He came home in civilian clothes; home to the Idaho he loves; home for good.
My firstborn baby grinned as he strode toward his family through the airport doors, dropped his bag and let us surround him in hugs.
I cried, and he said, "Aw, mom."
I reached up to hug him on my own and found I couldn't reach his shoulders anymore. I'd have to stand on a chair to get a real cheek-to-cheek embrace, but that would have to wait.
Four years is a long time. We've seen him a few times on leave, but the past few years getting home from the Middle East is no joke, and this time it seemed like forever, knowing his hitch was almost up.
Of course we've worried until we used up all the available worry, but knowing he was doing something not particularly dangerous was a small help. He called and e-mailed regularly, but wasn't home on holidays. His birthday was always a trial for me.
His sister also came home yesterday, from her university, and he picked her up in his old way. She's small and he's big, and it's the quintessential big-brother, little-sister image.
It's true, you know; the military really does make a guy. Andrew left us as a slumping teenager, and turned up now a tall, strong, straight, purposeful man. He was always a man's man; a sports-watching, flannel-shirt-wearing, hunting, fishing and cars kind of fellow, but this is different. It could be just the passage of time and growing up, but I credit the Navy with a lot of it.
He's also much funnier, which he says comes from the hundreds of practical jokes in which he was a player. Apparently practical joking is a military thing.
He immediately wanted to see the apartment that I readied for him. Haunting the used furniture shops, scratch-and-dent departments of local stores and discount housewares places, I put together a real man-cave for him and his boyhood friend Tom. Television and Internet ready to go, a big brown worn leather sofa, recliners, plaid wool pillows and cushy things, dark table and chairs, the softest down comforter and the blue dishes from our newlywed days, packed away these years especially for him. I washed and ironed and hung up his clothes, stocked and organized his kitchen, put mats in front of doors and supplied his house with tools and first aid and shaving cream and ... and ...
It was one of the most fun things I ever did, and he was just as delighted with it as I had hoped. He was only home an hour when he had to go and fetch Tom and take him over there, and today they are racketing around town as they did as teenagers, visiting old friends and doing whatever guys do when they racket around town. They have stopped by every few hours to wolf down whatever we put in front of them, just as they used to do.
If they were girls, they'd be grabbing each other and jumping up and down with joy from the pleasure of being guys together. The grins on their faces ...
After a half-hour interrogating sister's new boyfriend, they're off again. But they'll be back, making the house noisy and active again, just the way we like it.
A mother's thing is having her kids home and her family together. After staying up until three with excitement, we all spent the night under home's roof.
It was very warm.
This essay originally appeared on newwest.net/boise.