NEW RELEASE and EXCERPT
(Home Front Book 1)
(Home Front Book 1)
by Barbara Bretton
Sentimental Journey is the first book in Barbara Bretton's new Home Front series. Also Available: Stranger in Paradise.
Sentimental Journey is currently on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
For some more books by this author, please check out my blog post on The Year the Cat Saved Christmas and Mrs. Scrooge.
Before they became The Greatest Generation, they were young men and women in love ...
It's June 1943. From New York to California, families gather to send their sons and husbands, friends and lovers off to war. The attack on Pearl Harbor seems a long time ago as America begins to understand that their boys won't be home any time soon.
In Forest Hills, New York City, twenty-year-old Catherine Wilson knows all about waiting. She's been in love with boy-next-door Doug Weaver since childhood, and if the war hadn't started when it did, she would be married and maybe starting a family, not sitting at the window of her girlhood bedroom, waiting for her life to begin.
But then a telegram from the War Department arrives, shattering her dreams of a life like the one her mother treasures.
Weeks drift into months as she struggles to find her way. An exchange of letters with Johnny Danza, a young soldier in her father's platoon, starts off as a patriotic gesture, but soon becomes a long-distance friendship that grows more important to her with every day that passes.
The last thing Catherine expects is to open her front door on Christmas Eve to find Johnny lying unconscious on the Wilsons' welcome mat with a heart filled with new dreams that are hers for the taking.
"This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt
~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Catherine Anne Wilson was no different from a million other young women on that warm June evening in 1943. She was twenty-one years old, engaged to be married, and impatient to get on with the rest of her life. If the war hadn't come along, she and Douglas Weaver would have been married by now, snug and safe in their own little apartment with a baby in the cradle and another one on the way.
Instead there she was, still in her parents' house in Forest Hills, curled up on the window seat in the pastel pink room where she'd played with dolls and learned how to curl her hair and dreamed of how wonderful it would be to be grown up and married.
Now, years later, she was still waiting to find out. She was a grown-up woman living the life of a dutiful daughter. Each morning she arose at seven, gulped down oatmeal and a cup of cocoa, then kissed her mother goodbye in the same routine she'd followed through four years at Forest Hills High School when she was counting the days until she was grown up. The only difference was, she no longer headed for the classroom; she headed for work where she spent nine hours a day posting numbers at her father's manufacturing firm. She came home at night to her mom's meat loaf and her sister's Sinatra recordings and an abiding emptiness inside her heart that almost took her breath away.
Even the songs matched her mood. Don't Get Around Much Anymore and the painfully beautiful As Times Goes By only served to point out how different this world was from the one she'd imagined when she was a foolish girl.
It wasn't as if she wanted very much out of life. All she wanted was the same things women had wanted for hundreds and hundreds of years. Her own house and her own husband. Children to care for and a life that was her very own. Woman's Home Companion said that these should be the happiest years of her life, a time when childbirth was easier, and housework more satisfying. They even hinted that the love between a man and a woman could prove that sometimes heaven could be found right there on earth. Instead, she felt like a hungry child with her nose pressed against the window of a bakery, longing for something as simple and natural as a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. Something that was as impossible as flying to the moon.
When her mother was twenty-one, Dot had already given birth to Catherine and was pregnant again with Nancy. She'd had a husband and a home and the happiness Catherine dreamed about every single night.
"Don't you worry," everyone said, their tones jovial and reassuring. "Things will be back to normal before you know it." The tide was about to turn any day, that Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini were on the run and any minute the Allies would strike the blow that would put an end to this insanity.
Like most other Americans, Catherine had been raised on happy Hollywood endings, firm in the belief that the good guys always won. Lately, however, she'd been finding it harder to hold onto the notion that everything would work out the way it did in Betty Grable movies. Instead of coming to an end, the war grew larger and more frightening with each day that passed. The headlines on the New York Daily News and the Herald Tribune talked of massive troop movements and losses that brought a chill to the blood.
Six million Americans were in the military and each day the ranks swelled as eager men signed up to defend their country. The Allies had suffered badly in Corregidor and the Bataan death march was all too real. The Movietone News put a good face on the truth but it wasn't until Guadalcanal, just a few months ago, that the Allies had scored their first victory.
