9/11 Remembered: Will We Not Falter?

9/11 Remembered: Will We Not Falter?

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(On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Tales Told From The Road ran stories from its readers and other sources about their experiences traveling in the days surrounding 9/11. Over the coming days we will re-run many of those stories to commemorate a day in the history of the United States and the world that will long be remembered.)

“9/11 Remembered: Will We Not Falter?” By Elisabeth Ptak

 I happened to be at the National Guard Armory in Medford, Oregon, last Sunday when the United States began bombing Afghanistan. It was a beautiful fall day where I was. The air was crisp, and overnight a new crop of leaves had carpeted the back yards and sidewalks in the picturesque towns around there. There were jobs to be had: a sign on a fruit processing plant announced the company was hiring experienced pear packers. Roadside produce stands overflowed with a harvest of pumpkins and winter squash for sale, and even the most run-down businesses I passed made up in character what they lacked in charm.

A portable traffic hazard signal flashed “God Bless U.S.A.” on the side of the road that I’d traveled in the shadow of the rugged Cascade Range.  “We will not falter, we will not fail,” blazed from the red, white, and blue marquee of a car and truck dealership, while Old Glory waved from front porches, lampposts, and motels. America was wearing its flag on its lapel and its heart on its sleeve. If it didn’t exactly feel good to be alive, what with the world situation and all, at least it felt color-coordinated.

At other National Guard armories around the nation, troops may have been assembling, readying themselves for duty as airport security or for other national needs after the events of September 11, but there was no sign of such activity at the Medford armory. The big lot outside was filled with cars, though. After finding a spot to park some distance from the building, I joined a steady stream of determined people marching toward the imposing front doors. In the spic-and-span vestibule, a man took my admission fee (50 cents), stamped my left hand, and said, “Have fun.”

The night before, I’d attended a production of “Troilus and Cressida” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in nearby Ashland. As described by the producers of Shakespeare’s retelling of the Trojan War, the heroes “…are bullies and self-serving politicians, and honor is nothing but a euphemism for self-serving squabbles.” That frustrating saga of war and lechery was still on my mind the next morning as I walked through a second set of doors into the armory itself where a room full of people had set up second-hand merchandise on rows of folding tables at the monthly flea market.

Commerce, I found, was good for the soul. The smell of frying bacon drifted through the room from the kitchen which was serving a breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and choice of meat for a few dollars. Pretty soon I’d forgotten all about the five million Afghan people facing possible starvation in the next few months if a war occurs. I wasn’t thinking about the Palestine question or whether Israel is truly our friend. I didn’t automatically picture the World Trade Center when I saw a tall pair of matching rectangular silver vases, and the tables of guns and knives for sale didn’t raise any red flags because there are always tables of guns and knives for sale at flea markets.

I’d mentally decided to go back for the heart-shaped box encrusted with seashells and the scarf imprinted with the map of Oregon I’d seen on my first walk-through when I overheard two women talking quietly over a table of salt-and-pepper shakers. I could see the worried looks on their faces from where I was crouched on the floor, rooting through a box of embroidery thread. “What?” I asked them, “What, did something happen?” They said the bombing had started.

The attack was not unexpected, and after the news had traveled through the room and the momentum of the morning had faltered ever so slightly, most people went back to the business at hand. What else could they do? We’ve been told by our President and others that we needed to get on with our lives in the days and weeks after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “Shop, travel, eat out,” they’ve urged us, but I left the flea market without buying anything. At that moment, when our missiles were killing people in a country halfway around the world, it just didn’t seem right.

Elisabeth Ptak is a writer and editor based in Marin County, California.

She was a newspaper columnist for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Point Reyes Light and an on-air essayist for radio stations  KQED-FM, San Francisco, and KWMR-FM, Point Reyes Station. She is the author and editor of Ranches & Rolling Hills—The Art of West Marin, A Land in Trust, and several other books.

Her 9/11 story was originally published by Tales Told From The Road on October 11, 2011.

(Tales Told From The Road will receive a small commission for purchases of Ranches & Rolling Hills made through the link on this page.)

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