Dear Aunt Carrie,
Thanks so much for the letter and care package. The Italian cookies were amazing. Made me feel like I was back in Brooklyn if I closed my eyes. I’m doing well so far. Boot camp was not easy but it’s over now and I’m almost a pilot. I wish I could come home on leave and visit but that’s not an option right now. Too bad you and the rest of the family couldn’t come visit me. Guess that’s not realistic either. I really miss you all and am will be thinking of you gathering at Thanksgiving. Maybe I can set up a time to Skype the family. It won’t be the same because I’ll be eating Air Force food while you all enjoy antipasto, stuffed shells, turkey, stuffing, cannoli and pie. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. What I wouldn’t do for some salami and New York Italian bread.
Well, I’ve got to get back to homework.
Carina carefully folded the letter from her great nephew. It was so like Peter to send a letter thanking her for the little package she sent him. She knew he missed home and family but he was pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot. Having had three brothers do their time in the military she was well aware of what young men longed for when they were away from home.
Marco was the first to be drafted. He wasn’t happy about going because he knew he would have to get through basic training before they would let him use his mind. Marco was smart. He would read constantly. If there was a problem to noodle through, he was your guy. He also liked his privacy. The army wasn’t easy for him but it was good for him. It was ironic that he was the brother that served the longest. Marco wound up stationed in Korea and then Japan. He really found his nitch when he was assigned to the army newspaper. It’s interesting that he didn’t pursue that career when he came back to civilian life. He used his investigative skills as a lawyer instead.
Carmine was the next brother to go into the army. He was thrilled to get the chance to travel even if it meant long hours training and eating bad food. Carmine made some lifelong friends during his service. Everyone liked Carmine and he was always ready to include a new guy in the fun.
Carmine also loved driving all the military vehicles. Cars, trucks, even motorcycles were always his passion. When they were all kids during the great depression Papa needed to find a new way to supplement the family’s income. Carmine suggested they pave the backyard and park cars there. Zio Vincent didn’t think the idea was worth considering. Papa was always able to recognize a good idea when he heard one and acted on Carmines suggestion. A hospital had been built a block away and there just wasn’t enough room to park all the staff cars. A parking lot attached to the hospital was for visitors and patients only. Together Papa, Carmine, and Marco took down part of the fence. Uncle Vincent saw that Papa was serious about going into the parking lot business and decided to help out. Together they leveled the dirt in the backyard and poured the cement. When they were finished a new business venture had begun. Carmine was thrilled to help park all the doctors’ cars. He would even offer to clean their windows or polish the chrome for a small additional fee. On a busy night they would have 70 vehicles parked in what was the backyard. All that practice, in addition to driving first the ice truck and later the oil truck, made all of Carina’s brothers excellent at driving and parking any kind of vehicle. The army loved Carmine’s skill and he wound up driving a general all around Germany during his time there.
“Hmmmm, now where did I put that box of letters?” Carina asked the cat. Caruso just meowed like he always did. She had found a shoe box full of her brother’s letters from when he was serving. Lorenza had taught Carina to keep everything organize. There was a box from each of the brothers carefully labeled with their names and the years they served.
The cat followed Carina as she walked from the living room to the dining room. The closet under the stairs is where she stored all her precious photo albums and letters. There were letters written by family in Italy and years and years of correspondence. All the greeting cards and thank you letters she had received over the years were treasures to her that she enjoyed reading over. She knew that someday someone might just throw them away but they were precious to her and she would guard them for as long as she could. Many of the letters and envelopes were yellowed with age. “Bernadette would love reading through those. She’s our very own family historian. I’ll have to show them to her next time she comes.” Caruso rubbed against Carina’s legs in order to show he agreed with her.
There was the box she was looking for. It was marked Carmine. She took it into the living room and set it on the end table that sat beside her favorite chair. She walked back through the dining room to the kitchen and turned on the gas burner under the coffee pot.
“Well, this will be a cozy afternoon with just the two of us, Caruso. Instead of watching those ridiculous television shows we’ll read through some old letters”
Carina got out a cup and saucer and made herself a hot cup of coffee which she took back into the living room with her. She lit the lamp, sat down and covered her lap with one of the many quilts Mama and Lorenza had made of the years. She was going to enjoy her reading and she wanted to be comfortable. Carina had not read these letters in decades. When everything was just right she untied the thin string on the box. Even that string made her smile. Every time a visitor came they brought a bakery box filled with something delicious. The box was always tied with blue and white string. Papa always carefully saved the string to be used for something else. Everything around her brought a memory. At times she just wanted to get lost in those memories and never find her way to the present. Other moments she longed to find a way out of her past so that she could fully enjoy the time she still had on this earth.
