A Wartime Diary – Part 4

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Continuing MB Casteix’s wartime diary/experiences…

MB and his company left Bizerte on a British LST, HMS Bruiser, on 25 September 1943 and arrived at the Salerno, Italy beachhead on 28 September. He describes a storm “the first night” at Salerno that “flattened to the ground” their hospital tent. The wounded were moved to a barn, and none were injured further by the incident. He goes on to say, “The boys worked like Trojans,” setting up the hospital. “By the second day things going smoothly. Malaria is rampant – we clean up the barn and make a ward out of it.”

He then goes on to tell of the Italian family that owned the barn. “They are destitute and almost all are sick except 67-year-old grandmother. No doctors around. We take care of them. Grandmother has one tooth & says she is saving it to bite Mussolini’s nose off!” Go granny!

Back to the landing on the 28th– MB was quartered in a compartment at the very stern of the ship. For those who don’t know, the LST (Landing Ship, Tank) was designed for beach landings to transport heavy equipment ashore such as tanks and trucks. They were 380 feet long with “barn doors” that opened in the bow and a ramp behind them that was lowered once the doors were open. They were flat-bottomed and very shallow draft to allow them to get right up next to the beach—but miserable places to be in rough seas. Running up to the beach sometimes left them stuck there. The one in the image above is totally beached and will have to wait for high tide to get off. To get off the beach, as they approached it, they dropped an anchor from the stern in the deeper water behind them and ran out the chain as they neared the beach. They later used that to winch the ship into water deep enough to navigate under engine power.

MB was not expecting any of that. He said when they dropped that stern anchor, which was right over their heads, it made so much noise in that confined compartment it sounded like they had been bombed. It scared the occupants so much they thought they might be about to sink.

Along about here in his diary, MB begins to give more details. He speaks more of what he is observing and feeling like “rain and mud again – beginning to get cold.” His entries aren’t complete stories but do give a few more details that help flesh-out what is happening. We still have to speculate on some of it, and I might not be totally accurate with that.

Then under the heading “Sights of War-Torn Italy,” we get the following, “People eat black bread and spaghetti – No meat!. No water in big cities. Battipaglia (a town near the landing beaches at Salerno) worse that Bizerte  – shells holes along the road – burned out G tanks – Docks at Naples shambles – No H2O in Naples – Altavilla – Agropoli.” The war has had its very negative effect on Italy. The retreating Germans destroy anything of any military value not already destroyed by the fighting. Keep in mind the fighting isn’t some distant event out in the open country away from the towns. It is taking place everywhere, including in the towns. Citizens are being displaced from their homes and later returning to find them destroyed, assuming they weren’t killed in the process. Food is particularly hard to come by in the combat zones. So is clean safe drinking water.

“Second platoon sets up Air Evac Hospital right next to the airport. In sound of artillery – Germans shell spot we are to move in!”

There was some interaction with Italian civilians. “Italian family invites Kirk and me to supper: spaghetti, potatoes, and wine.” That an Italian family was able to do this is astounding, but they obviously wanted to show their gratitude to their liberators in some way. This food and wine are probably some they had hidden away, and only with liberation can they afford to be so generous. MB didn’t say, but I would be willing to bet they brought some Army “delicacies” like canned Spam and chocolate for their hosts.

On the Italian countryside, “People apparently poor. Dirt and filth almost like Arabs, but houses are clean inside. Vallo Lucania clean little town in mountains. So many Italians speak English and many have been to U. S., usually Brooklyn! Kids all over.”

“Apples and nuts – cheap and good.”

“Naples – Kids begging & trying to sell anything & everything … Plenty of jewelry and gloves. Girls at any price – One boy got it for a cigarette & the next one for a match! Bomb damage – Buildings blown up by Germans.”

It wasn’t all horror: “Dinner in Italian restaurant & singers.” I’m guessing that was in Naples? Makes you wonder how they managed to have enough to stay in business.

