Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New Hampshire and Back

     Ten days ago I got a phone call from Daughter #2 and "The Plan" for the summer suddenly went out the window. "The Plan" was the expected arrival of her second baby around June 20th after which Steve and I would drive up to New Hampshire and spend two weeks helping out. Instead, her worried voice over the phone this day told me the baby was arriving very early and very quickly. It was a Friday afternoon and I had just gotten home from school. We were in a weather pattern of long days of soaking rain and it felt good to get inside and dried off. Once I heard Chelsea's voice over the phone, however, there was only one decision to make and that was how quickly could I begin driving to New Hampshire. I made a phone call to Steve and a quick call to my job and then I began packing. I had to force myself to walk away from disorganization and commitments and give up control entirely. I also had to face the fact that I would be making a very long drive by myself- something I have shied away from for the past couple of years. But when someone we love is in need, the adrenaline and drive kick in to accomplish things we normally might not do. In this case, to fight hell and high water to get to my child in need. My perceived hell would be driving seven hundred and thirty miles of interstate alone and the high water was falling from the sky.
     Twenty-five hours after leaving my house, I arrived in New Hampshire. Those twenty-five hours included white knuckle driving through pouring rain and road spray while staring through rapidly moving wipers through six states. (The rain had stopped by state number seven.) It included a multitude of tractor trailers that never slowed down, several pit stops to receive and send text messages, three stops to consult GPS, tossing said GPS aside and digging the road map out of the trunk, an overnight stay in a very nice hotel after it got too dark and harrowing to drive, the 'finger' from a nice young man in New York whom I didn't see trying to merge in front of me, too many dead deer on the roadside to count at which I prayed to God to spare me from hitting anything, and one car accident that thankfully didn't involve me and didn't look too serious. I never allowed myself to think about how I was going to get back home.
     Charlie was born before I even left Virginia but I didn't know this until hours later. He was six weeks early and he was in very good hands. I learned all this news while I was in transit. He hadn't been named Charlie yet. The naming occurred after a series of text messages between Chelsea and the family in which I was unable to participate because I was driving. He was name after my father, Charles. Both are strong, stubborn fighters. My arrival in NH meant that I could care for Hugo while Chelsea and Simon spent every hour at the hospital. Hugo is sixteen months old and the last time he saw me was in February. At their apartment I knelt down to Hugo and said, "It's Nonni." He looked at me and came into my arms, then he went over to my photograph on the wall and pointed to it. I was amazed that he put this together! I suspected everything was going to be alright and it was. 
     After a bit of slushy snow the following morning, everything began to look brighter. The sun came out and Hugo and I fell into a routine. I mainly kept him out of harms' way while he explored. Most of my photos show Hugo from behind because that was usually where I was, behind him and trying to keep up with him. We took walks in the beautiful, quaint New England town they had just moved into two weeks earlier. We visited the organic farm Simon manages and went to the hospital a couple of times to visit. We shared our meals, rocked and sang songs in the middle of the night, and laughed during bath time. I learned some French nursery rhymes that became stuck in my head even after I returned home and I took some videos of Hugo to share with Steve (and for me to watch again when I miss him.) I got to know my grandson and he got to know me.

     While Hugo and I played, ate, and slept, Charlie grew and was slowly weaned from oxygen, the CPAP machine, the IV, and the isolet. Chelsea came home to sleep for the last three nights that I was there while Simon continued sleeping at the hospital. It was nice to have a couple of evenings with her and for her to have some time with Hugo. It was difficult to leave Chelsea's little family and return home. I knew everything was going to be alright and Steve and I would return in a few weeks. On the day that I left, eight days after Charlie was born, I was able to hold him for the first time. I was overwhelmed with emotion, seeing his little person and knowing that once upon a time in history, he would not have survived. I was sad to be leaving Hugo and his parents. All these thoughts would stay with me as I drove those seven hundred and thirty miles in reverse. Except this time the sun was shining in a blue sky and the world was green and bright. It didn't look anything like the drive I made the week before. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Let's See... Where Were We?