The letters from Carmine were carefully organized in the box. She carefully took one out of its thin airmail envelope and unfolded it.
Well, I’m doing my best here at Fort Dix. It’s not easy but the guys here are great and we help each other out. At first it was rough. Some of the recruits are really young and they miss their family’s something awful. The rougher guys were picking on them which made things worse. When the real hard training kicked in everyone seemed to pull together though and now I think we’re a pretty tight unit. Tell Mama I’m fine. Lugging 50 lb. bags of coal since I was a kid made these packs we have to carry no problem. The worst part is the mess they call sauce. I keep telling the guys about Mama’s gravy. I think they all want to come home to Brooklyn with me just to eat.
I hope you are doing okay. I’m keeping you, Lorenza and Vinnie in my prayers along with Mama and Papa. It must be hard on Papa to have Marco and me gone at the same time. Have you heard from the news reporter recently? He has time to write stories for the Army but not write me. Tell him his brother in Jersey wants to hear from him.
Give my love to everyone,
Thanks for sending me the newspapers and some of Lorenza’s cookies. I didn’t get to eat many because all the guys wanted to have one but the ones I did get were great. At first they were teasing me for getting so many letters and packages from home until they tasted those cookies. Now they ask if another package came for me.
You wouldn’t believe the vehicles I’m getting to drive here. What a blast. They let me drive them off road so I am ready for anything. It’s great. I can’t wait until they let me drive a tank. Don’t tell Mama I said that, it will make her worry.
Hope work is going well. Don’t worry about being late, if you are good at your job the right boss will overlook it because you get everything done.
Wow, what news you’ve sent me. Lorenza has a boyfriend??? Sure, some guy tries to steal our sister when both her brothers are away. Vinnie is too little and too skinny to scare some guy off. Well, I need to know all about his guy so fill me in when you write your next letter. How did she meet him? Where is he from? Where does he work? I know you said he’s a nice guy but you think everyone is nice. That’s what’s so good about you. You see the best in everyone. It’s also why you need Marco and me around. The real question is what does Papa think of him?
I got a one day leave so I went into town with two other guys. Jack and Louie. What a great time we had. We found an Italian restaurant that made pretty good pasta. Jack’s never had meatballs and pasta before. Can you believe it? He’s an Irish kid from Boston. Well he’s hooked on the stuff now. Lou is a little crazy but Jack is swell.
Okay, gotta run. Give Mama a hug for me.
This last week has been awful. I’ve never been so sore and tired. We don’t get up any earlier here than Papa used to get us up to work on the truck before school but, what we do between the time we get up and the time we get to go back to bed is totally different. Most of what we do is totally pointless. At least that’s what it seems like. We run in big circles carrying a rifle and heavy pack. We clean stuff that doesn’t need cleaning. It feels like we only get 10 minutes to eat before they are rushing us out the door to march around again. I can’t wait until they start teaching us something, like how to shoot this gun I’m always carrying around.
Okay, enough complaining. I am meeting some interesting people here. The guys come from all over the country. You should hear their accents. This guy from Alabama is named Buford. He got a lot of ribbing and now we just call him Alabama and he doesn’t get teased any more.
Well, I’m gonna hit the hay now. I heard a rumor that tomorrow we start the obstacle course.
Hugs to the family,
“Well, Caruso, my brother’s letters weren’t long but I was so happy to read them. I still enjoy them.” The cat seemed to nod at her in agreement. “I guess I need to start a box for Peter. I hope he keeps writing me.”
As she stood up the boxes fell on the rug. “Oh, dear I wonder if I’ll be able to put them all back in the right order again.” Carina bent down and looked at the writing on the envelope. She stopped still. It was from Jack. She had pushed Jack into the back of her heart and mind years ago. It was safe if he stayed there but she was so tempted to reread his letters. No one but Carina had ever read these very special and painful letters.
It was so nice to meet you when you came to visit Carmine on Family Day. Your brother had told me so much about you. You turned out to be so much more than he described and he said all great things about you. Thank you for sharing your picnic with me. It really helped to be able to spend the day with you and your family. My family is just too far away and couldn’t make it to visit me. I can’t tell you how much your kindness means to me.
Thank you for agreeing to write to a lonely soldier. I’m not sure where the army is going to send me but it helps to know that a pretty and nice young woman will keep in touch.
