By Mary Armstrong – intended to be published in my Column the Las Cruces Sun-News, but declined by the Sports Department because it was not sports related.
This column will have little to do with golf, but much to do with nearly every person that reads it. Much like the assassination of President Kennedy and the attack on Pearl Harbor for you real old timers, 9-11 brings back vivid memories within the context of our own lives. A conversation about that fateful day will inevitably involve what you were doing when it happened. At the time, I was living in a sleepy little New Hampshire town at the far northwestern edge of commuting distance from Boston. The home I had on the Piscataquag River served as my office as well. On that morning, I had just left my office on my way to Vermont for a Golf Course Superintendent’s event. I regularly listened to New Hampshire Public Radio Station NPR during those days (and I still do occasionally), but more to the point, shortly after the first plane hit at 8:46 am EDT, NPR announced it as some kind of an accident. Within minutes and shortly before the second plane hit (9:03 am EDT) they corrected themselves and told us it was an attack with a hi-jacked plane.
I immediately thought that I should turn around and go back home. At least one of the planes had originated in Boston. One of my daughters worked at the TJX Corporate Headquarters (Marshalls TJMaxx) just outside of Boston and I was concerned what the extent of the attack might be. Later, I found out that my daughter could have been on the plane bound for LA with others from her company, but someone she had recently trained went instead. After a discussion with my employee and spouse, I continued, but much of it was without much news as the I-89 corridor was somewhat remote and cell phone coverage was spotty at best. When I arrived at the event, everyone was gathered around a large screen TV hoping for even the slightest tidbit of information to make sense of what had transpired. I had not seen the impacts of the planes and I remember the terror I felt as I saw one of them hit the tower in a fiery crash. By that time the first tower had fallen and that footage along with other horrifying video were shown over and over. How can such images not stay with you? Our event proceeded although the schedule was somewhat altered. Golf was a large part of the meeting that day, but as we gathered at every tee there was conversation about hardly anything but the attack. It was interesting, because I don’t recall there being even a hint of partisan politics in the air. I never felt uncomfortable with anything anyone had to say about what just happened. I just remember a look of sadness and in some cases fear with the same tinged in conversation. But there was something more about the atmosphere – was it just the fear and sadness – I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it occupied my thoughts from time to time that day.
Following the event, I was to proceed south down I-91 to Ridgebury, Connecticut for a pre-proposal meeting for the Town’s Municipal Golf Course. Instead of driving as far as I could to make my morning drive smaller, I stopped in Springfield, Vermont. I didn’t want to get too close to New York until I knew that things had calmed down. After getting all the information I could that night, I awakened early the next morning to drive the remaining few hours or so to Ridgebury.
My meeting was early – probably around 9 am, so my drive down I-91 and then I-84 would not have ordinarily presented much traffic anyway. On that day, September 12th, it was one of those prototypical New England September mornings. The sky was clear and dark blue and the air was clean and crisp as the cool overnight held against the morning sun. There was some fog in Vermont and northern Massachusetts. The traffic was even lighter than I could have imagined. As I neared my exit on I-84 there were glimpses of a plume of smoke rising against the clear blue September sky. I was early for my meeting and drove past the Ridgefield Golf Course entrance. This is where my memory is fuzzy as I believe I was overwhelmed with the image some 50 miles to the southwest of a plume of smoke rising up to a temperature inversion where the smoke drifted horizontally, trailing off to the south on the northerly breeze. Today, I can’t be certain that I saw that image from the ground somewhere in Ridgebury or if it was just some video on television on another day. However, for me the image and my visit to Ridgebury are lastingly linked.
During my walk with the Golf Committee I had the same feeling that I had the previous day. There was something different about the world. Was it just my emotions? As we toured the golf course, I became aware of the quiet sky. Suddenly I realized – it was the fact there were no airplanes in the sky. Everything had been grounded shortl y after the attack. The sky WAS quiet. It seemed appropriate. It wasn’t in tribute to all those that had died, but for me it felt that way.
As we near the tenth anniversary, the internet has much jibber jabber about the possibility of a national holiday. But, in the United States, national holidays are little more than moneymaking opportunities. If we could have a day in true commemoration of those events in New York, Washington D.C. and in an isolated field in Pennsylvania I would applaud it. A day we could spend in peaceful respect with family or friends would be ideal. A day when there was no commerce at all. If I had my way, it would also include a day of a quiet sky.