A wooly fog spun from mist to vapor under the loom of warm morning as breakfast was served alfresco in the French countryside.
Typically Army soldiers were fed like dogs when away from base. Dehydrated beef-patties, reconstituted eggs, and grits with the consistency of saw dust were common in the Army. I expected nothing more, but as I rubbed my eyes and looked around, I realized the Army, like the cold war in Europe, was changing.
This was France. Communism had been milked dry, and even low- ranking GI’s who slept on cots in a barn were being fed an endless supply of freshly baked breads, croissants and crescent rolls. Men and women in stainless, white uniforms and puffy mushroom hats were serving common soldiers outside the large white barns that had been our shelter.
Silver metal prongs at least two feet long seemed silly, but we permitted the cooks to use them when we asked for more on our plates. They served us coffee in bowls and none of us had ever thought of dipping morning bread into coffee, as one may do with tea and toast, but the kind women and men who spoke English with a sweetened formality explained why there were no cups and how to properly eat a French breakfast.
“Have ya ever seen such a thing?” Cromwell asked me, holding a glass bowl like a Chinaman with rice. “I guess they don’t use cups here– but the coffee is good, Taylor. Let me get one of your smokes.”
I offered Cromwell a cigarette I had just lit, for it was impossible for me to hold the dark black coffee in just one hand. Perhaps fearful of germs I may have had on my lips, Cromwell quickly reached inside the breast pocket of my uniform and pulled out a soft-pack of Newports. He helped himself to two before taking the lit one from my mouth to jumpstart his own.
“Oh– look at this,” I said to Cromwell picking up a glass jug of milk. “The milk has real cream in it. How much you wanna bet it came directly from those cows. This is a dairy. Smell that? We couldn’t see anything driving here last night. It sure beats the woods of Germany though.”
I stared at the distant pastures as Cromwell filled a paper plate with at least a half-dozen baguettes using his filthy hands. To our back, the western horizon remained dismal. The fog that once blanketed the landscape before us rose in theatrical vapour. For as far as one could see, the land was green and subtle hills, far from the decadence of mountain ranges, stretched beneath the golden glow of morning for as far as one could see. It was obvious to me that we were nowhere near Paris.
“Do you wear contacts?” Cromwell asked, looking me dead in the eyes.
“Your eyes are so green.”
Just as I blushed, a deep voice shouted above the chatter of the soldiers eating breakfast.–“I need two volunteers.”
Both Cromwell and I knew never to volunteer for anything in the Army, but I put down my bowl, stamped out my cigarette and raised my hand.
Cromwell did the same, amost instictively.