I was teaching at Woodstock High School. Near the end of my first-period Sophomore Lit class, an assistant principal came to my door, handed me a memo, and left. The first sentence, in all capital letters, instructed us not to share it with our students. An all-school announcement would be made at the beginning of second hour. So I tried to keep a straight face as I read the earthshaking news. Of course, my kids knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t tell them what. When the announcement did come, one of my girls burst into tears. Her father worked at Sears Tower in Chicago, which was considered another possible target. I later learned he had been sent home early and was safe.
Yesterday at my book club, I asked the group around the table for their stories. Some are more dramatic than others. All are heartfelt. Here they are.
That Tuesday was Judi’s day off work. She was in her p.j.s, watching Good Morning, America and saw the attacks as they happened. Like most of us, she was glued to the TV all day. She never got out of her pajamas.
Barb was working from home. She saw the earliest news reports when she logged onto AOL to email work to her office. She finished up as quickly as possible so she could just watch TV.
Ellie was home getting ready to go help her mother-in-law when her husband called and told her to turn on the TV. She went to her mother-in-law’s as planned, where the two watched TV together all day.
Gerry was at home also. She followed the news closely, worried sick about a close friend whose son worked at the Pentagon. Finally, the friend’s son was able to get through to his mother on the phone. He had been in the Pentagon when the plane hit, but he was not hurt.
Maureen was at home, planning to go visit her mother who lived 80 miles away. She usually didn’t watch TV in the mornings, but that day she had it on and saw it all. She, like so many, did not want to be separated from her loved ones. So when she went to see her mother, her husband went with her. On their drive, they passed O’Hare, staring at the eerie sight of the mammoth airport totally shut down.
Gloria was on the road that day too. She was on her way to Arkansas and would spend the entire day in her car. She had the radio on when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. But in the beginning, it was not clear that it was a terrorist attack. Thinking it was just a bad accident, she turned off the radio and put in an audio book. She listened to that book for hours. It wasn’t until she stopped for gas and found herself waiting in a long line that she asked someone what was going on and learned what had happened.
Lorraine was at work at All State, where radios and TVs were banned. She and her colleagues had to get the news by phone calls and word of mouth.
Carol worked in a lab that had no access to radio or TV. Her husband called to tell her what was happening. As the day went on, she and her colleagues would slip away to the cafeteria, the only place there was a TV.
Angie saw the attacks at home but then had to leave for work. There, she and co-workers kept up on the news by watching a tiny TV, the only one available.
Sue was teaching in a Crystal Lake middle school. One of her fellow teachers always had a radio playing softly in his room. So his students heard what was happening and went into Sue’s class talking about it. The principal did not want to announce anything to the students. Finally, when a teacher who went home for lunch came back with the full story, the teachers convinced the principal to turn on the TVs in the school. At that moment, the power went out. “We were so scared,” she said.
Sharon was teaching in a Lutheran elementary school 10 miles from the White House on 9/11. “It is still hard to talk about it,” she told us. The school secretary went to each room with the news. The stunned staff gathered all of the kids in the gym, where the principal gently told them what was happening. Then they prayed together. Children were crying. Some had parents working in the Pentagon. To make matters worse for Sharon, her husband worked in one of the tallest buildings in the area. Parents who came to pick up their children found themselves in a traffic nightmare as workers in the areas were sent home early. Sharon didn’t get home until 6:30 that night.
And those are our stories.
What do you remember?