Saturday, May 31, 2008

Allow me...

Bear with me, folks, while I gush for a few more days. I swear, I'll get back to yapping about spiders and farmer's markets, in due time.

So. The Homecoming Motorcade.

Did I say I was grateful? You stood on the streets in Pesotum, IL. Firetrucks, squad cars, and "townfolk" line the streets of Tolono, IL. Flags hung from firetrucks also, as the Savoy community lined up. And finally, you waved your arms and your flags at Brian & Steven from our own hometown, standing at main intersections in Champaign, IL, and coming together in front of our home yesterday morning.

I've never so much wanted to be so many places at once in my entire life. I wanted to ride with the motorcade, and still stand with each of you at every station along the way. I opted, finally, to play hostess in my own driveway, to watch that motorcade roll in. It was a very nice choice.

I had called Next Generation school 3 days before, located directly across the street from my home, and asked them if they'd like to have their kiddies join us Friday morning for a bit of applause. I didn't know if they had decided to participate.

It turns out that the students, parents, and teachers of Next Generation went above and beyond. At 9:15 a.m., I heard, from inside my house, the din of hundreds of little voices. I was in the middle of a TV interview in my living room, and I actually told the interviewers, "I'm not missing this." I excused myself to find hundreds of little kids, dressed in red white and blue, carrying signs, banners, and flags, finding their seats in the grass.

Although I had a telephone heads-up of the location of the motorcade, I still found myself surprised when the first squad car, driven by Brian's Dad, and carrying Michelle, Emily, and Dustin, rounded the corner and hit the sirens.

The crowd went wild when the boys pulled up to the end of the driveway, hugged Mama & Co., and then headed across to greet the kiddies.

The kids shook hands, and high-fived the boys, and presented their banners to them, one by one. One little boy, after shaking Moore's hand, actually told him "I'm never going to wash this hand again."

The vets in the Patriot Guard were thrilled to bring the boys in.

I personally hugged each of them. These guys usually escort fallen soldiers home, and when I told one of them, "I'm glad you can be here under these circumstances," he took my face in his hands and kissed my forehead. It's one more moment I will never forget, as long as I live.

There were other military parents present:

And children with patriotic hair:

And Mary. She is 85 years old, reads my blog and sent me messages and emails, and her sons have sent me message of support throughout Brian's deployment. It was the first time I'd met her, and I recognized her immediately, and ran for hugs. Her husband fought in the Korean War, and her son in Viet Nam. She knows. Mary knows.

First State Bank on Windsor and Galen has a marquis running this weekend:

Grandma! Grandma was there too, of course.

Brian talks. Steven, claiming shyness, opted out of speaking. I informed most of the reporters, ahead of time that he preferred not to talk. Every single one of them was respectful of him, and of my request. Kudos to all of the media that showed up. They each made me, personally, feel like they were happy to be there.

Best friends were present. My friend, Diane, whom Brian calls "Aunt Dee," along with her grandkids, Kaylin and Jaeden, helped me decorate the yard the night before, and they arrived early with donuts and coffee on Friday morning. It's Diane that I ran to when local soldiers fell, and Diane that grabbed her flag and stood at my side, waving and weeping at motorcades of a different sort. We both fell apart when Ours drove up yesterday morning, our prayers answered.

And flowers were left in my yard, along with bouquets of balloons, saying "Thank You."

And if I could get 10,000 Thank You balloons, I'd walk the streets tonight, and hand one to each of you. Because, I, I have been here, accepting your emails, and shaking your hands, and receiving your comments, telling me to tell my son Thank you.

I know.

I know how grateful you are, how you feel about my son.

And her son.

And his wife.

And his mother.

And her father.

And her husband.

And today, they know also.

And I can't thank you enough for coming out to show them, yourself.

They may not even know it yet, but you changed their lives, yesterday.

Oh. Did I say Thank you?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mark Your Calendars for This One, Too.


Open House Picnic:
Celebration & General Merrymaking

Sunday June 1
1721 N. Duncan Road

(Go North on Duncan Rd. as far as you can,
and you're there. Parking available across the street.)

We'll supply soft-drinks and hot coals. Bring something to throw on the grill, a side dish, if you'd like, and any other beverage you want.

Or just stop by for a hug or a handshake!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MOTORCADE: Friday Morning

Credit: Airamis Cyril,

Dear Everybody:

My son, SPC Brian Jolley, and another that I consider my own, SPC Steven Moore, have finished their reintegration classes, and they are coming HOME.

Fanfare is in the works! A motorcade, including the Patriot Guard, will escort these boys to their front door on Friday morning, and I'd love it if you could run out to the sidewalk and wave at them.