Carina sat on the rug on the floor and let the memories of that day flood her mind. If Joe decided to stop by he would think she had fallen but she didn’t want to get up. Caruso crawled into her lap and made he made himself comfortable. Absent-mindedly she stroked the cat while she remembered how she sat on the picnic blanket at Fort Dix and shared her picnic lunch with a handsome young solider from Massachusetts.
“Papa, are you sure this is the way to find Carmine?” Lorenza, Carina and Papa were strolling across a huge lawn carrying two picnic baskets, blanket and another box of provisions for Carmine. When they found out when Family Day at the base was Papa was determined to visit. Mama was determined that they would bring enough food to feed an army, except she intended it all to be for her son. Since the only vehicle they owned as a family was the fuel oil truck they took the train from Brooklyn to New Jersey. It was a long trip, especially when you were carrying a gallon of homemade wine, two bottles of cream soda, several loaves of Italian bread, two salamis, a wheel of Romano cheese, antipasto made with mozzarella, tomatoes, ham slices, roast beef, sliced turkey and rice balls along with several containers of Mama’s cream puffs and cookies. Mama and Vinnie followed them carrying the plates, cups, utensils and napkins needed to enjoy their meal.
Uncle Zio and his two sons were doing the oil and coal deliveries with the help of old Mr. Percy. Papa had hired the elderly man across the street to stay at the garage and help with walk-up coal sales and be there to be a kind of security guard. He was a funny but kind man who admired Papa. Vinnie had worked hard the past few days making sure all the coal bags were filled and labeled with the names of customers. He had been taking over more and more of the work. He was only 14 but he was a diligent and hard worker. Papa wanted to reward Vinnie for his dependability and getting Zio to take over for the day was a perfect compensation. Vinnie was so excited to be visiting his soldier brother on a real army base. He couldn’t wait until it was his turn to serve. Mama made no secret of the fact that she could delay her last son’s service as long as possible.
Carina couldn’t believe this was the way to get to the parade field where they would join Carmine. Shouldn’t there be a road? Papa kept walking so the family kept following him. She was sure they were lost but would never tell Papa he was wrong. Even when they passed huge climbing walls Papa just took as a sign that they were going in the right direction.
“Papa, I’m not sure this where we are supposed to be.” Lorenza tried to persuade Papa to go in another direction. “Look there are no people at all here. I’m sure there would be other families arriving.”
“Lorenza, we are early. That’s why there are no people now.” Papa smiled and kept walking. He was so proud of Carmine and couldn’t wait to see him.
Suddenly an army jeep came across the field to meet them. A young soldier was driving and Carina suddenly felt very shy. Vinnie stood closer to Mama when the vehicle stopped.
“Hello folks, do you have authorization to be on this property?” The soldier asked politely but firmly.
Papa gave the young man a big smile. “Do we have what? We are here to see my son the soldier graduate.” Papa was so proud. “You must know my son Carmine because you are a soldier here, yes?”
“Sorry, sir. You have to leave, this is a restricted area.”
Carina wondered how Papa was going to react. “No, no, we are supposed to be here. Just tell us where Carmine’s barracks are.”
The soldier took a deep breath but before he could reply to Papa, Lorenza jumped into the conversation.
“Excuse me sir, we are here for Family Day and have seemed to have gotten lost on the base. If you would kindly direct us to the correct field we would be so grateful.” She gave him a shy smile and batted her big brown eyes. Carina wondered how Lorenza learned to do that. Immediately the soldier’s attitude softened.
“I’m sorry Miss you are very lost. Why don’t you all climb into the jeep and I’ll take you to where you need to be.”
“Oh thank you so very much,” Lorenza gushed, “You are so very kind.”
Papa, Mama and Vinnie stood there with their mouths open. Obviously Carina wasn’t the only one to be surprised by Lorenza. “Come on everyone, this nice soldier is going to take us to Carmine. Get in the jeep.” Lorenza sat in the front while Papa, Mama, and Carina climbed in the back. Vinnie jumped up front with Lorenza. Carina was glad her little brother had enough sense to squeeze himself between the soldier and Lorenza.
“I’m sure you know the entire base so very well. Could you drive us past the barracks just so my parents could see where Carmine has been living? We promise not to cause any problems.” Lorenza requested. The soldier didn’t seem to be able to say no to her. He quickly pulled up beside a long low building.
“Want a quick tour? I’m sure it will be okay and there is plenty of time before the ceremonies begin.” The soldier obviously didn’t want to leave Carina’s big sister yet.
