At 9 a.m. that beautiful Tuesday morning the shocked looks around the office when the phone rang for Brenda Fallon, one of our longtime staffers. It was her husband, Bill, calling from the World Trade Center, wanting to assure her that — at that moment — he was OK. She was still at home, watching the tragedy unfold on television. Call her there, Bill.
A few days later the strained looks of the extended Fallon family gathered in the backyard of their home in Rocky Hill, searching for a clue, any clue, that would support their hope that somehow Bill was still alive. Calls were being made to the search and rescue people in New York, grim realities were being weighed. Someone thought Brenda should be shielded from the discussion. Since I was the newcomer to the group someone asked Brenda to show me some home improvement project they had been considering in a far corner of the backyard.
It was the kind of distraction technique that might work with a five-year-old, but not with Brenda. Once out of earshot Brenda quickly said, in effect, they’re not telling me anything. What do you really think the chances are? I was speechless but an old saw came out of my mouth: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
A month or so later, after Bill’s body had been recovered and buried, Brenda returning to work at U.S. 1 and greeting the deliverers in the parking lot. Omer, a young Pakistani immigrant who was working part-time to help pay his college tuition, arrived. On Tuesday, September 11, when it was clear that Brenda would not be coming to work anytime soon, I took over the chore of arranging the delivery of the next day’s issue. By then it was clear who the hijackers were. When I called Omer at home to make sure he could work for us the next day, he answered my question with a question: “Do you still want me to come?” Absolutely, I assured him.
Now on Brenda’s first day back, I watched from a distance as Omer approached Brenda. They exchanged a warm hug. We are going be all right, I remember thinking to myself.
One image I do not have, though I am told it has been captured on video, are the horrific moments of the victims in windows of the blazing towers, with lethal flames behind them and a fatal leap in front. I managed to turn away from the television every time that scene was replayed. It was their moment to die, and I figured it was not appropriate for me to witness it.
Perhaps for that reason I have never gone out of my way to relive the horrific moments of 9/11 with Brenda Fallon, now retired from U.S. 1 but still very active in the community in Rocky Hill. In the early years following the tragedy Brenda and her family often traveled on the anniversary date and focused their attention on places and things far from Ground Zero. When the subject of 9/11 came up, Brenda would point out that she didn’t want to waste any energy on being angry.
I knew that a Rocky Hill neighbor of the Fallons, Jane Oakley, had published a journal of the days and weeks and months following the tragedy. But I never asked for a copy.
This year, a decade later, things are different. Brenda Fallon has channeled her considerable energy into a permanent 9/11 memorial for the town of Rocky Hill. It will be unveiled in a ceremony beginning at 12:55 Sunday, September 11, at the Panicaro Park on Crescent Avenue in Rocky Hill.
For very good reasons, she wants to talk about the memorial and its construction. And for some background, she suggests, why not read that book by Jane Oakley, “My Neighbor’s Wife: 9-11-2001 to 9-12-2002.”
I start with the book. Oakley’s recounting of the hours and days immediately following the attack on the Trade Center, where Bill Fallon had worked for the Port Authority, is a vivid description of that painful time: The false report that someone had seen Bill on the street after the attack. The inevitable news four days later that his body had been found. The notification of their son, Chris, standing by at college in Atlanta.
Oakley’s book reflects the outpouring of community spirit that arose in response to the attack. She quotes the minister at Princeton United Methodist Church, officiating at Bill’s funeral. A Sunday School teacher, trying to incorporate the 9/11 events into her lesson, had asked her young students to suggest people they should pray for. As the minister recounted the story, “one little boy who was new to the class said, ‘I think we should pray for God.’ And our teacher said, ‘Well we pray to God.’ He said, ‘No. We should pray for God, God is hurting. God needs a hug.’”
Someday, decades from now, when a member of the extended Fallon family wonders what it was like when great-uncle Bill or grandpa Bill was attacked by the terrorists, they will be able to read Oakley’s book and get a sense of it.
And they will be able to visit the 9/11 memorial being installed in Rocky Hill and let that piece of work speak to them. The project got started when Brenda read a New York Times account two years ago describing the storage of World Trade Center artifacts at a hangar at JFK Airport, and that the pieces were being given away to municipalities and fire companies to be used as 9/11 monuments. Brenda knew that Ed Zimmerman, the mayor of Rocky Hill, a town with about 300 families, wanted to do something to honor Fallon, a former councilman and the only resident to die in the 9/11 attacks.
With the help of the Port Authority, Bill’s former employer, Brenda made it happen. Earlier this year a seven-foot piece of I-beam taken from the wreckage was placed on a flat bed truck and rolled into Rocky Hill. The piece of beam was breathtaking. Instead of a straight-line section this beam had a dramatic twist — if you need to imagine the destructive force needed to bring down the World Trade Center you can simply view this beam and imagine what great torque would be required to shape it in this way.
Given the beam, the next challenge was to design a memorial around it. Several designs were submitted, and one created by Brenda’s brother-in-law, Alex Krumdieck, an architect in Birmingham, Alabama, was selected.
At the time of this writing the final pieces of the memorial were not yet joined together. Brenda invited me back to the same backyard where I had told her to hope for the best 10 years ago. This time she showed me photos of the beam and the architect’s rendering of the memorial. Despite the bulk of the beam, the design is a graceful interplay of the steel standing on its square end, with the twisted end resting by just the point of its edge against a stone column, partially chiseled away to reveal the form of a World Trade Center tower.
Brenda looks at it in several ways — as a symbol of Bill’s support for Rocky Hill, and of Rocky Hill’s support for Bill, as well as “the support and strength I receive from the community and friends.”
I view it as a symbol of the positive energy that Brenda has maintained despite the great opportunity to be dragged down by anger. In the best tradition of the martial arts, Krumdieck has taken the force of the opponent and turned it back toward him. I look forward to seeing it in its final form on September 11.
Back home I google our friend Omer and find a Facebook page that must belong to him. His motto: “When my friends close their doors, I open their windows.” Yes, we should hope for the best.