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The 9/11 Decade: A Darien Resident Reflects

DARIEN, Conn. — "Oh, Nim, isn't this terrible?" my mom said to me, squeezing my hand as she watched the Twin Towers fall on Sept. 11. She believed an Armageddon-type of catastrophe would happen in her lifetime. She also was a fan of Edgar Cayce and Shirley MacLaine and their thoughts on the afterlife. As she was lying on the couch in her house, dying from lung cancer, I couldn't blame her for her feelings of Armageddon. There was a nightmare event flashing on the screen before her weak eyes. Her life would end three days later.

On the evening of Sept. 9, I was with a group of kids at Pear Tree Beach, enjoying our first Youth Group meeting of the year. I remember it being such a beautifully clear day that I pointed out, "You can even see the city from here!"

Days later, I'd be seeing dark clouds of ash and smoke rising from the rubble that was once the World Trade Canter.

I arrived in the parking lot at the Darien Nature Center at about 8:50 a.m. Sept. 11, just after dropping my son off at the high school. The radio was tuned to Z100 so when I first heard about a twin-engine plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers, I thought the disc jockeys were clowning around. By the time I put my car in park, I had heard from my husband at the high school and had been talking to my sister in Fairfield. Was it true? What was true? Then, what had really happened became apparent by the time kids started to arrive for "nature" school.

We had a radio at the Nature Center and were all listening intently as moms appeared in a trance-like state, some crying, shaking and hugging others, not sure where their husbands were and not wanting to know more and others trying to find up-to-date information. I took a look at all of us employees and realized how we must look to the kids. I decided right then and there to transform myself from the worried, furrowed-browed, fearful victim to a happy, silly, fun-loving teacher ready to explore the great outdoors with 3- and 4-year-olds. It's what the little ones – and their moms – desperately needed at that moment.

Later that night, my husband and son took our dog Pokey for a walk across the street to the Town Hall fields after dinner at about 8:30 p.m., as we did every night. We noticed the dark, blank and silent sky above us. No blinking landing lights from planes as they approached New York airports. No jet engines and their faint, thunder-like roared in the distance.

The next day, Wednesday the 12th, I saw the cars at the train station along my route to work — "station" cars that would have been driven home the night before, had their owners returned from work.

As New York City was basically shut down on the 12th, many dads were at the park that day and for days after as the "City that Never Sleeps" came to grips with what had happened.

Darien, known as a bedroom community of NYC, was wide awake. All churches were open 24 hours and held special services; members of all three volunteer fire departments headed in to help; school counselors were busy with kids of all ages and, so was the Center for Hope. It seemed like everyone, everywhere was leading a fund drive for the victims' families. Firemen's big, black boots in the middle of the Post Road so you could drop a few bucks in while you waited for the light to change. Drives for T-shirts, water bottles, buckets, first aid supplies for the workers on "The Pile." Volunteers manning the tents set up around the Armory to feed the drenched and dusty workers.

My friend and my sister from Fairfield and I went down as close to where the tower fell as officials would let us and stood there long into the night, with many others, waving, cheering, whistling and flying American flags as truckload after truckload of rescuers came and went. For many days, my friend Leslie and I trained into the city and walked for hours, visiting fire and police departments, talking with the guys, purchasing hats and T-shirts and pins to support them and their efforts. We took our cameras and photographed the hundreds of posters, pictures, candle and flower-laden vigil sites. It was the least we could do.

Meanwhile, Jed over at Lawrence Funeral Home had my mom "on ice" as we waited for flights to accept cargo again. Finally, just before her 80th birthday, she got to go home to Minnesota.

What do you remember from Sept. 11? Send your memories to cdonahue@thedailydarien.com , or post them on our Facebook page.

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