Tell my grandchildren. Tell them about that late summer day of blue morning skies and a brisk hint of fall, when all of a sudden, out of pristine cerulean, there came crashes, infernos, and collapses, and thousands died.
The twins are seven, in second grade, innocent of bad people and horrific events in world history. On September 11, 2001, they weren’t a hope or a dream; they weren’t even thought of. They were born seven and a half years after 9/11, the attack on America. They don’t know.
It’s like me being born the same stretch of time after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I have no first-hand understanding or compassion of it, except what I learned in a few paragraphs in a history book—and the stories my mother told me. That day she sat with her parents, brothers, and sisters in front of the radio and listened to the news and the president’s declaration of war. She was twenty. She told that story over and over during my growing up years.
So tell my grandchildren. They will only read a half page about it in history class one day.
Tell them that 9/11 is short for September 11, 2001. On that day, 19 men hijacked four commercial airplanes. They flew three of the planes into buildings. Two planes hit the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City. The crashes caused the 110-story Twin Towers, once the tallest buildings in the world, to collapse.
The third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington DC, our nation’s capital. The Pentagon is the headquarters for the armed forces of the United States. The fourth plane, likely headed for the US Capitol building, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania because its passengers and crew fought back and kept it from reaching its target. Nearly 3,000 people died that day—people from 90 different countries. A terrorist group called al-Qaeda did this. The terrorists thought that by attacking famous and important buildings in our country and killing and harming many people, they would frighten Americans and force us into changing our policies and point of view about the Middle East.
Tell them that on the first anniversary of 9/11, their grandmama and Poppy drove to the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home in Brentwood, where nearly 3,000 little wooden crosses had been erected, one for each person who died in the attacks. Tell them the red crosses represented firefighters, the blue crosses represented policemen, the gold crosses represented children, and the white crosses stood for all the others.
Tell my grandchildren what they can bear.
And tell them my story of that day, like my mother told me hers. Because stories help us to feel the moment and picture it and experience it like we were there. Because remembering and telling will help us all to stay alert and vigilant and to take care of America.
My 9/11 Story
I quote from my journal of 9/11/01: This day began like any other day. I woke up at 5:30, let the dog out, and got a cup of coffee. It was cool, in the 50s, and a beautiful morning.
A crew of painters arrived that morning to paint the trim on our house. We decided that Charlie would stay home, give instructions, and get them started, while I went to the office to take care of important details before returning home to exchange places with him.
Driving east on Mack Hatcher Bypass, approaching its intersection with Franklin Road, I heard the news on 92.9 that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought a small plane, an accident. So did the deejays, but they also suggested the possibility of a terrorist act. One said, “Oh, gosh, why would anyone do that?” Stopped for the red light, I grabbed my cell phone, punched in the 5-digit code to unlock it, and called Charlie. He would be at his workbench in the garage with a TV just above him.
“You better turn on CNN immediately,” I said. “Something’s going on.”
He had Channel 13’s Breaking News on before I finished my sentence. Then he started a roll . . .
“Oh my God. Oh my God. OH MY GOD.” Accents on different words each time. Short and staccato. Soft and slow. Loud and distinct. Long and drawn out. “OH-H-H MY-Y-Y GOD.”
“What? What? WHA-A-AT?” I pleaded. “What is happening?” He’s an engineer—logical, exact, serious, factual, precise—never emotional or panicky like me.
“Apparently, one plane hit, and now a second.” His voice shook. “I just saw it hit the tower. Oh my God.”
The crew of Mexican painters had gathered behind him, he told me, uttering words in Spanish, shaking their heads in disbelief. He continued, “Get the essentials done quickly at the office, and come home!” And then he uttered the words that still send a chill down my spine: “LIFE AS WE KNOW IT HAS ENDED.”
I was still reeling, my head spinning, trying to achieve a balance with my thoughts, trying to make sense out of all this, not understanding the full implications, the utter horror, the short-term or long-term significance of what had just happened. How could he grasp this concept? How did he know?
