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"You Don't Know What Happened, Do You?"

"You Don't Know What Happened, Do You?"

It started out like any other day.

For years my dad and I had taken vacation in northern Minnesota during September. It was always taken at the same spot, on the same lake, at the same time of the year. A week of fishing, relaxing, and some father-son bonding in the natural beauty of  the north woods. The annual vacation in September 2001 was supposed to be exactly this.

It turned out to be anything than what we were used to.

The Tuesday of our vacation, we had decided to skip the early aka 5am walleye run, and decided to just go looking for perch in the later morning. Our thinking was since we had the whole week, we could use the rest of our time to try and catch our limit on walleye, so there was no reason to hurry up and not have something to look forward to. Plus, a little sleep on vacation never hurt anyone.

We headed out of our cabin at 7:30 that morning. It was a picture perfect morning-not a cloud in the sky. My dad headed down to the boat to gas it up, and make sure we had everything we needed. While he was taking care of this, it was my turn to get the bait from behind the lodge.

I carried the yellow and white minnow bucket around the lodge to the bait house. As my family had been going to this resort for over 60 years, we were allowed to take care of ourselves and were on the unspoken honor code of taking what we need and marking it on the little notepad by the minnow tank. That is just what I did this morning, and after a few minutes, was ready to hit the water.

Normally after getting the minnows we would need, I would walk around the lodge to the dock and get on the boat. For some reason this particular morning, I decided to do something different. I picked up my bait bucket, and walked into the lodge through the back door. The front door was right through the so called "big room" of the lodge where the guests would gather at night, tell stories of the one that got away, and sample the moonshine that one of the owners of the resort would offer to anyone that was of age. It had been like this for years.

There was a TV mounted on the wall, near the front door. While I was walking through the lodge, I looked up and saw what was on. I do not remember the channel that was on, but there was a shot of the World Trade Center, with flames coming out near the top and smoke billowing into the sky. Reports were sketchy as to what exactly had happened, so I could only go off of what I had seen, and what I saw was a large fire in one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. My immediate thought was I hoped everyone was ok, and carried on with the task at hand: getting to the boat so we could go fishing.

It was 7:50 am central time.

As I reached the boat, I handed my dad the minnow bucket and stepped in the boat. I untied the boat, and he cranked the motor. As we were pulling away, I can still hear myself saying those words to my dad on that Tuesday morning.

"I saw the World Trade Center on fire on TV."

We fished that day. Oh my, did we fish. On a day that we expected to do nothing other than catch a few perch for fun, we caught the mother lode. We caught our limit on perch. 100 near jumbo to jumbo size, near the sand bar that ran near the entrance to Pike's Bay. We caught our limit on walleye, mostly near the rock pile off of Star Island. And my dad caught the last "big fish" he would ever catch that day. He managed to snag a 12 pound northern out of the weeds near the Potato Islands. It was unbelievable. We had not seen fishing like that in years, and the most amazing thing was we had managed to do all this in less than 4 hours.

Little did we know what was waiting for us when we arrived back at the resort.

Rodney, the non moonshine producing co-owner of the resort was waiting for us on the dock, which was very unlike him. We tied up the boat, and after bragging about our haul for the morning, he changed the subject with the most chilling question I had ever heard up to that point of my life.

"You don't know what happened, do you?"

I looked at my dad, and he looked at me, and we both said no, we had no idea what he was talking about. He picked up our fish basket, and said, "You better come inside."

We entered the lodge, and everyone who was staying there was inside, and it was dead silent, except for the TV mounted near the door. We turned around, looked at the TV, and began to absorb in the events of the morning. While we were enjoying one of the best fishing memories we would have, and the last truly great fishing day my dad would ever experience, the world had changed forever.

We literally, save for a few moments of a glimpse at a TV by me moments after Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center, had missed the events of this fateful day.

I often consider how fortunate we were that morning. Not only did we not witness these events, but I was able to have one last great memory with my father in a place that he absolutely loved.It was one place he never lost touch with.

I think about September 11 often, and wonder what the rest of the world must have been feeling that morning. To literally witness human tragedy unfold before you, live on TV, is something I cannot fathom. I live with the guilt of not having seen it, but also feel a great sense of relief in knowing that for some reason, we did not see it. It is something I will carry with me for the rest of my days, and probably ponder until I leave this planet.

Never forget 9/11. In my case, I didn't even know it happened.

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JohnRehor's picture

Thanks CD.

A day that will live in infamy, and it is now our responsibility to remember what happened and make sure the generations that follow us remember as well.

PWC's picture

Really great post, John.

I'm with you in the fact that I "missed" the events of 9/11 (I was six at the time.) My only memory is of my parents trying to explain it in the best way you can to a six-year-old, but I know I didn't comprehend the magnitude of the events at a time.

People always talk about how much the world changed with the tragedy, but I know I will never fully understand that; I've never known a different world than the one we have today.

PWC's picture

"of the events at THE time."

JohnRehor's picture

Thanks for the kind words.

The one lasting memory I have that I did not share in the post is the helplessness my wife (fiance at the time) felt. As the attacks were going on, everyone was being told to stay in their homes, which she did. And there was nothing I could do to help her, being 600+ miles away and oblivious to the attacks as they were taking place.

It is one of the guilts I referred to, and something that I live with every day.

Carole Altendorf's picture

John, you can't carry this guilt forever. There was nothing you could do for Pam except what you did...help her from afar. I'm sure she has no ill will about this. Please forgive yourself...you did nothing wrong and should not have any guilty feelings. Please move on. Carole

Anita's picture

I took a couple days off work. I was supposed to attend a concert on 9/11 in Allegan, MI. I slept in for a couple hours, got up and flicked on the TV and thought I was watching a disaster movie trailer being shown on the Today show. It took a few minutes for it to register that I wasn't watching the special effects from the latest Jerry Brueckheimer film. It was 9:30 am. After the planes had hit, but before the Towers went down.

I didn't go to the concert that night. Shockingly, it wasn't cancelled. However, my friends and I ate the cost of the tickets, preferring to stay home and listen to the words of the President. I guess we just needed to hear him speak, like words of comfort. I spent my two days off parked on the sofa, remote control in hand, flipping from news channel to news channel, not really sleeping much. I do remember commenting that I was glad that my mother, who was born in New York, and had died four months earlier, had not lived to see this.

JohnRehor's picture

Thanks Anita for sharing your memory.

Telling the story of what happened that day may be the best therapy anybody can do. And no matter how many times you tell the story, it still seems like a bad dream

Jeff Stevens's picture

Sept. 10 is my youngest daughter's birthday, in 2001 she turned 21. After a nice dinner with her and her future husband, I watched her walk away and I remember consciously thinking how great everything was in the world that this young adult was entering. The next morning while on the way to work, I heard a plane had hit the WTC, and thought it was probably just a small single engine craft that had had trouble in the crowded NY skyline. As I got to work it became very clear it was something much more sinister. The rest of the day was completely surreal. As I got home that night, I marveled then, as I do every year at this time, at how much the world could change in 24 hours!

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