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9/11 -- a moving day like no other

A moving van being loaded.

A moving van being loaded. Photo Credit: iStock

Moving is one of the major decisions one makes in a lifetime. Neome, my wife, and I made our big decision to move from Bayside to Lido Beach in 2001. We purchased an attractive -- "cute" is perhaps a more apt description -- ranch house on a quiet one-way street. The spectacular, sprawling black cherry tree with the large white blossoms and the nearness to the sand dunes and ocean beach fascinated us. Our two married daughters, Hope and Joy, and three grandchildren residing in adjacent Long Beach totally convinced us. Hope and her family lived within one mile and Joy and her husband 2.9 miles away.

We contracted with a moving company for Tuesday, Sept. 11. Monday, the day before, was opening day of the new school year and we wished to avoid any possible delays. We were careful. We had thought of everything. The long anticipated big day finally arrived! An enormous moving van and four burly workers arrived precisely at 8 a.m.

After about an hour, the foreman, listening to his radio, suddenly shouted and all work stopped. A passenger plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and the upper floors were engulfed in flames. Our TV sets were already packed and we could only listen to the radio. That was some horrendous accident, we all concluded.

After a few minutes we went back to packing our belongings. About a half-hour later the hysterical radio announcer reported that another plane had crashed. We knew then it was no accident. The men finished loading our possessions. Everything became a blur as I remember them leaving about 11 o'clock to meet us at our new home.

Neome and I said our silent goodbyes to our three-bedroom ranch home of many years and departed for Lido Beach. Our drive should take about 40 minutes, we calculated. We hadn't reckoned on the major alarm and panic as the city went into full alert. Highways were closed with wooden barriers and police cars. A further terrorist attack was a distinct possibility. Cross Island Parkway was impassable, the Long Island Expressway closed, the Meadowbrook not feasible.

We twisted and U-turned through unfamiliar suburban streets, heading ever eastward. Somehow, we happened onto Peninsula Boulevard, which I knew would take us in the approximate direction. After a circuitous trip, we reached Austin Boulevard in Island Park, an area called Oil City, and found a backup of drivers staring at the western sky. We had a shocking view of a burning, smoldering lower Manhattan across the bay. Unable to continue, we sat transfixed.

After several hours of delay, we reached our new home. What a sight greeted us! There was the open door of the moving van. Our piano and king size bed sat at the curb. Four moving men ate a picnic lunch with liquid refreshments while lounging on the wide green lawn. Our belongings had arrived safe and sound and were soon placed in our new home.

Fourteen years have flown by since we moved to our retirement home at beautiful Lido Beach. Yet the traumatic events of that day remain vivid memories that stir mixed emotions.

Our daily routine is to stroll the nearby Long Beach boardwalk and absorb the brilliant sun, sandy beach and onrushing waves. We read bronze plaques secured to benches, many dedicated to local heroes of 9/11 -- first-responder firemen and police officers. These people gave their lives trying to save others at the World Trade Center.

My thoughts drift to our daughter's brother-in-law, who was one of the more fortunate. He worked as a lawyer in an upper-floor Trade Center office. That day, mere chance sent him on an early morning errand to deliver briefs at a courthouse. He returned to a chaotic scene of indescribable destruction.

I ponder, What is life? It is composed of joy and sorrow, fortuitous circumstance, achievement, and, sadly, misfortune.

To this day, when friends ask us how long we have been living in Lido Beach, we tell them a long story. We begin our reply with, "Oh, we moved here on 9/11/2001."

Reader Mal Cooper lives in Lido Beach.