Heart thumping hard, I jerked open the office door, bell clanging a B flat above my head, and cried out to our technician, seated at his desk, “What is going on in this world?” He was a part-time employee of the Tennessee Air National Guard. Puzzled at my frenzy, he never took his eyes off me as he switched on the radio. We listened to unfolding, breaking news.
Two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A plane hit the Pentagon. The White House was evacuated. Another plane crashed near Pittsburgh. Why Pittsburgh? We learned later that it was headed for the White House or the Capitol.
Hands shaking, I sat down at my computer and typed a quick email to my son. I knew he’d be at his desk, working.
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 08:39:25 –0500
turn on tv–2 planes crashed into world trade center…
No capital letters. I was in a hurry. In a panic. I always use capital letters when appropriate. I’m always careful about my grammar. I’m an English major for godssakes.
I felt scattered. Things were happening that shouldn’t be happening. Gravity did not exist anymore. Everything had gone awry. The whole world had exploded into confusion. Like confetti scattered to the wind. How do you collect it all? I wanted to sweep it all up, to put my world back together. How would we ever restore order again? Where would it end? What other tragedies were lurking, waiting to happen. What else? WHAT ELSE?
Charlie called, “Go do your banking and come home now! I’m going to the store. Going to get some necessities—flour, sugar, bottled water, canned goods. We don’t know what’s going to happen.” I wasn’t sure why we needed flour and sugar, but if that’s what he needed to feel safe and prepared, so be it.
All planes in the United States of America were grounded. All planes were ordered to proceed to the nearest airport and land.
On my way home, I drove across South Berry’s Chapel Road, as I do every day. Over the high hill and down into the beautiful valley, gated community with million dollar homes, green pasture on the hillside, horses grazing, swishing their tails, trees flirting with September yellow, Canada geese on a pond, skies so blue, so beautiful. A plane, an orange Southwest, flew over low, headed to the airport for an unscheduled landing. I slowed and watched it overhead through my sunroof. It would be the last jet I’d see for a long while in normally busy skies. The skies were empty, eerie. And so quiet . . . so damn quiet.
Again, I quote from my journal of 9/11/01: For the first time in my life, I was afraid. I kept looking at the skies—looking for the dreaded long white contrails of nuclear missiles approaching.
I was glued to the TV news the remainder of the day. Watching over and over the plane hitting the second tower. Over and over the towers crashing down, killing thousands of innocent people. Watching gray survivors fleeing, coated with ash. Ashes of victims incinerated. Ashes of powdered concrete. I just stared. I couldn’t comprehend it. I couldn’t process the horror.
I could not react. It was so far away. It was in my living room. It was in my country. America. We live above violence of this nature. Things like this don’t happen here. This is America, for godssakes! We are safe here. We are not safe here. We will never be safe here again. Tears wouldn’t come.
From my journal of 9/11/01: I watched continuous coverage on CNN. CNN’s banner was “ATTACK ON AMERICA.” During the afternoon, I retrieved messages from the office. One message was from the Air National Guard, trying to reach our technician, a navigator. It said, “We are considering this an Act of War.” The guard was on Threatcon Charlie, the second highest alert, with two units on Threatcon bravo. Chilling.
Day in Infamy
Azure skies await.
Three thousand souls march upward.
Birthdays come hard now. I wasn’t expecting this at all. But today (the day before) and tomorrow (the birthday) have expanded meanings and bring an extreme of feelings. So I give in and cry.
One year ago, September 3, at this hour of the morning, I was calling the vet. I knew this was different. I knew it was bad. I took her in. Dr. Dave said, “We can do it now. Or we can do it at close of business. But you can’t let her go through the night.” I’d known this was coming, but no, no, I wasn’t ready. Are we ever? I held my Chaeli, wrapped in a blanket, looked in her eyes, stroked her face. “I’ll bring her back at five.” I took her home and spent the day readying myself, readying her, and fussing at my deceased husband for not coming back to take her naturally. He could have helped me out on this. He held me and we cried together over Molly, our golden retriever, when we had to do it to her. I did not want to go through that again. Alone, this time. I did not want to put this dog down.