“Rail yards at Caserta – supply train bombed: Ammo & airplane parts & motors … Cars blown 30 yards …”

He then goes on to describe Pompeii: “… Huge city, well laid out …”

He mentions a dinner with “Palmieri’s relatives,” which I am guessing are the Italian relations of an Italian-American in his unit? This was quite common. Many Americans had relatives back in Europe and they often had a chance to encounter them even during the war.

An Italian doctor (at the dinner?) describes the horrors of the German occupation, “The Germans destroyed the country, railroads, and bridges…” Then MB gets personal with this comment, “They took the doctor’s shaving kit and spectacles!” To quote the frustrated doctor, “What can they do with my spectacles?” He also says, “They destroyed homes in the village of no military value.” The doctor didn’t understand, but without his glasses, he could not render aid to the enemy (Allied wounded)  or even his fellow Italians, which would force that problem on the Americans, French, and British to deal with.

Hospital Italy

Battle of Volturno

Volturno is north of Naples and on the road to Rome. Of the battle, he says, “Terrible fight. Germans almost push British back. A-36s deciding factor & B-26s & 75mm cannon clean out German positions.” The A-36 was a ground attack version of the P-51 Mustang. The B-26 was a two engine medium bomber.

MB’s next entry says simply, “Upfront with 45th Division Rangers … Germans over hill popping shell over & by us.” This must be the period I mentioned in the first post of this series when he was temporarily assigned to Darby’s Rangers as their surgeon. If you have seen the movie Darby’s Rangers with James Gardner playing Col Darby … MB isn’t in it. Evidently, his part ended up on the cutting room floor. 😉 He did tell one story about that time, besides the one about the Rangers lined up for chow while under fire. (They musta been hungry?) After recovering from his wounds, Darby’s surgeon that MB had replaced temporarily returned to the outfit one morning. Darby turned to MB and said, “Captain, you’re relieved now. You can return to your unit, but you are welcome to stay and join us for breakfast.” I suppose, recalling that the Rangers got shot at a lot and having had his fill of “rangering,” MB replied, “Thank you, Colonel, I’ll be leaving now.” As in RIGHT now.

Evacuating Wounded

The war must have eased up some because the next entry says: “Dances at Caserta – pretty Italian girls and lots of fun.” It isn’t what you think because the next entry says simply, “Custom of chaperone” and no explanation. Sorry. I’m guessing some stern-eyed Italian mother was there to make sure everything stayed on the up-and-up.  Then he names the fun, “Sara, Rosina, Giovanna, Wanda.” Sorry, no pics of the “fun.” I wonder where they are now?

OK, enough fun—back to the war—albeit only briefly.

MB goes on to describe a 250-bed hospital they set up at Caserta and the first patient is a VD—and it quickly fills up with, I am guessing more VD patients?

Then he mentions more “fun” and operas and a dinner at the Falcone home. I don’t know who that is, but it may be the home mentioned earlier? Guess who shows up? Yep. Sara, Rosella, Giovanna, & Wanda. He spells it “Rosina” in the first entry and “Rosella” in the second. But this time wine got mentioned along with the “fun.” And no mention of chaperones. Hummmm…

He also observes that the battle is still raging, and Italy is the worse place in the world to fight a war—but he is with Sara, Rosina/Rosella, Giovanna, & Wanda. War is hell.

To be continued…

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A Wartime Diary – Part 3

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily began on the night of 9-10 July 1943. The British landed at the southeastern tip of the Island, and the Americans landed to the west of them along Sicily’s southern coast. The landings went off with a few significant problems, mainly the American C-47 transports carrying paratroopers and pulling gliders being misidentified as German by the invasion fleet and fired upon. A number of these aircraft were shot down (friendly fire is never friendly) and most of the rest scattered to avoid being shot down with many dropping their paratroopers far from the designated drop zones. This incident repeated itself a few days later up the east coast of Sicily when American C-47s carrying British paratroopers were shot-up crossing over the invasion fleet. My father-in-law was flying that mission. Details here.

Flies?