     The Future reached back into present day time and, in that surprising way The Future has of sneaking up on us, showed up early on May 12, 2017 with the premature birth of our fifth grandchild. Within hours I was on the road headed north to New Hampshire. I wished for time travel to operate at warp speed or for Scotty to please beam me to NH as I drove those long fifteen hours. A strong desire to gaze upon this tiny, newborn, bit of future fueled my adrenaline, along with three cups of coffee. I received updates along the way and learned baby was okay and his name is Charlie. Our daughter says he is strong and he is a fighter and he is surviving against some odds, so they named him after my father, Charles. We are all filled with joy. Please keep Charlie in your prayers along with his family. His mom will need to leave him behind in the hospital for a couple of weeks and that will not be an easy thing to do.
     Now, let me take us back to our story! As I mentioned previously, my father was a musician, before, during, and after the war. By the time I was born their music was in full swing and our home was filled with both music and instruments. I recall our cramped little kitchen serving as a rehearsal venue for my father and his fellow musicians. My mother was also musically gifted as a singer and pianist. She could play any song after hearing it once. She couldn't read music at all, but she could play anything by ear and make a grand show of it. My father had met his perfect mate in 1946 and they were married in 1947. Over the years they had a variety of drummers and accordion players they drew from to form trios and quartets. From the time I was very young, my parents would be out on weekends, making music and making extra money for our family of five.

My mother and father around 1950.

From my father's scrapbook. He is on the left.

My father in 1963. I was four years old : )
          We had a room in our home that we called The Music Room. It not only held my parents' instruments, it also displayed my father's collection of war memorabilia. The walls were covered with photographs, a couple of mounted guns, medals and citations, etc. One of the largest items in the room besides the piano was a bass. The bass was old from the time I first recall it. My father rarely played it and he never took it out of the house. I thought it was because of its delicate condition.We children were not allowed to touch it.
     Fast forward in time to 2015. My husband and I had the daunting task of emptying out my family home in order to move my mom to Virginia to live with us. She was ninety-two years old and had lived in the home since 1952. It was a sad time and there were many things we could not take with us. However, my husband insisted we take the old bass. I argued with him that it was so old and in such rough shape that it really wasn't good for playing, but he insisted we keep it. It was one of the last things we loaded into the truck that moving day. There was no room left for anything, but Steve found a place for the bass on the back seat of his pickup truck. Back home in Virginia, we placed it in the corner of our home office.
     When Frank van Lunteren first contacted me, he was searching to identify the men in the 504th PIR Jumpmasters band. Last week he identified Donal O'Buckley from bits and pieces and photos. O'Buckley is the bass player in my father photos. As I sat at my computer corresponding with Frank, I turned and looked at that old bass sitting in the corner. I realized that I never knew where the bass came from. Steve had researched it a little bit last year and we knew it was marked "Germany" inside. We speculated the impossibility that it could have been borne out of the war, but that idea always seemed too far fetched. In light of researching these Jumpmasters photos, we compared the bass in our home with the bass in the old photos and we noticed the same crack lines and indentations as well as the same overall structure. Our curiosity was piqued! I asked Frank if it could be possible that this bass was the same one from the photos. At that same time, Frank was searching for Donal O'Buckley's surviving children. He quickly put me in touch with O'Buckley's daughter, Donna. Her father and my father were buddies during the war and they remained friends after. They went their separate ways to raise families, etc., but they always spoke fondly of one another and held their bond from the war very close. Frank urged me to call Dona right away. I did and she told me an amazing story.

