September 11 took the normal out of my childhood memories

Every time I turn on the TV or radio or read a newspaper recently, I find some politician or community or civic leader urging America to get back to normal.  Well, having seen normal in America, I’m not so sure that is something to which we should necessarily aspire.

In case you don’t remember, before the attack on the twin towers, we’d spent the summer with our noses deep into Gary Condit’s smelly and somewhat suspect psyche.  So going back to normal may not really be all it’s cracked up to be.

As these thoughts wandered around my brain looking for a comfortable perch in the emptiness, I noticed that it was the Saturday night of the Miss America Pageant.  And suddenly, normal seemed within reach – depending of course on whether you define normal as women parading around a stage wearing bathing suits that use less material than I have in my bra.

My heart didn’t really soar till they were down to the final five contestants. And then it happened.  One of the contestants entered from stage right with a baton held high, ready for her talent competition.  She was a twirler.  And not just any twirler. This woman twirled batons like they were lethal weapons. She did moves that would make Bruce Lee flinch while hurling those batons into the stratosphere.  And I thought that so long as we had baton twirlers, we had normalcy within reach.

As always, the pageant brought back memories of wonderful September Saturdays in Atlantic City where I grew up. I even had my high school graduation in that convention hall back in the days before gambling, when they booked anything they could into the cavernous space.

I watched football games played there. I skated there in the winter on the same rink that the Ice Capades used for practice in the summer. I got my first paycheck from working religious conventions there – hawking medallions, rosary beads and little plastic statues of Mary for the dashboard of your car.

Yep, it looked for just a moment as though some semblance of normal could be recaptured.

And then I got the newspaper clipping from my aunt showing the mass for United Airlines pilot Victor Saracini.  It was held in St. Michael’s, our neighborhood church. Just a few short months ago I had been there at my mother’s funeral. Now I was doubly glad that she didn’t live long enough to see this happen.

When they first released the pilot’s name I thought it was familiar. But I figured there were lots of Saracini’s in this world.  There was no reason to think he was the kid just a few years behind me at St. Michael’s Grade School and Holy Spirit High School. But he was.

I figure if I take out all those old home movies I had put on video for mom – the ones that seemed to consist solely of processions in and out of St. Michael’s for one religious occasion or another – I’d probably find the face of a little kid named Vic. Just a kid from the neighborhood who grew up to realize his dream of being an airline pilot.  Just a kid who walked in processions like the rest of us, dressed in his required blue suit with white shirt and red tie, shouting out the rosary as Fr. Vincent led us through the schoolyard.  Just another neighborhood kid who came into my dad’s store for candy and soda when school let out.

One of his classmates was Chris Ford. Chris had a dream too. He realized his dream. Played basketball for the Boston Celtics.  Ended up coaching them for awhile.  Not a bad record of career achievements for two kids from an immigrant Italian neighborhood where graduating from high school was seen by many parents as having their children realize the American dream.

Only Vic will never have the pleasure of enjoying that achievement. And every time his classmates meet, there will be that hole in what was once such a joyous pattern in their lives and memories. 

I now know that normal will never return for me. Those terrorists touched a part of me that harbored my normal and shattered it. They took one of our kids. One of our neighborhood kids.  And I don’t think I will ever find it in my heart to forgive them for that.