OK, here it is ~ my account of having a real-life hero visit our home. First, check out the pictures. It was an awesome, awesome experience I will NEVER forget. Here's the link to the pics: http://photobucket.com/albums/
For once in my life, I am at a loss for words. Writing has always come very easily and naturally to me (which is why I'm an English major, haha), and I can express thoughts and feelings much better through writing than speaking. But this time ~ I'm pretty speechless. This weekend, one of the soldiers our family informally "adopted" came to visit us!!! It was a very moving experience, to say the least.
For the past two weeks, I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Sgt. Christopher Missick and his two buddies, Ryan and Kyle. Kyle served in Iraq with Chris, and Ryan was a college buddy. J Everyone who even remotely knows me knew how excited I was about this visit. After five years of "adopted" soldiers who have been deployed overseas, I was finally going to meet one of my "kids!!!" When I first learned that Chris was coming to visit our family, I was stunned, to say the least. Sure, I'd written to him while he was deployed in Iraq, and of course I posted frequent messages of support on his website (also known as a "blog"), and God knows I prayed all the time for him…but in the grand scheme of things and compared to how much other people were able to do (send care packages, etc), I did not believe I'd really done much of anything for him at all. So, when I got a letter in the mail one day from Chris, explaining that he was going to be driving cross-country from California to New York and back again to visit about 20 people who wrote to him while he was in Iraq, and that he wanted to stop by and see us, I was absolutely floored! So many people had written to him while he was deployed, because his address was on his website. Why us?! I was just stunned, amazed, humbled, honored, and ecstatic with joy! And yes, I cried…over the next few weeks, there would be a lot of that going on!
Once it was confirmed that he would be coming to Georgia and approximately when, I began making plans. First, we had to get the house looking better before he got here! We'd needed to paint for a long time, but had not been able to get started on it for one reason or another. Now, we definitely had good reason to get on with it, haha! Next, I started thinking about what we could do for Chris to really show our gratitude, to thank him for his service to our country. I wanted to make sure they were treated like kings ~ only better!!!! The best thing I could think of was to take him & his buddies out for a real, old-fashioned, traditional Southern dinner at the nicest restaurant I could possibly find. So, I made reservations for five (Chris, his two buddies, and my hubby, Jeff) at The Blue Willow Inn. The Blue Willow was built in 1917 ~ it is a gorgeous, luxurious mansion reminiscent of old plantation homes. The landscaping is breathtaking, the interior is filled with the elegance, grace, and charm of the Old South; and the food, served buffet-style, is authentic, traditional Southern food. They serve everything from crab legs right down to fried green tomatoes and cornbread! You just can't possibly get more Southern that that, haha! J When I made the reservations, I told the hostess that two people in our party had recently gotten back from Iraq, so I would like to have the best table in the most elegant room they had.
Thus began approximately two weeks of a flurry of intense activity. Hubby and I began working on painting ~ no small feat with a 2 year old and a 4 year old running around! We painted the living room, the kitchen, and the bathroom. I got new, pretty decorative knobs for the kitchen cabinets and drawers, along with a new shower curtain and new towels. Oh yeah, and new sheets for the kids' rooms, too, in case they ended up staying here. J There was really nothing wrong with the old ones, but the new ones just looked nicer. I wanted everything to be 100% perfect for them! As luck would have it, that same week Chris was scheduled to arrive, two of our kids (Jacob, 9, and Kathryn, 4) were scheduled to be spending that week with their grandparents. We made arrangements for the other two, Tiffany, 11 and Jeff Jr, 2, to spend the night with our friends Rhonda and Roger and their two daughters (8 and 9 years old). I ordered a custom-made banner for the front yard that said: "WELCOME HEROES!!! [in red letters] Thanks for your service! [in blue letters]" I also got two flags to put on either side of the banner, and two red, white & blue ribbons to put on the posts holding the banner up. I spent considerable time trying to find the "perfect" outfit to wear for dinner. Two local newspapers wanted to run a story about his "Web of Support" project, so the three days immediately before his arrival was spent preparing for that, as well.