Meanwhile, back in North Africa MB was running a VD clinic and being told they were to shut it down, and he was wondering what they would do with their patients. They stop taking patients on 23 July and close the clinic on 3 August, rejoining the regiment on 5 August at Tinka, Tunisia, which is northwest of Tunis and southwest of Bizerte. “Not a building standing…” was his comment about Bizerte.

It was right about here that he had the “little red wagon” incident I spoke of in earlier posts. Details here.

The infamous “little red wagon.” AKA sleeping bag.

 

The entries along here also mention he was promoted to captain on 28 July followed by paradoxical entries about multiple air raids and swimming in the Med.

On 5 Sept 43, the 16thMed Regt was reorganized into two medical battalions, the 161stand the 162nd. Company D was reduced to two platoons and all their vehicles taken away. Company D became the 601stCollection Company.

Medical battalions were reorganized to give each collecting company a clearing element, the two platoons of the clearing company being supplemented for this purpose by a third clearing platoon. Each regimental combat team in the assault was to be accompanied by one of these collecting-clearing companies, which had demonstrated their efficiency in training exercises. Each task force was to have one ambulance platoon in addition to those of the medical battalions, and at least one field hospital unit. The field hospital platoons were to be used for forward-area surgery and as holding units for non-transportables, combining the functions performed in Tunisia by the surgical hospital and the corps medical battalion clearing stations. MB has gone from a VD clinic to a collection company assigned to a regimental combat team, collecting and clearing wounded close to the front.

Meanwhile, Sicily has been taken and the invasion of Italy has begun.

 A little soldier’s humor I found stuck in MB’s photo album.

He then mentions that Italy capitulated, but the Germans were still very much in the war in Italy. MB and his unit were alerted to ship out for Italy. The Fifth Army landed at Salerno, Italy on 9 September 43. MB’s unit boarded an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) and left Bizerte on 25 September 43. He described the experience as “pleasant trip – hot ship.”

Continued…

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A Wartime Diary – Part 2

Part 1 here

England 18 Aug 1942.

MB’s Army experience soon took him to England where the Americans were staging men and equipment for Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942. An excellent study on the subject can be found in the book, An Army At Dawn by the historian Rick Atkinson.

SS Orcades

MB’s diary entry begins with the cryptic “Orcades” followed by “England” and the date. I did some research and found there was a ship, the SS Orcades, a passenger liner that was pressed into service during the war as a troopship. I am assuming he traveled to England on the SS Orcades and arrived on 18 August. It was torpedoed and sunk two months later.

What follows that is a long list of things that must have impressed him. “Trains – Underground – Buses – Taxis – Westminster Abby – Buckingham Palace – Piccadilly – Tower and Bridge – Parliament …” The list goes on and on for two pages to mention just about everything you can ever think of related to England. He does mention war-related topics like his first bombing, fire watch, officers club, rationing, and bomb shelters as well as “Lt and Mrs. Cox” (whoever they were), and lastly “English girls.”

See what I mean? I wish I had asked him to elaborate before he died.

MB on left. Caption on back says, “Air Raid – What not to do.”

Africa

24 Nov 1942

His next entry begins as above, but above that is scribbled “Dutchess (SIC) of Bedford.” Some Googling discovered that was a ship, the SS Duchess of Bedford. Further research indicated she carried a regiment of the 1stDivision, US, to North Africa for the Operation Torch D-Day landings. Those landings were on 8 November 1942.

SS Duchess of Bedford

The date of the diary entry seems to be a bit of a disconnect. I found another reference to the Duchess making a second trip in November, but she carried some British troops and left Liverpool on 26 November arriving in Oran on 8 December. I do recall MB saying he landed at Oran, which was one of three main landing areas. I am guessing that MB boarded the Duchess with the Brits a couple of days before she set sail, and he saw that as the beginning of his African adventure. During the war, MB developed a real fondness for the British and often spoke highly of them. He didn’t like their plum pudding, however.

They set up a bivouac area at Hassi Ameur about 8 miles east of Oran. From here on to the end of the North African campaign he seems to be running a VD clinic much of the time. It gets mentioned often.

