This post is the third in a three-part series chronicling my husband’s homecoming from a year-long deployment in the Middle East as a Navy Reservist.  You can see the first homecoming post, “Anticipation” and the second homecoming post, “Exhilaration” on this site.

I had a contest on my Facebook page and I’m happy to announce that Amy Dixon has contributed the winning title of today’s post. It so perfectly fit the theme of my husband’s discovery of his homecoming flags. I’m also a real sucker for things that come in threes, so it was a no-brainer when it ended in “tion.” You can “like” Witty Little Secret on Facebook for more fun comments, contests, and questions. Thank you Amy!


As he lugged his green bag up into the trunk of our SUV, I took note of how small it suddenly seemed in light of the fact that it contained most of his belongings for the past year. I stood stupidly half in and half out of the roadway observing our little scene. It was nothing special at all. It wasn’t like the flourish and surprise we gave him at R&R when 35 friends, welcome home signs, and cheering fans greeted him on the ramp. And yet here, now … it was still so spectacular. The smiles told me so.

He helped the kids into their car seats, lifting them up with his big hands. And I smiled. I remembered how it was the daily things that I missed the most when he first left. It made perfect sense to me that something so insignificant would make me so happy now. I even felt a little dumb being so happy about him doing something so small. But for the moment it stood for the idea that we could pick up right where we left off. I knew it wasn’t true. I knew it wasn’t that easy. But here, in this moment, it was true. There was at least this one small thing that was just as it was before. And he was a part of it, right now. It was such an unexpected and satisfying feeling to have in the first thirty minutes.

My fairy-tale moment in the middle of the road came to a screeching halt when I realized I had to make my way to the driver’s seat, and fast. There were two potential routes home, and one of them would take us down a beautiful country road that would make us miss the whole carefully erected homecoming flag display – completely. I knew he’d take that route without obvious intervention, so I would need to be in control in order to make it less obvious. I needed to move that way now, and act like it was normal for me to be in the drivers’ seat.

But it was not normal at all, and we both knew it. Husband always drove, and I liked it that way. When there’s a Navy pilot in your front seat you learn very quickly that there isn’t much you can do to ensure a smooth, hassle-free ride. You will be responsible to call the ball, be smooth, and attend to the various instruments with skill and finesse. It requires advance route briefing and equipment and fuel assessment and weather contingency planning and lots of other things I really don’t care about. I feel I reached wifely maturity when I finally realized it’s just easier to let him pilot the craft.

I looked down and realized I already had the keys in my hand. I don’t even know when I’m in control sometimes (because most of the time, I’m not, and painfully so). But now I was. Here was the evidence, right here in my hand. I bee-lined to the driver’s side and buckled myself in. I breathed and smiled as he got in. It worked. We were moving. Our whole family was in the car, and I was driving, and we were moving. We were going home.


“So what’s with the open window?” Husband asked. All feeling of accomplishment and control vanished. I started to sweat. He noticed that we weren’t rolling up a certain window on a rainy 40 degree day.

Damn military and their situational awareness training.

Two nights prior it had stopped working due to the kid (who shall remain nameless on the day of his father’s homecoming) who kept crawling in and out of the car through the window instead of opening the car door, despite his mother’s attempts to discipline him for such activities. I explained that we had successfully kept it rolled up until this particular morning when, on the way to the airport, it sunk slowly and completely down into the door, never to be seen again.

So what? We wore coats. It worked for us. He looked at me. I sweat some more, waiting for his response. I smiled. Kinda. I said, “Uhhhh. Welcome home!?”

Husband started rattling off the possible suggestions for fixing the problem and my “kinda” smile was replaced by a big Cheshire grin. Instantly I remembered that this was his job: fixing things. Making things better. Solving problems. “Have you taken it in? Did it roll up? Can you hear the window motor run when you push the button? How long has it been this way? What does it sound like? Do you have a plan? Have you called Toyota? Are they open on Saturdays? Do you have their number in your phone?”

And we weren’t even out of the parking garage yet.

What happened next sent my heart into defib. He suggested we drive by the Toyota dealer on our way home and have it looked at. My face must have sunken into a twisted mask of extreme displeasure as I contemplated the timing of our arrival and the disappearance of the masterfully-planned flag display. The Legion had volunteers to take the flags down and I had no idea how long they’d be up. I imagined us spending two hours at the dealership waiting for the car window to be repaired and driving into town without ever having seen the flags.