“Oh please Papa that would be super!” Vinnie blurted out.
“Oh, my family would love that. How sweet.” Lorenza gave the solidier a beautiful smile. Mama and Papa decided to stay at the jeep with their packages and let Lorenza and Carina accompany Vinnie on the tour.
As the soldier began leading the family around the barracks building heads started popping out the windows.
“Hey Sweetheart, want to make a suffering soldier happy?”
“Give me a smile beautiful. It’s been a long time since I saw a gorgeous smile.”
Cat calls and whistles followed them as they walked. Carina walked close to Vinnie but Lorenza smiled and waved at the men as if she were a movie start. “Oh Carrie, give them a little smile. They are just lonely boys far away from home.” Lorenza was thoroughly enjoying herself. Vinnie was looking at their big sister with new respect in his eyes. This was not the Lorenza they were used to.
A commotion at the door of the barracks caught Carina’s eye. Before she knew it Carmine was running toward her. He gave a start as he picked her up and swung her around. Laughing and hugging she was so very happy to see her big brother.
“When the guys were getting all excited about two glamorous gals out here I never dreamed they were talking about my sisters. I’m going to be the most popular guy on the base. Everyone wants to meet you.” He was laughing and completely relishing the moment.
Carina looked at her brother. What a handsome young man he was and his uniform only accented his good looks. He looked leaner and stronger than he did when he left for basic training but he still had that good natured twinkle in his eyes.
“Soldier, since you are breaking the rules by being out here with these lovely ladies, I think you’d better introduce me.”
Carmine stood still and saluted the man who had come up behind them. “Yes sir, Sargent Lance, sir. These are my sisters, Lorenza and Carina and my brother Vinnie.”
“Please to meet you all. Carmine has told me much about you and your mother’s cooking.” The officer smiled.
“Our mother and father are in the jeep waiting for us.” Lorenza offered.
“Well then, how about we go over and greet them Private, then I’ll make sure your family gets to their seats for the ceremonies and you can return to your company.” It was obviously not a request but an order given in such a way as to show respect to Carmine’s family. “Oh and, Corporeal, “the Sargent directed his attention to the soldier who had been their driver and tour guide, “we’ll discuss how all of this came to be a bit later.”
“Yes, sir.” Carmine and the other soldier were quick to reply.
Lorenza made sure she waved to all the soldiers watching as they walked back to the jeep. It seemed they all appreciated her gesture.
Before long the entire family was seated for the ceremony. It was wonderfully exciting to see all the soldiers parade across the field. Carmine received special recognition for his leadership skills. Finally it was time to relax and picnic.
Carmine and another soldier met the family. “This is my buddy Jack. His family couldn’t make Family Day so I invited him to join us.” The shy soldier nodded his head in Carina’s direction as he shook Papa’s hand.
“Well, then you must be part of our family today, Jack.” Papa patted the young man on the back. “Carina, make sure Jack gets enough to eat.”
Carina felt shy but happy that Papa was obviously consenting to her getting to know Carmine’s friend better.
Lorenza spread a blanket on the grass and Mama put a tablecloth on a picnic table. Carina was helping Vinnie unpack the food they had brought when Jack came up to her with a bunch of wildflowers in his hand.
“Um, since I didn’t have anything to contribute to the meal, I thought maybe I’d pick some flowers for you, uh, I mean the table.”
Carina felt the blush rising on her cheeks. Her little brother elbowed her and whispered, “For the table huh?” He was smiling at her with goofy grin. “Well, I think I’ll go chat with Carmine for a bit.” Vinnie said out loud as he walked away.
“Oh, Jack, uh, that’s very thoughtful. We can put them in a paper cup.” Carina found her voice. She’d never had a boy bring her flowers before. This was nice. “Want to help me unpack the food?”
“Sure, at home my mom always made us set the table.” Carina started handing Jack bowls to put on the table. “Wow, this smells great but nothing like what we eat in Boston. You’re going to have to teach me what’s what.”
“Well, Mama and Lorenza are the real cooks in the family but I put together the antipasto.”
“Young man, where is your family?” Mama was suddenly right beside Carina. “What sort of foods do you eat in Boston?” Carina giggled to herself, poor Jack was going to be questioned by Mama.
