Sunday, September 11, 2011

Off Topic: My September 11 Story

Everyone has a September 11 story, especially those of us in the Northeast. Since I have this blog, here's mine: ten years and 12 hours later.

Young Master Farmer was not quite six years old in September of 2001. We were between homes and living with my parents in the Lehigh Valley. He was home-schooled then, and we started our studies at 9 am. Before that, of course was the usual running around: breakfast, getting dressed, watching cartoons on the television. I believe Little Miss Farmer and I were watching Dora the Explorer or some other Nickelodeon show when the phone rang. My best friend from school was on the other end:

"Are you watching the news?"
"No, we are watching cartoons. (To myself: I have kids, silly thing.) Why?"
"An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center!"
"What? Was it an accident? (Of course it was an accident! What made me think that?)"
"I don't know, but it's bad. Turn it on."
"What channel?"
"ALL OF THEM!" (She almost squeaked.)

We watched the news like everyone else who was able at that time. When the second plane hit the second tower, my suspicions were confirmed. This was most definitely not the accident of the century. It was an attack!

Then the TV went black.

The home of my youth is situated nicely between New York City and Philadelphia. My whole life we had two of every TV station, even before we got cable. There were two ABCs and two NBCs and even two different PBS stations: One was from New York, and the other from Philadelphia. The only station we had just one of was the "local" station, which was actually from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (over an hour and a half away by car). Fortunately for us, this meant that we could still watch the news. The New York stations were gone, but the Philly stations remained. We watched over and over video of the second plane hitting, the smoke, the people screaming and scrambling, and the bodies falling (jumping?!?!) from those big buildings. When the first tower fell, the commentator fell silent for a moment then said, "I have no words."

We watched the coverage in stunned silence for what seemed like hours. Footage became available of the first plane. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon. The government reacted publicly. Another plane went down in rural Pennsylvania, and no one knew for sure why (did we shoot down one of our own planes?). I cancelled school, "because of a national emergency." Young Master Farmer was glad that he would not have to write his letters or do his math flash cards that day.

Little Miss Farmer was barely three years old. Recently diagnosed with PDD-NOS, an autistic spectrum disorder, she was not yet speaking, except to occasionally repeat us or read a word she knew from a book or song. I had not noticed that since we turned off the cartoons that she had been sitting there on the opposite couch, quiet, thoroughly engaged in the news that repeated that horrible scene for what seemed like hours but was really less than two. Her eyes were round and wide when I turned to look at her when she said, "Plane go boom." It might just have been her first sentence that she neither read from a book or repeated from one of us; I'm not sure, but I knew immediately that it was time to put the cartoons back on.

For the rest of the day, we shooed the children out of the living room when we watched the news. My office called and told me not to bother coming to work that afternoon as they would be closing for the day soon, but not to worry, as I would be paid for the shift nonetheless.  We learned of the terror plots, the bravery of the souls on the flight over Pennsylvania, and the panic in NYC. We watched millions of people walking across bridges back to New Jersey. We experienced difficulty using our phones. We felt pity for those trapped, lost, without news, TV, phone service. We cried and prayed for those who did not know if their loved ones were alive and for those who knew they were not.

You already know what happened next. There was grieving and bravery. There was fear and resolution. There was pain, and there was kindness. There were flags everywhere. And those of us with small children hoped that this war which seemed inevitable would be over before our little ones grew up and wanted to enlist in the military. I don't care if it's selfish; I really did the math in my head- twelve years and nine days until he's eighteen. Surely long enough to beat an enemy so small and so far away, even if they were evil enough to do all this.

That's my story. Thanks for listening.

A Pennsylvania Corn Field
October 2001

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