He became situationally aware of my obvious dissatisfaction, and I saw him struggle with how to respond to the fact that we had only one car at the moment, and it was broken. “NO LET’S GO HOME!” I said a little too loud, and a little too excited. He paused. I sensed he was trying to remember how to have these kinds of conversations without producing an order. “Uh. You don’t want to go by and get it fixed? We can’t really go anywhere and park it like that,” he reasoned.

Damn military and their logic and reason.

Now I was stuck. I was going to have to look like an unreasonable idiot to make it past this one. Luckily, I’ve played the role of the emotionally challenged crazy wife over the years, and I knew he was being easy and agreeable as befitting his homecoming status. I just looked at him and shook my head with a pathetic “please not today” face. He shrugged and said “OK” and rode along, smiling at us.

I knew he was secretly contemplating MISSION FIX CAR WINDOW while I was secretly jubilant about my ability to be such an idiot.

Our drive turned surreal as we chatted and talked about who we would see first and what we would do in the afternoon and whether we wanted chicken or roast beef for lunch. I sat wondering how long it would take for these conversations to feel “normal” again.

flagsAnd then, there we were. We were suddenly in our little hometown.

Early that morning we had helped the American Legion put up the 100 flags along this route. Husband didn’t want fanfare. He didn’t want celebration. He didn’t even really want recognition. But here, now, we could honor him. He could see the flags and know they were for him. Here, now, he could ride in his car and be anonymous, and know that he was appreciated. He could be welcomed home by a symbol for much more than we could ever say.

As we approached, the car got quiet. The kids watched his face in the mirror. He stopped talking, and he looked. “These are for you” I said, in an effort to erase any doubts he might have. “We put them up” said Sweet Pea from the back seat, grinning wide with satisfaction and pride. The Preschooler was, uncharacteristically, mute.

soldier homecomingI watched the realization wash over him, and he smiled. His face was filled with “thank you” and he reached back and touched the kids with his hand. It was awkwardly bent and twisted in order to squeeze them both, and yet it looked easy and natural.

I thought about the day he left. I thought about him riding in the opposite direction, wondering whether he’d see this street again. I thought about him turning around in his seat and facing forward as they drove him away. I thought of him leaving this town behind – leaving us behind. And then I thought about who he did it for. He did it for some people half way around the world in a foreign country, many of whom hated him, most of whom he would never know or meet. And he did it for the same kind of people in our own country, too. He did it for me. He did it for the hands he was holding onto.

All 100 flags seemed to envelope us as we drove down the street. The little silver plaques on each one bore the name of a servicemember, and their glint reminded me that the flags were more than symbols. They were people, standing alongside the road, saluting us.

They were in front of us, leading the way. They were behind us, marking where we had been. And they were beside us, standing tall and straight. They were clean and bright and they were welcoming my hero home. They were sturdy and strong and they were thanking me for letting him leave. They were motionless and silent and they remembered. They would never forget.

Veterans Day means something new this year. It feels shallow to say that I didn’t appreciate it before, because I’ve been through deployments and I’ve been raised a military brat. But this deployment was different, somehow. I was older. I knew more about what was at stake. I knew more about what was being required of him. Of me.

When Husband left, I said I never wanted to forget the feelings I had for him: how much I loved him, how much I wanted and needed him in my life, and how terribly deep the wound felt on the day that he left. I knew that when he came back we would settle back into old routines, and the longing in my heart would soon be replaced by complaints or complacency. I vowed to hang on to that memory of pain in my heart, and remember how strong it was. Always.

And now, this Veterans Day, just weeks after my husband’s homecoming, I also want to remember this feeling. I want to remember how the flags felt as we drove into our home. To remember how quickly my heart swells when I hear the National Anthem, and how differently I look at a man in the grocery store wearing a WWII cap. I want to remember how lonely Christmas and birthdays feel when you’re alone, and how strong it feels to come out the other side. I want to remember seeing him hold his children through a camera lens, and I want to remember his hand straining into the back seat to touch his children after so many months of looking at them through a computer screen.

