Clint and I hit the road to Fort Hood on the 23rd. We could have flown, but we're road trippin' people. We like to see things, and we're good at making up car games. For instance, we count things. I'm in charge of tallying. By the end of all of our trips, we have a useless record of the number of roadkill, roadside memorials, Waffle Houses, cows, and emus that we saw on our road trip.
It's not altogether useless, actually: we saw more emus on our trip (1) to Texas than we did armadillos (0). If that's not good conversation fodder to tuck away for a future happy hour, I don't know what is.
First and foremost, it was good to see my kid. I hadn't seen him in a year, and in some ways it was a tough year for him. Although his career is going very well—he's been promoted to Sergeant, completed air assault school, and has been accepted to an EOD school in Florida,—for the first time ever he put his friends into planes and sent them to war zones while he stayed behind.
He underestimated how hard it would be. There were a couple of midnight phone calls after planes left to Iraq and Afghanistan, in which he asked me "how did you do this TWO times?" After shipping him off twice, I still have no idea how I did it. I still can't even think about it without crying, and the only advice I could think of was "start shopping for care packages."
His worry for his friends and comrades brought back memories and flashbacks. He is, at least, unashamed of his fears, his tears, his grief. He talked openly, and those of us that he opens up to keep reminding him: keep talking. This is normal. This is good; the shit you saw in Iraq should *not* sit well with you.
I tell you these details (with his permission, of course) to express why it was so important to me to get over there and lay my own eyes on him, as if just missing him wasn't reason enough. I wanted to talk to him, and squeeze him, and see if he's really doing ok.
He really is, and our time with him was wonderful, and fun, and funny. He and his roommate, whose father was also visiting, pulled out all the stops for Christmas dinner. He had to work until noon on some of the days, but that just gave us opportunity to tour the base and do some fun shopping.
~~~~~~~~~~We toured the museum, one half of it now dedicated to Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans. It was an odd feeling to be standing in a museum that actually represented my son's life, and by extension, mine. While I'm so far removed, for instance, from a Civil War display, I know these clothes, those trucks. I have these photos of my loved ones, or photos very similar, hanging in my home.
Brian had to put up with some good-natured ribbing when he told his CO that his mother wanted a tour of the motor pool. "A Mamas Boy, are ya?" (Good thing I wasn't there to hear that.) He gave us a thorough tour, and Clint and I both got a feel for the vehicles he operated in Iraq.
We went to the San Antonio River Walk and The Alamo. Since we were a party of 5, we took 2 cars. Here's soldier baby Anthony McFarlane (or McFifi, as they call him) hanging out of Brian's sunroof at 70 mph or so, near Austin:
Lucky he didn't lose that ball cap.
While near The Alamo, Brian spotted a cool hat & boot shop. I wasn't interested in a $600 cowboy hat, but I couldn't resist trying on a few boots. I was on the fence about these when the clerk showed me an alternate pair, saying "these are handmade—all real leather." This left me befuddled: Am I trying on vinyl boots?!! Forget it! Turns out they were leather, and the same boot is sold at our local Western store. I still might get them, because look how cute!
Clint had a bit of a howdy do with Forrest Gump.
And that is all I have to say about that.
Still, I was determined to get a picture of either an armadillo or a longhorn steer. I'm not sure why I was so fixated on the armadillos—why did I think they'd just be running down the road like squirrels in a park? ZERO armadillos were tallied, as I mentioned before, so Clint and I got up early one morning to hunt for real Texas countryside, with a real damned Texas COW in it.
It took us almost 90 minutes to find a country road, and I yee-haw'd when I finally spotted this herd.
This guy refused to mug for the camera for me, no matter how much I yelled, "hey, cow!"
But when Clint said "HEY!" that steer turned right around and smiled.
Once we had his attention, I began talking, and he turned right back around:
Hmph. Sexist, stand-offish steer.
On the way back from Cowville, I had Clint pull over to the Central Texas State Veteran's Cemetery. It's fairly new, and many of the names were of soldiers KIA in Iraq or Afghanistan. There were 3 funerals scheduled for the day we were there. I read names and ages until I shook.
~~~~~~~~~~Texas Jones, whom I'd met in Fort Benning 18 months ago, happened to come home on leave from Iraq while we were there. Jones's son was born a month after he deployed, and Brian accompanied his friend's wife to the hospital. Jones showed up with a bamboo plant for me, telling me it's his favorite plant, and asking me not to kill it like his wife did his. So far, so good, my bamboo plant is thriving.
~~~~~~~~~~It was interesting to get a glimpse of my son "The Sergeant." Who is this kid that removes his hat before he steps into a building, and places it squarely back on his head before one foot is out. Is it really the same guy that hogs the couch and scarfs down 10,000 calorie mashed potatoes when he's in my home?
We witnessed a few other homecomings. The military homecoming hug is different from other run-of-the mill hugs. They are more holding than hugging. They are closer and tighter, and "I missed you" is entangled with "I'm glad you're alive." A soldier meeting his brother in Denny's for breakfast one morning almost undid me.
There are many military sounds that we don't hear in our civilian bergs, and I wish we did. A canon goes off at the end of the workday, followed by reveille, on a bugle. Then Taps plays every night at 10 p.m. Our hotel was 3 or 4 miles away from the base, but we could hear it clearly. It was distant and eerie, and beautiful every night.
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.
Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.
Thanks and praise, For our days,
'Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.