Christmas morning passed with nothing more than loud squeals from seven children and wrapping paper everywhere. I think all of us were buried in it, miles of it covering us from head to toe. It took us some time to find all of them amongst the piles around the living room. All we had to do was listen for one of them to scream a wordless elation and we were off to find the source of the noise.
All and all, it was a pleasant day. While Peg and I cooked dinner and we chatted with everyone, the children played with each other. Danielle and Patrick were still weary of Dean, but kept him in their inner circle. Erin and Shannon disappeared upstairs and were found designing each other's hair, but thankfully no coloring or cutting. Annabeth and Gina hid in the basement, playing a wordless game of dolls.
Dinner was a hit, although very sad. Father Mulcahy told us about what has been happening in Korea since we left and what he planned to tell Father Cyr the next night. It was not very pleasant. Uncle Syngman had not gotten any better. The ROK had been dependent on the US, since they were now considered a third-world country, and all of the money went right into the wrong hands. Syngman also had the gall to make himself leader for years, no matter that their laws limited a president to two terms.
"He has quite the hold," the Padre finished as we ate. "The war was not considered part of his presidential term."
"Of course," BJ replied. "Wars don't count for anything."
"Wasn't he the leader anyway?" Peg asked.
"He was, but then the war took away his power," I explained. "Syngman Rhee is one to grasp onto anything he can, including impoverishing his people."
"And taking kids who have no idea what fighting is," Hawkeye added.
Peg followed this with sad eyes. "How are we better?"
"We're not," BJ reassured her. He stabbed a potato with his fork. "We don't always have presidents who force their people to live in poverty."
"Well, what about the black neighborhoods?" Peg asked. "Don't we force them to live that way?"
The questions stopped all of us. Each person glanced at the other, unable to eat another bite. Peg had a point. We were no better than Syngman Rhee. The only difference is America is a nation with many people, of all races and ethnicities, and we set a term limit on presidents now. The ROK is one people and its leader intent on holding onto power, no matter what. Either way, we discriminate against our own people.
"I don't think we gave them much of a chance," Sister Angelica said, to break the silence. "After slavery was abolished, nobody stood up to them. We hated black people."
"Some of us don't," Father Mulcahy added quickly after her. "They are God's children, as much as we are."
"This is part of policing the world," Dad mentioned. "We point our finger at one person and neglect what we have at home."
"How can we change this?" Hawkeye mused.
The answer was before our very feet. We can help in little ways. While desegregation already happened, many schools will not accept black children, restaurants and grocery stores were banning them and neighborhoods did not mix well together. Crabapple Cove was all white. Hawkeye claimed that there has been no black person in town since before the end of slavery.
"Well, we plan on remaining in Korea," Sister Angelica announced. "We cannot leave our little ones behind."
"They need us more than ever," Father Mulcahy clarified. "Since the Army is no longer responsible, then we have to make due with the means we have."
"And what do you need?" BJ inquired.
"The usual," was the answer. "Blankets, roofing supplies and more. The children are always growing. They need clothes and shoes."
"Can't we have a fundraiser?" I asked Hawkeye. "The churches keep the locals here feed and clothed. Why not donate for another cause?"
Dad cleared his throat. It was a warning to be careful. Again, this brought us back to the point of helping those in our own country while others suffered the same way. It also told me that now was not the time. There were other pressing matters.
"This country is not interested in the children their soldiers left behind," Father Mulcahy said sadly. "We have had to separate them from the full Korean children. They have been sent to the monks. The others we have kept have been…struggling. It is difficult to find food. Even though the bombing has stopped, mines have been left behind. There is nowhere safe they can farm. We cannot settle in one spot either. It is not the bombing anymore. Now, it is the lack of food in one area."
"The girls not in our care are being used to check the fields," Sister Angelica continued. "They are not as valued as the boys, so families send them in. Children lose their mothers and mothers lose their children."
"How do you determine a safe location?" Peg asked. "I hope you do not send the girls in either."
"We throw rocks," Father Mulcahy said. "Sometimes, we let an animal run into the field. If we're lucky, an American soldier can help us."
"Is there anywhere more permanent?" I was alarmed.
