DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Sep 9 2011

My Pearl Harbor

by Patricia D

We had scheduled a Mad Science program on bubbles and surface tension for later that morning in the Children’s Room.  I’d forgotten to buy, of all things, the dish soap.  On my way out the door to get soap a colleague said, “Hey, someone just flew a plane into one of the twin towers in New York.”  I said, “Good grief, how dumb are you that you can’t see one of those towers?”  We had a chuckle, hoped no one got too badly hurt and I headed for Publix.  By the time I got to the store the news about the second plane was everywhere and I picked out the soap in a daze.  By the time I got to the cashier the Pentagon had been hit and I headed back to work with the radio on, spreading the growing horror of the day far and wide.  I was sitting in the Decatur Library parking lot, still with the radio on, when there was a report on the fourth plane having gone down in Pittsburgh.  I love Pittsburgh and I love a lot of people in Pittsburgh.  There in my car, looking out at a perfect, crisp, blue sky I quietly came unglued while frantically trying to get my family in Pittsburgh on the phone.  I finally gave up and went back in to work, that pretty September morning forever in ruins.

We never made the soap bubbles that day—no one showed up for the program and maybe that was just as well.  Someone went home for lunch and came back with a television for the staff room.  Few people came in that day, and fewer still were interested in much beyond planes and towers.  I don’t need to go on.  Most of us have this story, most of us will never forget the mundane, idiot details of life up until 8:46  on that day, or the wrenching hours after, waiting for survivors to be wrested from the jaws of fate, their families frantically posting photos and fliers, begging into cameras and microphones for news of their loved ones.

I knew when I became a parent there were things I would have to give up—sleeping in on Sundays, privacy, getting what I want on the pizza and watching Cops.  I didn’t really think I’d have to give up NPR in the car but since Spring it’s caused me a lot of difficult conversations, and the worst ones have been this past week.  My grandma could never discuss Pearl Harbor without falling apart and I just didn’t get it.  It was thirty years ago, I’d think.  Get over it and move on.  I’m so sorry, Gram, I get  it now—I can’t  explain 9/11 to my child without coming apart and I doubt I ever will.   She doesn’t have her own 9/11 story, thank goodness, and I can’t discuss it easily so I turned to books.   There are plenty on the subject of course—just choose September 11 for your subject search—but these two are exceptional for giving life and heart to the story:  September Roses by Jeanette Winter and Fireboat: The heroic adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman.  Your little one may not be ready for the words of the middle-aged French woman who broke my heart by saying “Aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous Americains” (“Today we are all Americans”), but 14 cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy will help you explain the world’s response to our heartbreak.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken September 11, 2011 at 12:58 PM

I was teaching at a high school, and I remember visiting an art teacher in my area that morning. He and his kids were watching a TV in his room. He told me to get a set into our room quickly, because the Towers had been struck. We brought one into my classroom, and we watched the tragedy unfold together. I also remember that an ROTC instructor, former military, said later that morning that it had to be Bin Laden who was responsible, and this occurred before that suspicion was reported by the news. I wondered later how he had known. Later that night, I remember driving on 285, noticing fewer people on the road and how we were driving much more carefully, for the most part. I also remember the complete silence with no planes in the air.

As that week wore on, I was still very shaken. I remember that many of the students seemed so puzzled by my sadness days after the event, asking if I had lost family, and being confused when I had not. They were so young, and they didn’t process this the same way I did. I also still remember how much kinder people were to one another in the days and weeks following those events, and I wish we could experience more of that again.

Late last week, I finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s a novel about a boy living life after losing his father in the Towers. I was very moved by it.

I’m currently making my way through 102 minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. It’s a tough read about what went on inside the two Towers, but I recommend it also to those who can bear it.

Alison W September 12, 2011 at 9:46 AM

I was working the reference desk at Dunwoody that day. I remember one question in particular. An older woman called and asked me to to look up a street address in Manhatten. It was the address of her son’s company. He worked in the financial district and she wanted to know how close his office was to the WTC. I was able to tell her that the address was several blocks away. She never called back. Every time I think about 9/11, I think about this phone call and wonder about her son. I hope he is OK.

Kristi September 12, 2011 at 11:27 AM

I was also at work that morning getting the branch ready to open. My husband called to tell me his brother was ok. I had to ask him what he was talking about. Up to that day, his brother had traveled to NYC to work in the Twin Towers almost every week for his job. Fortunately that week he had stayed in Atlanta. As I was talking to my husband trying to grasp the enormity of what had happened, the other tower was struck. At that point I made my co-workers aware of the situation and we went to the meeting room to turn on the tv. We left the room open with the tv on all day as people came and went. It was a long sad day.

Veronica W September 12, 2011 at 12:59 PM

I have a friend whose birthday falls on 9/11. I was thinking of him that morning …and I think of him now,with celebration and gratitude; gratitude for the fact that in the midst of memories tinged with unfathomable horror and sadness, I can find joy in the act of wishing my friend a long life full of happy birthdays. To those with sorrowful heats on that day, I hope you too can look around and find life somewhere, anywhere, and celebrate it.

Greg H September 12, 2011 at 7:27 PM

I read NINE MONTHS AT GROUND ZERO by Glenn Stout. It cover the experiences of those people who helped clear the rubble at Ground Zero. While not as moving a topic as those works about the actual attacks, Stout’s book deals with both the clean up and the recovery of remains. It was hard not to be affected by his description of one volunteer who realized to his horror that, as he’d been working, he’d been standing on the remains of a victim. The volunteer was unable to return to the site. It was also hard not to be impressed with the determination with which the workers faced their enormous task.

Victoria Thurman September 13, 2011 at 8:44 AM

Hello Patricia,
Thank you for your moving blog post. I lived in Denver. I was on my way to work at 7am and had my hand on the doorknob to leave my apartment. I lived alone. I very rarely watched the news. I knew nothing of Bin Laden. I had not called anyone that morning and no one had called me, but as I was turning the knob, something inside of me said, ‘turn around and turn the TV on.’ I saw the second plane hit the south tower. I was shocked. I had no idea what was happening and what it meant. I never thought of terrorists before. I guess I didn’t believe it was real. I got a crash course that day.

I never knew about the 14 cows until I saw an article on CNN this past weekend. I never thought about how strong America is in the eyes of the world and how a strong nation getting a devasting blow would make the world take notice and have compassion for us, and giving back to us the way we give to so many other countries. The story of the 14 cows made me cry. I felt such appreciation even it was felt years after the gift was given.

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