(Originally published in October 2001)
It was more than the typical Sunday drive, but since it was for the christening of some friends' young daughter, we didn't mind it. We left a bit early, but when driving anywhere around New York City, it seems like early is never enough. My son, a five-year-old and a well-seasoned traveler, was situated comfortably in his car seat, looking forward to the trip. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and just warm enough to even turn the air conditioner on since we were more dressed up than usual for the special occasion.
Driving from Bucks County, PA to where we were headed on Long Island's South Shore should have taken less than two-and-a-half-hours. The Yahoo online travel directions had pegged it at just under two hours: it took over three hours. And this was almost predictable, as the route we were taking had us crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
Traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike was fine, and even cruising along well in excess of the posted speed limit, every fourth car was still passing us. We took the exit indicated for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and now it seemed that every other car was passing us. That was until we hit the ramps for the bridge, when all traffic almost came to a halt. A pedestrian taking a stroll with two dogs could make progress at a far greater rate of travel, and this we actually witnessed. Still, the weather was fine, and we took the upper deck of the bridge in hopes of seeing a bit of the fabled New York City skyline.
The creeping traffic was perfect for that type of sightseeing, and my son was enjoying looking in all directions. As he looked towards The City, he observed the Statue of Liberty in the distance, and this excited him, for he had seen this in books and on television. I was concentrating on the creeping traffic, and as such was only offering token replies and comments to his observations.
Then he asked me what "those two buildings" were. I tried to be patient as I watched the on-again, off-again flashes of the brake lights in front of us, and asked to describe the buildings that he was talking about. He responded something to the effect that they were the two that were next to each other, and were the tallest ones that he could see. I already knew what they were, as I had been in that exact Manhattan location just a few days earlier for a successful meeting with some new business clients.
I replied to him that they were known as the World Trade Center towers, and that they were some of the tallest buildings in the work. He corrected me and told me that they were two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. I had to laugh and agree with him. Three-syllable words will always win out over two-syllables in a growing child's vocabulary. And it made be think back in a brain-flash about the first time I could recall my parents taking me to New York City as a child younger that my son, and the indelible effect that seeing real skyscrapers had on me.
We continued our journey, going down the 360-degree loop-under off ramp that put us onto the Eastbound Belt Parkway. Nothing more was said about the skyscrapers as I focused on making up on lost time. We arrived at our destination a few minutes late, but since the christening was underway, we weren't noticed. After the service was over, everyone descended to one of the in-laws houses for the festivities, which continued into the evening.
My son was playing with some of the children his age, and suddenly I heard him state that he had seen two of "the biggest skyscrapers in the world today." Some of the other kids, a bit older, laughed and said that they had even been in some of them. One related that his parents had taken him to the top of the World Trade Center, where he could see for "millions of miles." That brought a few laughs from some of the adults, but then my son came over to me and asked if I would take him to the top of one of the biggest skyscrapers someday, and maybe to "that statue, too." I promised him that I would, and that made him happy.
He was asleep when we drove back to Pennsylvania late that night. I glimpsed quickly at the illuminated New York City skyline in the clear night air as we crossed the bridge again, remembering the promise I had made earlier that day.
That's a promise to my son that I will be unable to keep, for it was less than thirty-six hours later that terrorists slammed two commercial airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, altering the way of life as we had know it. And already my son understands why I will not be able to keep the exact promise I made to him.
Copyright © 2001 J. Williamson
All rights reserved.
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Personal Note: I was able to partially keep my promise to my son last week when we visited the Statue of Liberty together for the first time. We discussed visiting Ground Zero (where the WTC Twin Towers once stood) and decided against it, even though we were in Manhattan a couple of days later. There are too many personal memories of people known that made this decision the right one.
The inscription on the memorial reads:
A Living Memorial dedicated to the New Jersey residents who perished on September 11, 2001. May the trees planted here offer a peaceful place to reflect and heal.
~ New Jersey Tree Foundation