May Brown, 82, held fast to seven "Welcome Home" balloons.
Her grandson Marine Cpl. Lamarr Jackson was coming home.
He had jarred her awake more than once, calling briefly, sweetly, from somewhere in Afghanistan to tell her he was all right.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Jackson, 25, of Central Islip, stepped through a security checkpoint and into the lobby of Long Island MacArthur Airport. Flanked by his parents and siblings, who had met him at the gate, he was beaming as he bent and squeezed his grandmother hard and long. Her eyes filled with tears.
"You're taller!" she said.
With Cpl. Jackson's arrival, the Town of Islip launched its Hometown Heroes Welcome program, greeting service members who fly home to MacArthur.
Standing in two lines, some 50 veterans, civilians and TSA employees saluted. Jackson walked between the rows, accepting hugs, handshakes and thanks. At the end, friends and relatives reached out to grab him, squealing and laughing.
Islip Councilman Gene Parrington, a Vietnam veteran, gave Jackson a framed town citation and a backpack intended to contain local coupons and references for veteran support services. But because his Southwest Airlines flight arrived early, the inaugural backpack had not been fully assembled.
Jackson said that in his year in Afghanistan he survived a close call with a roadside bomb.
"It's been a difficult year for me," he said. "I'm just glad to be home. I wasn't expecting all of this."
And there was more.
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that honors military service members and veterans, handed him a helmet, goggles, gloves and a leather jacket, which he donned over his fatigues. His sister, Tiffany, 21, giggled as Parrington helped cover his nose and mouth with a bandanna.
"I know he loves this," she said. "He deserves it."
He hopped on the back of a bike and the Patriot Guard Riders rumbled off, carrying him home.