My Turn: ‘The story took me to safety’

  • Fire and smoke billows from the north tower of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 after terrorists crashed two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and brought down the twin towers.  AP FILE PHOTO/DAVID KARP

Published: 9/8/2021 11:33:16 AM

It’s Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, just about 9 a.m. Sitting in his high chair, Dante drops, and I pick up his sippy cup yet again in the game that is as endlessly entertaining to the 2-year-old as it is annoying to the parent. I am slicing a banana when the phone rings.

“Are you listening to the news?” Frank’s voice is not his usual calm. “Turn on the TV, something happened, a plane hit a building in New York City. They think it might have been hijacked.”

I take the cordless phone to the bedroom where the small TV sits on a dresser. Special reports on all three channels: smoke, people running, jumping from windows, confusion, fear. Frank says he’ll call later.

I go back to the kitchen and clean the smooshed banana from Dante’s face and hands. I keep the TV on and check every few minutes as I pack up the green canvas bag with diapers, wipes, an extra onesie, and a juice box and get ready for story hour at the library.

Arriving at the Wendell Free Library, Dante runs up the ramp, through the open front door, and into Ellen’s outstretched arms as she scoops him up in a welcome hug. “Dante it’s good to see you. Do you like spiders? We have a story about a friendly spider today.”

Ellen sneaks a look at me that says “have you heard?” I nod.

Back at home, Dante plays with wooden blocks while I clean up from breakfast with the radio on. New York City is being evacuated. Plane travel has stopped across the country. The nation is on high alert.

After lunch, I pack Dante in the stroller and we go for a walk. I let myself cry quietly when he falls asleep. I worry it will harm his psyche to hear his mother so sad. I am worried about the boys, worried about the country. I wish I could call my mom for reassurance. I miss her more than ever.

I want Frank and Teryn to come home. I feel a nesting urge to hold my family close. The day feels endless. A child psychologist interviewed on National Public radio as though she was talking to me, reassures parents the impulse to pull their children out of school early is natural but that maintaining regular routines is best.

Finally, the school day is ending. I pack Dante in the car and we drive to Shutesbury Elementary to pick up our boy. Waiting parents smile a greeting with their mouths but their eyes show worry. We don’t know many people in town yet and they are trying to be friendly but this is no ordinary day.

My eyes skim through the children like a penguin mom searching for her chick on the beach. When I see him, it takes all my willpower to wait for him to get to the door instead of running down the hall and grabbing him. When he finally gets to the entryway I hug him close, but only half as long and as tight as I want to.

As I drive to the Spear Memorial Library, I ask how school was and listen to his version of what his teacher told the class about planes that crashed into a building in New York City.

Librarian Judith Seelig welcomes us as we enter the front door. She quietly asks me how I am holding up. I nod and shrug.

While the boys head over to the children’s corner, Dante to the pop-up books and Teryn to the “Magic Treehouse” chapter books, I ask Judith for a book on tape that we can listen to on our way to karate class in Greenfield. She hands me “Pippi Longstocking.” Pippi Longstocking, whose full name is Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephram’s Daughter Longstocking, is a funny, freckle-faced, unconventional girl with crazy upturned red braids, superhuman strength, and no tolerance for unreasonable or cruel adults.

When terror pierced the bubble of our world that day, “Pippi Longstocking” was exactly what I needed. The words were life rafts. The story took me to safety. For this brief time, I got a break from reality — a chance to catch my breath, regroup, and get grounded. I didn’t have to talk, I didn’t have to listen to the news or try to explain.

On that terrible day 20 years ago I made it to Greenfield and through the day with my boys, the library, and Pippi Longstocking.

Karen Traub, M.Ed, who is involved in acupressure, healing and dance, is a Franklin County resident.




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