It was a beautiful Tuesday morning. I remember how blue the sky was as I made my way to our local college to begin another day with my Adult Education students.

I was in a good mood. My job brought me joy. My students were special people, people who had pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and had decided to better themselves through education.

Students and staff were waiting to start the day. Classes would begin soon and the rooms would be crowded with adults eager to learn, well, most were. I saw one of the main office staff walking hurriedly toward our department. She looked concerned about something. I went out to meet her and she quietly told me that a plane had crashed into one of the buildings at the World Trade Center. It didn’t register at first.

I knew that there was only one television that worked at all in the college. At the time, we couldn’t get cable to the building. The one television worked with rabbit ears. I don’t remember any foil on the ends.

More out of curiosity than anything because nothing was really known at that time, I told my secretary I would be back and headed down the hall. My mind was racing. “How could a jet run into a building?” It made me uneasy, but tragedies do happen.

Right as I walked into the empty room, I saw it…in real time…no video or recording because I heard words that chilled me to the bone. This huge jetliner was headed to the other building at the World Trade Center.

I watched in disbelief as in plowed into the building in a burst of flames and falling debris. I stood transfixed as another person came in and then another. I don’t remember who they were. I just remember the horror of what I was seeing. It was surreal. Were we being attacked? Was this the beginning of a war?

I don’t remember how I got back to my students and staff, but I did. Not sure of what to do, I pulled myself together as best I could and gathered the students and staff together. I’m not sure exactly what I said to them, but I needed to be calm. Explaining as best I could about what was happening in New York City, I got word that planes were going down everywhere which was true, but not true.

A plane had gone down and hit the Pentagon. Another was heading toward Washington D.C. It was at this time that I remembered that my mother and father were on a plane heading to Chicago for a stopover before traveling on to Seattle to meet up with my brother and sister.

They had been planning an Alaskan cruise together. Were they still on a plane? Did they make it to Chicago? Where were they? They didn’t have cellphones then. I had been after them to get one. Days later, I heard my mother’s voice on the phone. “We’re home!” and I cried.

My brother, sister, and I started calling each other. Phone service was erratic. In between, I did my best to comfort and assure my students and staff that it was okay, but it wasn’t okay. Another plane, Flight 93, dive-bombed into a field in Pennsylvania.

We later learned that the plane had been hijacked and was heading to the White House. Passengers would have none of that. Their bravery denied these evil men their destination. The final words of passenger Todd Beamer have now become iconic…”Let’s roll.”

The days following are somewhat of a blur. I had learned earlier that my husband and I were going to be grandparents for the first time in April of 2002. Would that happen now?

Would our world not exist? I learned a cousin had been in one of the towers. He had made it out and ran all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. He had tried to get everyone out in his office, but some people went back for computers and purses. They did not survive.

I remember how odd it was that I didn’t see planes flying overhead. The airspace over our home was part of a flight pattern, but no planes flew for many days. It was unusually quiet. That was twenty years ago. Our first grandchild is now in college. We have six now.

Three girls and three boys. My parents have since passed away, my father in 2010 and my mother in 2019. All four of our children are married. I retired eight years ago. Life moved on, but the memory of that fateful day will live with me forever.

Coleen Brooks is a longtime resident of Gordon County who previously wrote for the Calhoun Times as a columnist. She retired as the director and lead instructor for the Georgia Northwestern Technical College Adult Education Department in 2013. She can be reached at coleenbrooks1947@gmail.com.

Recommended for you