Monday, January 17, 2011

Like Christmas Morning

James is home! Home is no longer our back bedroom where the Legos and toy trains were once stored. Home is now where his beloved wife Amber has been waiting so anxiously. And his arrival wasn't just a wonderful reunion, it was a huge relief. Ever since Amber's visit with her doctor three weeks ago (when she first heard the words "dilated" and "effaced"), she's had reason to be concerned about the baby's arriving before James returned. But now that James is home, the vigil's over. If the baby doesn't arrive sooner, the doctor will be inducing labor this Friday, a week before James's mid-deployment leave ends.

But simply saying that James is home in time for the birth of their first son doesn't tell the story. His plane landed at DFW Airport at 7:30 on Friday morning, a full hour ahead of schedule -- but more importantly, almost seven hours before his departing flight was scheduled to leave DFW. Long before James left Afghanistan, Joyce and I had offered free taxi service from DFW to Fort Sill, but he insisted that he'd prefer to fly into Lawton so he could also fly out of Lawton.

But when we met James at Terminal D, the first words from his lips were: "Can you give two of my buddies a lift to Fort Sill?" Well, of course we could. In fact, anticipating that James might just have a change of heart, Joyce and I had driven to the airport in separate cars. So I piled three soldiers and their gear into the Toyota and headed to the north airport exit, onward toward Oklahoma -- Joyce took the Plymouth and headed south, back to the house.

As the band of brothers and I pulled onto State Hwy 114, I handed James the cell phone and told him to have his guys call their wives and let them know I'd be dropping them off at their doorsteps two hours before their flight was even scheduled to leave DFW. I assured everyone that the prepaid phone had plenty of time left on it. What I hadn't anticipated was James's spending nearly the entire trip explaining to some brain-dead government bureaucrat that he and his two buddies would not be flying into Lawton that afternoon, but they would need to fly out of Lawton two weeks later.

As we were nearing Fort Sill I asked the guys where they lived. Just to make things interesting, PFC Smith volunteered that his wife and kids had moved on-post since he'd deployed, so he wasn't entirely sure where his house was. SGT Smith knew where PFC Smith's neighborhood was, so we at least had some idea that we should be headed to the housing area south of the hospital. James handed PFC Smith the cell phone with instructions to have his wife give us directions to the house. Just as Smith had said his obligatory I-love-you-and-can't-wait-to-see-yous and was on the verge of obtaining the operational instructions, Virgin Mobile decided we'd had just about all the conversation we needed, at least until we fed some more dimes into its corporate maw.

Luckily, we found Smith's street without making any wrong turns and within a minute of the phone's betrayal, we pulled into the driveway of a house with a picture window full of toddlers' hands and faces. The front door burst open and emitted a beaming blond who immediately attached herself to PFC Smith. We dropped a bag out of the back of the Swagger Wagon and by the time the happy couple were across the threshold, we remaining travelers were off again, bound for SGT Smith's abode.

The route to SGT Smith's took us past the grade school. As we drove by the school, James asked the sergeant, "How old are your kids?" SGT Smith replied, "I have two girls, ages six and three. The six-year-old is in first grade and the three-year-old is at home with my wife." As we passed the playground full of scurrying youngsters, SGT Smith added, "I'm gonna try to surprise my first-grader at school today." Two blocks farther on we came to his house with two SUVs in the driveway, but no other evidence of anyone at home. We unloaded SGT Smith's bags from the back of the car and I returned to the driver's side. Sergeant Smith set his bags down in the yard on the passenger side and walked around the front of the car to shake my hand and thank me for the ride. I was a bit taken aback that someone who has sacrificed so much would be thanking me for such a small gesture, and I told him so, "No, thank you for your service."

James and I both got in the car and, as I back out of the driveway, it occurred to me that SGT Smith had no key to the house and was apparently locked out. He was standing with the screen door open, knocking on the solid wood door. My mind was searching for the proper way to handle the situation (I sure didn't want to just drive away and leave him sitting in his front yard), when suddenly the front door swung inward and the good sergeant was nearly knocked backward by a woman who leaped into his arms.

As we pulled away, I told James, "Delivering soldiers to their wives is even better than watching kids opening presents on Christmas morning."

Then we drove over to James and Amber's house, where I can truthfully report I saved the best present for last.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Joyce found this on Neatorama. It needs no explanation. Just watch ...