The motorcade will leave the State police station in Pesotum, IL at 9:30 in the morning.

It will travel North on Route 45 to Windsor Road.

It will proceed West to Galen Drive.

It will turn South on Galen, and end up on Lancaster drive, where there might also be a home dripping in flags and a Mom wearing an Army shirt.

Tell your boss you'll be right back, and run out to wave at these boys. Their time in Iraq was not a tiptoe through the tulips; c'mon out and let them know you're glad they made it home. Your support will make a memory for them that they will carry with them forever...and into their next deployment.

Feel free to walk on over and give a Mom a hug too. Or rather, stand back if you're near her; you might get one whether you want it or not.

Friday, May 30th
Approx. 9:30-10:30 a.m.
Route 45, Windsor Road, Galen Drive, Lancaster Drive
Champaign, Illinois

Email me if you'd like more information.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend & What to Read

T minus 24 hours before we hit the road for a 4-day camping weekend with friends. As we begin packing, I've been searching for a new book to take.

I just found this website:

What Should I Read Next? Go there, type in the name of a book you like, and it will give you suggestions of other books that might captivate you. Amazon has a similar feature on their book reviews, but I was intrigued with this one. I searched for "The Time Traveler's Wife," and got a list of 10 recommendations. I'm heading out to Borders tonight, to buy Eva Moves the Furniture, by Margot Lindsey.

I also found out that you can search your local Borders online to see if they have a certain book in stock. That could have saved me a few trips, in the past.

This is the sort of thing I hope to put my energy into this weekend: Chaise lounge, a few good books, laughing with friends, cooking over open campfire...aaaaand back to that chaise lounge.

Have a great long weekend, folks. Catch ya on the flipside.

Oh, and still 4 hours before I head to Borders. Any good book suggestions, bring 'em on!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The First 48

Here's something we didn't know before: When your son comes home from Iraq, the army sends you a letter warning you to watch him carefully, for the first 48 hours.
  • He is not to drive any vehicle for the first 2 days he is home. He is not to even sit on a motorcycle. These things are non-negotiable.
  • He may be aggressive, it says. He may want to pick a fight.
  • He may think he's invincible.
  • He will not have the alcohol tolerance he once had. We should monitor him, and his alcohol intake.
Doesn't really put your mind at ease, does it? I had talked to Brian enough on the phone that I felt I had a relatively good grip on how he was doing, and where he was, mentally. He sounded okay, to me. Same 'ol Brian.

Still, I figured that yes, the Army was probably on the money. Of course he'd be more aggressive; in fact, I hoped he would be more aggressive. When you imagine your kid getting shot at for a living, you don't wish meekness on him. He now has your blessing to do many things you've railed against him doing for his entire life. You find yourself marveling at the things that come out of your mouth when you're preaching to your kid to just get home alive. Perhaps the Army should send letters to the soldiers, warning them that their Mother's may become more aggressive.

So, was Brian more aggressive? I will, of course, have a Mother's point of view.

As his mother, I'd say that "Edgy" would probably be a more appropriate word than "aggressive."

After we picked him up, he and Moore rode in the back seat of the car, windows down, when we took them back to the barracks. Brian had his arm on the edge of the window, and finally brought it in, saying "having the windows down makes me nervous. It seems so dangerous." Moore agreed.

Standish couldn't keep his eyes off the side of the road, as he rode back with his parents. Still looking for that roadside bomb, it's a habit not broken in a 12-hour flight.

And at the barracks, someone dropped a dumpster lid, causing all 3 boys to start, more than the rest of us.

Reacclimation was definitely in order.

There was alcohol. "Watch your soldier, limit his alcohol, they told us." Seriously, you just try to keep alcohol away from 300 soldiers just home from Iraq. It took all of about 15 seconds for a bottle of frozen rum to find its way into the room. I watched 'em, alright. Watched 'em do this shot...

And this one...

Ah, screw it. The restaurant is right next to the hotel where they'd be swimming next. No one's driving. Make mine a J├Ągermeister.

Here was Moore's lunch—hey! What's that in the background? That's aggressive.

And back at the pool...this looks kind of like a cozy hug, but I believe someone's about ready to get knocked into the pool.

Supervised by four parent-figures, they talked a lot, and managed to get pretty happy. One, perhaps, might have been put to bed a little early, while the rest of us continued to catch up.

When we took our leave of the boys at 10 PM, I'll admit to telling Clint that I felt like I'd been tossed into a pool of Testosterone. 12 hours with of 3 soldiers fresh out of a war. 3 soldiers happy to see girls again (there are no women in their company), and making no bones about it! 12 hours of rum and beer, ribald language, hair-raising war stories, and one mere expression of a desire to hit a certain jackass on the sidelines.

