PITTSFIELD, Maine — Crystal Neace hadn’t seen her son since December, when he left for Afghanistan as an intelligence officer for the Army.
Mother’s Day this Sunday wasn’t going to be the first time her only son was away, but it feels different this time, she said.
“It was bad enough when he was away at college,” said Neace on Friday. “You miss him then and you wanted him to come home. But he could’ve gotten onto a plane and come home. This is the first year he’s gone into a warzone.”
Neace, a business office analyst at Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, said she was surprised to see a video her son had made earlier this week. A friend sent her a link to the video through Facebook.
“This has been a long time since I’ve actually seen him other than in pictures,” she said. “He looked really good and I was happy to see him.”
Mark Neace Jr., 23, sent his mom a 22-second video from Masum Ghar, Afghanistan. While wearing army fatigues and a hat with the mountains of the Middle Eastern country in the background, he wished his mom a happy Mother’s Day and said he would be home soon.
For Crystal Neace, that 22 seconds made all the difference.
“It was good to see it. He looked so relaxed and just himself,” said Neace.
“He briefs commanders, so you can see how serious he can be,” she said while pointing to a picture of her son at a table talking to Army personnel. “But that’s not him. He loves people. He loves just to talk. He’s so down to earth. He’ll talk to anybody about anything.
“His serious side is kind of sad, so seeing him on the video was kind of cool, even though he’s in that situation that he’s in,” said Neace.
His dad, Mark Neace Sr., served in the Army for 11 years. Crystal and Mark Jr. moved around a lot during that time and developed a tight bond.
“It’s been [Mark Jr.] and I for years. We were really close,” said Crystal Neace. “The video was really cool and I’m glad I got to see him, but the fact that he’s not here … it’s so different than any other year he hasn’t been home.”
Neace recalled one of the first times Mark Jr. gave her a Mother’s Day present.
“He would bring me toast in bed [when he was 7 years old],” said Neace. “But he didn’t know the concept that he had to put [the bread] in the toaster. So he put butter on bread and brought it in. Boy, that was hard to swallow. I pretended like it was the best toast ever.”
Neace said she talks with her son on Facebook and through texting, but rarely gets to see his face.
“It’s weird because I’m just coming to work when he’s getting off of work. The only time I really get to talk to him at length is on weekends,” she said. “We’ll send messages throughout the day. When I hear my phone go off, I’ll pick it up because I think it might be him.”
Neace said her son will be stationed in Afghanistan until December.
“I would like to wish my mom, Crystal Neace, a very happy Mother’s Day. I’ll be home sometime soon. Yup, that’s all I have, love you. Bye,” said the 2007 graduate of Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield with a wide smile.
“Just to know that he thought about this with what he’s going through,” Neace said. “He still thought about Mother’s Day. Just to know that he looked so good on the video — just relaxed. That puts your mind at ease a little bit.”