I remember where I was on September 11th, 2001. We’d come back from a wonderful visit with family in California barely a week before. I was still in its afterglow, as I was still in the long afterglow of four months in Budapest.
Fall was approaching, my favorite time of year. It was a beautiful, mild, sunny Midwest morning. I was relaxed. I was happy.
I came downstairs early, made my breakfast, sat on the sofa in the living room, and turned on the news to see smoke billowing out of the first tower and gawked in disbelief. A few minutes later, the phone rang.
Are you watching? Did you see it? Her voice cracked. It always cracked. This time was worse.
Yes. I recognized the same crack in mine.
And we watched together, a thousand miles apart, as the second tower was struck, and gasped, together.
My mother didn’t cry much; but she cried that morning.
My husband rose about thirty minutes later.
The minute I heard him padding about, I rushed upstairs.
He took one look at me and knew something was wrong.
I think I told him to come down, eked out a few words about the towers, but I don’t remember what I said, exactly. I do know he didn’t linger on the second floor, checking his email, stretching, as he usually does. And I know that when he saw the screen, his face was a mirror of mine—tear-stained, stricken.
I tried to call my mother back, but the lines had gone down by then, so I sent emails to family and friends in New York, hoping they would be received, praying for one answer: We’re all right. We’re safe.
Later that afternoon, our spirits numbed by images of burning buildings and planes, we trod off to the grocery store—to replenish staples, get out, breathe.
Everywhere we walked, we saw our shock and grief reflected—in other cars, the parking lot, aisles, checkout counters. No one spoke much. No one smiled. People just shook their heads, sniffled, and sighed.
After dinner, my husband gave me a small package wrapped in newsprint, tied with a string.
I bought this for you a while ago, and was going to give it to you for Christmas; but I think you need it now.
Inside the wrapping were the milk glass salt and pepper shakers pictured above.
I know how much you love milk glass.
They are a fixture in my kitchen, those shakers, and have been since 9/11, a constant reminder of what preserves, and what burns— salt and pepper.
Both are filled with salt.
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