I’ve wanted this year to be over so badly for so long. But now I also don’t want to forget. I vow to hang on to this memory in my heart, and remember how strong it is.



31 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear «
  2. Michelle
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 19:43:16

    Lori, I really enjoyed reading your blog, I laughed at the snippet I read in the readers digest as I am in the same situation! Every single word rings true.
    We will have to go through the whole reintegration situation next year when my husband – also a commander and pilot -returns from his tour. I look forward to sharing your blog with him. Thank you for sharing!


  3. Gerilynne
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 17:47:50

    I, too, found your blog from the Reader’s Digest article. My husband is active duty (Army) and I’ve been through four deployments. I appreciate the voice you’re giving to military spouses. Thanks!


  4. Kenny Boucher
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 21:52:59

    Lori, I will buy the book(s) and also buy them for gifts. I can’t wait!

    Kenny Boucher


  5. Kenny Boucher
    Nov 23, 2011 @ 20:11:17

    Lori, I just finished reading your entire blog from beginning to end in a week. I saw the “Reader’s Digest” article and thought I might like to take a look at your blog. It sounded interesting. Oh my gosh, I couldn’t stop reading it in every spare minute! I live in DuPont, WA and am surrounded by people deploying and coming home. Your writing has helped me get a better idea of what it means to be in a military family. I sent your website link to my sister so she can read it also. She is married to a retired with 30 years of service air force officer and has a son that is an A-10 pilot. I’m sure she will enjoy your blog. I hope you continue writing, as you have a real gift of putting the reader right in the story.

    God bless you and your family and thank you for all of your sacrifices of time, holidays and family!


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Nov 24, 2011 @ 07:55:44

      Thanks, Kenny. I do intend to keep writing, though not daily as before. The challenges and foibles of reintegration deserve a voice, too. You’re right about understanding. The gap can be huge, sometimes. Thanks for reading! So does this mean you won’t buy the book? 🙂


  6. Laurie
    Nov 21, 2011 @ 13:59:49

    Hi, my name is Laurie Pilgram. My maiden name is Volkman, and my aunt read an article about you in the Readers Digest, and she thought at first they had written an article about me. I’m also a military spouse who has a blog (although not updated often), so when she saw the name, she thought, “they spelled Laurie’s first name wrong!” Thought I’d share because it’s such a coincidence.


  7. Amber
    Nov 17, 2011 @ 13:03:06

    What a fabulous post! I’m a fellow military wife so I know how it goes. My husband recently returned from a year in Korea.

    I look forward to reading more!


  8. Marsha
    Nov 15, 2011 @ 01:30:13

    I found you in the witty & perfect Readers Digest article and your Op Order. Great writing, the love touches my heart.


  9. Beth
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 18:47:28

    Wow! You did it again, I now have such a vivid picture of what it was like when he came home and how you all felt and how much I too missed him and was eager to hear his voice and see his face for real. You are a true artist Lori, also some friends brought over an article today of you and the kids in Readers Digest.
    You are a real celeb ( and I know you ) I am impressed! Love you too!


  10. jo falkner
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 09:18:48

    The best~tears to my eyes. So happy that you are all together again.


  11. DogBoy
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 08:31:53

    I’ve read the warnings before…don’t read Witty in public. Yet I thought I’d be fine at the doctor’s office. I mean, he’s home and all is good. How “moving” can she be? Apparently, moving enough.


  12. George Sharp
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 07:23:31

    Nice story…and I fully understand the attention on the broken car window!


  13. Big Al
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 17:39:43

    What a feel good story! Beautifully told.


  14. Luise
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 09:24:34

    Lovely! So happy for you!


  15. Gail
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 14:35:28

    Thank you. Again. … and Always. Once again, I can’t seem to stop the tears.
    Thank you ALL for your service. Happy Veteran’s Day.
    Welcome HOME!! God Bless.


  16. Nancy Loper
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 08:52:01

    It’s evident that there’s lots of love in your family!!! I’m so glad that you guys are all back together!!!


  17. Amy
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 21:32:42

    That is a great picture of Randy. I loved this post as much as the others. I thank him for the sacrifices he’s made and the things he has done. Thank YOU for what you had to give up and adjust to this past year.


  18. hillbillyzen13
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 20:04:55

    Perfect. This was worth waiting for – thank you for sharing it.


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