It's well past Christmas, but Beverly Massey has not put away her white tabletop tree.
And until Sunday, there were still unopened presents under it, awaiting the return from Iraq this week of her son, Lance Cpl. Lebron T. Massey.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 40 people crowded into the family's trailer in Ringgold, Ga., to welcome the 27-year-old U.S. Marine home with a turkey dinner and lots of togetherness.
"It's been family, family, family and more family," said Cpl. Massey's wife, Samantha, who wore a gray T-shirt reading, "Proud Wife, United States Marines."
After opening his Christmas presents in the morning - a DVD player and a car care kit - Cpl. Massey relaxed with family and caught up on seven months of lost hugs.
His deployment last July was his second time in Iraq, and he said the country has taken a dramatic turn for the better.
"I wouldn't say you could take your family there on vacation, but it's definitely a lot different over there," he said. "We helped oversee the opening of a government building over there for the mayor's office and the Iraqi police, so things are moving more in a democratic direction. It's unfortunate that you don't get to see that a lot of times on the news."
Despite the decrease in violence, his mother said she still worried.
"You keep thinking (while he's gone), is that car going to pull up in front of your house?" Beverly Massey said. "When he leaves, you don't know if he's coming back. And if he does come back, you don't know what sort of shape he's going to be in."
Now that he's home, Ms. Massey said she is concerned he might be redeployed to Afghanistan.
Cpl. Massey is scheduled to complete his commitment to the Marines in March 2010, but he said a recall is still possible after his four years are up. In the meantime, he will return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to complete his service and plans to move back to Ringgold afterward to be close to his family.
His aunt Bobbie Ellis, of Harrison, said she and her church continue to pray for his safety.
"It's working," she said with a smile.