     She said when her father was in Berlin at the end of the war, he saw a German man going through the garbage looking for food. Her father felt compassion for the man and offered him some of his K rations. The man didn't want to take the food without giving something in return, so he offered to give O'Buckley bass lessons. During the American occupation of Berlin, O'Buckley went to the man's residence regularly for lessons in exchange for food. when it came time for the soldiers to leave Berlin and head home the German man told O'Buckley that he was the bassist for the Berlin Philharmonic and he doubted they would ever perform again. He then gave O'Buckley his bass. (Is your mind putting this together as was mine at that very moment?!) "But...". I asked Donna. "How would they ever got such a thing back to the States?!" She said her father told her they dressed the bass in clothing, a uniform (?) and sneaked it aboard the Queen Mary (or whatever ship it was) and stowed it in a bunk on the ship. After disembarking, O'Buckley beleives he never saw the bass again. Donna said, "We always wondered what happened to the bass!" "Well", I told her, "We might just have that bass right here!" As unbelievable as this story sounds, it makes perfect sense to me.
     My imagination created a story to satisfy the legend of the bass. It goes like this: The story above is true. After sitting untouched and dormant for decades, the bass was suddenly moved to Virginia. Its strings were tightened and plucked by my husband. Once again, it played music and had a voice. The bass was reawakened! now it longs to go home, wherever that may be, and it's trying to tell us where it belongs. The ending is yet to be written.
     We would all love to bring closure to this story; to find the happiest ending to a sad story of war, a love for music, compassion for a hungry man, and friendships. I'm not exactly sure what the next step will be, but I can be sure Donna O'Buckley and I will keep in touch as we try to verify that these two basses match. I hope the bass will continue to remind us of its voice and where it longs to be. For now, Steve has loosened its strings to remove any tension and stress on the wood. We will also utter the same words to the children that my father said to us all those years ago, "Don't touch it."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Next Stop- Berlin, 1944-45

Company E of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. My dad sits in the second row from the front, sixth in from the left.

     My next, unbelievable adventure takes us to the American occupation of Berlin at the end of World War 2. My father's 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion had been almost entirely decimated in the Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge. The 551st PIB had so few remaining soldiers that it no longer existed. The surviving paratroopers, which included my father, were absorbed into other units. My father ended up in Co.E of the 504th PIR. He was still (and would always be) a paratrooper. It was here, in the 504th, that my father found a home for his love of music. The 504th had a regimental band called, The Jumpmasters and he became one of their guitarists.
    Before the war, my father worked odd jobs, but he always identified himself as a musician. His discharge papers stated his occupation before the war as, "musician" and his scrapbook is filled with photographs of him playing rhythm guitar in one band or another. It was the age of Big Bands. His boot camp photos include one of him with a guitar. Even in the 551st PIB, he managed to find a guitar and an occasion to play it. Gregory Orfalea in his book, "Messengers of the Lost Battalion", mentions my father playing guitar to entertain some Scottish troops. One of my father's buddies from the 551st, Marcel Charette, told me he recalled seeing my father marching with his rifle over one shoulder and his guitar over another. I have no doubt that my father's music helped keep him grounded and sane in the midst of a horrific war.

From my father's scrapbook. Charles Giacomino on guitar
      As I enter this stage of travel back in time and try to unravel where my father had been and where he was going, I meet an historian and author named Frank van Lunteren. Mr. van Lunteren is from the Netherlands and he has written three books specifically about the 504th PIR. (Spearhead of the Fifth Army, Blocking Kampfgruppe Peiper and The Battle of the Bridges) He is currently researching and writing two more books, one of which will be about the 504th regimental band, The Jumpmasters. (I had no idea...!) I once again posted some of my father's photographs online and again, a time portal opened and sucked me right in. One group of photos from my father's scrapbook were all from The Jumpmasters. No sooner had I organized them and got them posted when I was contacted by Mr. Lunteren. Via instant messaging, Frank began working his "magic" at puzzling out facts from bits and pieces of memorabilia. As many photographs that I shared, he shared even more back with me. Many of which had my father in them! I tried to answer his questions, but I was clumsy in recollections and not nearly as quick as Frank at digging out facts. He was a genius at tracking people down on the internet and quickly following rabbit trails. I noticed that the deeper into time I stayed, the more I noticed details. Photographs that I had looked at my whole life began to contain new meaning. Nicknames written on the photos suddenly turned into real people with real names, with real surviving family members. I saw only a tiny portion of how Frank works and he is purely historical genius... on steroids. I was so deeply embedded into 1944 Berlin, that I lost an entire afternoon of time. I kept watching the clock, knowing that I had to return to the present day, but the present day seemed so boring compared to the richness of these historical events. Even after I returned to my very own kitchen, my mind continued to wander back in time and it was difficult to stay in the here and now.
From my father's scrapbook: Some of the band members including "O'Buckley" (Donal O'Buckley) on bass.
From Mr. van Lunteren- There's my dad on the far right, in the back!
Again- from my dad's scrapbook