"In Pusan, maybe," Father Mulcahy replied to me. "I have yet to ask. Every request I have sent has been denied."
It was a dire and depressing view on the postwar world in Korea. Suddenly, Christmas safe in the States felt guilty. So many people have died while in Korea and a lot of it was our fault. Even after we left, there has been nothing except disaster. With nothing we can do for the moment, we sat in a contemplative silence. We had so much to look forward to when we got home. These people had nothing. They were home.
Then, BJ changed the topic and asked me and Hawkeye about our project. It was good that he did. Father Mulcahy and Sister Angelica had not heard of our clinic yet. This perked Hawkeye right up and he immediately began discussing our plans. When he paused, I picked up and vice versa.
Father Mulcahy was elated when we finished. "Bless you both! You have found your spot after all."
"It was all Jeanie's idea," Dad said.
I beamed. "I can't say it was all my fault. There was a lot of inspiration."
As I talked about some of the origins, Hawkeye wrapped his leg around mine. His hands moved to under the table. He inched closer to my dress. When he reached between my legs and began rubbing, I had to discreetly move my hand to meet his. I swatted his inappropriate ministrations away. He was persistent though. He did not give up. It eventually got to the point where Dad had to kick Hawkeye under the table.
Throughout this seemingly normal conversation, I admitted no faults. I did not want my marital problems put under a microscope. I focused on the troubles the state of Maine has with its healthcare, why I felt it was important to be closer to home and how I decided to become a nurse again. Sister Angelica was especially proud. She clapped when she heard I passed my exam with flying colors.
"It proves that women can do the same work as men," she told me. "Many people do not believe that either."
"Nurses have been the backbone of the medical community," Dad said. "Anything a doctor misses, a nurse will catch."
Hawkeye winked. "Don't I know it."
"I can't tell you how many long nights I had," Dad continued. "I should have gone to bed. I didn't and a nurse was there to help me through it. She let me sleep and woke me up when there was trouble."
Peg smiled and turned to me. "How will the children be like without you at home?"
It was meant as a joke, but it opened up the flood of guilt again. There I was, pleased that I was a civilian nurse, and Peg reminded me of what I was leaving behind. My heart was ready to burst. Most certainly, I was trying to stop the flow of tears from coming.
I excused myself from the table as Hawkeye answered for me. Everyone was finishing up and I had some cleaning to do anyway. Once the children put their cleared plates in the sink, I was rounding them up to be wiped down themselves. One by one, each child was rubbed spotless by a wash cloth and sent on their way. When little Dean toddled away, I was left alone in the bathroom. There, I leaned against the sink and cried.
Hawkeye found me a few minutes later. "What's wrong?"
I rose and held him, even though my tears wet his shirt. "What will the children do without me?"
"They will be fine," Hawkeye reassured me. "Dad and I have a plan."
"Will it involve the children being with us?"
"Of course. You can count your little dress buttons on it."
"Hawkeye, they might be in the way. How will two children under three stay put and two others under seven help?"
"You'll see. It will work out in the end."
The way Hawkeye talked was encouraging. It left no room for arguments. However, I was still curious. I always pictured the children hiding out in a separate room or out by the ocean, with Shannon in charge. We had a set of rules and we gave them a lot of trust. I could not see how Hawkeye was working this out.
"You're too protective of them," Hawkeye pointed out. "You can't hover over them forever. It'll be a good thing for you and them."
He understood my fears. Being nearly two years away from Shannon gave me terrors of never seeing her again. He never understood it itself, but he had a less paranoid view than I did. I always had to have the children within my sight. Even when I allowed them free rein of the neighborhood and the beaches, I was nervous. The twins were little. Annabeth hardly had a voice. Shannon was rough. Somebody could kidnap or hurt them.
After the Desoto almost hit two of my girls earlier this year, I could not leave any of them out of my sight. Peg's lighthearted statement reminded me that Cochran can live in another form. It could be Douglas. It could be another man. It did not matter. Someone will always be unhappy with us and seek out our ruin.
"Besides, I want my favorite nurse back." Hawkeye squeezed my right breast. "You won't get in the way of any surgery."
