Friday, September 11, 2015

Do You Remember, Dad?

My son, Ben, had a project.  He was supposed to ask people where they were on key dates in history.  “Where were the grandpas when they bombed Pearl Harbor?”  I said to him “I can’t speak for Grandpa Mike because he was only four years old then and we never talked about it.  My Dad was seven and he remembers it very clearly because it was when he went home to live with his family.”  Ben asked, “What do you mean?”  I told him that his grandfather’s father was 47 when he was born.  “Dad’s mother was very sick with tuberculosis and died when he was three. He lived a good part of his childhood with his aunt and her husband in Ohio until Pearl Harbor Day. That is when Garl’s father rejected his sister’s pleas to adopt my dad. Dad told the only mother he ever knew that it was Christmastime and he wanted to see his sister and his brothers. In a snowstorm, Hal, his father, took him home for good.”   

Next question. “Where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot?”  I told him, “I was six months old and nursing.  My mother jumped up from the rocking chair and I fell on the floor.  Some people say that that is why I am not quite right to this day.  Could be.  I told him that I remembered when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot because of my mother and my grandmother crying on the phone, consoling each other. My parents were Republicans but my grandmother was very proud of a photo that she had of her shaking Bobby's hand. 

I also told him that I remembered the fall of Saigon in 1975 when I was twelve.  I recall my father being very angry.  He threw his newspaper down and walked out of the house. “What a fucking waste,” he said as he went.  I had never heard him swear like that before.

Final question from the boy.  “Where were you, Dad, on 9/11? Do you remember it?”

Eight in the morning.  Kathy, who had the office next to me, came in.  “I just heard on the radio a plane has hit the World Trade Center. “  We went back to her room and listened.  Another one went into the Pentagon. Kathy said, “Something is going on here.”  Another went down in a cornfield in Pennsylvania and we cried.  Human resources called, left a message, and let us go for the day.

My friend, Janice and I got on a bus that would take us to Union Station.  As I watched, people vigilantly looked to the skies as they moved to get away from the city, I said, “This is the kind of evacuation that  must be what the London Blitz looked like.” 

We got separated at the station.  There was no chance of me getting on a train, so I called my wife, friends, and family to make sure they were alright.  My sister, Stacia, was in New York/New Jersey for training and I worried about her, but she was OK.  They had rented a car and drove home. Not everyone was OK.  I heard up and down the hallways of Union Station hysterical laughter and tears.  I went to a bar to wait it out.  While I was there having a beer, I did this doodle on the back of a report I was working on.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the man on a wire walking between the Twin Towers. This is it. 
The first time I published this publicly on the ten-year anniversary of that very bad day, my good friend Jack Walsdorf, had this to say:What I like about your drawing, and ultimately, your remembrance of the buildings is the human element of architecture. By placing Mr. Petit between the buildings you show that these buildings belong to all of us. Good architecture adds an aesthetic which enhances surroundings. Few of us will go to the lengths to play with a building the way Mr. Petit did. The majority will enjoy the play between light and shadow, marvel at the sheer size of these structures, or appreciate artistic details in something which provides a function.   Jack is a brilliant man.  I carry what he had to say with me, and always will, especially whenever I look at buildings.

“Dad?  Dad?!”  My son was in my face. “I asked you a question. Do you remember 9/11?” I breathed a sigh. “Yes, Ben, I do.  I came home and coached Matthew’s soccer team.  That night he slept on my chest because he kept hearing planes and was scared. They were the F-16s doing circles around the city.  I told him everything would be alright even though I don't think I really believed it. Things were going to change a lot in our world after that.

Ben wrote some things in his notebook.  “So on 9/11 you just came home, like Grandpa Garl did?”  I nodded my head and said, “Yes. I did exactly like Grandpa Garl did, because in times like that, that’s what you do. You find your family.”  Ben said thanks and went off to write his essay.

Ten years later Matthew (now 16) came into the studio where I was working and asked me what I was writing about.  I told him.  He said, “That’s a tough piece of writing.  Crap, how does anyone write about that?” When he went up to bed I asked myself the hard question. Why are you writing about this?  My answer to myself  is this: “So that no one ever forgets.”  

A day that will live in infamy, innocence was lost, and it should never ever be forgotten.