Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School Principal Amy Wagoner said a “special guest” would be visiting the fourth-graders Thursday afternoon.
It served as a ruse, but it was utterly true.
“Our special guest is right here,” Wagoner said.
The emotion that caused Hutchinson student Cadalei Barnes' mouth to drop open as she saw her mother for the first time, after the soldier’s approximately nine-month deployment to Kuwait, emitted no sound. Quietly, the girl maneuvered through the rows of classroom desks to reach and hug the woman in brown U.S. Army fatigues, Specialist Leslie Taylor.
Earlier in the principal’s office at Holy Cross, Taylor’s older daughter, Trinity Catholic High School junior Lilly Barnes, in the company of her grandmother, Natalie Barnes, had reunited with the returned soldier. Lilly wasn’t entirely surprised. She knew something was up when she was called to the office at Trinity to get a pass. Mother and daughter hugged and cried. "She looks grown up," said Taylor, grateful she was still wearing her Army boots to help give her an advantage.
For each daughter, Taylor had a gift: Holy water from the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized.
Remember to take care of each other and take care of yourselves, and follow your dreams, was Taylor’s advice to the fourth-graders.
“Fourth-graders, I think we need to just thank Cadalei’s mom for her service and also for coming in to see us today. Let’s give her a big round of applause,” Wagoner said.
The students of fourth-grade teachers Nancy Judy and Janine Calvillo applauded. There was more applause as the reunited family headed down a hallway lined with Holy Cross students clapping.
As the family contingent - including Taylor’s sister, Ashley Fast - left Holy Cross, they were headed to Hutchinson Magnet School at Allen, where Taylor’s sixth-grade daughter Leanna Barnes attends.
What had Cadalei felt when she saw her mother, the emotion that had no words?
“Happy,” she said.