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'Dada' comes marching home to wife, twins

April 14, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - For Joseph Palmer, who had dreamed for so long of being a father, a great day came on March 19, 2002, when he and his wife brought their twin daughters home from the hospital.

The following day, Palmer, who had joined the West Virginia Army National Guard with dreams of serving his country, got the not-so-good news. He and other members of the 351st Ammunition Unit were being shipped across the country for a one-year mission at Fort Lewis, Wash.

One of about 65 soldiers who shipped out, Palmer left last April. The group will come home Monday.

Since he shipped out, Palmer has been able to visit his daughters, Faith and Ashley, twice, and Palmer's wife, Michelle, took the girls to Washington once.

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In the interim, he has missed seeing the girls' first teeth, the first time they crawled and their first words - "Mama" and "Dada."

"He's really missed out on everything," Michelle Palmer said.

One last thing. At the Palmer house one recent evening, the twins ambled around the living room on two legs, sometimes using a coffee table for support, sometimes not.

Her husband doesn't know they can walk, so Michelle plans to reveal the surprise when her husband returns.

"We're hoping they will walk to him," said Ruth Lloyd, Michelle Palmer's mother, who babysits her twin granddaughters while Michelle is at work.

Michelle calls her "my right-hand lady."

Michelle and Joe Palmer can truthfully say they are more than high school sweethearts; they are elementary school sweethearts.

Both from the small town of Bakerton, W.Va., the couple met when she was in third grade and he was in sixth.

"It was the 'Will you go with me? Circle yes or no,' " Michelle said.

Although they later drifted apart, Michelle saw the handsome young man again in high school and wanted to get to know him again. They married in June 1994.

For years the couple presumed they would not be able to have children. As a teenager, Palmer had ovarian cysts.

Eight weeks after learning they had conceived, the couple learned Michelle was carrying twins.

"It was just unbelievable. Unbelievable joy," she said.

The couple left the gender a surprise, asking not to be told.

For Palmer, a difficult pregnancy that left her bedridden for months followed by news her husband had to leave was more than an annoyance.

"It was truly, truly devastating," Michelle said. "Joe was my source of physical strength."

He cooked and cleaned, allowing his wife the rest she needed.

When her husband left, Michelle enlisted help from her mom and sought help from within herself.

"I knew I had to be strong for my girls," she said.

Cell phones have proven to be the lifeline for the couple. Although Michelle bought a digital camera before her husband left, he has not been able to receive e-mails or any accompanying photographs. So, just about every night they talk on the phone.

The first few minutes of the conversations between Michelle and Joe are always spent relaying news about the girls.

"Joe has wanted to be a dad for a long time. He was so supportive and so loving. He is honestly the best dad," Michelle said.

When not in fatigues, Joe Palmer works as a plant operator at Superior Paving in Leesburg, Va. With the Guard, he is a staff sergeant. This latest mission has been his first full-time Guard assignment.

Michelle said she does not know when her husband's duty is up, or whether he will remain in the Guard.

"I've wanted to ask him a million times.," she said.

Whatever it is, the couple has built their marriage around supporting each other and the decisions each makes.

"I support him in what he does, totally," Michelle said.

Telling the twins apart is easy - for someone who has spent every day with them. Faith looks like her father in that she has a longer face. Ashley's face is more rounded, like her mother's, Michelle said.

Most of the time, the girls wear matching outfits.

"Mommy figured she'd get that out of her system before they start to protest," Michelle said.

Despite an abundance of toys, during a visit the girls decided they were going to fight over who got to hold a small, plastic blue and white boat. They tried to push the buttons on electronic equipment and hop onto small car-type toys covered with a stuffed Pooh bear.

Although Joe Palmer is not home, his presence is felt.

Photographs of the family adorn their living room, and the girls take notice.

"They will point to Dada, say who Dada is and give him kisses," Michelle said.

The few times the family has been together, the girls seem comfortable with their father, not shy as Michelle had feared.

"It just seems like there's this instant bond," she said.

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