What then follows in his diary is another long list of names and observations that must have had some meaning to him. I will list only some that seem significant to his situation. “Mountains against blue sea – Sunrises & Sunsets – Stars – First Air Raid – Veiled Women, Jackasses, Woman pulling cart after ass died…”

That last point was a story he told several times. It seems the Arabs were evacuating a forward area and passing by the front gate of their camp. The jackass pulling an over-loaded cart died right at the front gate. The Arab simply unhitched the deceased ass, hooked up his wife to the cart, and continued on their merry way, leaving the corpse of his jackass to rot in the North African sun.

He goes on to mention other sights like olive trees, mountains, pup tents (small two man tents), and rifles—rifles? The Medical Corps was not normally issued small arms and were considered non-combatants with the red cross emblem emblazoned on tents, vehicles, and helmets, giving them some level of protection from being bombed or shot at. War can sometimes be “civilized,” you know?

In their “infinite wisdom,” the Army decided to arm the medics and issued them M1 rifles, and their Jeeps were equipped with scabbards to carry them in. The Germans captured one of the “armed” Jeeps and sent it back with a note that said, to the effect, that unless this practice was immediately stopped they would no longer honor the red cross. The rifles were promptly confiscated, ending that misadventure.

Hard to see, but the caption says, “Hospital Africa.”

The comedian, Martha Raye, must have visited them on a USO tour because she got mentioned in the diary, but only her name shows up, nothing about how much he enjoyed—or not—her show. Hollywood types were very active during the war, doing USO tours. This gets mentioned often in the diary.

MB goes on to refer to the heat and a sandstorm called the “Sirocco,” which he explains in greater detail in a later entry as “60-mile wind, scorching hot off Sahara, sears everything … carries dust that clouds the sky & obscures the horizon.”

I then found an entry that said only “resupplied.” I believe that is a reference to a story he told several times of how the ship carrying most of their equipment was sunk off Gibraltar by a German sub, and they were left to depend on the British to supply and feed them until they could get new equipment.

The Germans were pushed back east toward Tunis during the rest of the winter of 1943 with Tunis taken on 13 May. The invasion of Sicily was already in the planning at that point.

This photo was dated 7 July 1943 (three days before the Sicily landings) and was probably taken in Tinja, Tunisia. The drinks were orange-aid, according to the comments on the back, which also said, “War is Hell!” That is MB in the middle.

Continued…

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A Wartime Diary – Part 1

This will begin a seven-part series of posts that were taken from the WWII diary of my father, Dr. M.B. Casteix, Jr. It will also draw upon his WWII photo album for some of the images you will see here. My plan is to release the seven “chapters” over the next two weeks, concluding it on Memorial Day

Why am I doing this? Because it needs to be done. We ought to remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, sacrifices that gave us the freedom we enjoy today and how precious that freedom is. We also need to understand that we, like them, might be called upon to make similar sacrifices to maintain that liberty.

Before we start, some background on the man:

MB, as we called him (even his kids did), was Martial Bruno Casteix, Jr. His French grandfather immigrated to America, landing in New Orleans in the mid-1860s. His grandmother was also French as was his mother. We can safely say he was French, yes? Yes. He spoke very little French, which I find surprising considering his French background and all the time he spent in support of French units during the war. Maybe he spoke more than I realized because I found some French grammar studies/notes in the back of his diary.

Technically, MB was my stepfather, but he was the only “father” I ever really knew—and he was a good one. My mother married him after divorcing my birth father. I was five at the time. They had two girls together, Jeanne and Martia.

MB was born in New Orleans and lived all of his life there up until WWII. After the war, he resided in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans, but that’s another story. His father, Martial, was a pharmacist and owned several drug stores in New Orleans but lost them during the depression. Martial and MB’s mother, May, were bona fide New Orleans characters. Go here if you would like to read about some of their antics.

MB was very bright as was his younger sister, Marguerite called “Margie.” She was born on MB’s birthday exactly two years after he was born. For a while, the family resided above one of the drug stores in a building on Bourbon Street that is now the Famous Door Bar. If you are ever in New Orleans, drop into this famous French Quarter haunt and have a drink where MB lived as a child. I told some tales of that period in his life here so I won’t repeat myself now.