None of it, however, seemed to register on her sister Nancy, whose voice floated up to Catherine's window from the front stoop where the high school senior sat chatting with her pals. Had it only been four years since Catherine herself had sat on the stoop with Douglas and made plans for the senior prom? She felt like an old woman rocking on the front porch as she watched the youngsters have all the fun.
Nancy's voice was high and excited--after all, it wasn't every day you got to go into Manhattan and see the real life Stage Door Canteen. Their father had pulled a few strings and made special arrangements to take the family into the city to meet some of his squadron members and have a good old-fashioned celebration before he boarded a troop ship the next morning for Europe. "We're not going to sit here watching the clock tick," he had said to Dot and his daughters at the breakfast table that morning. "Let's meet the fellows and make an evening of it."
Nancy had been beside herself. It seemed to Catherine that her little sister had been baptized with stardust and blessed by Max Factor. Nancy pored over her stacks of Photoplay and Modern Screen as if they held the secret to life on their glossy pages. Nancy believed in love at first sight, that Clark Gable was the most handsome man in the whole world, and that if she only had Betty Grable's legs, Rita Hayworth's hair, and Lana Turner's smile, her happiness would be assured.
"Do you know that little girl is positive she'll meet Van Johnson and Tyrone Power tonight?"
Catherine turned away from the window at the sound of her mother's voice in the doorway.
"What's worse," she said, summoning up a smile, "is that she believes they'll both fall in love with her."
"That child is starstruck," said Dot as she entered the room. Her slender figure was hidden inside the lavender housecoat Grandma Wilson had made for Dot's birthday present, and her thick light brown hair was tightly wound into curls crisscrossed with bobby pins and dampened with Wave-Set.
Her mother's familiar scent of Cashmere-Bouquet and Pacquin's hand cream was a balm to Catherine's troubled soul. She made room for her mom on the windowseat. "I'm glad Nancy's the way she is. One serious daughter is enough, don't you think?"
Dot glanced at the alarm clock ticking away on Catherine's nightstand then leaned over and poked her head out the bedroom window. "You have one hour to get yourself ready, young lady. Daddy expects us dressed and on our way to the subway at six o'clock sharp."
They both laughed at Nancy's shriek of, "I don't know what to wear!" which was followed by the sound of her black-and-white saddle shoes as she raced up the front steps. Lucky Nancy with nothing more to worry about than choosing between her red blouse or her white one.
"Are you going to wear your green dress?" Catherine asked her mother.
Dot's cheeks flushed prettily. "I wouldn't dare wear anything else. It's your father's favorite."
"If you like, I'll help you pin your hair into an upsweep. Mary Clare down the block showed me how to roll the most adorable pompadour. With that gold mesh snood Aunt Mona gave you, you could--"
Dot gave her eldest daughter a long look that stopped Catherine cold. "What's wrong?"
Catherine glanced out the window. "Nothing."
Dot inclined her head toward the pale blue letter on her daughter's lap. "Did something in Douglas's letter upset you?"
"He's fine." A sigh escaped her lips. "At least, I think so." She held up the heavily-censored letter for her mother to see. "There wasn't much left to read after Uncle Sam got through with it."
Dot's smile wavered. "I guess your dad and I will have to invent a secret code for our sweet nothings."
Catherine wanted to say something reassuring but the lump in her throat made speech impossible. Her cheerful, upbeat mother--the woman Catherine had leaned upon for twenty-one years--suddenly looked like a frightened child. The war seemed closer to Forest Hills than ever before.
Dot looked away for an instant and when she met her daughter's eyes again she was once more her ebullient self. "You get yourself ready now, honey. You know how Daddy hates to be kept waiting."
Catherine blinked away sudden, embarrassing tears as Dot headed toward the door. "Mom?"
Dot paused in the doorway and looked back. "Yes?"
The moment passed. "Nothing. I'd--I'd better get ready." Catherine longed to throw herself into her arms and cry her heart out but Dot had her husband to worry about now. It wouldn't be fair to add her daughter's own fears to her burden.
"You know you can tell me anything, don't you, Cathy?"
Catherine nodded and her mom turned then disappeared down the long hallway to herbedroom.
