Each year, this day brings a flood of memories and emotions. Chris was in class at BHS. Alex was still asleep. I was suspicious – but not yet certain that I was pregnant with Hope. I was up and eager to start the day’s lessons at home.
I had written my home school lesson plans days before. Sonlight’s K-2 curriculum had us studying the story of The Tower of Babel that day. I had manipulatives pulled to create towers out of blocks to allow my freshly five-year-old kindergarten son to act out the story of the falling tower. The learning space (kitchen table) was set up waiting for him to awaken. After what would ensue in the coming hours, I simply couldn’t do it.
It was around 9 when my phone rang. It was Chris. His voice wasn’t normal, nor was it normal for him to call me when he was supposed to be teaching. Something was very wrong. Somberly, he told me, “Turn on the TV and get Joan on the phone. You need to check on Al. Immediately.“
Joan is my first cousin, for whom I am named. She and Al Mangarelli are my second parents; I was their practice baby before they had children. They would become my godparents. I went on trips with their family, stayed with them when my own parents were away, and, since we all went to church together, went home to play dolls with their daughter Linda most every Sunday until 1987 when Al got transferred back home to New York. Al loved music and sang beautifully, and it was he who introduced me to old Chicago and Manilow. Together we sang duets at the top of our lungs. Almost weekly, we sang the entire score of “Annie” as Annie and Daddy Warbucks. Al hired my sister Susan when she entered the work force. When she married and moved to Queens, Al hired Susan again to work for him in the New York office. Chris knew when he married me that he had to love Joan and Al. Our first big vacation as a married couple was to go to New York to visit my Mangarelli family. I inherited my love for lap dogs, morning coffee, and cannolis from Joan and Al. I named my daughter after Joan’s mom, my Aunt Lillian, who, at age 13, cared for my own mother when she was a sickly child stricken with kidney disease. Yes, we are a close family. As the images filled the airwaves, Chris’s heart was ripping open, and he knew mine was about to, too.
Here, one of my big brothers is holding me as a newborn. Al is in the background. I’ve never not had Joan and Al in my life.
Joan, age 26, is holding me at a family dinner.
Sunday after church with Joan and Al, circa 1976
Here I am holding Linda shortly after she was born in 1977.
With my dad in the pulpit and Mom playing the organ for the service, I sat with Aunt Lillian every Sunday during church. Having just lost her husband the year before I was born, there was no mistaking; I was her girl, and she was my surrogate grandmother.
Me with Al, circa 1978
Me with Linda at Joan and Al’s house, circa 1978
Me with Linda celebrating a family birthday, circa 1979
All of us at the 1982 World’s Fair
Linda and me, early 1980s
Me holding Paul, circa 1983 at a family gathering
Family Christmas in New Jersey, 1987
The NY phone lines were all jammed, and all of my Georgia family were all calling one another for updates on Al, who worked as a VP of Marsh and McLennan with a corner office in the World Trade Center. South Tower. 2 WTC. 49th floor. Somehow, I finally got Linda on the phone and eventually spoke with Joan, too. Al was not at his office; Marsh had him flying out of Newark that morning on a business trip to their D.C. office. To think; he could’ve been in the airport at the same time as those on Flight 93 who terrorized our entire planet that day, and he was in D.C. – the other targeted location that day. Later, Paul drove down to D.C. to pick up his dad and, in the immediate aftermath, assisted in the cleanup efforts back up in NYC. As it all unfolded, we caught snapshots of the hell our beloved family was living and grieved – and rejoiced – at the same time.
Al lost many of his dear friends and coworkers that day. He would’ve retired the following March, but there was no office to go back to. Marsh and McLennan lost hundreds of employees that day. Real people with real lives were forever changed. Al’s was, and he wears it all to this day, sometimes barely able to speak of it. Through tears, he has told me that he believes God must have spared him that day for a reason, and he wants to carry out that purpose, whatever it is. What a lesson for us all.
Sometimes I may not speak of it either. Other times I may need to unload. But I can’t help but remember; it was far too personal. No, I’ll never forget.
September 11, 2001 (photo credit unknown)