As I said, MB was a very bright kid; he skipped two grades in school and entered LSU medical school two years younger than most of his classmates. (See UPDATE below.) He graduated in 1941 and since he spent his schooling in New Orleans he claims he never set foot on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Upon graduation, he immediately went into the Army. He was 22 years old at the time.

The image above was taken before the war and probably while he was in med school.

Lt. M. B. Casteix

Co. D

16th Med. Regt.

That is what the first page says. After several pages of addresses for friends and family, we find the first date in his diary, 18 Aug 1942, and that is for an entry made in England. MB was inducted into the Army right after graduation. He once told me he received no formal military training. He got uniforms, a commission, and orders that took him to Camp Carlyle, PA and then England and ultimately to North Africa and Italy. Because of that lack of military training, he said he was never quite sure who he was supposed to salute while touring Washington DC.

Unfortunately, I never took notes during our many discussions about his wartime service, which were usually in the nature of short comments or brief “war stories” over the 50+ years of our time together. Later in life when we went on fishing trips to Alabama, after a day of fishing on the private lake of my hunting club and with a few adult beverages under his belt, MB would often tell a story or two. But I never recorded those either for which I kick myself because he told many wonderful stories.

MB served during the North African, Sicilian, and Italian Campaigns all the way to Rome and beyond. His experiences were many and varied. For a period he was attached to Darby’s Rangers has his surgeon when Darby’s regimental surgeon was wounded. He spoke of the “crazy” Rangers forming up for chow in the middle of an artillery barrage—they were on the receiving end, not the giving.

He once mentioned an orderly who came down with VD, and he treated him with sulfur, the usual treatment for that before penicillin became common. Unfortunately, the man turned out to be allergic to sulfur and almost died. “But I cured him of syphilis,” was his closing comment on that story.

He told another story of yet another orderly (the same one?) who wasn’t all that right in the head (MB’s description). He disappeared one day during an artillery barrage—incoming again. They found him a few days later. He had burrowed into the side of a hill and sealed himself in along with a case of Italian wine. He was passed-out drunk.

The image above is of the Company D, 3rd Platoon officers. Front – Bob Sharoff, MB, Sal Iraci (Platoon Leader); Back – Tom Sherman, Son Carroll.

There aren’t many stories in his diary, and the few we do find there are rather sketchy, leaving much to your imagination. In fact, his diary doesn’t follow any normal format we would associate with a wartime diary, especially in the beginning. Mostly it consists of names of towns, sights, events, happenings, people, and those are limited to only one or two words as if he intended them merely as a reminder to recall the details later. Later he did get just a bit more descriptive and reveal some of his inner thoughts and feelings as he described the amazing things he was experiencing. We get just a taste of what life was like for him. Unfortunately, it leaves us wanting to know more.

In addition to his diary, I have his photo album. Based on one contact print in the album, I concluded that he used a 35mm camera. I never knew him to own a camera when I was growing up and I don’t know what happened to it. I do recall him telling me “they” developed the film in the chemicals for processing x-ray negatives, but I can’t figure out how he printed them without a proper enlarger to do that. A mystery like many in his diary…

Like the diary, the pictures leave us wanting a context to put them in. There are no notes in the album next to the images, and the backs of most had no comments there either. The few comments on pictures were often very brief with names of people I know nothing of. I’m not even sure where most were taken and will have to draw conclusions from their place in the album and the few images that do have dates on the back, assuming they are in order.

In this series, I will attempt to take what I can from his diary and photo album and turn it into some sort of a story. I hope you enjoy this little peek into the private life of M.B. Casteix.d…

UPDATE: I got a message from my sister, Jeanne, that adds more detail to MB skipping grades. I had heard he skipped two grades. Jeanne says it was three. The third one was 8th grade. She tells me this is what she recalls: “On the first day of 8th grade, his first year at St. Aloysius, he was playing and bonding with some boys. When the bell rang for them to line up, he lined up with his new friends and went to class. The next part is what I find hard to believe. It took St Aloysius three months to figure out where MB was. He was in class with his buddies in 9th grade! Making A’s, they left him there. Hence, he skipped 8th grade too!”

