Heather Smith stood in her living room Friday morning wearing a look of astonishment.
She would glance up to high windows, then dart from one light switch to another, and the wonder would return to her eyes.
"I love it,'' she said. "It's beautiful.''
Just moments earlier, she and her husband, Anthony, had received the keys to their new home, a mortgage-free gift from an organization called the Military Warriors Support Foundation and Chase Bank. The formal announcement of their new home had come at a George Strait concert weeks ago, but Friday was the first time they stepped inside.
Anthony Smith, an Army medic, was severely injured when a roadside bomb exploded in 2008 during his first deployment to Iraq. His head and abdominal injuries landed him in the hospital for nine months, and along the way he contracted a flesh-eating bacteria.
Just after his release, Anthony and Heather were married. They had been introduced to each other by mutual friends, and she had been by his side during his recovery. He has continuing issues, including short-term memory loss, post-traumatic stress disorder and vertigo. He cannot exercise or lift anything. Heather remains his caregiver.
The Military Warriors group and Chase Bank are turning over refurbished foreclosure homes to wounded military veterans such as Smith. Local representatives from Chase were on hand Friday with a large ceremonial key for the Smith family, as well as the real keys to the house.
Each aspect of the three-bed, two-bath home revealed itself slowly as the couple went from room to room, their three daughters — Alyssa, who turns 4 today; 2-year-old Destiny, and 1-year-old Layla — in tow.
Heather Smith was wide-eyed as she surveyed the long line of electrical outlets along her kitchen cabinets and the brand new washer and dryer. But what really lit up her face was when her two oldest girls flew by her to go watch DVDs playing on the television donated by County Commissioner Diane Rowden, who organized Friday's event.
"It's something to see them run around,'' Heather said. "It's been a long time since they've just been able to run.''
The Smiths have been living in the garage apartment of Anthony's father, Vincent, and stepmother, Paula, in Polk County. As Anthony Smith stood marveling in his new kitchen Friday morning, he noted that his new two-car garage was larger than his current living space.
"This is the nicest house I've ever lived in,'' he said later as the crowd that had gathered to congratulate the family began to thin. "You know that there were five generations of war veterans in my front yard this morning.''
In addition to representatives of veterans groups, the crowd in the front yard included members of the Smith family, firefighters, representatives from Chase Bank and the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, sheriff's deputies, the news media and representatives from Home Depot. Some were on hand to give the family gift cards. Others brought home furnishings, including an entire master bedroom set that firefighters helped to assemble inside.
At one point, a line of people shuttled in new sets of dishes and sheets, toasters, grills and other kitchenware.
"I'm happy to be a part of this and for the fact that my son and his family have a secure place to live,'' said Anthony Smith's mother, Linda Townsend.
Smith's description of his feelings was simple.
Rowden said that when she heard the family was getting a house in Hernando County but had no ties to the community, she went to work to gather people who wanted to help.
Sometime later Friday, the family expected the delivery of a new king-size mattress.
Evergreen Woods will prepare Easter dinner for the Smiths on Sunday, and local firefighters will deliver it.
An account has been set up at a local bank for the family.
At Friday's ceremony, the crowd sang Happy Birthday to Alyssa a day early. Someone even brought her a present — an Angry Birds backpack she promptly modeled.
The Smiths spoke of being humbled by the outpouring of generosity.
"Welcome to Hernando County," Rowden told the family.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.