The afternoon assignment for Mrs. Otieno’s fifth-grade class on Friday was to write a letter to classmate Isabella Hodges’ dad, a U.S. Air Force officer, to thank him for his service and welcome him back from a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan.
Little did the kids at the West Parish School know they were about to deliver their letters of appreciation by hand.
At 2:28 p.m., there was a knock on the door and teacher Lucy Otieno, who was in on the caper, waved for the visitors to enter. In came three women, a pair of 10-month-old twins and a man dressed in military fatigues.
Along with her 16 classmates, Isabella, 10, raised her head — and there was her dad standing there, a wide smile spread across his face.
Isabella — Izzy to her friends — sat there a moment, not exactly sure of the scene unfolding before her. The last she heard from her dad and mom Patricia he wasn’t supposed to arrive in Gloucester until sometime today.
“I wasn’t sure he was really there,” she said.
Then it dawned on her that Christmas — and her dad’s arrival — had come early.
She threw out her arms in a modified touchdown salute, rushed up the aisle and into the arms of Lt. Col. Vincent Hodges, who kept repeating, “Come on, come on.”
With that, Izzy had her dad, Vince Hodges had his daughter and on a warm autumn Friday in Room 14 at the West Parish School, the world seemed whole and happy.
It is a scene that has played out time and time again, as long as battles have been fought, a looping reel of joy and relief at someone plucked from some faraway cauldron of danger and deposited back into the curiously orderly and safe place they initially left behind.