Through the tears, I laughed. It was ridiculous that I was still churning the opposite emotions inside of me. The desire for life and death, merriment and sadness…it was maddening to believe that someone like me could be so contradictory. Then, when I remembered Sidney teaching me moderation, I realized that it was not just for the drinking. It was also for emotion.
Life was a balancing act. I had to ensure that one extreme did not control me. However, I was sure that I longed for Hawkeye. That was an emotion I couldn't hide.
"Oh, my tits aren't large enough?" I begged.
Hawkeye buried his face between them. "They are the perfect size to me."
When we heard BJ clearing his throat at the doorway, we knew that we were caught. Luckily, it was just him. He leaned against the frame with his arm crossed. His face indicated that he had seen it all, as if sharing a tent in Korea was not enough. He also was not happy to be experiencing this again.
"Mind if a man has some peace?" he asked us. His thumb pointed behind him. "Your bedroom is that way. I suggest you use it."
It was a novel idea. Hawkeye and I exchanged glances and headed that way, leaving BJ to his business. Then, we had the same thought. Hawkeye checked downstairs. The children were under Peg and Sister Angelica's loving care. Dad was settling down to a religious conversation with Father Mulcahy. All was well.
He returned and fondled with me as his body pressed against him. "Mind if we step into my office?"
I kissed him. "I thought you'd never ask."
The next night, we had to be on our best behavior. Father Cyr was meeting his colleague and we were hosting this occasion. Dad was insistent being at the head of this dinner and Hawkeye, BJ, Peg and I agreed. We also conceded to handling the children and keeping out of sight, unless told to. They had to be seen and not heard. Dad was adamant about it.
He also had a set of rules that we had to follow. We could not sneak away for sex. No racy comments or jokes. No mention about our children not being baptized and not attending church. Nothing can be said about our own beliefs either. We had to shake our heads in agreement and that was it. This was for Father Mulcahy and Sister Angelica and they were going to need the support.
"Keep it clean or leave the room," Dad ordered at the conclusion.
It was not like we had this happen before. Surely, we had our taste of VIPs at the 4077th. From high-ranking officers to psychologists, inspectors and more, Hawkeye, BJ and I had dealt with the cream of the crop. Even the lobbyist from DC was an honor to meet, but a slimeball in the end. Dad was not telling us anything that Sherman Potter did not. The only difference was that we were not in the Army anymore and Dad could build a woodshed and would not hesitate to use it.
"We've had more important visitors to the camp before," I told him.
"We were stuffing each other in the jeep though," Hawkeye reminded me.
I giggled. "We were helping Radar chase down Sophie."
"And making anniversaries ever-so-special." BJ kissed Peg.
"Ok, you juveniles," Dad interjected, "I am serious. You cannot mess this one up. Don't play with Boxer Day. Don't be fools. Be adults for once."
I rolled my eyes. Now, I understood what I had to do. I played this game, more times than one. Mom always had me do the same thing when we had visitors to her house. She had me lie through my teeth about all of activities, faith and more. It was sickening.
"I promise," Hawkeye announced, raising his right hand. "Scout's honor."
I copied him. "I promise, Dad."
BJ first raised his left and then his right hand. "Damn, I can never get it right."
Peg kept BJ's hand up and hers as well. "You know I will keep them all in line," she promised. "At least I never played at war."
Honestly, I don't think Dad believed us. All throughout the day, he kept his eye on all four of us. Every move we made that was out of turn, he was on top of us, only to see that we were following his rules. Every time we laughed, he needed to know the joke. By the time Father Cyr arrived at five, Dad was a mess. He almost stuttered a less-than professional greeting while opening the door.
Most certainly, Father Mulcahy was more comfortable. He and Father Cyr were talking almost immediately and including Sister Angelica very little. Even when dinner was served, the two were still on the topic of the Korean orphans. With the smallest of resources, Cyr found Father Mulcahy to be a miracle worker. He praised him heavily. When he found Sister Angelica to be an angel of mercy, he was floored.
"And you did this after your ear surgery?" Father Cyr asked him. "God's work is never complete when you are down, is it?"
