new york, blue sky

blue sky.   the morning of september 11, 2001 i met my editor tracy devine and bantam deputy publisher nita taublib for breakfast at charlotte, just across the street from the random house offices.  it was one of our many wonderful meetings, talking about books and life--a colleague of ours had just gotten married, and we were catching up on that when we heard a plane had hit one of the world trade towers.

a small plane i thought, it had to be, but how terrible no matter the size, how shocking.  but it wasn't a small plane, and then the second jet hit, and nita and tracy and i hugged goodbye and hurried away into our lives to plan and make sense or no-sense and be in new york city--all three of us lived there--that had already changed forever, only we just didn't know it yet.

impressions: the blue sky everyone still talks about; plume of smoke visible from midtown, constant sirens, walking downtown and seeing people on cell phones--i didn't have one yet.  an hour later, after the towers fell, seeing people in business suits covered with ash.  the next nights: below 14th street, a dust cloud that glowed red after dark, as thick as the foggiest london night. the posters hung by families, their missing loved ones, on the wall by famous ray's pizza across from st. vincent's hospital.  going to the cathedral of st. john the divine, didn't matter what religion you were or were not, just a place to gather and pray and mourn.

the city smelled of smoke and ghosts.  people were kind to each other but also lost it on a frequent basis.  i remember those early days, tuning into local tv news, pre-theme music.  do you know what i mean?  the moment when a tragedy acquires a combination of familiarity and production values, and the tv producers give it solemn theme music and a name.  it takes away the raw.  i hated when that happened a day or two after 9/11.

heading to the west side highway many nights--closed to traffic, it was kept open for search and rescue workers.  people lined the streets, watching pickup trucks, fire trucks, many with out of state plates, drive south toward the world trade center.  i was in the midst of leaving a worse than bad marriage, but the tragedy bound us together for a few more months, and those first nights after the towers collapsed we'd go to the west side highway, watch those rescue trucks in the surreal riverside light.  i couldn't bear for anything else to collapse.

during the early days after the attack, friends helped at the site.  the poet-nun sister leslie went to st. paul's with other sisters from her community, to offer spiritual comfort to the rescue workers.  poet-naturalist e.j. mcadams, then an urban park ranger, spent days in and around the rubble, going into apartments to rescue animals abandoned in the evacuation.   interesting that my two closest poet friends had reason to be there--the city needed poets more than ever.

the week after the towers fell i stood on park avenue south and watched a woman in a yellow dress commit suicide, jumping from a ledge and landing at my feet.  the grief in the city was unimaginable.  had she lost someone in the towers?  or was the city's collective sorrow just too much to bear?

in december my friend, poet, writer, and radio personality colin mcenroe came to the city from hartford and he is a sensitive soul as we all know so we went downtown but mostly we went to the cathedral to watch paul winter prepare for his solstice concert and a few days later there was a fire in the cathedral and everything seemed touched by sorrow, mystical beauty, blue stained glass, and the unpredictability of life.

ten years have passed.  the anniversary unbearable at first, but time dulls, if not heals, the shock and pain.  for years the cats and i have looked out my south-facing chelsea windows to see the towers of light rising up from where the twin towers once stood.  they appear beautiful, mystical, but i love nature, and i couldn't and can't deny that they're magnets to birds that fly by night, fall migrants heading south for the winter--the birds get trapped in the light columns, and at dawn fall to the ground.  after a while i couldn't stand seeing those light towers--they reminded me of death, not hope.  so i stopped looking out my window the last years of this decade of september 11's.

i'm not in ny this year.  i want to be far away, and i am.  the sky is blue, the way it was that day.  there are no speeches or memorials or flags.  there are no columns of light.  but there is peace and prayer and memory, and there are poems, and there is love.  nita and tracy, we were together that morning.  i'm holding your hands, wherever you are.

 

We Gather Together (even if we can't)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. This year I'm missing my sister Maureen--she and Olivier went to France, to say bon voyage to his brother and sister-in-law, leaving Bordeaux to open an inn in Indonesia.  Missing my nieces, too--Mia will be with her friend, and Molly will be with her husband Alex and his family.  We'll all be together in spirit, as well as with Rosemary...sometimes that's the best even a close family can do.

