In my lifetime, this is the day everything changed.
We are being attacked!
I heard my coworker yelling as she ran down the hall past my office. I worked in a hospital at the time and yelling in the halls was unusual. And disturbing. Planes are hitting buildings in New York City!
It has become one of those awful “where were you?” moments. The horrific alteration of reality that gets seared in memory.
Must call family. Must connect. My daughter – a college sophomore on the east coast. My son in the 8th grade. My husband at home. My parents called him. My siblings. My friend in DC. My friend in NYC. The need to wrap oneself around loved ones as we watched the horror, the fires, the smoke, the pain unfold on television – over and over and over and over. Hope draining away as the hours dragged on.
Emails flew through cyberspace. Are you okay? Are you okay? My good friend who lived close to NYC frantic to help in some way. A doctor, she made ready to go to Ground Zero. But there was nobody to save. Was on call for helping at hospitals but no living to care for…she wrote to me.
Such profound loss.
Since then life has been divided: Before 9/11 and After 9/11.
A whole generation of children are now growing up under the cloud of what happened that bright sunny day in 2001. Its aftermath. Its fallout.
My heart breaks, still, for those thousands of innocents who died that day. And for their families. And for the first responders. And their families.
Soon after that day in 2001, the nation was called upon to light candles together in remembrance and solidarity. It was a time of unspeakable tragedy and for a brief time…there was unity. We stood on our small deck with a candle. A moment of silence.
I drove to work a few days later and saw a big American flag newly attached to the top of a huge crane – at the construction site for the hospital’s addition project. Similar to the ones at the WTC.
As a child, I hid under my school desk. Practice drills. Crouched low with head down. In case we were attacked. Then we weren’t. And life went on much as before.
That won’t work anymore.
This morning, the news networks held a moment of silence at 8:46 am to mark when the first plane hit.
Everybody thinks that the most important thing in life is cash. It’s not. It’s your health.
So said Dan in a recent conversation.
Dan is our electrician. He stopped by last week to look at our new condo. We needed his ideas about installing a ceiling light in the second bedroom. It could have been done during construction, but we’d wanted to keep costs down. Not smart in the long term. But Dan didn’t put it that way…
“You’d rip up that nice new sheetrock and never get it looking this good again.”
Okay, Dan, you’re right. Skip the ceiling light, but our aging eyes need more light at the flip of a switch. And our aging brains didn’t think it all the way through.
“Try wall sconces” he suggested. “Those would be simpler – won’t damage the walls.” We agreed to visit a local lighting store and check some out.
One other thing…”We also need some dimmer switches here in the dining area. It gets too bright.” The apparent contradiction of the 2 lighting requests didn’t faze him. Dimmer switches are an easy fix.
“So how do you like living here?” Dan remembered our previous suburban home and recognized the significant life change we had made. He was perhaps 10 years behind us in age and lived out in the country. We now live in a multi-unit condo complex close to a busy state highway.
“I like it…it’s much less work….but I miss the quiet.”
We talked about the unending responsibilities of home ownership and snow removal and such. And why, for various reasons, my husband and I made this move. Entered into a mortgage again. Realized we needed to conserve our strength. I needed to avoid another fall off the deck while removing ice dams from the roof. No more climbing stairs down to a basement and up to a second floor. A shorter commute to work.
As time goes on, our physical limitations come into starker view. And we need to pay attention.
He described a recent evening at his home – windows open – all he could hear were the crickets. He just can’t give that up. As he gets older, it may get harder to keep up with his home’s needs, but…as long as he stays healthy it will be okay.
Grammy, my paternal grandmother, was born and raised in Tennessee. She often unwittingly entertained me with her distinctive southern accent…and dietary habits. And observations about life. She loved to fish, pick walnuts, hickory nuts, berries and eat fried food (especially at the Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips near my home)…hence the favorite crispy things/bits left on fried fish. Oatmeal bread was too “rich” for a slice of toast. The best part of a leftover roast from dinner was what rose to the top in the broth amongst the congealed fat — which, once cooled, she poured over cold cereal for an evening snack. An expert seamstress, she sewed Barbie clothes for my sister and me; as well as long colorful “dress-up” dresses embroidered with rick rack and lace. She crocheted orange coasters for my wedding gift in the 1970’s. And over many years, she mended our countless “holey” socks, ripped seams and torn play clothes when she visited.