You know exactly what I'm thinking, don't you, Mom? I've never been able to fool you about anything at all. You can see that I'm scared to death that something terrible is going to happen to Douglas, that this dark cloud I've felt hovering over me for days means something.
Catherine shivered despite the balmy June weather and wrapped her arms around her knees as she looked out the window at the street she knew so well. Hansen Street, a narrow road lined with powerful oaks and graceful maples, was her whole world. She'd been conceived right there in the English-tudor style house, three months into her parents' marriage. She'd taken her first steps in the front yard while Mrs. Bellamy and old Mr. Conlan called out their encouragement.
And she'd fallen in love with Douglas Weaver, her very best friend, as they sat beneath Harry Weaver's crabapple tree under the spangled moon when she was twelve years old.
Fifteen months ago, she had kissed Douglas goodbye at Grand Central Station. He had looked so handsome in his uniform, so tall and strong and painfully young that her heart had ached with love for him.
"I'll wait for you forever," she'd said, her tears staining the shoulder of his khaki jacket. "I'll never love anyone but you."
"I'm coming back, Cathy," he'd said. "I'll be back before you have time to miss me."
A thousand other soldiers whispered the same words into the ears of a thousand other sweethearts who also stood on the dock that snowy morning. The boys' promises were heartfelt. The girls knew the war would be over before they could dry their tears.
How wrong they all had been. The days turned into weeks, then the weeks passed into months and finally Catherine realized the war wasn't going to end simply because she and Douglas Weaver wanted a chance at happiness together.
Across the street Edna Weaver waved to Catherine's father Tom, who strolled toward home with his Daily News neatly rolled under his arm.
"You shake Bing Crosby's hand for me tonight, Tommy!" Edna called out, waving her pruning shears aloft in greeting.
Tom tipped his cap. "Come with us, Edna, and shake his hand yourself, why don't you?"
Edna laughed and pointed to her gardening costume that consisted of her husband's castoff trousers and her long-sleeved smock. "Movie stars will just have to wait until my rosebushes are in shape, but you and Dot dance a waltz for me."
Catherine's father promised he would do exactly that then turned up the path to the Wilson house.
Edna resumed her gardening chores of maintaining the dazzling display of scarlet, cream, and blush pink roses that were her pride and joy and the talk of the neighborhood. Douglas had always teased his mother that she cared for her rosebushes more than she cared for her husband and sons but everyone knew Edna Weaver's big heart knew no bounds.
"Just you wait until Douglas comes home, Cathy," her future mother-in-law liked to say over a cup of cocoa in the front room of her red brick house. "We'll take your wedding picture right here in front of the roses and everyone will say you're the real American beauty."
Edna Weaver tended toward exaggeration in everything she said and did. Her roses were the most beautiful; her sons and her husband, the most brilliant of men; and, her almost-daughter-in-law, the most perfect girl in the world. Edna Weaver also believed in happy endings and these days that kind of cockeyed optimism was a what she sorely needed.
This sense of foreboding unnerved Catherine greatly. Although she had a serious nature, she invariably saw the best in others, and believed that good things happened to good people. But ever since her dad had enlisted last December, she'd had the terrible sensation that nothing would ever be the same again. She did her best to push the darker thoughts aside but they refused to be ignored, overtaking her late a night when her guard was down and her heart was most vulnerable. It wasn't right that the man she loved was so far away, that the plans they'd made for the future had to be stored away for the time being like winter blankets come springtime. Douglas was her love and her friend and she missed him more than she'd ever imagined possible.
She wrote to him every night, long letters on her pastel stationery, letters filled with her hopes and dreams for the future still ahead of them. Dreams she shared with no one but him. Even the everyday happenings took on new importance. She told him that Count Fleet won the Kentucky Derby and that she went to see White Christmas for the third time and loved it more than she had the first. She memorized every word of his government censored letters and spent endless hours trying to reconstruct the missing phrases. She drew funny pictures of their neighbors and wrote out the words to As Time Goes By in her most elegant hand.
And she promised him a life of sunshine and beer and a score of little Weavers if he would just win the war and come back to her.
