Tuesday, June 1, 2010

To be free

Hello Interwebs. I haven't fallen off a cliff. I've just been neglecting you. Because the sun is shining and the temperatures are delightful and I'd rather be outside. The truth hurts.

On Sunday Andy and I went to a picnic with my family. We ate too much and got sunburned and I narrowly escaped being attacked by a tick. Ok, not really. I saw the tick on my blanket long before it was any threat to me. But I'm telling the truth about eating too much and getting sunburned.

It was a beautiful day and though the clouds looked threatening a few times they always blew in another direction so we didn't get rained out, and we all enjoyed our picnic and time spent together.

Of course I subjected everyone to a group photo. They always complain and you'd think they were used to it by now, but apparently not. They do get into formation more quickly these days, so that lets me know they have resigned themselves to the fact that they can't talk me out of it so they might as well get it over with.

So here it is:

Ha! Just kidding. That's the picture we took after I made sure we got this one:

We're missing a few people. One day I'll get one with everyone together. But it turned out well just the same.

See the man in the back? With the white hat that has the flag sticking out of it? That's my uncle Todd. He's married to my mom's sister, Pam. I was in their wedding.

He's a veteran of the first gulf war/conflict. Call it what you like, it was a scary time for my family.

I was thinking about it on Sunday at the picnic. He had on a patriotic t shirt and stuck that little flag in a tree so passersby could see. And I started to reminisce about that time so many years ago when he was gone.

I was just a little girl, but I remember everyone being very tense and worried. Most nights my grandfather slept on the sofa with the tv on, programed to the local news channel. Pam lived out of town with Ashley, my little cousin, but she spent a lot of time with us. Either we were there or she was with us. There were always so many unanswered questions. We spent a lot of time trying to make Ashley feel like everything was normal when it was obviously not. Her daddy, the center of her world, was gone.

I don't remember exactly how long Todd was gone, but I know it was at least a year.

Blessedly, they day finally came for him to return to his family. I remember that we all went down to welcome him. There were a LOT of people too. Our family plus Todd's family makes for a very big group.

It was a very long day of hoping and praying for a safe journey. I was eight or nine and I remember being very impatient. I had expected that we'd get out of the car and there he'd be and we'd all hug and kiss and celebrate. In reality we spent a lot more time waiting for the plane to appear in the sky. If I remember correctly it was delayed a couple of times until finally the announcement came that the soldiers' arrival would be soon.

There was a VIP section for the wives (and I'm sure husbands & parents). Most of our group stayed back in the bleachers that had been set up, but Pam took Ashley and me up to sit and wait with her. As soon as we settled in our seats I could feel the difference in the atmosphere there. I didn't realize what it was at the time, but I was surrounded by people that had spent innumerable days hoping for their loved one to return and now it was so close. The joy and relief in that group was palpable.

We spent some more time waiting. They played "God Bless the USA" over the loud speaker and we all stood up and sang with our hands over our hearts.

And then the plane landed. Pam had Ashely in her arms and me by the hand. She was squeezing so hard.

The soldiers all got off and lined up.

I didn't know what was going to happen next, but I guess someone gave a signal that the soldiers were free to find their families.

Suddenly Pam ran forward and was dragging me toward all the soldiers. I was so confused and she was running so fast I couldn't keep up. I thought she'd lost her mind.

But then she found him and they all hugged so tight. Pam still had my hand and at some point they pulled me into the hug. Everyone was crying and eventually we found the rest of our group. Todd was home!

I'll never forget that day and what it was like to be with my aunt as she welcomed her husband home.

Like I said, I was confused. There was so much that I didn't understand about love and war and families.

But now I have a husband of my own. And while I haven't had to send him away to war I understand better how she felt that day. Andy was gone to California back in October and I ran and jumped into his arms the night he came home. That was just two weeks.

Now I can appreciate why she squeezed my hand and drug me into the crowd to find her husband.

That knowledge allows me to empathize with what so many families are dealing with now. And it makes me appreciate so much more what it means to live in this country. And to be free.

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