Where were you?

Where were you that day?

I’ll never forget… I was watching cartoons with my younger cousin Reed at my aunt’s house. Normally my grandparents watched him, but my grandfather was recovering from surgery, so I had taken a few days off work to go help out. Back then, Reed was obsessed with Bob the Builder, and we were still watching on VHS tapes. Around 9:00am, one movie had ended and I took it out of the vcr to change tapes. Through the static on the screen, at first I thought I was seeing some awful movie. Suddenly, the realization came over me that it was not a movie but the news.

And then… the second plane…

How little did we realize in that moment how much the world was about to change forever?

I distinctly recall the difference in existence before and after that day. All innocence that I had vanished. This was different from Kosovo or East Berlin or the Persian Gulf of the 1990’s… this was something bigger. Something scarier. I had never watched the news so much in my life before that day, but spent the next several days glued to CNN, unable to tear my eyes away. Fearful… we don’t live far from a large military munitions base; were we still safe here, despite being far from a big city? Working at the church, I spent hours getting in touch with parishioners and families who were living out of state, including one whose husband was in the Washington Navy Yard that day. All were safe. I didn’t lose anyone that I was personally close to. And yet, the loss lingers… it makes my throat close up any time I spend too long a moment in thought of it.

Seventeen years ago, I didn’t know Antonio. He was here in the States by then, but he was in college and our paths hadn’t crossed yet. Back then, he hadn’t even finished his private pilot license, but he was well on his way. Today, seventeen years later, I can’t help but feel a more profound sense of trepidation over what that day meant for aviation families.

That morning, 8 pilots and 25 flight attendants headed out for an early report. They called their final cross-check and taxied out for the last time. Those flight crews never made it home.

I deliberately try to avoid thinking about everything that can go wrong when Antonio is flying at 35,000 feet. As a pilot’s partner, as the granddaughter of a pilot, as the friend of an FA, I know how (relatively) safe the sky is. I roll my eyes along with other passengers at the ridiculousness of TSA sometimes as we stand in line to remove our shoes or throw out the coffee we haven’t had time to finish yet. The anthropologist in me balks at the racial profiling, just as Antonio – as a Latino – tries to ignore the stares he gets in airports sometimes as a “brown” man in a pilot’s uniform.

But sometimes, if I let myself think about it… in the pit of my stomach, I am grateful.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants bags searched. Wants the extra scans. Wants everyone to have to remove their shoes and open their laptops.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants my pilot to come home.

What happened on 9/11 will probably never happen again. The world learned a tragic and immeasurably catastrophic lesson that day. And yet… never again will we ever say “that could never happen”. Because that day, it did.

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On Behalf of a Grateful Nation…

Ed. Note: This piece was written both as catharsis on the loss of my grandfather, and as ethnographic research paper for Dr. Marvin Sterling‘s ANTH-E393 World Fiction and Cultural Anthropology class at Indiana University. It is both biographical and fictional. 

The sky is a brilliant blue. There’s a warm breeze drifting up over the hill from the river below. The beauty of this late summer day betrays the solemnity of such an occasion. I’ve always thought so. Some might complain about duty in the cold or rain or snow; to me, it always felt like the weather should match the mood. It’s as if the warmth of the sun is a slap in the face to a family in mourning.  Continue reading

On Ma’s porch swing…

Today was a busy day. But I couldn’t let it pass by without taking a moment to remember my “Ma.”

My paternal grandmother would have been 85 today. She left us almost eight years ago… the unexpected complication of a perforated ulcer. I had already been thinking about her birthday, four days before mine, for several days. This morning, my Facebook memories brought up a story I’d forgotten. 

A couple years back, the Munchkin and I were having a discussion about cicadas. He finds them creepy. I told him that, while I don’t like the way they sometimes divebomb one’s head, and I do agree that the empty shed skins are creepy, that I love the sound they make… 

Hearing the sound of cicadas takes me back to my childhood. When I was younger, every summer I would spend a week in Southern Indiana with my paternal grandparents, Ma and Pa. There was usually a trip to Holiday World, hitting golf balls into the back field with Pa, walks in Cox’s Woods, visiting great-aunts, and sometimes a drive down to Springs Valley and to the tiny hamlet about ten miles down the road where my grandfather grew up, to be spoiled with a trip to the old five-and-dime store. 

But in the evenings, we would sit on the front porch, eating ice cream, watching lightning bugs and listening to the cicadas. I remember one summer in particular when one of the 17-year cycles emerged… one evening the cicada song was so loud Ma and I couldn’t hear each other talking, though we were sitting next to each other on the porch swing. 
I got to know my father’s parents more in the last five years of their lives than I had in the previous twenty. You see, they did something remarkable for me. 

We live in the Bible Belt, and I grew up in two large families which both observe Christian faith. And although my parents, long divorced, were (and are) much more liberal in the ways of modern relationships, our extended families remain fairly conservative. So, when I became pregnant at age 23 with no husband, I thought for sure that my grandparents would disown me. I truly believed that I would lose them. I was so afraid, I couldn’t even tell them myself, leaning instead on my dad to break the news. 

A couple weeks later, I came home from work to find a bag on the front porch. Inside were groceries, gas money, and a sack full of baby onesies. And a note, scribbled on the back of a receipt: “Sorry we missed you. Ma and Pa” That was just the beginning. 

Throughout my pregnancy, the Munchkin’s early years, and through my divorce, my father’s parents were wonderful. They weren’t the emotionally distant old people I remembered growing up with. They were affectionate, warm, and doted on their only great-grandchild. They bought clothes and baby things. They helped with groceries when money was tight. They were never wealthy people, but they were generous. It was a surprising and wonderful gift they gave me, to be able to know them differently in their final years. 

This is one of my favorite pictures of my grandmother. Not because it’s wonderfully composed, but simply because this is how I remember her: sitting on the porch swing and caring for her family. I wish I, as well as my sister and cousins, had had more time with the woman she was in those last five years. But I will always treasure the time that we had, and how they didn’t turn their backs on me when I needed them. Whenever I hear cicadas, I remember them, and I smile. 

Happy birthday, Ma. Love you always.