Grammy and my grandfather Papa, lived in Cincinnati, Ohio in a large house (or at least it seemed large to me) set on a hill. We made the trip from NY and NJ several times in my early childhood to visit them and my mother’s relatives as well. It was always an adventure: my sister, brother and I stretched out in the rear of the station wagon – back seat flattened out – supposedly to sleep during the long trip. We would leave around 9:30pm. This was the 1950’s and 1960’s when the risk of kids flying through the air from a sudden stop wasn’t on the parental radar. Not sure how much sleep we actually got amidst the rolling around and poking each other. I do remember being somewhat awestruck by seeing the stars in the night sky out the window. The worst part of those trips: when I threw up out the window due to my tendency to get car sick. (at least I hope it was always out the window)
Papa was from the Chicago area, and met Grammy passing through her small country town on a train while working as a lumber inspector. He wooed her to Cincinnati, but she forever missed her southern home. And she missed her sisters and brother and fishing holes and woods.
The last time I saw Papa was in 1964 after one of those long car trips.
Several weeks later he died unexpectedly at the age of 78.
We all missed him and his sweet smile, but I don’t think Grammy ever completely got over losing him.
I love this time of year. It seems like anything is possible! Trees are coming back to life; tiny buds one day and full bloom the next (or so it seems). Hardy evergreens – the storm and snowplow survivors – are still standing. The green leaf beginnings of iris and other “mystery” plants poke out of the soggy ground. Every day they reveal themselves a little more.
So much snow this past winter. At times it would have been hard to imagine it gone.
Early yesterday evening as the light was getting low, I caught some of my favorite trees against a blue sky.
Everyone has one. Whether they choose to admit it, announce it or celebrate it.
When you’re a little kid – and your parents are into the celebrating part – you might get a party. And then…decades later…if you are really lucky, you will unearth old faded polaroid black and white party photos – of yourself plus those who attended your 5th birthday party. In my case it included my brother and sister and random neighborhood kids. Former neighborhood kids as well. Family friend kids from out of town. Five year olds don’t often take kindly to standing still for very long (Polaroids took several minutes each). Never mind smiling on cue.
Being corralled on a tiny front porch with a latched gate at least kept everyone in one location. I do wonder if this was before or after the cake….
Try as I might, I can’t recall the names of most of these party guests. Besides my brother and sister (who, despite the ever present fact that I was the oldest, got invited to my parties for years…thanks to my mother-the-only-child), I do remember Joanne, the girl with the coat on. She lived down the street and whatever the weather (this was in May), she always wore a coat. Fun fact.
First of all, why would anyone have an 8th grade reunion? asked my 30-something daughter with more than a little incredulity.
Who does that? she muttered to me on the phone a few months ago.
I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. Even though I initially had mixed feelings about going, I hadn’t questioned the idea. Someone is planning a 50th reunion this year and my best friend Wendy (also a member of the 8th grade class in question) wants me to go with her. She is going, as she lives close to the location. So I should go with her. Like we did back in the day…
Hey I’ll meet you in the girl’s room.
Come to my/your house after school.
Let’s go to Valley Fair and buy…
a new pocketbook,
the new Beatles 45
However, not this time. Except for Wendy, I have no connections with anyone from those days. I went to that school from 6th through 8th grade and afterwards we all dispersed to a consolidated high school with 2 other towns. It wasn’t so incestuous in a class of 360.
Junior high: well, it was awkward. For everyone. As it will be until the end of time. The mean girls and the bullies. And the rest of us walking the halls trying to fit in…or disappear. Eating hot lunch and pacing the blacktopped playground sizing up the daily dramas. The ever present worries: did I study enough? will I ever be popular? who is my friend today? I did have some adventures in acting out; which was kind of exciting in a going-outside-my-comfort-zone kind of way.
Mean girls – who certainly were in the minority, but unfortunately often set the tone – can direct a life of misery for those not in the “in group.” No matter how many different ways I set my hair with Dippity Do and pink plastic curlers, it didn’t matter. I never made it into the in-group. I was tall (uh oh), wore glasses (double uh-oh) and liked sports (fuggedaboutit). I often raised my hand in class and asked questions – that may have worked against me too. I do know that notes were passed and, when they got passed to me, the list of “who we don’t like” often had my name on it. The 1960’s version of text messaging.
So, again….why would I travel long distance, deal with a bad back for hours, pay money to sit (bad back again) and reminisce…
When I turned on the TV one recent morning to catch the local news and weather, I heard a vaguely familiar young voice say something like “blah blah blah Uncle Charlie blah blah blah…” That woke me all the way up. I found my glasses – it was Chip (or maybe Ernie)! Then in stumbled Uncle Charlie (on the screen, not in my bedroom) complete with the apron. It was “My Three Sons.” Oh my.
