The radio alarm went off at 6 a.m.
I quickly reached over and turned it off so as not to disturb my wife, a nurse who had just gotten home two hours earlier from a long night in the recovery room at the hospital.
Before I could switch it off, a voice on the radio said something that registered with my wife but not with me. All I heard were the words “World Trade Center.” My wife muttered something, turned over and went back to sleep.
I got up, woke our daughter to get ready for school, walked down the lane, picked up the paper, came back, got a glass of orange juice and sat down to read The Herald.
At about 6:30 I got a call that my oldest daughter was in the hospital. Mary was about a week late in having her baby and they had begun inducing labor the night before. It could be an hour or two before she has it, they said.
I hurried to take a shower and get dressed. I didn’t want to be late for my daughter’s first child.
By a little after 7, I was on the road, headed for Providence Everett Medical Center. It was looking like a beautiful day. There was a hint of fall in the air. The fog had rolled in during the night, and to be safe, I turned on the headlights. Then I turned on the radio and got the news from the East Coast.
Usually I take in everything on the drive to Everett. Those huge trees as you come out of Monroe. The cows in the pastures. The big, old dairy barn that overlooks the valley. The lushness of everything. The sudden burning off of the fog as you top the hill on the other side of Snohomish. Everett in the distance. The workers on the trestle.
I don’t recall much about the drive Tuesday morning. I know I felt sorrow. I know I felt rage. And I know I said “I hope the bastards pay.”
In the winter of 1963, I was sitting in a college history class when someone came in and whispered something to the professor. He told us the president had been shot and dismissed the class. I remember walking dazed through empty hallways in the main building on campus. I remember sitting in the newspaper office where I worked and watching a columnist cry as he tried to write about the death of JFK. This can’t happen in America, I thought.
It could and it did.
I was thinking the same thing on this morning 38 years later. Terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. Thousands dead. This can’t happen in America.
It could and it did.
When I arrived at the hospital, I sat in the car listening to the radio for a few minutes. This was something out of a Tom Clancy novel. This can’t really be happening.
I went into the hospital and as I walked down the hallway to my daughter’s room, I could hear the voices on TV giving the mournful news. Finally, I came to her room. Mary was smiling that smile that can light up the saddest heart. She is a plucky, energetic, bright and compassionate young woman, with a bit of sarcasm to her humor, and there’s not a phony bone in her body.
She had come into this world 31 years ago on a bright, sunny, warm day, much like this one, and she had endured the boisterous behavior of two big brothers for about 12 years, or until they found out she was as tough as they were, and then they had lightened up and said, “You’re all right, girl.”
With the pregnancy, she had been through a siege of kidney stones, and when she got through that, they told her that having a baby would be easy. She believed them.
Now she lay in bed, her husband, her mother, her oldest brother, his wife and their two children and her father gathered around. The TV was on and the pictures were something out of “Independence Day.” Airplanes crashing into buildings, balls of fire, buildings collapsing, people rushing frantically through the streets to escape huge clouds of smoke and debris.
My God. My God. This can’t happen here, not in our country.
It could and it did.
The baby was taking his time coming. Mary had had the test and knew it was a boy.
The hours dragged by. Madison, my 2-year-old granddaughter, and her little brother, Jacob, entertained in the hallway. Always in the background, there was the reminder of what was happening 3,000 miles east of here.
We laughed at Madison and Jacob. We mourned with our fellow Americans.
I was born eight months before Pearl Harbor. I can only imagine the fury Americans felt that day. Could it have been any less than the anger I felt on this day 60 years later? Make the bastards pay.
We sat in the hallway. A baby’s cry pierced the air. It had come from a couple of rooms down.
Finally, Mary’s mother opened the door and leaned out. His head is out, she said, and went back into the room.
Sometime later, Mary’s husband, Big Mike, a new father at last, came out of the room beaming. He walked over and gave me a hug, hugged my son and his wife. He wiped tears from his eyes. “I just can’t believe it,” he said. “That’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Minutes later, we were admitted to the room. Mary lay there, a beatific smile on her pretty face, the baby cradled in her arms, a little stocking cap on his head. He’s a big boy, 8 pounds, 9 ounces, 20 1/2 inches long, and he’s a handsome boy, with lots of black hair. And he has a good set of lungs.
Because I have a cold, I could only look at little Joseph Michael Marion McBride, but there will be time to hold him and to spoil him and to love him. Now he lay in his father’s arms, and as Big Mike looked down at this most incredible gift known to man, he said, “You’re a big boy, aren’t you? I love you.”
I gave Mary a kiss and Big Mike a hug, left the room and walked down the hallway.
As I rounded a corner, I saw an older woman, I would guess in her 70s, talking with a younger man.
She was a thin woman but there was something very steely about her. Maybe it was the set of her jaw. Or the resolve in her eyes. Or the way she jutted her chin out there.
She had just said something and I can only guess at all that she was referring to.
She said, “We got through that and we’ll get through this.”
She is right, you know. We’ll get through this.
And someday, we’ll tell Little Joe about the day he was born.