Not that much different from a Girl's Night out, but I still had a strange desire to go buy some mascara, or paint my nails.


Monday morning, 48 hours after his arrival home, we picked Brian up to go find his bags. The edge is gone. He's calm, rested, and talks easily about being home. Little things—his own bathroom—make him feel "like I never even went to Iraq." We eat a fast-food breakfast, and discuss everyday things: does he need more toothpaste, his cell phone, and how and when he'll get home in 2 weeks.

My boys, they seem fine. I'm not naive enough to believe instantly that some of the things they've seen and been through might not haunt them later. Maybe they will, and maybe they will not. I'm pretty sure that my next cause will be PTSD, and figuring out what I can do to help our sons & daughters in the military get the help they need to cope with stuff that crashes down on them later.

But, as I said, for now, we are all fine. We reacclimate: them to having the luxuries of throwing meat on a grill, and to wearing flip flips, and God only knows what else moves them. Me, to the luxury of hearing Brian's voice by hitting #2 on my cell phone, and to receiving a phone call asking me how to cook a cornish hen.

I could get used to this, fast.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thoughts on the Homecoming

I can't believe it's been a week since we hit the road. There's so much more to tell about last weekend, and so much going on in my life. Still, I want to get everything down while it's still...well, quite honestly, raw. I'm not sure I'll even be able to string things together sensibly. If not, we'll just consider it "free writing," yes? Humor me. Or skip to the pictures at the end, if I begin to bore you.

Here are a few of the pix I managed to snap before, during, and after the plane came in on Saturday morning. I'll admit to feeling shy about posting photos of myself falling apart. It's a little scary revealing this...well, Oprah calls it "The Ugly Cry." On the other hand, I also wanted you to "be" there with me, and if you'd been there...well, there was no lack of tears anywhere.

Saturday morning consisted of...let's say 1000...people coming together to wait for one of theirs, and oddly enough it felt like we were all at one big family reunion. I talked to, hugged, and wept with people I will never see again.

As the soldiers departed the plane last weekend, Clint monitored the plane outside, and I watched the screen inside, along with another Mother, Wendy, who was waiting for her own 22-year-old son. We were leaning on one another, shoulder to shoulder. So many men and women. Similar haircuts. Same clothing. Streaming by on the screen as our eyes darted over each of them.

When it was over, I grumbled, "I didn't see mine!" A soldier standing next to me overheard me. Rodriguez, his name was. "You didn't see yours? What's his name?" he asked, and whipped out a list. "Jolley? Yes! Brian Christopher!" he said, "he's here!" Wendy leaned in then, asking him, "Chambers. Is there a Chambers?" Oh, we squeezed hands, hoping Chambers hadn't missed the plane.

Chambers was stateside also. Wendy and I cheered, then ran back out to wait at the fence. When her son approached, she began to yell for his attention. Only one voice, I joined in to help her. CHAMBERS! CHAMBERS! LOOK OVER HERE, CHAMBERS!! She videotaped and waved her heart out, then approached me after: "Was that you, helping me yell?" she hugged me "I didn't want to take my eyes off him."

So it was, until each of ours moved inside; we helped families cheer, as they held children to the fence that hadn't seen their fathers in a year. We made the most noise, and laughed at one woman that didn't need our help at all, screaming "There's my baby, that's my baby, Hi baby!!!" I'm unsure if it was her son or her husband she was cheering for.

At one point, before the plane doors opened up, Clint moved to the end of the fence to get a better photo. A woman, wearing a dress and heels, also moved down for a better view, and made small talk with him for a moment. She quieted then, and said, almost imperceptibly, "My kid's on that fuckin' plane."

Yeah. We all knew exactly how she felt. There weren't too many feelings expressed that weren't universal. We laughed at ourselves: Oh, we'd been crazy all week! We'd all mentioned, in passing, to every stranger we encountered, "My son is coming home this week, you see, so that is why I'm here, buying this shampoo." No, it didn't make sense, and we didn't care that it didn't make sense! Over and over, "yes, The Son is coming home. From Iraq. Yes, this week." I stopped in for a cheap manicure last Thursday, and yammered on and on to a woman that could on only speak Mandarin! "Leaving tomorrow morning, my son home from Iraq," I gushed, as she removed the old polish, nodding and smiling politely. Where in the heck was my English-to-Mandarin dictionary anyway?!!

And, universal to our anticipation, our love for our kids, husbands, brothers, sisters, wives, was an overwhelming sense of gratefulness. We fell apart, when ours came home, not only because we missed them, and because we could let go, now, and only now, of our fear. We say goodbye to our hearts hitting our breastbone when the phone or the doorbell rings when it shouldn't.