Late at night in the darkness of her room she tried to imagine their future. She could see their children, as blue-eyed as she; as blond as the man she loved. A little girl with rosy cheeks and a lopsided smile sat on her big brother's lap as he peered out from beneath the bill of his Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap. She could picture the tiny white house with crisp black shutters that they would live in and the smart striped wallpaper and even the Philco radio that stood majestic and proud in the corner, but she couldn't picture Douglas. Heart pounding, she would squeeze her eyes shut, trying to conjure him up in the darkness. A thick wheat-colored brow...a flash of sparkling eyes...nothing. He faded away each time like a dream come morning, leaving her alone and terrified.
She remembered his words but the sound of his voice eluded her. The man she loved, the boy she'd grown up with, the one constant she thought would be with her always, and she couldn't recall the timbre of his voice or the way his hair looked in the sunshine.
Would that happen to her mother? Six months from now would Dot cry into her pillow as Tom Wilson's face stubbornly refused to appear before her eyes. It seemed to Catherine that all across the country it was happening to women who waited. Somewhere in Kansas a farmer's wife sat on her front porch and listened for her husband's voice in the summer wind then shivered as she heard nothing but the beating of her solitary heart.
The men were disappearing, all of them. The Robertson twins, Arnie from around the block, and the man who ran the hardware store on Continental Avenue had all left for boot camp in the past week. Douglas's big brother Mac had gone to Europe as a correspondent but it looked like he'd be enlisting any day.
And now tomorrow her own father was off to war, leaving her mother alone with Wilson Manufacturing and the house and two daughters to care for. Not that either Catherine or Nancy needed fulltime mothering any longer, but there was something scary about being a family of women without a man's strength to lean upon.
Their lives were changing and there wasn't anything Catherine or Dot or Nancy could do to stop it and that fact scared Catherine more than anything else. She could write a thousand letters, knit sweaters and gloves for the soldiers, collect tin cans and rubber tires, buy war stamps and save up for bonds. She could become a Rosie the Riveter and take a man's job for the duration, but there was nothing she could do that would erase the last eighteen months of loneliness.
Men went to war.
That was the way things were and, as far as Catherine could tell, it was the way things would always be.
By Lori Craig
I recently had the pleasure of reading this book and felt completely immersed in WWII America. As I read the pages I came to know and love the characters and feel as if I shared a part in their story. The author has a great eye for detail and ear for dialogue and obviously did her research well. I find it such a shame that this fine book is out of print for I know that anyone in search a beautiful love story set in the 1940's or any era for that matter would fall hard for this book.
From the Author
I am so proud and happy to bring you my Home Front stories for the first time ever in ebook format. Some of you may remember Sentimental Journey and Stranger in Paradise as part of Harlequin’s groundbreaking Century of American Romance series. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to bring the 1940s and 1950s to life through the stories of the Wilson family of Queens, New York City – a time and place I am very familiar with!
You'll meet Dot Wilson, a middle-aged housewife and mother, must face life without her beloved husband of twenty years as he goes off to war.
And Catherine, the oldest daughter, who lost her fiancé to the war but finds love again when a brash young soldier named Johnny Danza shows up on her doorstep one snowy Christmas Eve.
And then there’s Nancy, the youngest, a teenage girl swept up into the giddy joy of a wartime romance. She opens her heart in her letters to a sailor named Gerry Sturdevant but can their fragile young love survive real life when the war is finally over.
Prepare to be swept away to a time (not that long ago) when courage and sacrifice were more than words in a history book. A time when family was worth fighting for ... and so was love.
About the Author
A full-fledged Baby Boomer, Barbara Bretton grew up in New York City during the Post-World War II 1950s with the music of the Big Bands as the soundtrack to her childhood. Her father and grandfather served in the navy during the war. Her uncles served in the army. None of them shared their stories.
But her mother, who had enjoyed a brief stint as Rosie the Riveter, brought the era to life with tales of the Home Front that were better than any fairy tale. It wasn’t until much later that Barbara learned the rest of the story about the fiancé who had been lost in the war, sending her mother down a different path that ultimately led to a second chance at love ... and to the daughter who would one day tell a little part of that story.
There is always one book that’s very special to an author, one book or series that lives deep inside her heart. Sentimental Journey and Stranger in Paradise, books 1 and 2 of the Home Front series, are Barbara’s. She hopes they’ll find a place in your heart too.