Years ago, when Todd and Kim Griffith were newlyweds just barely out of their teens, they played a game jokingly called "spin the weenie." The couple would hit the road in a Monte Carlo Super Sport with a stockpile of snacks, including Slim Jim hot sausages. One would take a bite off the sausage, and when they came upon an intersection, the other would spin the sausage. Todd Griffith would turn his Monte Carlo in the direction of the unbitten end.
Together, they would drive for miles, across county lines and state borders, to see where the road would take them.
After their 19 years together, the Griffiths ' marriage has been like those road trips: Adventurous, uncertain and always leading back home to Newberry County.
The latest journey led Sgt. 1st Class Todd Griffith to Afghanistan with the S.C. National Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team.
Griffith returned home in May. Now, he's one of hundreds of S.C. Guardsmen assimilating back into their normal lives. It's a transition that can be difficult, whether a soldier regularly faced enemy fire or rarely ventured off main base camps. Either way, each is trying to fill in the gaps after more than 12 months away from home.
FINAL CALL- UP?
Griffith, 44, left the family's Pomaria home in January 2007 to begin training for his deployment. He was one of 1,600 S.C. Guard soldiers charged with training the Afghan military and police between April 2007 and April 2008. As an intelligence and communications specialist, Griffith spent most of his time at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, occasionally venturing outside the gates.
While he was deployed, Kim Griffith, 43, dealt with the after-effects of breast cancer while raising their two children, Timothy, 16, and Katherine, 11.
The Army's policy allows soldiers to remain on the payroll for a couple of months after a deployment. On Aug. 12, Todd Griffith will go back to work at his job as a maintenance technician on the third shift at the Louis Rich packaging plant in Newberry.
He hopes Afghanistan will be the last federal call-up of his career. Earlier, he spent two years on active duty guarding Fort Jackson's entrances after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
He has four years to serve before his retirement.
For now, it's time to make up for 18 months of missed birthdays, holidays and anniversaries.
'NO ONE LIKED DISNEY'
The first few days at home, Griffith adjusted to the time change and lounged around the house. Then, he set about making repairs and checking home improvement projects off a list.
He also bought himself a Husqvarna tractor to mow the family's large yard.
In the Griffith home, dad is the cook, so the family was ready to chow down on his fried cube steak with gravy and rice.
For 11-year-old Katherine, her dad's weekend breakfasts have been a highlight.
"The second weekend I was home, she ran into the bedroom telling me, 'Get up. It's time to cook breakfast,'" he said.
The family spent a week at Walt Disney World in Florida. Although they claimed, "No one liked Disney" because of the crowds and expensive food and entertainment, they spend hours telling stories about the trip.
The stories include Todd Griffith's bumpy ride down Summit Plummet, a water slide that flings people down a 120-foot drop at speeds reaching more than 55 mph.
Todd Griffith said the slide bruised his backside and made him sore for two days.
"What you have when you go up there is a freaking coronary," he said. "And Timothy's down there going, 'Ha ha ha ha ha.'"
A NEW POWER STRUCTURE
The return home hasn't been without problems.
Before the homecoming, everyone in the family attended Army-sponsored seminars about the difficulties of re-adjusting to life after a soldier's deployment. The Griffiths were nervous about how it would go, but after two months with Todd at home, life is getting back to normal.
"It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be," Kim Griffith said. "He's the one who walked on eggshells to not be so tough on us. It was a give-and-take thing."
Just before Todd came home, Timothy, the teenage son, described his mother as "king and queen" of the home.
For her part, Kim has had to give up some of her authority. They've had little squabbles over it, but no big blowouts, she said.
"One night coming out of Columbia, I told him which Wal-Mart to go to," she said. "He won't be told what to do."
As for Todd, he's been forced to ease up on issuing orders to others. As a senior noncommissioned officer, he spent 18 months telling others what to do. He can't treat his children as if they were soldiers, but sometimes he's slipped back into Army mode, the family said.
"His voice changes, and you can't tell if he's being the old Daddy being funny or the new Daddy being mean," Timothy said.
Todd said he noticed a difference in the power structure when he came back.
"They act more like brothers and sisters with Kim," he said. "Not with me."
LIKE TEENAGERS AGAIN
Last July, Todd Griffith spent his wedding anniversary in a guard tower at Camp Phoenix.
This year, he was trying to make plans for a romantic getaway with a wife he's hardly seen in 18 months.
On July 9, 1989, a young Todd and Kim Griffith left their wedding reception and headed toward the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. They got as far as Roanoke, Va., before it was time to come home.
Last week, Todd and Kim Griffith celebrated their 19th anniversary with a road trip like those of the old days. No kids. No agenda. Just drive.
"We didn't spin the weenie this time," Todd Griffith said. "We flipped a coin a couple of times to decide whether to go left or right."
They drove up I-26 toward Asheville, then hit back roads through Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky.
They ate at locally owned restaurants to sample different foods, bought lottery tickets in four states and saw two movies without their children.
After reaching Corbin, Ky., they turned around.
"We just relaxed together, and it was wonderful," Todd Griffith said.