Just one Thanksgiving ago, the world was a very different place. American troops were camped out on the Saudi Arabian desert, far from their families and fearing that war might explode at any time.
And so this year, while we all have reason to be thankful for peace, there are some people with a particularly personal reason to give thanks -- their husband, wife, parent or child will be home for the holidays.
Here are three local families whose turkey and trimmings may taste a little bit better this year because of that.
Looking forward to traditions and routine
No disrespect intended to his dining companion of last year, but John Borth has other plans for today's Thanksgiving dinner.
"I actually ate my Thanksgiving meal on the same Humvee hood as the president," said Mr. Borth, back in his hometown of Catonsville after serving about eight months in the Persian Gulf war. "Seeing the president was a highlight. And I met Gen. [Norman] Schwarzkopf at the same time.
"But we're going to make this Thanksgiving -- and Christmas -- really special," he said, beaming at his comfortable and sand-free surroundings.
Mr. Borth was Captain Borth last year, commander of a TOW-missile platoon which rescued 12 fellow Marines trapped behind enemy lines at Khafji at the end of January, the first major ground battle of the gulf war.
In the thick of the war -- he also was among the Marines who just missed rescuing Army Spc. Melissa Rathbun-Nealy, the first female POW in the war -- Mr. Borth became a near regular on television news broadcasts.
Which was a comfort to his family back in Catonsville, where "the phone rang off the hook" every time Mr. Borth was featured on a newscast, said his wife, Karyn.
Mrs. Borth and the couple's daughter, Kelly, now 2 1/2 years old, moved back to Catonsville from Hawaii, where Mr. Borth had been stationed, during the war. After Mr. Borth's release in April, they settled here permanently, living with her family until they moved into their own home on a beautifully winding and wooded street -- close, but not too close, to the homes of both sets of parents.
"It's just a real peaceful feeling knowing we won't have to go through it again," said Mrs. Borth, who during her five-year marriage has frequently been separated from her husband as he shipped out for various exercises around the globe.
"The deployments, we could prepare for. We knew when they were coming, when they would end. I could call, I could even visit. But the war came without warning. We didn't know from one day to the next," said Mrs. Borth, recalling how her husband came back from an exercise in Okinawa the very day Iraq invaded Kuwait, meaning he almost immediately had to turn around and leave for Saudi Arabia.
Thanksgiving will be at their home this year, with about 10 relatives gathering for a traditional meal. There is a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition as well.
"The one big tradition with the Borth men is hunting season starting the day after Thanksgiving," Mrs. Borth notes. "And the women go shopping!"
Their family is starting to settle into that underrated pleasure: normalcy.
"We got to travel and see a lot. It was exciting," Mrs. Borth said of the years her husband was in the Marine Corps. "But now, what everybody else tries to get away from, we're trying to get to."
Mr. Borth is working as a stockbroker with Alex. Brown & Sons in Towson, and reacquainting himself with his daughter.
"It hasn't always been easy," admitted Mr. Borth, who met his wife while they were in college, he at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and she at Towson State University. "Karyn and I were used to making decisions on our own, and sometimes we still forget to tell each other about things we've decided on. But we're doing really well now. We're getting back on our feet."
They were all together last year. And they were indeed thankful for that.
But as they sat around the table,around the festive Thanksgiving meal that had brought their large Baltimore family together, the sweet tastes of cranberries and pumpkin pie lost out to the more pungent air of anxiety.
Spc. Nelson Dennis, whose bags were packed for war, kept his eye on the clock. He had been given several hours leave from Fort Meade for a Thanksgiving meal with his family -- and for final good-byes. By 6 p.m. he would have to be back at the post. And by Saturday, he had been told, he and his comrades with the Maryland National Guard unit would be on their way to Saudi Arabia.
"I knew time was running out," said Mr. Dennis, of Parkville, recalling where he was a year ago today. "And I knew I'd be leaving soon."