From Mr. van Lunteren- The Jumpmasters. My dad is on  the bottom, right!
     As Frank fueled the time machine and I studied the photos over and over again, I began to notice something. That bass in the "O'Buckley" photos... I'm pretty sure I've seen that bass before...Could it possibly be?!

... to be continued.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Time Traveling, Draguignon France

     I detoured down a rabbit trail and traveled through time this weekend. I discovered that time travel messes with the head and leaves the traveler detached and confused. Goodness! In order to preserve my connection with the present day and not be trapped permanently in the past, I had to periodically walk away from the time machine and have conversations with people in the here-and-now. Let me explain...
     Last week, I received a phone call from a stranger. It was a woman who was searching for someone. She was trying to help a friend, who was born in 1959, find his birth mother. It was a compelling story and I wanted to help her but, after comparing notes, I quickly surmised that the family she was seeking was an entirely different branch of Giacominos than mine. The name, Rocco Giacomino, is more common in Italian families than I realized. The old world method Italian families used to name their children creates many of the same names through the generations. For example, I have a grandfather, an uncle, and a first cousin on my father's side all named Rocco Giacomino. This stranger's Rocco Giacomino is buried in New York City and mine is buried in Albany. We are not the same family. However, studying their graves is what led me to my adventure through time.
     This woman told me to go on a website called www.findagrave.com. After I finished speaking with her on the phone, I went to the website and typed in my father's name. It brought me to photographs of his headstone at the National Cemetery in Saratoga, NY. My mother's headstone was also photographed in that cemetery. I felt thankful to be able to see these photos because the cemetery is six hundred miles away and I haven't gone there since they passed away. Under each photo they had a link with the photographer's name. I decided to thank the photographer for her work by leaving her a message there. In doing so, I noticed another message to the photographer from a man inquiring about my father's war service. I had the information this man was seeking, so I clicked on his name and was able to email him. This connection was the portal to a whole series of incredible travels back to 1944 and 1945 and particularly to World War 2.
     The man with whom I corresponded is a citizen of Belgium. He is an active duty, 551st paratrooper. Our paratroopers, including my father, who fought in the 551st during World War 2 are their heroes. Our soldiers fought key battles on their soil and freed Belgium from the Nazi occupation. Each year they hold a memorial in the Belgium Ardennes for our brave soldiers. This young Belgium soldier has come to America numerous times to meet the surviving veterans of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion of which very few now remain.
    After our conversation, he suggested I join the group, "Friends and Family of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion". I did so and from there events simply exploded. The photo below is from my father's scrapbook. It shows the 551st PIB drop over France in August 1944. My father is one of those paratroopers in the photo. I learned in my time travels from a French citizen that this drop occurred specifically north west of the village of La Motte. After these soldiers parachuted in, they marched and fought their way to liberate town after town from the Nazis. It was during my father's small part in this invasion that he was given a calling card from a French citizen who befriended him and other soldiers. The French people had suffered terribly under the Nazi occupation. Not only physically, from lack of food, but emotionally as well. As I've been told, they were overjoyed when the Americans arrived. They shared what little they had with our soldiers and provided them with barns and other places to sleep.

Invasion of Draguignon, France August, 1944
      My father saved this small calling card for his entire lifetime. I always thought the handwriting on it was so beautiful. I decided to post a picture of the card on the 551st website, just to share this little treasure with folks. In doing so, it caused my time machine to explode with activity! you see, time travel in our modern age causes things to happen almost instantaneously. Within minutes, I met people from all over the world and learned that the man who wrote the card is still living! His family still resides in this same place. Not only this, but I was able to correspond with his daughter! Her words to me were so beautiful and kind. These people are still filled with gratitude for what our soldiers did for them. Here is a photo of the calling card. I also now have a picture of the dear man who penned it.

