Christmas waits for homecoming

The residents of this central Kentucky town of just over 2,000 weren’t about to let a native daughter miss her favorite holiday because of military service, so they recreated it.

When National Guard Spc. Shannon Dale, 20, returned from duty in Afghanistan Tuesday, it was like time had stood still.

There were twinkling Christmas lights galore in the store windows and throughout the Garrard County town, about 26 miles south of Lexington. Many residents waved flags to welcome Dale, who was presented with a bouquet of roses and baby’s breath, and a salute from the bearer of the flowers, Tim Robbins, chaplain of the Paint Lick-Cartersville Volunteer Fire Department. That was followed by a reception with cake, punch and hot chocolate.

“I didn’t expect all this,” Dale said, a little overcome by the hoopla. “I appreciate it a lot. This was my first Christmas away from home, and I was pretty upset about missing Christmas.”

Downtown Paint Lick is less than a city block long, but several businesses kept up Christmas decorations as a show of support to Dale, a member of the 198th Military Police Battalion based in Louisville.

Red and white ornaments still hung from a Christmas tree in Sweet Pea’s General Store and Diner. Garland was still in the window of the post office. And wreaths, lights and yard decorations still graced several homes.

It was all part of “Operation Homecoming,” in which Paint Lick resident Rita Mackin Fox encouraged businesses and residents to show their appreciation for Dale and other soldiers.

Fox, who attends the same Methodist church as the Dale family, came up with the idea after learning that the Dales planned to postpone the exchanging of Christmas presents until Shannon’s return home.

Dale said she plans to resume her studies in occupational therapy at Eastern Kentucky University. In the meantime, she has Christmas shopping to do. And Sunday, the Methodist church congregation will sing Christmas hymns.

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