9/11 20 years later: Christine Witkowski, Scotia – ‘Blissfully unaware’ then reality | Readers remember

Christine Witkowski
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Christine Witkowski

My husband Bernie and I were spending the second week of September in a small cabin on Waneta Lake, a remote area in the Finger Lakes.

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, we decided to enjoy the gorgeous day by hiking in nearby Watkins Glen. We set off early, hiked a few hours and started back toward our car around 11:30 a.m. We passed some other hikers and I greeted them with, “What a beautiful day!” A man replied, “Not if you’re in New York City right now.”

He then went on to tell us planes had flown into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and another was heading toward D.C.

As we left him I said to my husband, “I think that person is truly crazy. Seriously, what he just told us can’t be real.”

We reached the parking lot, and Bernie walked up to the attendant and asked if something had just happened in New York City. The man said yes, gave some details, and told us all the parks and state buildings were being closed. We looked at each other in shock.

There were a few telephone booths on the lot (no cellphones in 2001) and we were able to confirm that family members who lived in the city were OK. We drove into Watkins Glen and found the streets deserted. We went into a small convenience store where a number of people were huddled around the TV. I asked the clerk if they knew yet who was responsible and he said “bin Laden.” It was the first time I had ever heard that name.

We spent the next few days in our cabin, trying to watch the reports on ABC, the only channel that barely came through. That is when I fell in love with Peter Jennings, as his reassuring, albeit staticky, voice and wobbly image were our only connections to the rest of the world.

We decided to head home early and as we drove the back roads of New York we saw American flags everywhere – on bridge overpasses, porches, cars and in fields.

Everything seemed really, really quiet. It was all so eerie and unreal, made even more bizarre by the fact we had been oblivious to the horror of the attacks when millions of others had watched the events unfold in real time.

The world had changed and we had been blissfully unaware of it … at least for a while.

-Christine Witkowski, Scotia

More Remembrances: We remember; The Daily Gazette’s special Sept. 11 anniversary section 

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Categories: 9/11 20 Years Later, Life and Arts

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