Most of the time when we trot out the phrase “It’s that time of year again,” it’s either a good thing or a routine annoyance. When the holiday season starts up from Oct. 31-Dec. 31, we go, “It’s that time of the year again!” When it’s April 15 and time to file last-second taxes (because we’re a nation of procrastinators), we sigh and go “Ugh, it’s that time of year again.” But today is neither of those. It’s that time of year again today means it’s time to recall the national tragedy I’m actually old enough to remember.
I’m obviously not old enough to remember things like Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK, but the Sept. 11 attacks? Those I remember. They were key events that shaped our nation’s history, leading to involvement in two wars and other military action against terrorism. To this day, we’re still fighting the War on Terror, and I don’t know if it’ll ever stop.
But this day I have memories of. In September of 2001, I was in sixth grade at Dover Middle School. I had just turned 11 about a month before, and I’ll be honest, processing this information took quite a bit of time for me.
I don’t remember what class I was in at the time. I remember starting first period with history class, which I think was taught by Esther White. But naturally, we didn’t find out about the attacks right away (before social media and instant news, remember?). In fact, I don’t think I knew about them until after lunch that day.
Here’s what I do remember. Our principal at the time was Mike Lee. He’s pictured below.
He was a nice guy, and as this was before I became class clown lite, I didn’t spend too much time in his office or interacting with him. But I remember him coming in on this particular day and turning on our television. All classrooms had tube televisions (this was before flat screens took off) on a little black swivel mount.
Our school district had a deal with the company behind Channel One News (like CNN but put on by high schoolers as journalists) where if we’d watch the program every morning, they’d pay for our televisions. At least, that was the rumor that went around school. I never found out if it was true or not. Here’s what it looked like:
Mr. Lee turned the television to the news (maybe CNN, I’m not sure if I watched CNN in school that day or after I got home later) and kicked the wall. He was visibly upset about the ordeal and muttered something about “they got us.” I’m not sure if he used an expletive, but this circumstance would have certainly called for one.
We may have been sent home early that day, in fact I’m fairly sure we were. Being in middle school at the time, I rode the bus home and got off at the Dover Public Library. I was home alone for a little bit as I always was after school because mom and dad both worked. I think this might have been during the time my mother worked as a receptionist at a doctor’s office in Russellville, but I’m not sure. Hey, I was only 11; give me a break. I don’t remember everything.
As I walked home to our three-bedroom house at the bottom of the hill, I remember still processing. There was a small part of me that was scared. Were we at war? I remember learning about things like World War II in history class. Would this be like that? My father served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Arkansas. I remember being worried he’d be called back into service. He wasn’t.
And at the end of the day, I was still processing. Mom and dad didn’t talk much with me about the attack when they got home from work that night. We had dinner, and I’m sure my little brother Greg (two at the time) was present, though I don’t remember anything specific about him on that day.
I remember watching the footage of the flaming towers on CNN. They were repeated over and over. I don’t remember who was on the anchor desk, or what they were saying. All I thought about were the images I was seeing. At age 11, I was a visual kid. Go figure. And these visuals were potent.
But the next day, life for an 11-year-old boy went on as normal. I went to school, saw my friends and we probably talked about video games or Pokemon. Life went on. It wasn’t until I was older that I gained more perspective on the significance of the event, that I began to look back and saw I lived through a defining moment in history for our nation. How would I remember that day if I’d been 16 at the time? Or five years old? I can’t say.
I’ve told you about all I can remember from that day as an 11-year-old boy. By the way, here’s what I looked like at the time.
After 9/11, I remember they made flying much more difficult in the name of security. That’s all above my paygrade. But I can remember an instance my nana and pops joke about from time to time. My pops is a stubborn soul (he passed this along to my mother and eventually me). He doesn’t like being told what to do, and like a mountain ram, he’ll butt heads with anyone who attempts to muscle him around.
He was flying with nana not long after security had been tightened. They were nervous about drinks because terrorists could maybe hide explosive mixtures in water bottles or something. And my pops had a water bottle in the security line. It was unopened. A TSA agent ordered him to take a sip of his water (probably to prove there weren’t chemicals in it), and my pops just looked at him before firing back, “You take a sip!”
Nana did not find the situation humorous, and neither did the TSA agent. Thankfully, pops complied after being told the reasoning behind the command. He later boarded his plane without incident (or a strip search).
We always joke about that because it’s a funny story, but the extra security memories, which linger today, arose out this terrible event.
And looking back, I guess I don’t really have much more to say on the subject. I know people are writing all sorts of memorable and philosophical things today. Families and friends are mourning the ones they lost. We celebrate the heroic passengers who stopped one of the four flights from crashing into its target. But I don’t have much else to offer except this glance back at my memories on that day. What else can I say? We were just kids.