But that’s what I did. I went back to the clinic at five and was ushered into the Death Room. I held her and talked to her and told her to go find her daddy (the alpha), as the injection was given. It was quick, so quick, as the dog who would never look at me in the eyes during her entire almost seventeen years, looked at me the whole time. I held her for a long time after life was gone. Then at my request the doctor wrapped her securely in blankets, and I took her home. She spent the night on her favorite vent in my living room.
The next morning, September 4, my birthday, I drove her to the crematory and handed her over.
Now she’s in a box on a shelf over my bed. It feels like everything in my life is in a box. Dead, gone.
Twenty-two days later little Heidi Deering was born. Chaeli and I had planned this together. I was on a waiting list. I picked out my little buff girl with the round head and had eight weeks to heal after the loss of the old girl before I brought a new baby home. Then life got so full, and now I wonder if I fully healed. Because September 3 rolls around again, and I hurt.
I hurt badly. And not simply over her loss, but she was the bottom layer of layers of loss. I won’t go there and name them all, but she was the last thing to go that Charlie and I shared together. And that’s a hard thing.
And Birthday, I don’t know what to do about you. I really don’t. I just really don’t. Birthdays should remind us of good things. There should be cake, there should be laughter, there should be balloons, and maybe sapphires . . . and telephone calls.
Thank you, Neil.
One week out of the summer, the grandtwins come to visit. Just me and them. I put all work aside and devote all time to them. This year they are seven, out of first grade, going into second—boy and girl. Therein lies kind of a problem, because it’s hard to be with each one as an individual, hard to play LEGOs and Barbies at the same time. But as I observed last week, they are two children, but they are not two children. They are one child. They are always hanging on to each other, moving like the Blob, playing together, telling each other what to do, looking out for each other.
Especially Jillian. She rides Hardy like a hard-working mule in the field. I picked them up at the Natchez Trace headquarters in Tupelo, and as she and I headed for the ladies’ restroom, she looked at Hardy and in front of all the visitors indoors, she said loudly, “Go to the bathroom, Hardy.” I remembered last summer when she said, “Hardy, I am not putting that commode seat down after you one more time. You’ve got to learn to do it!” At one point during this week, she strode through the living room with her long legs and a boy’s shirt in her hand. “What are you doing” I asked. “I’m laying out Hardy’s clothes for tomorrow.” She even packed his suitcase for him. At another point during the week, I heard him ask her where his new socks were, and I told him, “Hardy, if you and all the other men cannot take care of yourselves, you’ve just got to take what comes to you.” And then he could absolutely not find his new flip flops one day. “They’re in your bedroom, on the floor. Look under the starlight stuffed animal.” He answered, “I didn’t see them anywhere.” And I just had to say it: “That’s because you are a boy, and men and boys never look under anything for their stuff. If it’s not on top, y’all can’t find it. And that goes for ALL men.”
Hardy, in all his brother sweetness, when he is not poking, slapping, and putting his feet on Jillie and making her squeal, can be protective. We were stopped at a Shell station to use the restroom, and while Jillie was inside the bathroom, I walked an aisle or two away to remotely lock my car because I had forgotten to, and Hardy started to follow, but then said, “No, I’ve got to stay with Jillie,” and went back to stand beside her door.
I always plan a bustle of activity when they come, and this year was no exception. We went to Glow Galaxy, the pool, Sky Zone, Adventure Science Center where we saw the featured exhibit Wolf to Wolf and watched Stars in the planetarium, Homestead Manor and Farmer’s Market, where we bought bread and peach jam for toast, picked blackberries, made cookies, had a tea party, watched Lady and the Tramp, watched 19 episodes of the Hardy Boys’ Applegate treasure show on DVD, read from Hardy Boys book #1 on which the movie was based, read from Ivy and Bean, saw Finding Dory at Carmike Cinema, watched E.T., played ball and bubbles with the puppy, did street chalk art, drew designs on flat, smooth pebbles, and played LEGOs and Barbies.
