Friday, 11 September 2020 18:08

COLUMN: 9/11: A child's memory

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COLUMN: 9/11: A child's memory Andy Choinski - Pixabay

I was in Mrs. Walker’s third-grade class when our neighbor, Mrs. Curry, came running into the classroom. I don’t remember what she told Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Lockhart but the TV was turned on. 


I can remember seeing the image of the twin towers on theTV. I don’t believe I had any understanding about what was happening, but the adults were in shock. Mrs. Lockhart, whose family lived in New York City, was frantically trying to call her son on her cellphone. Of course the cellphone systems in New York were out.

I have conflicting memories of my understanding of the attacks. I remember knowing that there was an antenna on one of the towers and thinking that its loss was the reason for the cellphones not working, yet I also remember later that day not understanding why two smoke stacks billowing smoke was such a scary site for the adults.

The image on the screen zoomed in as the commentator asked what the black specks falling out of the window were. The TV in our class went out as soon as it was apparent. I believe I knew that the falling objects were people because this memory is one of the clearest of the day. 

I have only one memory of a fellow student during that day: a classmate being checked out. I always thought it was silly that the adults felt the need to check their children out of school. After all, we were nowhere near New York, but that reaction highlights the uncertainty and fear that our teachers and parents must have felt.

Looking back, it seems that my routine was also altered. The attacks happened on a Tuesday. Normally I would have gone to an afterschool program, M&M Tuesdays at First Baptist Church, but the only memory I have outside of school that day was watching the news broadcast on the family’s 24-inch Sony television with my mom on the phone to Vivian Hilton. 

Even as a child, the attacks of Sept. 11 were burned into my memory. I can tell the type of phone Mrs. Lockhart had ( it was a Nokia), the black specks falling from the building, who my mom was talking to on the phone as I watched the broadcast later that day, and even the color of my juicebox koozie. 

As a child, I did not experience the attacks as a participant but more like a disconnected observer watching the adults buzz about trying to make sense of everything. As an adult, I have tried to internalize the fear and pain that gripped the nation on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. 

For me, I feel as if I have only half of the experience. I have the memories but none of the emotion: fear, pain, sadness, confusion. 

What I did feel as a child was the sense that people had a huge feeling of pride in our nation. I saw people holding hands outside of my school, the American Flag appeared everywhere, my Papa (Ken Melvin) started passing out flag lapel pins and installed a flagpole on his porch. My Bepa (Frank Clements) placed American flag stickers on his motorcycle.

I saw this everywhere and, as a child, this had a big impact on me. I saw the whole nation put aside their differences of race, religion and political party and stand together to prop up the country when it was needed. 

We call the generation that won World War II “The Greatest Generation” and I have no doubt that they are — but I saw younger generations that day and the weeks, months and years to follow that too were worthy of such a title. As a child, I saw the worst day in U.S. history since Pearl Harbor bring out the best in our people.

Charlie Melvin is co-publisher of the Richmond Observer.