     His daughter will visit with him soon and share my picture of his calling card. Her father and my father were friends for a very brief period on this earth. They remained friends in their hearts forever.
     I continue to travel in time, coming up for air frequently so I don't become lost in time forever. As I said, time travel leaves the traveler exhausted and twisted inside. It's both painful and exhilarating. And this is only the beginning! I have another amazing story to tell that is almost too hard to believe. I must spend some time in the present day, going to work and fulfilling daily obligations before I can plunge back into history. Until then...!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Heart Stone, Buried Treasures

     It's the season of cleaning out and purging! We decided to have a huge, indoor yard sale at our church and it was the perfect opportunity to rummage through the basement and say goodbye to "stuff" I've been holding onto for way too long. The thing about cleaning out and purging is that it can become addictive. It feels so good to unload stuff that I want to look for more stuff and keep the good feeling going. Of course, Steve will never have to worry too much about me emptying out the house. For every five things I purge, I will bring home one or two more things that someone else is purging. "One man's trash is another man's treasure" is a motto in which I firmly believe. I've been swapping trash and treasure with folks all week! I like to find things for other people, too. This week I found an antique, framed print for one daughter and some Guinness glasses for her husband. As I always say, "The fun is in the hunt!"
     One of the places my roaming took me this week was an estate sale in an 1800 log cabin. It is just up the road from the school where I work so I popped in to have a look. I mainly wanted to see the cabin and the estate sale was a great opportunity to gain entrance to a cabin that we've driven past dozens of times over the years. There were severe storms during the night, real gully washers, and the day was just beginning to clear when I pulled into the driveway and snapped this photo on my phone. The property is for sale and you can view the listing here.

1800 log cabin for sale

      One of the things I find uncomfortable about estate sales is the situation which brings the estate to sale to begin with. Most of the time, an elderly person has died and the family puts the property and contents up for sale. When you walk into these homes, you are walking into someone's life. The contents of the home remain intact, just as it was when the home reverberated with life. Often times you will see evidence of decline, a home that could no longer be kept up, once loved objects fallen into disrepair. Almost always, the owner's clothing still hangs in the closets. It feels a little intrusive so I always purpose to be respectful when I am in these homes and to treat everything I touch with care.     
Do you see the heart stone in the fireplace?
          I don't know much about the architecture of log cabins, but this home seemed very solid to me. It was roomier than I expected and for a moment I dreamed of living there. I saw a small table for sale that caught my attention. It was slightly beat up and a bit rickety with a lot of cobwebs and dust on it. It was the perfect size for a spot on our screened porch and I knew I could paint it with chalk paint and give it new life. The general rule of estate sales is that on Fridays, items are full price. On Saturday they are marked down by 25% and on Sunday they are marked down by 50%. Most people attend on Saturdays an Sundays. This table was only $24 and being a Friday at full price, I still thought that was a bargain, so I bought it. After I brought it home and cleaned it up, I realized the lower shelf didn't belong with it. The more I examined the table I realized I couldn't bring myself to paint it. It is a dear little table, very pretty and delicate in its features. I also realized the top wasn't loose and falling off as I had first encountered when loading it in my car. It actually folds open and swivels around to form a game table. It would be perfect for puzzles (which I do not do) or a perfect table for some quick, extra seating for four people. For now, I have it off to the side while I admire it and consider where it needs to permanently reside in our home.

Newly arrived at home, and ready with the Chalk Paint when I realize the shelf on the bottom doesn't belong. Hmm...

Cleaned up! (I still need to remove the screws on the legs that were used to hold the shelf.) The top folds open and doubles the size of the table. The glass tumbler with spoons on the table is one I found at the church yard sale for 75 cents. It's a Rochere glass, made in France and has little raised honeybees around it.
I also found this chair at the yard sale for $3. It was originally from the Hotel Roanoke. I won't paint this either because of the decorative back. It's still very sturdy and I envision reupholstering the seat with a pumpkin orange velvet. : )