In this day and age, when people hear the words, "Battle of the Bulge," they first think of their middle and derriere expanding to the point of busting out of their shirt and pants. As I look out the window of my bedroom, I see snow and cold on Mr. Ranier, nothing like what our "boys" faced in the tree laden forest of the Ardennes in the winter of 1944, the "real" Battle of the Bulge."
"Gary" has been a friend of the family for years. I first met him when he came to my office several years ago with his wife, "Veronica" who turned out to have metastatic breast cancer. I would see Gary at Veronica's bedside when I made visits to their home in the last few months of her life.
Some days, after Veronica fell asleep, Gary would ask me to stay and have a cup of coffee with him. As I sunk into his loden green sofa with the traditional doily gracing its back and 1950's end table with the hourglass lamp and yellowing shade, I felt like I was stepping into the time zone of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Gary took residence in his brown leather chair, with metal studded arms and a side table graced with week old newspapers and months old magazines. He sat quietly regaining his thoughts and staring at the photo on the fireplace mantel of he and Veronica at their 60th wedding anniversary.
As I looked around the room, I noticed a wall of bookshelves with photo binders; Morocco, France, Spain, Mexico, Japan, all the places Gary and Veronica visited during their lifetime of adventures. Then I saw the binder labeled, "Bastogne."
I woke Gary from his trance and asked him if I could see the Bastogne binder. I pulled it off the shelf, dusted it off and opened it to see it filled to the brim with WWII photos, clippings and extra pictures falling out. When I picked up the old black and whites, I was amazed to see a photo of General George S. Patton outside his command post, smiling and addressing one of his lieutenants.
"Where did you get these Gary," I asked. "Oh those are old photos from when I fought in Bastogne," he matter-of-fact answered. Young men in combat uniform, covering themselves with as much clothing as they could muster to keep warm, rifles in hand, helmets with netting, their necks wrapped in wool scarves, boots digging into the snow. Not a pleasant way to spend Christmas in 1944, yet their faces looked determined, steadfast and hopeful.
Then there was the photo of Gary; 18 years old, young, vibrant, a 101st Airborne patch on his shoulder and pistol in hand. When I squinted my eyes closer, I saw a white shadow on the pistol and asked him what it was. He went to a box in the corner of the room and pulled out the pistol for me to see. Bringing back memories of the 40's he smiled and pointed to the photo of Veronica in a mumu and lei, smiling, taped onto the handle.
"I kept it the whole time I was in my foxhole. I told myself I was never going to let those Nazis get me because I had such a beautiful girl to come home to. That's what you have to do when it gets rough out there, just keep telling yourself you're never going to let them get to you, no matter who or what it is." He gently placed the pistol back in the scuffed, brown box and put it away.
He took a seat back in his chair, rubbing his thick, wool, gray socks over his feet and sliding his toes into his sheepskin slippers. "I still haven't recovered from the frost bite during the Bulge, almost lost my foot. Thank God I left that tent after the surgeon said he'd have to amputate. Couldn't wait to get back to the line," he nodded.
"I think I'll get another cup of coffee Gary and sit for awhile," I said. On this doctor's visit, he was healing me, more than I was healing them.
Dr. Ballard is an Internal Medicine and Geriatric Physician practicing in Enumclaw, WA, 360-825-1389. She recently published her first novel, "Revealed," available at Amazon, Kindle or Smashwords.