One thing I didn’t think through when naming the puppy—Heidi—was the difficulty of calling out names when the kids are here, and so Hardy was Heidi and Heidi was Hardy. And sometimes, though, Heidi was Chaeli, her predecessor. And sometimes I went through all four names before I got the right one!
Hey! He’s double-jointed like me!
For the first time, I don’t think I called Jillie JillieBean the whole week.
And so, JillieBean, Hardy, and Heidi—what a week! Come back, and we’ll go canoeing!
On this patriotic day, this 4th of July…I am for some reason bothered by the Facebook posts that say PRAY FOR AMERICA. I don’t understand the concept. It seems very shallow, when you really think about it. Of course, yes, I would agree, on a very basic, immature, and baby-Christian level, pray for America. It’s a start, even if we don’t have the awareness of what we’re saying and praying for. America needs our prayers. But…
We ARE America. So who and what are we praying for when we pray for America?
Are we expecting to say a two-minute prayer for our country and our leaders and then sit back and grill our steaks and eat our homemade ice cream and wait on God to “come down here” and fix everything the particular way we want it? Are we expecting God to do the work while we whack open a watermelon? Are we expecting God to intervene in our national processes?
God doesn’t always intervene. (I think we can all agree on that.)
Maybe we should grow up a bit, mature, apply some of the wisdom we were equipped with. Perhaps we should pray for ourselves and say GOD BLESS ME AND HELP ME BECOME A GOOD AMERICAN. Because…
We are the mouth, the hands, and the feet of God/Christ in the world. He is counting on us to do the work, to look beyond ourselves, to open our minds and see outside our tiny boxes, to look at the big picture and how we fit into it, to fix ourselves, to understand love and brotherhood, and then to lift up America…to not only pray, but to be the prayer and the answer to the prayer.
All I know is that it can’t be right in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God to post PRAY FOR AMERICA in one instance and then in the next to spew hatred for Obama or to share an old tired meme about Hillary or to put down Trump.
We’ve got to find a way to help ourselves grow up and act right. If prayer will do this, then I say let’s change the charge to PRAY FOR AMERICANS…
That we might mature on the vine and be the healing and uniting force our democracy so desperately needs. That we might lift up instead of tearing down. That we might know just exactly who we are and who we belong to and what we’re supposed to be about in this world.
It was a white night last night.
For some reason, I thought of ice cold milk and couldn’t get the picture of it out of my mind. It was really a day for water, and lots of it, with a heat index of 103 and humidity so high I could barely breathe. It was too hot to go to the Blackberry Jam music festival and sit outside by the Harpeth all day. It was too hot to stand outside and talk to a neighbor; it was too hot to walk the dog very far. And I thought of ice cold milk. I had to have some.
When I was a little girl and spent a week each summer on my grandparents’ farm in Kemper County, Mississippi, I drank their milk straight from a cow. My grandfather was the first one up every morning to go milk the cows, and he always brought a pail back to the house. It was not homogenized, it was not pasteurized, it was not like city milk from a carton. My grandmother put ice in a glass and poured the milk over it. We never did that at home.
I remember the look of it. The milk seemed a little thin and yellow against the white ice, blocky parts of which floated above the surface, coated with cream.
So last night I stuck my glass under the ice dispenser, filled it, then poured milk over it. I shook it and let the ice hit the glass and make noise. I grabbed a few M&Ms and went outside on the front porch to sit under a cobalt sky headed to darkness. Clouds darker than cobalt were furiously building and boiling upward from the day’s heat, and lightning was flashing behind their tops and among them.
I chewed my chocolate and drank my ice cold rattly milk and watched the storm move closer, the sky flashing white all around me and sending bolts downward. It was coming at me from all directions, white everywhere. It was all show for an hour—no rain, no wind—just white lightning, a natural fireworks display. When it was on me, the heavens and the air all around me flashed white. And I sat there and rattled the cubes in my glass and drank my ice cold milk and remembered storm traditions of my little girl days.
