Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Beyond Paradise, Christmas excerpt, part 4



Christmas 1944
Alice Gundry’s Recipe
For the Best Potato Pancakes Ever

Start with leftover mashed potatoes. Add finely chopped onion, salt and pepper. Knead in flour until no longer sticky. Form a handful of potato mixture into a patty and fry in hot bacon fat until golden on both sides. Delicious!

We fed upon our dreams, bittersweet dreams of food and release. Gift giving for our second Christmas in Los Baños revolved around food, our most precious commodity. Alice and I exchanged recipes. Mother managed to save a can of jam from last year’s Red Cross Christmas package. We each got half a teaspoonful. Freddy surprised us with chicken.
While Mother was preparing our one holiday meal, I took a walk over to see little Maggie Suchey. I had made a doll out of split bamboo for her. As I walked over to the family barracks, I couldn’t avoid passing by the corner room belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Leecher. Mr. Leecher ran a black market operation inside the camp. It was rumored that back in the States he had been a con artist and his wife a madam. With this background Leecher was able to make a profit as a prisoner of war. By trading and taking advantage of sick and starving people, he had amassed an empire of emerald rings, wristwatches, and American dollars. In turn he bartered these for more commodities. As I passed by their room, the aroma of hot waffles and real coffee permeated the air.
“I hope they choke on the food and die,” I muttered aloud. “It would serve them right, the stingy, greedy thieves.”
Beside the barracks I spied the Suchey boys, Jimmy and Robert, digging around looking for salamanders and lizards.
“Hey, Bob, I found one. Mom can fry it up for Christmas dinner. They taste just like bacon!”
I went inside the building with the boys. Mrs. Suchey drifted around the room almost lifeless. The baby was in a corner crying. I picked Maggie up, hoping to quell her screams, but what she wanted I didn’t have. The doll managed to hold her attention only for a minute before she began whining and sucking her fingers.
“Ma’am . . .” I wanted to say something to make it all go away. “Elizabeth—”
“Hush!” Mrs. Suchey cut me off severely. Above the baby’s whimpering I heard the sound of machine guns. At first I thought it was our guards—a drill perhaps. The Japanese had been jumpy lately. The Allies were bearing down hard, fighting their way up from the Leyte Gulf.
We ran outside. Other internees were standing and shading their eyes, looking up to the sky. Up above, banking off a thin, narrow cloud was a Flying Fortress—the Americans were coming! The gunfire was not coming from the ground, but from the sky. A strange, familiar rhythm: da-da-da-dum.
Elizabeth gasped. “It’s Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony!”
We had not been forgotten. After three years in captivity, four Christmases after Pearl Harbor, it was like a Christmas card had been dropped from the sky.

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