Father Mulcahy smiled. "God's work cannot ever be completed, Father Cyr, when people cannot see to the needs of others. We have to show the path."
"We all cannot be selfish," Father Cyr pointed out. "We all must ensured that not only that God's laws are followed, but that we bring them to the Promised Land. Food, clothing and shelter are the only needs a man should have and he must share it with his brother."
Or sister, Father Cyr. Did you forget women populate this Earth too? What about Sister Angelia's work?
I sighed softly. Apparently, it was not quiet. It caught Father Cyr's attention. When he asked me if everything was all right, I had to smile too. Dad's rules rang in my head again. I did not wish to deal with his wrath.
"Oh, no," I replied cheerfully. "Everything is fine. Would you like more peas?" I offered the dish.
"That won't be necessary, Mrs. Pierce," Father Cyr said. "My portion was perfect."
"Fine as in fucked-up –" Hawkeye whispered.
Dad kicked him under the table. It was his only warning. It was also the signal. It was time to leave. Danielle, Dean and Patrick were fed and the older girls were swinging their legs. Quickly, Hawkeye, Peg, BJ and I excused ourselves and ushered the children to the basement. They were allowed to play for a while before a bath and bedtime. When they settled, I was back in the kitchen scrubbing dishes. Father Mulcahy, Father Cyr and Sister Angelica were still deep in their conversation.
Dad leaned against the counter as I washed. "You four did pretty damned well."
"I almost lost it," I admitted.
"Hawkeye rubbed off on you," Dad said. "You are joining him on his soapbox."
"No, I sometimes push him over," I replied, laughing.
"Was Hawkeye really going to go through with what he felt fine meant?"
"If you allowed him, I'm sure he'd be more detailed."
Dad let out some air. "I'll finish the dishes. You go enjoy yourself."
"What? And leave my crusty soap kingdom in your rough hands? I don't think so." I splashed him. "Out of my kitchen."
Dad took the hint and left. When I was done, I checked in on the clergy crew. All three of them were still talking. It was close to nine o'clock and the children needed to be in bed and not in the basement. Already, the twins and Dean were giggling and crying all at once and the older girls were sullen. I had to cut this short.
After we put the seven to bed, Dad ended the event. Father Cyr did not want to leave. He was apologetic for being so rude though and still continued his conversation with Father Mulcahy until he reached the door. Even so, the two were shaking hands and promising to telephone each other and to write many letters. Once the vehicle was gone, we were all relieved, even the Padre.
"Boy, does he like to be strict," he said of the man.
Dad laughed. "You should have seen him twenty years ago. He has mellowed with age."
"Was that before or after I tipped his outhouse?" Hawkeye asked.
"He does not like women," Sister Angelica observed.
"I noticed that too," Peg said. "He kept taking footsie under the table. He did not like Sister Angelica talking either."
"I thought I intercepted the ball," BJ replied to her.
"But did he like what you're doing?" I asked the brother and sister.
"Well, he was intensely surprised that we did not have the government's support," Father Mulcahy explained. "He stated that very few people expressed an interest in the orphans we helped to create. However, if he works with me alone, he will reach out to his superiors and form a committee to look into the crises. He wants to send supplies."
We all cheered and congratulated them both. It woke the littles ones upstairs, but I think none of us cared at the moment. For once, the help we added was just being quiet and on our best behavior. Dad was right to set the rules. It meant Father Mulcahy and Sister Angelica received assistance from the most unlikely of sources and it was going to be here it'll begin.
Afterward, Peg and I settled the herd and returned downstairs. Dad already got the scotch out and poured everyone a glass and was waiting for us. In the large circle we formed in the living room, we raised our glasses up and toasted this happy occasion. This was not enough though. Father Mulcahy had the last word in.
"To everyone," he said. "We have been through purgatory. Now, we have turned it into heaven. We have cried and healed. Now, we are moving forward."
"To everyone," we echoed.
In that shining moment, I knew everything was going to be ok. A year ago, I could have never dreamt of this. We were all so giddy with excitement that the horrors of Korea were a distant memory. It was like it never happened at all. We were all ordinary people, celebrating the success of a good friend and his sister.
This afterglow was not so terrifying after all. We were going to make it.