Shortly after Brian was deployed, I came home to find a police officer filling out paperwork in his squad car. Parked right in front of my house. At the end, but not blocking, my driveway. I sat, paralyzed in my car for a full minute before getting out. I walked to the back of the car, and then froze. Did I really want to know what he was waiting for? Who he was waiting for? I turned back around, walked into the garage, and froze again. I moved in crazed circles, trying to decide what to do, before I finally called Brian's dad, also a police officer.

Feeling ridiculous, I told him "there's a cop here, at the end of my driveway. Is he... could there you guys ever...." Jeff picked up on my fear immediately and answered the question I couldn't ask, "No! No, no, no, don't worry, it's ok, it's nothing, nothing happened."

I closed the garage door then, walked into my house, and cried my heart out.

It was little things like this that would blindside you, when you thought you were doing just fine.

Speaking for myself, and imagining that many of my emotions would be mirrored, as so many others seemed to have been last weekend, we fell apart on Saturday morning because although we are so happy to have ours home, and to let go of our fear for their safety, we also know that 32 in Brian's brigade did not make it home alive. We are grateful—my God—so grateful, to be here, and yet we grieve, and we fall apart, for those 32 families that are not.

And I'm not sure how to wrap this up. When you get to be about 40-ish and some, you get to thinking that you are who you are, and you'll always be who you are, and that it's unlikely that something will come along in life that will change who you are. Actually change who you are.

My son's being a soldier has changed who I am.

I am grateful to have him home.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Best Mother's Day Ever!

Steven Moore, Me, and Brian

The gig is up! We're in Georgia! Clint and I traveled Friday, from Champaign to Fort Benning Georgia, to meet Brian on Saturday morning, flying in from Kuwait. Moore flew in a week ago, and met us at Freedom Hall at 7:30 in the morning for the last leg of the wait.

It's been an emotional, exciting, busy weekend, chockful of laughter. I have so much to tell, and I promise to give you the scoop after I get home, and recover from this trip. We'll head home tomorrow, and Brian will begin reintegration classes on Tuesday. He and Moore will roll in to Champaign for their "Home Homecoming" on June 5.

In the meantime, here are a few from yesterday.

Here's the plane coming in. There's a 2-hour wait from landing time until you get to see your soldier.

The plane isn't located where you can see the soldiers depart. There were plenty of huge screens inside Freedom Hall, so that you could watch them come in.

There were about 8 of us, out of literally hundreds of families, that were lucky enough to get a tip from a soldier inside the fence: After they departed, the soldiers would go inside...and then come back outside to line up and turn in their weapons. If we stuck around, we'd get a sneak preview of ours.

Gah! There are 2 of mine! My own kid, and John Standish, below in black glasses, entered the door together. We whooped and hollered for their attention....

Glee! Joyful glee. As luck would have it, Standish's mother was one of the other 8 that got the word. Once we both began cheering for ours, we began jumping around and cheering each other: You're Standish's Mom? You're Jolley's Mom? "Your kid has been to my house!!!" we said in unison. Jolley and Standish end up wondering how in the heck their mother's managed to find one another. It was pure dumb luck.

After ours went on in for 2 more hours of processing, we ended up heading inside for free donuts and pacing the floor. I was so proud that I cheered and laughed when Brian came in. Could it it be that I wouldn't fall apart, after weeping from emotion all week, that my kid was OUT of Iraq?

The Army folks are good at letting you know what's going on, and how much longer it will be before you get your grubby little hands on your soldier.

There is deafening cheering when the doors open and these guys march in formation.

The Army folks are also wise to something else, at this point: We, the families, don't much care about lengthy speeches. The National Anthem is played, a 2-minute speech announcing them home is made, and then, before we crash the gates:

"Families, find your soldiers."

I can actually see mine, in this photo. Can you?

And the not crying stuff was hogwash. I lost it.

I just love this picture. I'm crying my eyes out, and Brian:

I got it out of my system, and bucked up. We found more of ours: Kyle Lathrop has been to my house a few times:

Aaaaaaaaand we're out of there. He's ours, he's ours, and we drag him out to re-introduce him to green grass, and trees with leaves, which he finds very, very sweet.

First stop: The barracks, to find some civvies:

Family Readiness Group has been there. A few toiletries, towels, and a bag filled with snacks is what awaits him when he gets in:

And, to his relief:

He can't wait to get out of those fatigues, and I can't help trying them on, for size.

My sons are home, people.

And me?

I feel light enough to float.