“Um, well Mam we’re sortah a meat and potatoes family. My family lives outside of Boston with my two sisters. They are both youngah than I am and I miss them terribly. Eileen is 12 and Sharon is 14. If I have the time and money I want to take the train up to see them before I’m sent overseas My Pop passed away a few years ago so I send most of my paycheck home so Mom can get the little extras the girls like so much. You know pretty dresses and such.”
“That’s a good boy, you go see your family before you travel.” Mama smiled at Jack. Carina was happy to have Mama talk to him so she could study his handsome face. His twinkling blue eyes and sandy colored hair appealed to Carina. He had a good, kind look about him. It was no wonder he and Carmine had become close friends. They shared a love of family.
The afternoon flew by all too quickly. It was a wonderful day picnicking, watching the boys play ball and laughing with Carmine. Most of all she got to know Jack. He fit into their family so naturally. Vinnie loved playing in a pick-up baseball game with his big brother and the other soldiers. Now it was time to pack up and head back to Brooklyn. Carmine still didn’t know where he was going next but he was pretty sure he would have a few days to come home before the stage of his military service.
“So Carrie, what do you think of Jack?” Carmine looked at his little sister. “He asked both Papa and I if he could write to you. He’s a great guy.”
“He did? What did Papa say?” Carina couldn’t believe this handsome, sweet soldier was interested in her.
“Papa said yes, what else could he say? Just make sure I don’t get less letters, okay?”
Carina gave Carmine a big hug. “Oh Carmine, how can I be so happy and so sad all at the same time? How can my whole world change in one afternoon?”
“Good, you deserve a good man and Jack is a good man. Now can I tell him he can walk with you as you leave?”
Carina smiled while tears filled her eyes. “I love you big brother.”
“Hey, Jack, can you help Carrie with her bag?” Carmine called to his friend. Jack hurried over and picked up the bag that sat on the picnic table.
“It’s my pleasure.” Jack smiled at Carina and her heart did a little flip. “It would also be so wonderful if you would write to me while I’m away. “
“I would love to write to you Jack.” Carina smiled at him. Could she fall for this man in one day? Well, she would see if their letter writing would draw them closer.
Thanks so much for the care package. The cookies and paperback books were great. I would love to be able to tell you about where I am and what’s going on here but I think the censors would probably black it out and this letter wouldn’t be much to read.
I can tell you that it gets awfully lonely even with a whole platoon of men around me. I miss home so much and can’t wait until I finish serving my time. When this war is over I’m coming home to get you. My mom and sisters can’t wait to meet you, Carrie. I have written them all about how wonderful you are. I promise I will talk to all your brothers and your parents to get their permission to court you properly.
Keep sending me your lovely letters. I read them over and over and they help me deal with all the mess this war is. You are always in my heart and my prayers.
Carina put the note back into it’s envelope carefully. She didn’t know if she had the strength to read through all 22 letters. She knew there were only 22. The memories came flooding back to her. Why did life have to be so painful sometimes? How different everything would have been if there had been more letters.
She looked at the next one in her hand. There letters weren’t in order any more. This was the last letter Jack had sent her. As she slowly and carefully removed the airmail paper from the envelope she felt like someone who had no control. Carina realized she has never gotten over Jack.
Only three more weeks my love. Three weeks and I will leave this wretched war and come home to you. Your Papa has given his blessing for us to be married. Carmine has agreed to be my best man. You my dear will be the loveliest bride there ever was and ever will be. We will be married at your church in Brooklyn and then move to Boston to be near my Mom and sisters. I know that will be hard for you. Thank you for agreeing to live near my family. They will need our help a little more than your family. I promise we will visit Brooklyn as often as possible. I will spend my life making you feel loved and cared for.
Every night I kiss the picture you sent me. I can’t wait to hold you close and be with you every day. Please keep me in your prayers. I know that God has plans for us and He will keep us safe while we are apart. Be well my dear. Soon we will be together.
Your Jack always.
Carina looked around at the other envelopes scattered on the floor. There under the chair was the envelope that changed everything. Jack never made it to Brooklyn or Boston. His mother was the one to write to Carina and break the dreadful news.
I’m so sorry that one of the first times I write to you I have to give you the most dreadful news I’ve ever had to deal with. The Army Casualty Affairs Office sent me a telegram that my dear boy was killed in the line of duty. I do not know how to go on. I do know that he loved you so very much and was eager to build a life and a family with you my girl.
Please keep in touch with me. Know that you are always welcome in our family. You were my son’s heart and will always have a place in mine.
Carina lovingly put the letters back in their box as tears quietly slide down her cheeks. No, she’d never gotten over Jack Brennan and she was sure she never would.