The closer it got to "V-Day" ("visit day"), the more excited I got!!! It was finally starting to sink in that I was really and truly going to meet one of my "babies!" Anyone who knows me knows that I don't write casually to soldiers here & there, just sort of "off the cuff" and without much thought. I pour my whole heart and soul into my letters, my emails, and everything I do for them (which isn't all that much, I sooooo wish I could do more!!!). When I say, "We love you; we're so very proud of you! Thank you!" they are not idle words ~ I mean it from the very depths of my heart. As I would later tell Chris, (as corny as this may sound, haha!) I feel like this is the ministry God has given me to do at this time. I'm very passionate about supporting the troops and motivating others to do the same! But, I'm digressing here, sorry…
Anyway, the closer the day came, the more I thought I would just die of excitement and anticipation!! I couldn't eat because I was so wound up, I wasn't hungry, and I couldn't sleep because I kept thinking of the ten zillion little details I had yet to attend to. None of that was in a bad way… I was most decidedly NOT stressed out, frazzled or anxious, not in the least!!! Rather, I was very eagerly awaiting the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to finally give one of my "kids" a hug and say "Thank you" in person. I wanted their time here in Georgia to be perfect and memorable and relaxing and enjoyable in every way.
Finally, July 23 arrived. I could scarcely believe it was really THE day!!!! I went on a last minute cleaning spree throughout the house. I put the new sheets on the kids' beds, then swapped out their polyester-filled pillows for my own good, fluffy, soft feather pillows. J We don't have much by way of material stuff… but Chris & Co. were going to get the absolute, very best of whatever we did have! Finally, there wasn't a single thing left to do but wait.
I had spoken to Chris around 12 that day, and he'd given me an estimated time of arrival of somewhere around 3:30 or so. Robby, an editor from The Walton Tribune, and Shelly, the owner of The Loganville Post, both arrived at our place around 3:00. Both of them were extremely nice, kind people. Both of them said they were glad for the opportunity to spread the word about Chris's Web of Support project, Adopt-a-Platoon, and getting involved in supporting the troops. (And that's all that matters ~ getting more support for the troops!). Robbie of the Tribune told me that not only was this going to be front-page cover story, but it would also be the subject of his editorial column that same day. Previously, he had given me a rough draft of what he'd written so far. At about only ½ way done, the article was already at least 1,000 words. His boss had assured him that he could have as much room as he needed to run this story. Anyway, the draft I read as wonderful ~ it made me cry (again) because it really emphasized getting involved in supporting the troops, and how much our support really does mean to them. Even this first rough draft was beautifully written.
Well, Robby & Shelley wanted some pictures of our family by our welcome banner, so we went outside and took a few pictures. Right after we finished the pictures, our guests of honor arrived!!! At that instant, everything around me just seemed to disappear, like nothing else existed at that moment. Normally, I'm an extremely shy, quiet person ~ even having to make small talk in a grocery store line is a major challenge for me. But, like I said…at that moment everything disappeared, and all I saw was my "kid" ~ the one whose blog I read every day for several months while he was in Iraq, who I prayed for daily, worried about, emailed, and wrote to… and I didn't even have to think about it, he got a super-hug hug. It was just so amazing that finally, he was really here! Never in a million, zillion years had I dreamed that just mailing off a few letters here & there would result in such a huge blessing!!!!!!
Anyway, eventually I let the poor kid go, haha, and I became dimly aware of the fact that in the background, Shelly & Robbie were taking pictures like crazy (and Ryan and Kyle, Chris' buddies, were also videotaping/photographing it all). But I didn't care! I was definitely emotional and teary-eyed, but I was surprised that I hadn't totally "lost it" ~ I had been just positive I would. Somehow I stayed together as he introduced his buddies to us. Ryan had served with him in Iraq, and Kyle was a college buddy.
We finally all went inside and began talking. It doesn't seem like the two reporters were there very long at all… maybe thirty minutes? Of course, I was off on cloud nine somewhere anyway, so who am I to judge the time, haha! Robby, the Tribune editor, gave Chris a copy of the same rough draft of the article he gave me, to make sure that what he'd written so far met with his approval (it did).
