Sept. 11, 2001, was a beautiful fall day.
We are ten days away from the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as I type this. (I tend to write these posts well in advance.)
And one of my welter of memories from that week — perhaps the only truly pleasant one — is how gorgeous it was outside in the Boston suburbs, where I was living at the time.
It wasn’t autumnal yet; the weather was still summery, mostly clear and in the 70s, wonderful while everything else was horrible. I remember looking up at the cloudless blue sky and wondering where all the planes were … and then remembering.
My memories are borne out by my copy of the Sept. 11 morning edition of the Boston Globe, which gives a weather forecast in the mid-70s.
(Compare the weather kicker of the Sept. 11 morning paper to the one in the Sept. 12 morning paper. Just one of a billion small evocations of the way things felt on my generation’s date that will live in infamy. It was not a great time for puns, wordplay or levity.)
My grandfather, who died seven months before 9/11, lived through a couple other of modern America’s darker days.
Like this one:
I have always associated the Kennedy assassination with driving rain. I wasn’t sure why at first. Clearly it wasn’t raining in Dallas; if it had been, the President wouldn’t have been riding in an open-topped car.
No, I think the vibe that’s stuck in my head stems more from the day after — the Sept. 12, as it were.
In “The Glory And The Dream,” his excellent two-volume history of 20th century America, William Manchester describes Nov. 23 as follows: “Saturday was accompanied by drenching rains and high winds in the capital. … The University of Chicago study indicated that the average adult spent ten hours in front of his television set on Saturday.”
Clearly, the weather was much the same in southwestern Connecticut that day.
And my grandfather’s notation, “SUN SETS 4:31,” adds a capping note of meteorological depression to the day.
Makes me think of Americans turning on the TV at 9 a.m. or so … not budging for hours (certainly not to go outside in the driving rain) … and looking up absentmindedly at 4:30 to notice that the day had slipped entirely away from them.
In a perfect world in which I had limitless time and money, it would be an interesting exercise to sit down and watch ten hours of news programming from Nov. 23. As Manchester pointed out, there wasn’t much in the way of actual news that day: JFK hadn’t been buried yet, and Lee Harvey Oswald, then in police custody, hadn’t been shot yet.
It’s a matter of course nowadays that breaking TV news coverage consists of roughly two minutes per hour of actual news (if you’re lucky), interspersed with fifty or so minutes of people trying to interpret things they didn’t see or weren’t privy to. I assume the same was true in Walter Cronkite’s day, but I’d be curious to see if they handled the long news-less periods any more smoothly or intelligently than today’s news networks.
In the hours, days and weeks after 9/11, the mass media brought Americans a lot of indelible images — but also a fair amount of crap, as underequipped pundits wrestled with the notion of What It All Meant.
I remember lots of trend stories, for instance, about how Americans were turning back to comfort food in their desire for security. It was not a great time for puns, wordplay or levity; but it was a pretty good time to collect macaroni and cheese recipes.
That seems like as good a place as any to end for the week. No rousing conclusion, but I’m not sure one exists. People are still debating the causes and lasting impacts of the Kennedy assassination, almost 50 years later. I don’t expect that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 will magically bring us any more insight either.
So we leave my grandfather staring at flickering black-and-white images on a rainy day, and me staring at a gorgeous blue New England sky … two average Americans, looking for answers that refuse to show themselves.