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The Little Red Wagon – Part 2

Back here I posted about my father’s “Little Red Wagon.” Recently, I discovered more about this incident, which is what this all about. To save you the time of going to the link, here is the story.

It seems that MB, then serving with the 5th Army as a physician in North Africa during WWII (and later Sicily and Italy), asked his dad, Martial, back here in New Orleans to please go to Sears and purchase a sleeping bag and send it to him overseas. The U.S, as usual, was unprepared for the war or properly equip its army. It got cold at night in the North African desert, which is where this incident took place. Martial did as asked and dutifully ordered his son his requested sleeping bag. Well, Sears screwed up. I will let them explain what happened. Below are two scans from the New Orleans Sear’s Store Newsletter that has the details.

And here is a picture of the “Little Red Wagon” from a photo MB sent home to his dad and his comments on the back.


As I recall, MB said the Little Red Wagon did not go to waste. They actually used it to move stretchers. As the Sears New Orleans Store Newsletter indicates, they did send him a sleeping bag.

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Letters From the Front – Italy 1944 – Part 2

I posted a letter from my dad, Dr. M.B. Casteix, to his father, Martial, written in October of 1944 and seen here. He wrote a second letter to his sister, Margie, a week before that one, which is the subject of this post. These are the only two letters I have from him during that period. I do have his diary written while overseas and will post some things from it later.

Sharing the same birthday, Margie was exactly two years younger than MB. Margie was married to Robert L Manard, Jr. who was serving overseas as a pilot, and they had one child at that time, Melanie, called “Mel” in this letter. She was born on 21 Oct 1943, a year before this letter was written. She would have been only a year old, which makes MB’s comment about Mel thinking he was a “stingy old uncle” a bit confusing. MB is obviously replying to something Margie said in an earlier letter that is lost to us. Both MB and Margie had a well-developed sense of humor so this must have been an inside joke between them.

As for the content, I have no idea what MB was talking about in the second paragraph. The letter goes on to describe what we called “R&R” (Rest & Recreation) in a later war. The setting is Rome, Italy, and MB gives us a glimpse on what R&R was like, at least for officers, in 1944. He closes the letter with a request for some foods unobtainable over there.

Enjoy a little trip back in time.

As usual, click on the image for a larger view.

 

 

 

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Letters From The Front – Italy 1944 – Part 1

I was going through some old family files and found a letter written by my father, Dr. M. B. Casteix, Jr., to his father back in New Orleans. MB was serving in Italy with the 5th Army as a physician. His father, Martial, was a pharmacist and had owned several drug stores in New Orleans, which he lost during the depression. The letter is a look inside the mind of someone overseas during the war and what we might call dealing with the mundane issues of life experienced by a soldier and those of his family back home. I found it particularly poignant. I’ll let the letter speak for itself.

(Note: Clicking on each page will take you to a larger version.) Part 2 is here.

 

 

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Catahoula Book 4

We are getting close. Book 4, Buffalo Woman, is out with the beta readers to look for problems. I am hoping for a release in May at the latest, but keep in mind I usually have to eat my estimated publication dates. Meanwhile, here is a short excerpt. This scene is out on the Great Plains of Nebraska in winter. Ethan and Angel are buffalo hunting with Grand Duke Alexei of Russia.

*****

We had not gone more than a couple of miles, and I spied about a hundred buffalo of to our right down on the plain of a wide shallow valley. Alexei had rejoined his group but also saw it and pointed to it. “Angelique, now is your chance,” he yelled.

Angel had, of course, taken notice and was looking at me with a pleading expression on her face. “Now, it’s your turn,” I said to her.

The rest of the party was having a good time laughing and drinking champagne when Angel and I broke off from the group and headed for the herd. We still had ample daylight to make a kill and get it skinned and the meat packed if we wasted no time. When he saw us galloping off after the buffalo, Alexei cheered us on and called a halt to the march to watch. He then called for binoculars to have a better view of the action out on the plain.