After the newspaper folks left, the five of us (me, hubby and the guys) sat around and just talked. I immediately felt comfortable around Chris, Kyle and Ryan. I showed Chris my scrapbook that I keep all the letters, pictures, and emails I get from soldiers in. (I also have a special section devoted entirely to SPC Matt Maupin, who was captured 4/9/04 and remains listed as "captured.") As I do with everyone, I chattered happily about all my different soldiers, and (as always) bragged on one kid who'd really become especially very close to us, and we'd become very close to his family as well. "That," I said as I pointed at some pictures, "Is my baby!"
Finally, it was time to get ready for dinner. I went and changed into that "perfect outfit" I'd found, more thankful than ever for having lost 33+ pounds! We then all piled into our family minivan and drove about 5 miles down to our friends, Rhonda and Roger's house to drop off Tiffany and Jeff, Jr. In spite of the fact that Rhonda had spent most of the night in the hospital (we found out later the next day, she had been about to have a heart attack and had truly been in bad shape), they still insisted on keeping the kids for us. In fact, Rhonda even came outside in the approximately 95-degree heat to meet Chris and to give him a hug. As both Rhonda and Roger kept telling Chris and Ryan how much they were thankful for their service to our country, and hearing Christ say how thankful they were for their support, I kept getting all teary-eyed and choked up (there's a lot of that in this story!).
It's kind of funny ~ I noticed that this exchange of gratitude would be something of a pattern over the next several hours. Several times, a conversation would go something like this:
CHRIS: Thank you so much for having us over!
ME: Oh, gosh, no, thank YOU for coming here!!!! It's such an HONOR to have y'all!
CHRIS: Thank you for writing to the troops.
ME: Oh gosh, thank Y'ALL for doing what Y'ALL do for us!!!!
I mentally labeled this "the gratitude war" ~ which one of us was more thankful, haha? I think, personally, it was a tie.
Anyway, we got to the Blue Willow Inn about an hour before our reservations so that we could have time to take pictures and look around. As I said before, mansion and the landscaping are absolutely breathtaking and there are lots of good places for pictures! When Chris & co. saw the Blue Willow Inn they were just blown away by how beautiful it really was. (Like I said…nothing less than the very BEST for one of my "adopted kids!") One really neat thing was that one of the hosts was an elderly gentleman dressed up in 1800's-era clothing, top hat and all! J He spent several minutes with us (come to find out, he was a retired Marine) and graciously allowed us to take several pictures with him. After we were finished taking pictures, we went into the gift shop to look around until our table was ready.
Shortly before 7:30 , the five of us were seated at our table in a cozy, elegant-yet-intimate dining room. There was a fireplace behind us (obviously not in use during the summer) and perhaps 4 other tables in the room with us. The waitress was wonderfully efficient, friendly, and charming. The table was set with a maroon table cloth and real china with a pattern known as the "blue willow" on it (hence the name of the restaurant). Small, elegant lamps along the wall illuminated the room with ample light to see by, yet softly enough to enhance the already elegant ambiance. We went up to the buffet, and got our salads. When we returned, Chris asked if he could say grace. We all joined hands as he led us in a prayer of thanks. This is a moment that stands still in my mind like a snapshot. What an honor to pray with him!
As we ate, we all talked about everything under the sun. There was much we had in common. The three guys and I are all college students, so we chatted about college, etc. (OK, so I'm way older than all of them… 32, haha, but college is still college, it's pretty much the same everywhere, I think, haha). Of the four of us in college, 3 of us had the exact same career goals, so we were able to discuss our chosen careers and the reasons why we each hoped to succeed in our ambitions. We talked about soldiers' blogs, who had posted what lately and how long I'd been following various blogs. There was even some reminiscing about Chris blog. At one point, he sort of "disappeared" from blogging for several weeks (that tends to happen from time to time in a war zone). All of us loyal Missick fans were, of course, worried sick. We would all post comments on his blog, complaining of suffering from severe "Missick Withdrawal Syndrome." Each day that went by when he couldn't post, one of us (at least) would post a message like, "My M.W.S. is getting worse by the minute!!!! I hope he's OK!" The memory of these silly messages (behind which was an awful lot of love and concern) brought a laugh to the table. Chris & Co. were so very easy to talk to. I enjoyed every minute of it! Hubby also enjoyed discussing politics with the guys throughout the night as well. As dinner progressed, from time-to-time various staff members, a chef, and even one other guest came by our table specifically to tell the guys "thanks for serving!"
