Sunday, April 23, 2017

Goddi-de-gom, goddi-de-gom

Ola Ferla, a former Army nurse, with a picture of her late husband, Joe.

   Many of the stories I've recorded go in one ear and out the other, so to speak, great stories that a listener would be crazy to forget, but if I didn't have my tape recorder -- excuuuuse me, my DVR, aka digital voice recorder -- running, many of those stories would be lost to history except in the memories of children and grandchildren who may have heard them dozens of times.
   But every now and then a story sticks with me, one that I don't have to hear more than once and I don't need the voice recorder to remind me of.
   So it was during my recent interview with 99-year-old Ola Ferla, who served as an Army nurse in Scotland during World War II and whose husband, Joe Ferla, an officer with the Signal Corps, was struck by 21 German machine gun bullets and 100 pieces of shrapnel and survived. But that's not the story that impressed me so deeply -- in fact, I almost just had to go look at the transcript to make sure I got the numbers correct.
   My newspaper colleague Erica Schmitt conducted the interview with me for an article in the May issue of Connecticut Prime Time. Ola's daughter, Susan Ferla, had contacted the newspaper to ask if the paper would be interested in writing an article about her mother, which is how the interview came about, and the great photographer Wesley Bunnell took some pictures, although the photo at the top was taken by yours truly. I hope to obtain permission to use some of Wesley's photos when I post the transcript of the interview in a couple of installments over the next few weeks -- it ran 34 pages, double spaced.
   The story Ola told was about a friend of her husband, a fellow patient in the hospital, and while I could relate it for you, I'll print it here in Ola's words. It came about two-thirds of the way through the interview, pretty well after Erica and I ran out of questions and we were simply having a conversation.
   "And I think of something now," Ola said, almost as an afterthought, "that I thought was so funny thirty or forty years ago [it probably was seventy years ago since it was not long after the war], and now it's really very sad. My husband's friend who was recovering in Framingham at the same time in the hospital, had been hit in the head with brain damage and he couldn't talk. All he could say was "goddi-de-gom, goddi-de-gom," and we thought that was so funny. We'd say something to him and he'd answer "goddi-de-gom, goddi-de-gom," and now when I think of how sad that he had this injury, and that's all he could say, they shot away that part of the brain that controls speech. ... [He was a] nice guy. What a hard life he had. We never thought of it that way, we just thought that he couldn't say anything."
   Ola is one of two Ninety-Niners I've interviewed in the last few weeks. The other is Dr. Cedric Jimerson, who was an Army surgeon during the war. Both interviews are truly inspiring, and I hope to post more about them soon.