Angel was ahead of me some two lengths and driving her mount as hard as she could. We thundered down the gentle slope of the hill to the sound of pounding hooves and the rhythmic panting of our ponies. The herd stirred into motion at the sight of the two riders coming hard down on them. They broke into a loping gallop at first and then a hard run as we came up alongside of them. The thunderous sound of over 400 hooves pounding the earth into submission is truly awesome and sent shivers up my spine.

Angel was still ahead of me some two lengths and had already drawn the Sharps from its scabbard, having picked out an old bull along the right side and near the front of the herd as her trophy. I would rather she had selected one near the rear of the herd, but she was committed, and there was no turning back at that point. Like Alexei had experienced, her mount was not terribly interested in getting up close to the galloping buffalo, but she urged him on. She would get him within about four or five feet and bring the rifle to her shoulder while holding the reins in her teeth and managing the horse with her knees. As she was about to shoot, her pony pulled away and spoiled her shot.

I was close behind and slightly off to her side away from the buffalo. I kept looking back to be sure the tail end of the herd did not close in around us from behind. If they did and one of us should fall, he would be turned into a prairie pancake by the hooves of many massive buffalo running over him—or her.

She spurred her reluctant pony in closer once more and, with wide-eyed trepidation, he did move closer. And as before, just as she was about to shoot, his fear overcame her urging, and he reared and pulled away nearly throwing Angel. My heart went into my throat as Angel struggled to regain control and spur him to catch up with her buffalo.

This could not go on much longer. We were losing daylight. I saw only one solution. “Hang on! I’m coming!” I yelled as I urged my pony faster and caught up with Angel. As she forced her mount in closer, I pulled up against the other side of her and, using my horse, forced hers to move closer to the animals he was so fearful of. Protesting, he moved in tighter to the buffalo, but Angel and I were jammed against each other and riding full tilt beside a herd of panicked buffalo.

She was then within two or three feet of her selected bull, and we could both feel and smell their hot breath turned into steam as they huffed to expel and fill their lungs with another breath of life. “Take the shot!” I yelled.

Where she found the strength to do so with that heavy rifle I will never know, but managing the horse with the reins in her left hand, she threw the Sharps to her shoulder, cradled its fore end in her crook of her left elbow, and pointed the rifle at the big bull’s massive chest and pulled the trigger.

BAM!

 

 

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Joe-bert – Excerpt From Book 4

I have finished the first draft of Book 4 of the Catahoula series. Now for the rewrites… And then the editing… Meanwhile, I have here included a short excerpt from the book. This scene takes place in St. Louis when Ethan and Angel are checking into the hotel there. We see Ethan quick to be irritated by the clerk’s mispronunciation of his name and it draws out his sense of humor.

*****

I cleared my throat, and the clerk looked up. “Oh! May I help you, sir?”

“Yes. Name’s Joubert. I telegraphed for reservations three days ago.”

He pushed his glasses up his nose and went to shuffling another stack of papers. “Oh, here it is. Mr. Ethan Joe-bert,” he said reading my name off the reservation telegram.

“It is Joubert,” I replied, using the correct French pronunciation.

“Joe-bert,” he repeated, not even coming close.

“No, Joubert. Draw out the ‘J’ sound, and the second syllable sounds almost like ‘bear’, not ‘bert,’ except more tongue out front and an almost silent ‘t’ on the end. Try it.”

The clerk bravely tried to follow my instructions and failed with a hard sounding “Joe”. “No,” and I reached out and pinched his cheeks to pucker his mouth. “J-j-jou…like jew with a long ‘J.’”

Another hard “Joe” came out, but this one sounded more like it was uttered by a duck being strangled. Angel snickered behind my back. I looked around and glared at her. She pinched her mouth closed in an attempt to hide her amusement, but her laughing eyes gave her away. Turning back to my new friend, I repeated, “Joubert. Try it again.”

