“I tell you, I relive these moments over and over again.”
Moffat County resident, 73, about her grandson Dylan Correia’s surprise visit on Christmas Eve
If Fran Davis’ memory of Christmas Eve could take form, it would be a photograph, its edges worn soft by use from a loving hand.
Some of the details in the picture are blurry, like a background out of focus.
She can’t remember the songs she was supposed to sing that night for mass at St. Michael Catholic Church or what she said when she greeted other members of the congregation.
But the focal point is crisp, the subject clear and distinct.
“Do you know how many times a day I relive that moment?” she said, tears spilling down her cheeks.
If there’s one thing Fran, 73, will remember the rest of her life, it’s this moment — the moment she realized her grandson, Private First Class Dylan Correia, had come home.
The story starts six months ago in the landscape of another world.
Dylan, 20, was only a few months into his first deployment in Afghanistan, with the U.S. Army’s Alpha Troop 51. His mission was to win the trust of the local Afghanis and root out any foothold the Taliban tried to establish.
At the same time, he was planning a surprise for his family back home.
He intended to go home for the holidays, he said, but he told no one except his uncle, Doug Correia.
“I figured it would make a great Christmas present,” Dylan said. “It would just make (my) coming home so much more special.”
When Fran and husband Ken “Howdy” Davis asked when he’d be coming home, Dylan said it wouldn’t be until after New Year’s.
At about 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Howdy, 74, saw who he thought was his grandson, Steven Soos, walk onto the porch of his ranch house.
“And I said, ‘Hey, big guy, how you doin?’” Howdy said.
Then, he heard a voice say, “I love you, Grandpa.”
The surprise took a moment to register with Howdy.
“I pushed him back,” he said of Dylan, “and I looked at him right in his face, and I screamed, ‘Dylan, it’s you; is it really you?’”
Later that evening at St. Michael Catholic Church, Fran was preparing to sing with the choir when she noticed a man in uniform standing in the back of the church.
Fran caught a glimpse of another face, one she recognized well. It was her son and Dylan’s uncle, Doug.
“And then I mouthed to him, ‘Who is that?’” she said. “’Is that Dylan?’”
Doug responded with a nod of the head.
“I couldn’t tell you all the things that went through my head when I was standing there,” Fran said.
This is where the picture gets blurry, emotion drowning out almost everything except the man in uniform who was now sitting before her in one of the pews.
“I’m trying to hide it and yet I can’t stop it,” she said, recalling her tears as she stood in the choir. “I’m shaking, my heart is pounding.”
As the service paused to allow congregants to greet each other, Dylan came forward.
“I just hugged him,” Fran said. “I didn’t want to let him go. … He hugged me and he said, ‘Merry Christmas, Granny. I love you.’”
As she retold the story, eyes filled again, and a few minutes later she dabbed at them with a paper napkin.
“I tell you, I relive these moments over and over again,” she said.
Dylan was part of his grandparents’ life from the time he was a young boy.
He accompanied his grandparents on mountain man rendezvous and worked on their ranch in the summers.
With his grandson at his side, Howdy could relive some of his boyhood pastimes — shooting, hunting, canoeing and fishing.
The older man and young boy were almost always together.
“When I was young, I used to look up to him because he was like a father figure to me,” Dylan said.
“We’d do everything together. If he went shooting, I went with him. If he went horse riding, I went with him.
“I was usually inseparable from him.”
The feeling was mutual.
“That was my sidekick,” Howdy said of Dylan. “I even went and saw his sergeant. I said, ‘You know, if you would take me, I would go.’”
Between them, Fran and Howdy gave Dylan both discipline and an outlet for his boyish energy.
“I was his conscience,” Fran said, then pointed at her husband of 23 years. “He was his spirit.”
In time, the boy who loved to trail his grandpa grew up to be a man who had to choose his path in life.
“I didn’t care for (his decision to join the Army) because I thought he needed to get his education,” Fran said.
But, she said, the “bottom line was he said, ‘I want to do this.’ So then we had to do an about-face and be very supportive because that was his decision, and whatever it took we were going to have to be there for him.”
Dylan began his career in the Army on June 15, 2010. He was 18 and a new Grand Junction High School graduate.
He was sent to Afghanistan, and it was there, in an orchard in the Kunar Province, where this story could have ended.
He and his sergeant were checking for landmines when one of the explosives went off. Dylan suffered shrapnel wounds, while his sergeant received more serious injuries.
Dylan was awarded a Purple Heart for his actions that day.
“I’ve been worried since the day he left,” Howdy said, referring to the peril Dylan faces on a constant basis. “I have never prayed so hard in my life, and my wife too, the both of us.”
He would check Dylan’s Facebook page once, twice, sometimes three times a day, “just so I knew he was still alive,” he said.
You cannot blame them then, for delightfully retelling and reliving Christmas Eve.
“The two of us laid in bed that night … and we just laid there,” Howdy said. “We didn’t sleep all night.
“We were so grateful for our blessing.”
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