[The last of my Combat! contributions, for now. FYI: Paul “Caje” Lemay was a character in Combat!, probably best known as a vehicle for Vic Morrow. Played by Pierre Jalbert, a French-Canadian actor, film and sound editor and Olympic-calibre skiier, Caje was supposed to be Cajun, and acted as the squad’s translator, in addition to being the guy who was best with a knife. He’s my favorite character from the show and I’ve written a ton of stories about him, the squad, his family and the Cajuns which you can find at: http://www.tec4stories.com. BTW, the French in this story isn’t quite as ‘intuitive’ as in previous stories, so if you want translations, you can follow the footnotes. The segment at the end is in <> and indicates something that ought to be completely French if i wanted to confuse my English-speaking readers.]
Today’s My Birthday
Caje, bewildered, stepped back involuntarily, and tried again … “Mais, madame, c’est mon an — ”
She waved her broom at him and scowled. “Ferme ton bec!” (3) He watched as she went back into the small building and slammed the door. He’d been told it was a place where he could get some wine and warm up. Obviously, he’d been told wrong.
The scout shivered in the cold for a moment, then pulled his beret from his shoulder and put it on. He trudged back to where the squad was bivouacked. Doc and Billy were the only ones there. Both of them were reading letters, and Billy was idly chewing on a chocolate chip cookie. Caje brightened.
They looked up.
“We got mail? Where’s Brockmeyer?”
Doc glanced at Billy, who looked back. “Sorry, Caje. He didn’t say you had anything.” The medic winced a little at the look of disappointment on the Cajun’s face. Billy jumped up and extended the box in his hand to Caje. “Yeah, but my mom sent some cookies! Have one …” His voice trailed off as the scout shook his head and backed out of the rundown former shop.
“Non, merci, Billy.”
Rien? He tried to console himself that the package he was sure his family would have sent was probably chasing him around France. Maman never forgot a birthday.
He staggered as someone landed a thwack on his back and chortled, “How ya doing, pal?” in his ear.
“Hey, Caje! Listen to this!” He waved the letter in his hand in Caje’s face. “I got some great news –“
“Not now, Kirby.” He pulled away from the BAR man and went on.
“Geez, what bit him?” Kirby looked at Brockmeyer, who had been walking with him.
Brockmeyer shook his head. “Well, one, it’s his birthday. And two, he didn’t get any mail.”
“Aw, that’s too bad. But he never tells anyone anything. How was I supposed to know that?”
“Dunno. It’s not like we can whip up a birthday cake for him anyway. So, what’s your great news?”
Caje continued down the street.
“Hey soldier!” A cheery looking man in clean fatigues that marked him as a civilian masquerading as “just one of the troops” flagged him down.
“I’m not …”
“Hey, not trying to sell you anything.” The man waved at an open truck with some strange-looking equipment in the back. “I’m Jim Ford with GEM razors. We set these booths up so you guys can send messages back to the States! How about it, pal? Want to say ‘Hi’ to the home folks?”
Caje swallowed. He wanted to say “Hi” to his parents and the rest of his family, all right – while standing on his front porch with a glass of his maman’s lemonade and a plate of jambalaya in his hand. For a moment he considered, and then nodded a little wearily.
“Great! Great! Hey, Skip, get this GI set up to record his message, will ya?”
“Skip” put him in front of a microphone with headphones on. “Ok, pal. When I wave at you, start.”
Caje nodded. But what to say? Suddenly, he knew …
“Chu aprés féter ma fête aujourd’hui …” (4) The lyrics to the Cajun birthday song rang out in a clear voice that would have surprised his squad. He’d never heard the end of Brockmeyer’s teasing about singing flat.
He sang out his longing for home and family, finished the song, and continued: “Tu me manques, maman, et toi aussi, Papa, Helene, Phillippe, Nonc Pierre, Tante Charlotte, Papère … Vous me manquez tous beaucoup …()” He stopped and struggled with his emotions, willing himself not to give into the tears that were threatening. “Je vous aime tous. Je voudrais être là …(6)” He waved at the technician and Skip slowly turned off the recording equipment.
“Say, soldier … “ Ford spoke softly from behind him. “We’ll get that back to your folks – if you’ll just fill out this slip with their names and an address.”
* * *
As Caje left the booth, there was a hesitant tap on his arm. The woman from the café stood there, tears in her eyes. <I’m sorry.>
“Pas de problème, Madame.”
<No, you don’t understand. My son – his birthday would have been today. He would have been about your age.> She paused to wipe tears from her face. <I’ve been so angry; he died fighting with the Resistance. All I could think when you came today was that you had been safe in America while he was fighting. But you aren’t safe now – and when I heard your song and that it was your birthday, and how much you missed your family … well, I’m sorry. Please – please come back with me. It would be my honor to celebrate for your Maman et Papa, who cannot be here with you today. And for my son also…>
“Merci, madame. Il me fera honoré, aussi.(7)” He took her hand and tucked it in the crook of his arm, as he would have his mother’s, and they walked back down the street together.
– 30 –
(4) I could only find the first line of this in Cajun French, but the English translation goes: “I’m celebrating my birthday today. I’m here with all my friends. All my presents have been unwrapped but you’re the only present I wanted.” (And I’m pretty sure it’s not WWII era, but I’m using it anyway :))