As we ate desert, I gave each of them a little gift bag with some souvenirs to remember us by. Each one got a Blue Willow Inn coffee mug (Jeff and I got one, also) and the "Letters from Home" CD by John Michael Montgomery. And of course, each guy got a sappy, sentimental, thank you card! I got one for Kyle, too, of course. Even though he wasn't in the military, he was still part of the team making this awesome "Web of Support" trip possible. I felt like he deserved to be recognized and appreciated, too! J It was SOOOO much fun watching them open their gifts…. I just LOVE to surprise people.
This leads me to perhaps the most moving, profound, and memorable experience of the entire visit. Prior to going to dinner, I'd asked the guys if they'd ever heard "Letters from Home" by John Michael Montgomery. Amazingly, they had not, which was amazing considering that they said they do listen to country music (along with just about everything else, too). I was relieved to hear them say that ~ it was kind of a gamble to buy a country CD for a bunch of California guys, haha. But I've never heard anyone, anywhere, ever say they did not like Letters from Home. It's one of those songs that speaks to the heart, no matter what kind of music you ordinarily listen to. I told them that this was a song that they absolutely MUST hear, and that when we got back home, I'd make sure to play it for them. Anyway, that was all before they got their gifts, which they said they loved. J They wanted to listen to the CD on the way home from dinner, but we don't have a CD player in our van, unfortunately.
Anyway, we got back home at about 9:30 or so, maybe shortly before. Jeff had forgotten something at the store earlier, so he dropped the four of us off at home and ran to the store real quick. After getting settled in, they wanted to hear their song. J So, I went to CMT.com, where they have the Letters from Home song and video available to watch anytime. I warned everyone that this was an incredibly powerful song, that I've heard it dozens of times and it never failed to make me cry or at least get choked up every single time. I warned them that when you saw the video together with the song, it was even more powerful. Anyway, I hit "play," turned up the volume and stepped back to watch and listen. This is one of those times in this story where I am absolutely, completely at a loss for words. The emotions that were in that room as together we watched that video…. Just can't be put into words. It was just one of those MOMENTS that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Here we were, the soldier and the supporter, listening to a song about how much letters from home mean to our troops. I wish I could find words to describe that moment.
Shortly after this, Jeff got home from the store. We all stayed up and talked until almost 1:00 a.m., about anything, everything, and nothing. I'm sure the poor guys know way more about our family than they ever wanted to, hahahaha! All that time confirmed for me what I already knew ~ Chris is an amazing kid with a very bright future in front of him…he will "go places" in life, I'm sure (not just on a road trip, either, haha). He is, without a doubt, destined for great things. Kyle and Ryan were awesome, too. I just loved hanging out with them all! J
Once I finally went to bed, it took me well over an hour to fall asleep. I was still on "Cloud 9" from the whole awesome day!!! Eventually, I finally did fall asleep…though not for too long! J At 6:30 Jeff and I were up to make them a homemade breakfast before they hit the road for Florida . We made a huge feast for them ~ scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits & homemade gravy, fruit, orange juice and of course coffee. I loved every minute of it! As I said before… it is a very, very rare occurrence for me to be able to afford to send care packages, etc over to my adopted soldiers, so I was SO extremely excited to FINALLY have the opportunity to do something more to show my appreciation and support!!!!!
After breakfast, we took a couple more pictures, and it was time for the guys to pack up and head to Florida <
I cannot tell you how very much it meant to me to be able to meet one of my "adopted kids," what an honor it was to have him here, and what a huge blessing it was to be able to give him a huge "Mom Hug" and say THANK YOU in person!!!!
The next day, Monday, the Walton Tribune reporter called me to find out how the rest of the weekend went. Several times as I spoke to him, I got too choked up to talk…but I think he understood anyway.