On the day school started in 2001, Richard, myself, and another retired couple of educators drove by our schools to honk good-bye in a “Ha ha, you’re back in school and we aren’t,” sort of way.
We were headed for Vegas, then Yellowstone and on to the Black Hills to see the Presidential Heads on a Mountain. We were having a great time enjoying our newfound freedom.
On September 11, we were in Cody, Wyoming. We awoke to the terrible sights on television, along with everyone else in the nation.
Our plan had been to visit Mt. Rushmore that day. Instead we sat in our hotel rooms watching the horror with our eyes wide with fear and our hands over our mouths. I remember my skin feeling prickly and my breathing was shallow.
After some discussion and several emotional phone calls home, (Home! Suddenly we just wanted to be home!), we decided to proceed to our destination. We couldn’t help but think of the teachers we left behind and the children in their classes. What were they saying to them? How could they explain this? I remember how emotional it was in our classrooms the day the Challenger exploded. This was of a far greater scope.
With our car radio tuned to the unfolding news, we crossed into South Dakota.
The sky was eerily empty.
We called our loved ones again. Daughter Martie had decided to keep our granddaughter home from school. No one seemed to know what would happen next.
As we came upon the area of Mt. Rushmore, there were armed guards at the access road. (We took their picture from afar.) Upon learning that all of the monuments across the United States had been closed down, we spent the next twenty-four hours alternately planning to go on home and waiting to see what happened next.
When Mt. Rushmore re-opened we walked around the plaza there and then attended the evening show. I’m sure that the production is always wonderful, but that night! Oh my! It was emotionally charged with that surge of ultra-patriotism that everyone had suddenly come to enjoy. Tears washed the faces of everyone in the audience as we sang, “America,” “ The Star Spangled Banner,” and “God Bless America.”
We stayed on the road for the next week, visiting Glacier Park, Coeur d’Alene, and Seattle. There was a different feel out there. Flags popped up on cars, of course, but the people were different. There was a change in humanity. People were more gentle and friendly. Strangers were acting like old friends. Everyone was open and raw. There was a feeling of “us-ness.”
Turned out to be a good time to travel.