Some history you don't just learn, you live it.
There are days in history that are so vivid that we forever remember where we were, what we were doing on a certain day. For me a few of those are, Pearl Harbor, the day Kennedy was shot, the Challenger disaster, and 9/11.
Sunday December 7, I was five years old - out for a Sunday afternoon ride with my grandparents. There were newsboys standing on the corner of 7th Street and Hawthorne Lane, calling, Extra! Extra! and waving pink newspapers. Dad Jack stopped the car to take a newspaper. And Granny started to cry.
In the 1960s Jim and I were living in Chapel Hill, NC. I was ironing in our bedroom, watching the mid-day soap operas while the children were napping, when Walter Cronkite broke broke into the program to announce that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.
The idea of a teacher, a young woman, going into space caught the imagination. I walked into Bobs Famous Ice Cream in Bethesda to get a coke. The radio was up loud - and they were announcing the disaster over Florida. And Christa McAuliffe's name became a sad part of history, not because she went into space; because she didn't.
On September 11, 2001 Jim and I were in Italy because Gallery 10 had five exhibits in as many cities, Prato, Venice, Montecatini, and another city whose name I have forgotten.
September 9 we took the train to the charming spa-city, Montecatini. We were staying in an old hotel where a large group of Americans on an Elderhostel were also in residence.
September 11 was bright and sunny. We did some sightseeing in the morning, ate an early lunch and then came in for a rest and to send a couple of emails from the computer on the stairway landing - the hotel's internet point.
By 2:30 we were ready to explore more of the city. I remember Jim and I were walking down the gracefully curved double wide staircase into the lobby when Giovanni, the conceirge, ran over to us. "Come, Come". He pointed toward a back corridor. His face looked like he was stricken.
We asked no questions. We followed.
When we walked into a mid-size meeting room set up for the Elderhostel classes, the first thing I saw was a large television screen at the front of the room. Excited voices were incoherent from the screen and some people in the room were screaming. My first thought was, "They are watching a Bruce Willis movie" but then I realized it was real time television and we were watching a large plane heading straight into one of the Towers in New York City.
No need to go on. We all know what was happening. We know the images. So well - we can see them when we close our eyes.
Numbed, Jim and I went back to our room to watch CNN. Then the plane hit the Pentagon. Washington. Our family. Was our son, a reserve Army officer stationed at the Pentagon, working that day? Was my cousin, a Navy officer stationed at the Pentagon, working that day? I rushed out to the computer. When I logged on I already had a short, crisp message from our daughter Karen. "We are all OK." All I needed to know. So I logged off to make way for the people lining up behind me. Wanting to know the same thing I had just found out.
We were all so far from home.
Jim ad I sat on the side of the bed and stared at one another, hardly able to comprehend what had happened, what was happening - at home. And feeling very helpless. We decided to do the next right thing - we went to 5:30 pm Mass. The church was filled. An unusual sight for a daily Mass in Italy. We recognized other Americans from the hotel. Strangers recognized us as Americans and touched us - a pat on the shoulder, a hand on our arm.
That evening there was far less conversation in the hotel dining room. The Elderhostel had about six tables reserved on one side of the room and there was usually a lot of laughing and banter coming from them. Not tonight. Quiet.
Until, a man stood up and invited everyone to stand and sing with him. The sound of chairs scraping on wood floors and then strong voices singing "God Bless America." filled the silent room. Jim and I stood with them. Tears were streaming down my cheeks, down most cheeks. All the people in the room were standing.
God Bless America.
Now six years later - its not forgetten. Rest In Peace.