Some memories associated with holidays are good ones, others, not so good. For some, a holiday joyfully coincides with a special event like a wedding, anniversary, or the birth of a child; for others it sadly notes the passing of a dear loved one, like a sibling, lifelong friend, or a parent.
I have a few event-holiday memories, like most everyone else, but never recalled anything extremely special associated with Labor Day. The exception was in my youth. — That dreaded first day of school that started right after Labor Day, usually in the first week of September, but that was more of a routine than a special memory, and the situation diminished after graduation. My birthday is at the end of August, so I typically knew Labor Day was near because of my birthday, and not the other way around. As for the holiday in general, I never gave it much thought; however, after this year I will.
Just before Christmas in 2017, my youngest daughter was married. Her husband had enlisted in the United States Army prior to their wedding and within the first year of their marriage he received orders for deployment overseas. A few days after their first wedding anniversary, he left for points unknown for a minimum of nine months, possibly longer. While I had always had a high level of respect for those serving in the military, my sentiments changed drastically when our newly-acquired son shipped out. — The outlook is different when you have some skin in the game.
The ensuing months crawled by for us, but not as slowly as they did for my daughter, her husband, and those young men and women serving in the military. The days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Communication was limited to texts between the newlyweds and hand-written letters I occasionally sent to our son-in-law in hopes of raising his spirits and keeping him up to date on what was going on back home.
Due to how things were set up, he did not receive my letters until several weeks after they were written, and so it went. I was soon reminded that indeed, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
A lot of things changed around home, I started to pay more attention to foreign affairs especially those involving U.S. troops. I found myself looking up news stories related to that part of the world and what the current state of affairs was there. All of a sudden I knew exactly what time it was on the other side of the planet any given time of day. I found myself checking the time on a clock in our living room and calculating the time difference between here and there. I would then wonder what my son-in-law might be doing at that time of day, and if he was safe and sound. Now and then, he and I would “chat” online, but it was the exception rather than the rule; usually I depended on updates from our daughter. The amount of time a soldier has to spend “talking” to those back home is limited, so I figured better to let the kids have their time together and not interfere too much except to check in once in a while.
The ongoing situation left me feeling helpless at times, wishing there was something else I could do to help bring a little encouragement into his situation, and break up the monotony of the day-in, day-out routine of military life, and being stuck in the same place with little or no contact with the outside world. Alas, the reality was that there wasn’t much I could do but pray for him and his fellow soldiers; and so I prayed — and prayed.
Time has a way of smoothing rough edges, and though I never reached a plateau of contentment, I was able to accept things for what they were, rely on my daughter’s reports, and just take things one day at a time. Eventually we hit the speculative midway point of his deployment time and the mental countdown for a homecoming began.
In due course, word came that an approximate window of time for our son-in-law’s return was determined and day by day, brick by brick, the heaviness of wait and see was lessened and slowly replaced by the buoyancy of anticipating his return to the point we knew the proverbial sigh of relief was just around the corner. Eventually a tentative date of return was determined and the gears for a homecoming were set in motion.
While her husband was away, our daughter left their apartment home near the military base where her husband was stationed, and moved back in with us. Her presence was welcomed and enjoyed while it lasted. After an approximate time of return was determined, she returned to the military town with my wife to find a new place to live off base when her husband returned. It took some doing, but in time they found a nice little house in a good neighborhood and along with help from my eldest daughter they whipped the place into shape. It was important to all of us that when he returned, they not only had a house to move into, but a real homeplace. Now, hopefully … and prayerfully, it was just a matter of time.
The big day finally came, the details were confirmed: her husband’s outfit would arrive back at the home base late in the evening on Labor Day. We were not able to attend his official homecoming and had to stay home, so we depended on our daughter to keep us abreast of the situation. Late that afternoon she sent a text noting the arrival would be live-streamed online. We stayed in touch … and waited.
The Labor Day holiday came and went without incident. We enjoyed it, but in most respects it was just another day. That is until about 11:15 that night when a link for the live-stream homecoming came online. Excitement was in the air at our house; like waiting for Christmas morning, the big time was now at hand. We had trouble with our computer so we resorted to watching the live-stream broadcast on the screen of a small smartphone. The size of the screen did not seem to matter as our eyes strained to see the details of the event. I will forgo the details, that’s another story. Suffice to say it was an emotionally-charged half an hour ceremony; one that started out in a mood of anticipation, and ended with tears of joy! When it was all said and done, it was the best Labor Day ever for me — one I will never forget! Now I have a special memory associated with Labor Day, and I’m thankful it’s a good one! Welcome home, Son!
The writer, who resides in Sidney, is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.