray, overflowing with eggs, ham, and hash browns, called to him, and his stomach growling again as he searched the room for his brother. Perhaps Jake was running late.

As John approached a table, the sky rumbled, and apprehensive sailors jumped toward tiny windows, pointing and yelling about smoke from Ford Island darkening the sky.

John’s heart lurched into his throat.

Planes with painted red balls on the underside of gray wings buzzed in the sky. He cursed. “The Japs are attacking!”

Dashing past the men not yet to their feet, he ran through the hatch, flinging his hand into the alarm button. Before the shrill wailing had a chance to sound, an explosive crack broke, throwing him to the floor.

Ignoring the pain now pounding in his head, elbows, and tailbone, John laid hand over fist and climbed up the ladder, rushing to his station at gun turret four. An explosive cacophony rang through the sky as the USS West Virginia, berthed next door, sank—the men who hadn’t died now swimming toward the safety of Ford Island. Black smoke from the Nevada also stained the horizon on the other side of the Arizona.

Grasping for a single formed thought, horror banded John’s chest as a bomb struck the gun turret where he stood then careened below deck before exploding into flames.

John bolted for his turret captain yelling, “We can’t just watch this, we have to do something!” He grabbed his captain’s arm. “My brother’s on the anti-aircraft batteries. They need help, and I know what to do!”

His captain waved him off, granting permission.

Mayhem shot through the ship as two more bombs struck the USS Arizona on the port side. How was she still floating? No signs of anti-aircraft fire lit the charred sky. Nothing.

A wall of hot air struck John in the chest, deflating his lungs and stealing his voice as he rose into the air and then plummeted to the deck thirty feet away. His body flailed on the marred planks he’d swept only minutes before.

Crawling to his knees, another blast sent a scorching orange and black cloud into the sky. Wooden planks scratched at John’s legs as he slid across the deck. A fourth bomb had exploded the battleship’s store of gunpowder, thrusting the ship into the air.

Tears, oiled with soot, trailed down his face as he ran back to the gun turret. Commander Fuqua swung a dripping water hose through the air as he attempted to extinguish the flames surrounding himself and other men. The injured fell to the deck in front of John, their odorous skin sluffing to the ground.

“Get them to the boat!”

Fuqua screamed the order, and John twisted in confusion until his gaze landed on the captain’s gig. Hoisting the closest man over his shoulder, he worked to control his own shaking.

One after another, John helped men onto the boat. Each of the faces seared into his mind. And though he could no longer recognize most of them, he knew none of them were Jake.

“Abandon ship! Get off this ship!” Fuqua called, but John ignored him. “Do you hear me, sailor? Now!”

John shook his head and threw his shoulders back. “I’m not going. My brother’s on this ship.”

“You’ll go now!” Fuqua shoved John and the man he carried onto the boat. “Now!”

Trying to fight the strength of the acting captain quickly became impossible, the weight of the other sailor heavy on his shoulders. John slumped down to the floor of the boat, his chest heaving as he held back tears.

He no longer attempted to lift his gaze to the sky. The once beautiful, sunny day now oozed with nightmares. Thoughts of his brother rammed his skull. The walking corpses around him proof of what he might find. But he had to search. He had to go back. He couldn’t leave Jake.

Dropped off at Ford Island, John stumbled to a bunker where other unfortunate survivors stood. They watched the Arizona as it burned, black clouds hiding the ship itself from view. Smaller boats floated through the attack, attempting to rescue men from the water. Other, less fortunate men, swam the distance to shore. Some stepped straight from the USS Arizona into the water that lapped at their scorched toes.

John formed fists, his broken and grimy fingernails still able to pierce his skin as his knuckles whitened. “I’m going back.”

He whispered the words at first, his throat raspy from smoke inhalation. Then he raised his head, meeting the eyes of the one willing to meet his. “I’m going back!”

The words exited his lips with force. The burly sailor who’d passed him on the deck stared back at him. A boatswain.

“You?” John asked.

The tall man, with formed muscles under his burned uniform nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’m John.”

“Chester. Friends call me Chet.”