Apparently someone came up with the idea to rerun those TV “classics” from my childhood. It is a cable station called “MeTV” (an acronym for “Memorable Entertainment Television”) and advertises incessantly on its sister station – a legit ABC local network affiliate. MeTV also broadcasts local news at 10pm – for those of us who can’t stay awake until the typical 11pm news on the “real station.” Now that I think of it, us 10pm news watchers are probably the same ones who watched “My Three Sons” as kids.
Flipping though my diary archives yields a treasure trove of MeTV possibilities; although I’m not sure I’d want to watch them now.
A random sampling:
My Favorite Martian
Gomer Pyle (or as my brother affectionately referred to it – Gomer’s Pyle)
Flipper (faster than lightning)
Gilligan’s Island (it was years before I realized the s in island was silent)
Walt Disney (on right before Ed Sullivan)
Ed Sullivan (on right before Bonanza)
Bonanza (if I was lucky & mom didn’t realize I was still up this late on a school night)
My Three Sons (!)
The Farmer’s Daughter
The Lucy Show
This was just 2 weeks worth of shows in one year…..a tiny sampling.
My TV listings were often more detailed than homework descriptions. There are comments such as “I watched Bewitched. I like that program very much.” Well, I imagine I did. Here was a woman who could do whatever she wanted just by twitching her nose. The first woman on TV with superpowers. How fantastic was that?
Or “We watched Addams Family & Gomer Pyle on TV while we ate dinner. Gomer Pyle is FUNNY.” Hmmm….why was he funny? And “I watched a new show called Lost in Space which is about a family with kids & is floating around in a spaceship & is Lost in Space.” That about covers it.
Binge watching one night in the 1960’s: “Camp Runamuck, Hank, Hogan’s Heroes, Gomer Pyle, Smothers Brothers, UNCLE – Waverly Ring Affair.” (Camp Runamuck?? Hank??) I also would rather not think about the subject matter of “Hogan’s Heroes” being an actual comedy. It is, however, on MeTV.
I watched quite a bit of television as a child. I also read Nancy Drew books and played outside when I had free time, but I think I loved television the best. I could escape and imagine something different; it became a lifeline of sorts. Those perfect family sitcoms with an Uncle Charlie or an Aunt Bee. Or the nose that twitched and made things happen. The brothers that got along in “My Three Sons” & “Leave it to Beaver.” The cousins in the “Patty Duke Show” – they got along too.
Pure entertainment drew me in – especially “Variety shows.” One unforgettable one: “The Ed Sullivan Show”…The Beatles! The Rolling Stones! The guy who balanced the spinning plates and of course Topo Gigio!! The June Taylor dancers on “The Jackie Gleason Show” – filmed from above to see the kaleidoscopic patterns they would make. I first fell in love with Lily Tomlin’s humor on “Laugh-In.” All this from just 3 networks!
I took great comfort in knowing that:
Lassie would always locate Timmy and find the well – every single time
Gidget would always be cute and get a date
Mighty Mouse would always save the day
Superman would always fly fast and get the bad guy
If Opie, Chip, Ernie, Beaver, Wally, Cathy, Patty, et al. misbehaved, their punishments would – at the most – be a “stern talking to.” Their worries, if they had any, were whisked away by episode’s end.
I spent those hours entertained…but also worry free, knowing that it would all work out – whatever “it” was. Was any of it realistic? Of course not. Did it matter to me then? If someone had pointed out that there was no such thing as a flying mouse (obviously not) or a flying man (again, nope) or that girls don’t need to be cute and have boyfriends (would find that out eventually), it would have made no difference. Reality wasn’t the point. And I am grateful.
I do wonder who watches MeTV and why. I admit that I didn’t watch any of “My Three Sons” the other day when I discovered it coming to life on my TV by accident. There was a “Leave it to Beaver” moment one morning as well, when I was expecting GMA.
Are today’s sitcoms “better” than they were in the 1960’s? I don’t know; but I wonder if they give kids the easy escape they may be needing. I hope so. Those slices of not-real life helped me get through childhood. Today’s kids may need something different or maybe there is still a need for not-real TV. Reality for today’s children seems as if it could be a difficult burden.
I know, I know, the sitcoms of the ’60’s were unrealistic and perpetuated many stereotypes and inappropriate role models. I agree. But still. Sometimes it can be more important to give a worried child’s mind a rest, at least for a short while. That has value.
After all, I knew very well that mothers did not always (or ever) wear an apron, heels and pearls to cook dinner. And of course there could very well be a Superwoman. And that families (of many colors) really did have problems – sometimes serious ones. And that war is hell; not funny.
I should change the channel back to the “regular” channel after the 10pm news from now on. No need to accidentally see Jeannie in the turban rising out of the bottle first thing in the morning. Although….”Bewitched” could work…and might be an easier way to greet the day than what happened overnight in real-life land.