Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of September 11th. It was on our minds throughout the day, there was mention of it on the radio, billboards posted, Facebook status updates telling us to ‘never forget’ and we chatted about it over dinner. Like everyone else, Jason and I talked about where we were that fateful day and what we were doing when we heard the news. It’s the “what were you doing when JFK was shot?” for our generation. Jason and I had been married for 3 months when the towers fell. We lived in a tiny apartment on the lower Eastside of Santa Barbara and we were about to get in the shower when the telephone rang. Our landline! Remember those? It was my sister and I remember her exact words. She asked if we had heard the news. And then she said “The world trade center and the Pentagon have been bombed.” I muttered something and we hung up. I told Jason and we frantically grabbed at some clothes in our dresser, hearts pounding, so that we could go out to to the living room. My mom was visiting and was sitting up on our pull-out couch when we busted through our bedroom door to tell her the news and turn on the TV. My friend, Rebecca, had needed a place to crash the night before and had slept on the floor so she was there with us, too.
We watched in disbelief as the news came in and we saw the second plane crash into the tower. And then in horror as those buildings came down. We tried in vain to reach my dad, who was on an elk hunt. We called family. We touched base with loved ones near and far. Jason eventually left for class (he had just started his final college semester) and my mom and I eventually had to turn the TV off and get out of the house. We drove around Santa Barbara for an hour. It was like a ghost town. All the stores were closed. Nobody was out on State Street. It was eery. Like everyone else, I’ll never forget that day. It was a defining moment for Jason and me, and so many others. We went from blissful (ignorant?) newlyweds to the realization that the world is not the safe place we had once thought it to be. I suddenly felt woefully unaware of the world around me. There were so many things I did not know or understand. Jason endured many sleepless, fearful, anxiety-filled months following that day. We grew up a little bit faster, I guess.
Last year, on September 11th, we said goodbye to my grandmother. She died on September 4th and her funeral was a week later. I remember thinking that it was a rather ominous day for her funeral. But less so than for a birthday or a wedding. Just another sad connection with 9/11. But it, too, was a turning point in my life. I was shocked by my grief at her passing. Her death was not unexpected. I knew it was coming. We all knew it was coming. But I was unaware of how her loss would affect me.
She and my grandfather lived in the same town so she was part of every major holiday and event in my life growing up, not to mention all of the small non-events of life. I expected that I would grieve over her noticeable absence, and I did. I still do. But when I went home for her funeral, I discovered a woman I actually knew very little about. I was surprised at her funeral to hear of this woman of faith, of courage, of gumption. Growing up, I always viewed her as liberal (a bad word, for sure!) and therefore held her at arm’s length all my life. I grew up thinking that because she was different from us (my family), because she didn’t hold the same beliefs, that she was somehow bad. I was stunned to hear about her through the eyes of her pastor and her friends. How had I missed it? Hearing these other people talk about her made me wish that I had known her. Really known her. But she was gone and it was too late. It sounds so cliche but I was genuinely overcome with the realization that it was too late.
We called her “Ed.” When my mom was young, their family lived next door to a clumsy boy named Ed. And my grandmother, also being extremely clumsy, somehow earned the name herself as well. Or so the story goes. She was constantly doing something that would make someone say “boy, that was an Ed!” or “what an Ed!” And so the name stuck. She has been Ed for as long as I have known her.
The other day after the boys’ naps, I was playing with them on the bed and I brought down two of my grandmother’s bells, which I had been given after she died. I handed one to each boy. Isaiah immediately put the bell in his mouth and Gryffin took the bell I gave him with a look of curiosity. I showed him how to ring it and then watched as he bounced up and down and rang the bell over and over and over again. The sound of those bells ringing was so familiar and brought to mind the game my sister and I used to play with my Grandma when we were little girls. Ed would stand in the kitchen or somewhere just out of sight and we would go around to each of her many bells in turn and ring it. She had to guess which bell it was. I remember being amazed that she knew every ring.
Ed loved to read. She put together a huge library at her church and she was always eager to know what books I was reading. She was also a woman of her own mind; a democrat, much to my grandfather’s chagrin. I remember she used to say “you can’t control me when I get in that voter’s booth!”
And she was always interested in me. I wish I had shown more interest in her. Learned more about her. Looking back, I am angry with myself for holding her at a distance – something I had done since childhood – and viewing her as somehow “lesser” because her faith did not look the way I thought it should. I feel deep regret for not noticing this sooner and rectifying it while there was still time. Mostly, though, I feel this deep ache that I didn’t really know her, my own grandmother, who sounded like a kindred-spirit, an old-same. I hope that I can take what I did know, what I do know about her, and live into it, nurture it, and pass it on to my boys so that she can continue to ring on through the generations to come — like her bells.