He failed once more. Angel couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out laughing. “Give it up, Poppa.”

Resigned to my fate, I said to the clerk. “Very well, just call me Joe-bert.”

He was much relieved. “Oh, thank you very much, sir!”

I shrugged in resignation.

*****

The working title remains If Ever I Cease to Love for now. More on the book here.

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Cherry Bounce Update #2

Two months ago I posted about my cherry bounce experiments and updated that about ten days later with my first update, concerning the second experiment. I was supposed to wait three months before bottling. Well, that didn’t happen. I figured two was enough. So, today I decanted my mash into 200ml bottles and tasted it.

There were two recipes being tested. The first was based on one supposedly from Martha Washington. It called for cooking the cherries and sugar for 20 minutes and using rye whiskey. The second came from a friend, which was his mother’s recipe. It called for cooking only enough to dissolve the sugar and used vodka for the alcohol. Both recipes called for fresh sour cherries, which I did not have and used dried tart cherries instead. Neither recipe made mention of the sugar, but if you have been following my rants here, you will know that I have a fondness for turbinado sugar, which is sugar that is much less refined than white sugar. It is brown and granular with large grains and retains more of the molasses flavor. I especially like it in my Sazerac Cocktail recipe.

I strained out the cherry mash from both of my cherry bounce experiments and transferred the “juice” to bottles for future consumption. Unlike my dad, who was the inspiration for this experiment, I elected not to dispose of the strained cherry mash by bundling it up in cheesecloth and attempting to toss it onto the roof of the building on the other side of Bourbon Street. (This was to hide his foray into adult beverages at age 12. It didn’t make it, by the way.) Instead, I saved it in jars in the refrigerator. Janis plans to use it over ice cream—and probably a few other things she will eventually dream up. In both cases, the liquid came out a muddy reddish color because I didn’t strain it through a fine mesh, only a colander.

Now for the good part, the testing.

The Vodka Recipe – Both recipes had very intense flavors and leaned to the syrupy side of a liqueur, which is what it is supposed to be. This one much favored the taste of the cherries, and the alcohol seemed a bit stronger than in the other. I did not use an expensive vodka because I have very strong opinions on that matter. Since, by law, vodka must not have s discernable taste or flavor, I would never use an expensive vodka in a drink where its subtle (and expensive) attributes could not be appreciated. And this was such a case. This recipe was very drinkable but intense enough you could possibly use it in various cocktail recipes as a flavor ingredient.

The Rye Recipe – This one also had intense flavors but the cherry flavor was a bit less intense than in the Vodka Recipe. The use of rye whiskey also gave it a much a more complex flavor. There was a lot more going on in your mouth than the simpler and very intense cherry flavor of the Vodka Recipe. The rye whiskey came through in a very subtle way that complimented the flavor of the cherries. It was not an in-your-face whiskey experience at all.

Conclusions – While both recipes are very drinkable, and it is quite probable that some would prefer one over the other either way, my choice leans heavily to the more complex Rye Recipe. If I were using the cherry bounce as a flavor element in some cocktail, I might favor the Vodka Recipe for that purpose. Otherwise, for sipping, the Rye Recipe wins for me.

What next? – We scale up the recipe for a larger batch. I will make the Rye Recipe with a few adjustments to my test version. For one, I will not cook the mash for twenty minutes. At twenty minutes, the sugars were beginning to turn into syrup. I think ten minutes might work just fine.

Other experiments? – My dad almost certainly used a different recipe from these two. Unfortunately, he isn’t around to ask about that, and we can find no record of his original recipe. One thing that makes me suspect his was different is I am pretty sure he did not use added alcohol like the two recipes above. The reason I believe that is he had fermentation going on in his version. Once he corked the bottle too tightly, and it blew the top off, scaring the wits out of our maid who was washing dishes right next to it. The added alcohol seems to inhibit that because it kills any yeast present, preventing fermentation. These recipes would more accurately be called “infusions.” If I can come up with a recipe that I think is closer to my dad’s I will run another experiment.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy what I have so far. Cheers!

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