Our communities, local and national, are commemorating five events this time of year that changed the course of our nation as well as our local communities. I remember where I was and what I was doing four of the five anniversaries; and my mother and father remember where they were on the fifth.
Eleven years ago, on Sept. 9, I was going to do one of two things: go to Back-to-School night at Woodside High School or attend a soccer game at 6 p.m. at Crestmoor Park in San Bruno. I decided to stay in Redwood City and go to Back-to-School night even though the kids wanted to hang out with their friend at the soccer game. As I drove to Woodside with my daughter, I could see the black column of smoke far up El Camino. I thought, “Wow, that must be by Daly City or somewhere up there.” I told my daughter to call our soccer friend and see if he could give us some better information since he was at the field in San Bruno. What he told us sent shivers down our spines….” An explosion, a massive fireball, I can feel the burning heat, the game’s been cancelled, everybody is leaving, I will call you back.” We went to Back-to-School night but kept our eyes and thoughts northward.
Often when I would drive southbound on Highway 35, and if I stopped at the light at San Bruno Avenue, I’d look over my shoulder and remember, and pray for those who still struggle with this sorrow.
Twenty years ago, I had a home. A husband. A different dream. My life has changed drastically since then, but not like those who suffered this country’s greatest act of war. I woke up, started the coffee before I put Good Morning America on. It took me awhile to comprehend the gravity of what I was watching, and then the second jet flew into the other World Trade Center building. I woke my husband up, and we both watched in helpless horror; my heart pained for those police officers and firefighters who I knew were frantically trying to save as many as they could. I felt their helplessness and prayed for them. Then they fell. The buildings, the heroes, the many who just went to work that morning. I was stunned, my country was stunned.
It has been a long 20 years. The suffering continues. If the grief still stings me, how much more those whose family members are gone, are sick, are unable to go on. Our world continues to be a frightening place.
Thirty years ago, a blustery day in October, I had had a fight with my husband. To get away from the acrimony, I took my three kids, I was pregnant with the fourth, down to Santa Cruz in my Buick diesel just to get out of the house. I drove all the way down and turned around. It was one of those icky fights when you wonder…
On my way home up Devil’s Slide, I noticed a large plume of smoke over the coastal range. I was so out of it that I chided myself to ditch the smoky diesel because of all the pollutants it emitted. I had no idea what was going on until I noticed the thin layer of ash on my Daly City front yard. My husband was still home. He didn’t go to work in Berkeley like he planned. He had the TV on, and I saw in horror, just like two years earlier, an event that stopped people in their tracks. There was a fire. A fire my Berkeley friends could watch from their Telegraph Avenue vicinity. A fire that may push them out of their house. A fire that raged for days.
Two years before the Oakland Firestorm, thirty years ago this year, I was sitting in my car at 5:04 p.m. getting ready to run an errand into the City. I had just started the car when my sister and our friend and all the kids ran into the street. I stopped the car and caught the tail end of the biggest quake to hit the Bay Area since ’06. I got out, and they were all screaming about an earthquake…I sloughed it off saying, “Ahh, that wasn’t so big.”…I missed most of it in the car.
When I got home, I realized the enormity of the event. Electricity was out until 11:00 pm, and my dad and my husband who were both stuck in the East Bay finally made it home afterwards. I stayed up most of the night watching, praying for the recovery efforts at the flattened freeway in Oakland. I watched Dennis Richmond and Elaine Corral all night. I felt less alone and scared while watching the news.
Finally, this year, 80 years ago, my parents shared with me what they were doing on that “day that will live in infamy.” My mother was on her way to 8 o’clock Mass.
She could see from 6th Avenue and Kaimuki the flames and smoke from Pearl Harbor. She saw the planes. She heard the bombs exploding. She stopped and watched. My uncle Frank had a better view from their Honolulu bungalow roof.
My father had gone to Children’s Mass at St. Cecilia’s in San Francisco, and then went to his friend’s house around the corner on Santiago. While fooling around with a short-wave radio, they stumbled on actual coverage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They huddled around the radio and listened to the bombs that my mother saw dropping from her view at 6th and Kaimuki.
On September 1st of 2019, we remembered World War II which started 80 years ago with the German invasion of Poland. Most of that generation is gone, my father is gone, my uncle, who served in Europe during WWII, is gone. It is up to us to remember, to remind our children to remember…remember what magnitude of evil man is capable of inflicting upon the world.
Before live TV, before internet accessibility, an event, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, unfolded before my parents that would change the direction of the world just like Sept. 11, 2001 did; the direction of a region just like the Oakland Firestorm of October 1991 and the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 did, and the direction of a neighborhood community just like the San Bruno gas line explosion of Sept. 9, 2010 did.
I remember what happened 30 years ago, and pray for those who are still recovering from this tragedy. I pray that we as a nation, a state, a community will realize our lives are precious, though brief. I pray that we will draw close to the God whom we invoke blessings when we sing, “God Bless America”. Indeed, God bless America, please. Even more so, God bless this World.