At my grandparents’ house, when a storm would roll in, my grandfather would go get the car and drive it right up on the grass by the front porch. He’d make the five grandchildren sit in the car with him. The rubber tires would ground us and protect us from getting struck by the lightning. I don’t remember my grandmother ever being in the car with us. I think she took her chances and got a little peace and quiet inside the house. When I was playing at my friend Mary Sue’s and a storm came up, her mother brought us each a foam rubber pillow to sit on as we played paper dolls or drew and colored pictures because it would ground us and keep us safe. We didn’t do any of this at home. The storms came, the lightning came, the thunder came, and we kept right on doing what we were doing.
And so I sat on the front porch and drank my ice cold milk and watched the lightning.
This is my eleventh year without a father on Father’s Day. I remember all the life in Wallace Ray Hardy, my father, all the sacrifices, the dedication to family, work, and church, the happy and fun times, the laughter, and it’s so hard to get used to the idea that someone so alive and strong can be gone. It was the same for his father, my grandfather, Thomas Tyre Hardy. He was here, he was a big figure in my life, and then he was gone. It’s like the pillars of life crumble and fall when the old men go.
Now, there is no Hardy patriarch, no one to hold up the family and see to it that we’re all okay. My family has no wise old-man leadership, and we need it sometimes. Now, I talk in tears to thin air when I try to talk to my dad and ask for guidance, or I may see dragonflies or butterflies that come back to tell me things. You may think I’m crazy, but it has happened, and I have now learned that if a dragonfly or butterfly comes and lingers a little too long, in the following day or two, all hell is going to break loose and I better prepare myself to stand firm. Sometimes, that’s all you get. A warning from a bug. And Father’s Day is just another day, and I will mow my yard, and I will look at the red roses against the fence because I used to wear one every Father’s Day to Sunday School when I had a father, and I will cry and go on, and then it will be Monday, and everything will be normal again.
The men in my father and grandfather’s generations did not show emotion very often. They didn’t hug much, they didn’t express love openly, they just worked and did what they were supposed to do to take care of their family. We knew they loved us because they were always there, at the dinner table, in bed by eight or nine, and they were stable, they could be counted on, they did right by God. But I remember one time when my grandfather shot all this to bits and intensely and openly expressed emotion. It was on a summer Sunday when I was about fourteen.
Every summer I spent a week with grandparents on the farm in Kemper County, Mississippi, that had been in Hardy hands for three generations at the time, since 1850. My sister would go, too, and our three cousins from Meridian were always there. We were all over those hills and streams and gullies and ponds and woods—no boundaries, no restrictions. We’d watch our grandmother make biscuits and work the garden, and we’d watch our grandfather poison the cotton and bring the cows in, and at night we’d play Rook on the porch. In the bedroom where I slept there was a verse hanging on the wall: “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”
When Sunday rolled around, my grandpa asked who wanted to go to church with him. Like the others in his line, he was a deacon at West Kemper Baptist. His Hardy great-great grandmother and great grandfather were founding members of this church in 1850, and his Abercrombie ancestors were also charter members. They, and all the family, were buried in the cemetery beside the church.
Nobody wanted to go to church, but me. My church at home was a big part of my life, and so I’d packed my Sunday dress and high heels. I went to church with my grandfather. He introduced me to everyone: “This is my grand-young’un, Wallace Ray’s daughter, from over in the Delta.” We sat on a pew together, shared a hymnal, listened to the sermon, then drove home over the dirt road in his old Studebaker.
He wore a white shirt, tan slacks, and a straw hat to church. He was a tall man and filled up the front seat to the top of the car. With an earnest look on his farm-tanned face, the words came strongly and sincerely: “I have never in my life been so proud than to have one of my grand-young’uns want to go to church with me and to show her around and have her sit there with me. It means a lot to me, and I have never been so proud.” He kept repeating himself to the point that I was somewhat uncomfortable because men didn’t show emotion and he was.
But years upon years later, I remember that moment and those words, and it means a lot to me, too. And I am thankful for a good and faithful grandfather and father and glad to have a day set aside amidst all the other days of the year to remember these special men who stand under me.