Mission Accomplished: Stop The Clock

By Muriel P. Engelman



                                 Memory Bank Retrieved

There were several boys and girls in the neighborhood for playmates, and we roller skated and rode our bikes together. Only the girls were interested in playing hopscotch and jump rope on the sidewalk in front of our house. I didn’t realize it at the time, as I wasn’t aware of anti-Semitism, but Nancy, whose father was a lawyer, remarked many times, “Even though my father has a Jewish nose, we are Protestants, not Jews.” I didn’t know what made a nose “Jewish” because my father’s nose was smaller than her father’s, and my father really was Jewish. When Nancy was in a good mood, she would invite me to her church on Saturday afternoons for a cowboy movie, but when she was mad at me for some reason, she stuck out her tongue at me and called me “Jew Beggel.” Then she would run home as I called after her, “Nancy Pancy!” It took me twenty years to figure out that she was equating Jews with bagels.



 Bits and Pieces


Our anatomy and physiology instructor asked an unusual question in class one day: “Does anyone know the meaning of the word masturbate?” Furtive glances passed between some nurses while others stared blankly at the teacher. Then one arm shot up in response to the question. “Yes, Miss McDermott,” said Miss Conroy. “You know the meaning of the word?”


Triumphant in her knowledge, Miss McDermott, known to us as Mac, stated: “It means to chew rapidly.”   Miss Conroy’s only reply was, “I believe you are thinking of the word masticate.” The subject was not pursued.




                                                Message to Harry


Of all the sixty to seventy ships in our convoy, Harry’s ship was the one before my eyes. I spent the rest of the voyage at the railing, peering through binoculars hoping to get a glimpse of Harry among the thousands of troops aboard his ship…..In my frequent letters to family to be mailed when we landed, I attempted to tell the story of Harry being on the ship in front of us. For security reasons there could be no mention in our mail of other ships, so my family was completely mystified when they received one of my letters which stated: “I spend my days looking at Harry’s behind.”




                                                  Vive la France


Bumping our way over the pot-holed Normandy countryside roads, our gay chatter ceased as we viewed the bombed-out villages….Night fell and our conveyances lumbered on endlessly until--finally--the trucks abruptly stopped.  “All out Lieutenants,” said the truck driver. “We have a problem and that problem is that we are lost. You will have to spend the night here.  We’ll be back for you first thing tomorrow.”


And where was here? As it turned out, here was a cow pasture, still inhabited by cows! But if the cows were here, that meant there were no mines in this field, therefore, it was safe for the nurses. Our visions of Paris, French perfume, flush toilets and bath tubs with hot water dissipated with the business of trying to find a level spot on the ground for stretching out for the night without encountering any cows  or stepping in cow droppings in the complete blackout.




                                               When You Gotta Go


In France we had the opportunity to really enlarge our toilet repertoire via slit trenches. While living in tents in the Normandy cow pasture, when the G.I.’s dug the slit trench for the nurses at the far end, they patterned the width of it after the size of the rear end of our chief nurse, and that was WIDE. It was difficult enough to straddle the slit trench in good weather but after several weeks of torrential rains, the slippery mud bordering the trench created additional balancing difficulties. That’s the time we had the second casualty among the nurses when one of them fell in and had to be shipped back to the States with a fractured femur. Can you imagine the indignity of telling your grandchildren how you sustained your injury during the war?




                                             A War Time Christmas


I dashed back into my tent as the plane flew lower and began strafing the tents and dropping anti-personnel bombs.  All my patients who, fortunately, were ambulatory, immediately donned their steel helmets and scrambled to get under their beds….I dove under an empty bed and as I did so, I let out a scream.  The corpsman who was at the far end of the tent, called out fearfully, “Lieutenant, were you hit?” 


“No, I called back disgustedly, “only by a loaded duck,” which in hospital  vernacular, is a full urinal.   The patients laughed uproariously at this and it helped dispel the tension and fear that had gripped us all a few minutes before.




                                               Two Photographs


The second photo shows my dark-circled eyes, slimmer cheek line and wan smile attempted for the photographer, reflecting the longer work shifts and my caring for the never-ending arrival of new battle casualties, as well as coping with the buzz bomb barrage and the stress generated  by the proximity of the approaching German army.  Suspended from my wrist by a leather thong, my right hand holds a blackjack that an ambulatory patient constructed for me—a ten-inch length of hosing packed with lead sinkers. He taught me to slam the blackjack across the face of an approaching Kraut and aim for the eyes.


In the left jacket pocket you can see the outline of a switchblade knife that another patient insisted I keep in my pocket at all times.  His instructions were to plunge the knife into the belly of a would-be captor, turn it and then “Run like hell!”




                                                    Letters Home


Just got back from an exciting and fantastic one week leave in Switzerland with Johnny, one of the other nurses in our outfit….Johnny’s fiancé, an RAF pilot who was stationed in Egypt, flew unexpectedly to the Swiss Leave Center at Mulhouse on the Swiss/French border, determined to get married. There was such a flurry of activity and excitement as the American Red Cross workers scrounged for material to make a wedding gown and ended up making it from sugar sacks.  I’ll bet she was the only bride ever, whose wedding gown bore the inscription down the back that read: “Through the courtesy of the Swiss Leave Center and the American Sugar Refining Co.”




                                       The Enigma Named Evelyn


Evelyn’s passion for cleaning was surpassed only by her honesty in word and deed. Every dollar bill or coin found in the washing machine or under the living room seat cushions was duly deposited on the kitchen counter, down to the lowliest penny.  “I ain’t so poor that I take what don’t belong to me,” she would declare righteously.


Many of her truthful utterances have lived on in our family over the decades, particularly one she made as I was packing our suitcase. “Where yez all goin’?” she inquired.  “To Boston,” I replied, “for my nursing class reunion.  Look, Evelyn, here’s a photo of me as a student nurse in my apron and bib—that was thirty-six years ago.” 


Evelyn studied the photo for a while and as she handed it back to me, she sighed and uttered what became a classic unforgettable phrase: 


 “Ain’t it awful what time does to a person?”





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