Thinking of Maureen and Olivier in France, I remember having Thanksgivings in Paris.  The day would start by reading Art Buchwald's yearly-repeated column in the International Herald Tribune.  Then I'd make dinner, including a not-so-easy-to-find dinde, for all my American friends there.  There'd always be at least twenty...

I'm very lucky, though; a young friend, Nyasha, is coming down from Massachusetts to spend the holiday with me.  I love having visitors from out of town, and I'll enjoy showing her all my favorite NYC places, and having a special dinner.

Growing up always had dinner with my father's sisters and family--Aunt Mary, Uncle Bill, and Billy Keenan, Aunt Jan and Uncle Bud Lee--either at our house in New Britain or the Keenans' in Elmwood.  When it was at ours, we had lots to do to prepare.  Wednesday was a half-day at school, and my sisters and I would run home to help our mother and grandmother.

We'd go down to the basement to get the good china and crystal glasses, and we'd wash everything till it sparkled.  Mim would bake pies, and we'd help: apple, pumpkin, and mince.  One of us would make cranberry-orange relish--a recipe via Ocean Spray from the Whitneys, the family across the street for whom I babysat--and another of us would bake cranberry and date-nut breads.

The three of us would help polish the silver, and fill bowls with nuts in their shells.  My grandmother had a turkey platter, a green oval with a splendid turkey, its tail spread and preening, displayed on a hutch in the dining room.  We would take it down, the only time all year, feeling excited to know the next day it would be laden with turkey.

(Photo below from right: Tom Rice, Bill Keenan, Mary Keenan, me, Billy's elbow, Lucille Rice raising her glass, tiny corner of Maureen's hair.)

After dinner, my father would lead a walk on Shuttle Meadow golf course, across the street.  It was always wonderfully bracing and damp, and usually cold, and we'd tromp through the rough toward the brook and ponds, to see if any ice had formed yet.  Given my father and Uncle Bill's humor, there'd be lots of laughter.

Dinner at the Keenans's was great, not only because we were guests and had only to bring the pies, but because Billy had these toy horses that I loved and wanted to play with long after it made sense age-wise.  When we got older and could drive, "the kids"--my sisters, Bill, and I--would go to the movies.  Billy and I were recently reminiscing about seeing Silent Movie at the Elm Theater.  Dom Deluise's line, "I need a blueberry pie badly" made a particularly deep impression.

Billy was a football player; if he had a game we'd go see him play at Northwest Catholic.  Later, when he went to Amherst College, one of my teenage highlights was to head up there with his parents and my sisters, tailgate in the parking lot, and feel like hot stuff because we knew Billy.  (Photo of Rosemary, me, Bill Keenan.)

This year Thanksgiving falls on November 25.  That is a bright and shining occurrence.  It happened once many years ago.  Mrs. Whitney, my "other mother," (and currently bookseller extraordinaire at G. J. Ford ) gave birth to her second daughter, the exceptional and luminous Sam--aka the best midwife in the west in my novel Dream Country.  Sam lit up our lives from the minute she was born, and continues to do so while being the best midwife in the west, raising her daughter (my goddaughter) and twins, and telemark skiing in the mountains of Park City, Utah. (Photo of Sam and Sadie)

We all attended Vance School--from my mother to my sisters and me to the Whitney children (aside from Sam, the birthday-Thanksgiving girl, there are Tobin and the twins Sarah and Palmer.)

Every year all the classes filed into the auditorium, and we'd sing We Gather Together and Over the River and Through the Woods.  May you all be gathering together with your families and friends, all your loved ones.

Cranberry Orange relish:

1 bag cranberries; 1 seedless orange; 1 cup of sugar.  Make in two batches: chop up the orange and put half plus half the cranberries and half the sugar through a Cuisinart, food mill, or grinder.  Then do it again.  The relish will be delicious and you will be happy.

The photo above is of Maureen and me in the kitchen at Hubbard's Point.