They didn’t bother to shake hands, choosing to walk toward the fight instead.

“Boatswain?” John eyed Chet from the side.

“Seven years and counting.”

“Four for me. You have someone back home?

Chet lifted his head, scanning the destruction before them. “Wife and baby girl.”

Silence pervaded as John thought about Jake.

“How’d you get ashore?” he finally asked.

“Fuqua forced evacuations, didn’t he?”

Seeing an adrift boat near the incapacitated USS Nevada, John and Chet entered the water. Once so inviting, it now burned John’s skin as much as the flames. Debris and bodies filled the waves and shoreline around him. He focused on rescuing his brother.

As the men reached the abandoned dinghy, they lifted their arms from the water. With slicks of oil sticking to each limb, both climbed on board.

Splintered planks knocked against the side of the boat as they steered toward the Arizona. Billows of smoke covered what remained of the deck, obscuring their view of survivors. John watched the water for survivors, but none surfaced.

As John met Chet’s eyes, the man looked away. Turning, John focused on where the man had been gazing. The main mast and tower—and Jake’s station—were gone, tilted in a mass of flame. At least Chet hadn’t tried to deter him.

The tiny boat skidded against the rear of the sinking ship, its deck beginning to submerge.

“I’ll wait so we can leave fast.” Chester looped a rope to a groaning scrap of metal. “Make it quick.”

Jumping out of the skiff, John stepped onto the abandoned deck. Nothing but noxious, black fog, curled by the rising heat, moved. As he gazed toward the mast, his body shook. He knew. Jake was gone.

But John wouldn’t leave alone.

Dashing through the fog, he searched the rear of the Arizona until he came across three sailors struggling to breathe—struggling to move. Their charred skin sluffed from burned backs. One by one, he carried them back to Chet, who helped load them in the dinghy and pushed off the second John climbed aboard.

The three rescued men lay coughing and lethargic. Unable to scream away their pain. John saw it in their eyes and in the stunted rise and fall of their chests. He moved toward Chet.

“We got to get outta here.”

The words left his mouth in time with the buzz of aircraft.

“More Japs!” John dove down, covering his head.

Gunfire rained around them, Hospital Point visible, but so distant. The ruins of the sunken West Virginia and the capsized Oklahoma were now dwarfed by the flames jumping from the other ships and the oil-slicked harbor.

The racket around them still couldn’t cover the crackling of their craft as it exploded. Coughing out the water and oil he’d swallowed, John frantically writhed in the thick liquid as he searched for the others. Minutes passed, gunfire continued, his body tired. Nothing but debris surrounded him. They were gone. Chester was gone.

Stroke after agonizing stroke, he swam toward Ford Island. The sky, basted in black, gave no sign of the time. Finally, he pulled himself to shore, oil covering his body. An abandoned rifle with two bandoliers of ammunition appeared to wait for him near a tree.

They’d taken his brother, his friends…Chester. Diving into a crater formed during the raid, he hunkered down, ready to take any Jap that came his direction.

The next day, as accounts came in, John learned that the USS Arizona had been hit by four bombs in fourteen minutes. By the end of those fourteen minutes, much of the Pacific battleship fleet burned in unglorified flames.

The U.S. entered the war and John fought. He fought for his brother and for Chet and for the others that were lost, but most of all, he fought because it was his job.

USS Arizona

Facts

More than 2000 American’s died during the attack on Pearl Harbor, 1,177 of them served on the USS Arizona. Only 335 men from the USS Arizona survived. One of them was John Anderson, who died November 14, 2015, at the age of 98. Commander Samuel Fuqua, then acting captain, also survived. He died on January 27, 1987.

John Anderson
Commander Samuel Fuqua
Chester Clay Rose, 1941

Works Cited:

McKinnon, Shaun. AZ Central. 5 February 2015. 21 May 2019. https://www.azcentral.com/story/life/az-narratives/2014/12/04/uss-arizona-pearl-harbor-attack/19788571/.

WW2HQ. 2015. 21 May 2019. http://worldwar2headquarters.com/HTML/PearlHarbor/shipsPearlHarbor/ship-positions-pearl-harbor.html.

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