As the presidential plane christened "Freedom One" came into view, Dorothea Morefield found it hard to walk across the tarmac to meet her husband after 18 months of separation and 14 1/2 months of fear.

Her 16-year-old son, Steven, held her arm to steady her while her other four children rushed forward to greet Richard Morefield, former U.S. consul general in Iran. "Mom was a little bit shaky, not quite ready, so Steven stayed with her and we went to get Dad," said Betsy, 22, oldest of the Morefield children.

"He got off the plane and we grabbed him and pulled him to one side and got him to Mom."

He smiled. "Dotty, was it you who said to me, 'If you're going to be late to dinner, call next time'?"

Then they hugged.

Around them clustered Betsy, Steven, 21-year-old Dan, 20-year-old Bill and 15-year old Kenneth. All talked at once, all pressed in close, oblivious to the bright winter day, oblivious to the 50 other reunions around them, oblivious to everything but each other, according to Betsy Morefield, who spoke yesterday of one former hostage's homecoming.

Excitement, contentment, relief and the reality of touching the tall, balding man who had been kept from them for so long nearly obliterated the built-up worries of months. Everyone was happy, but everything was not the same.

"He looked like Dad, but he didn't," Betsy Morefield said. "There was a look in his eye I'd never seen before. He looked happy but there was something bittersweet . . . sort of like he was apologizing to us . . . the gnawing look you get sometimes when you're under a lot of pressure.

"His eyes looked older," she concluded.

But he was back, and suddenly things seemed almost normal, the children clamoring for his attention, the small family jokes being revived. In the rush and tumble of minutes, they all tried to recapture the events of a year -- and at the same time be proper guests at the airport reception being held for the former hostages.

After the airport reception, the Morefields -- the largest family group among those who met here -- bustled onto one of the waiting buses, keeping up two and three conversations simulatneously.

But the babble soon gave way to quiet wonderment as the Morefields and the other freed hostages and their familes looked out unbelievingly at the thick layers of cheering, crying well-wishers who lined the 17-mile route.

It was incredible, Betsy Morefield said yesterday. "We kept waiting for them not to be around the next corner and then there would be more of them."

When the buses' pasengers caught sight of some of the homemade signs -- such as the ones reading "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and It's Super Bowl Sunday: America 52. Iran 0.," they broke into spontaneous cheers.

At about 5 p.m., the Morefields walked off the bus and into the Hotel Thayer, the large West Point hotel that had been emptied and then stocked with enough food and diversions to make it a "fairy land," Betsy Morefield said. "Anything that you want, they get for you."

Settled into an American hotel with his family around him, the 50-year-old Richard Morefield began to talk a little more about his captivity, adding to the general statements and small details he had passed along to them in telephone calls from Wiesbaden.

As he set to work eating lobster claws and prime rib Sunday night, Morefield joked that he would have to eat "a lot of finger foods" over the next few months. His Iranian captors, he said, never let him have knives or forks. Once he was given a T-bone steak, but had to eat it with two spoons.

Steak was hardly the common bill of fare during his captivity, however. The once stout Morefield has lost about 30 pounds. "There's a little stomach there, but not much," said Betsy Morefield, adding that her father's midriff had been a constant subject of family jokes.

Getting readjusted to knives and forks is only one of the unexpected challenges facing Morefield. He must also cope with the rediscovery of shoelaces.

"He said he bent over in Wiesbaden to do his shoes one morning when he was tired," Betsy Morefield said, and then told her, "'I looked down and I didn't know what to do.'"