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Musings from the Ledge: Remembering 9/11

By |  September 16, 2021 1 Comments
Alan FitzGerald (Photo: Fernando Gaglianese)

Alan FitzGerald
(Photo: Fernando Gaglianese)

The first real sign for me that we are getting back to normal after COVID-19 (at least until the next Greek letter variant hits us) was finally getting out to see Guns N’ Roses at Hershey Stadium. The now only semifat Axl Rose warbled, “Did you wear a black armband when they shot Kennedy?” and I was reminded of my mother telling me that she remembered exactly where she was when she heard about his death, just like she knew exactly where she was when Neil Armstrong uttered his famous words.

There are defining events in our own lives that leave an imprint in our brains, but then there are those world-stopping events that take everyone to where they were at that specific moment in time. I remember watching the Space Shuttle Columbia returning from its first trip to space on a grainy 25-inch TV, and my grandfather saying how they look more and more like airplanes these days. Then there was the Challenger disaster, a moment that nearly everyone my age remembers watching live on TV. I clearly remember being about 3 feet from the TV, watching the launch of an actual teacher into space, and moments later my 10-year-old brain trying to process the magnitude of what I just saw.

I guess it is inevitable with the amount of time that I spend on a golf course that one of these moments came while working. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was sodding greens — never a good way to start a story when you’re a turf manager — from damage caused by a tainted herbicide. It was a warm and sunny morning outside Philly, and I was stripping sod from the right of the second green on the par 3 course. We went in for our 9 a.m. break to find everyone crowded around the little 15-inch TV in the breakroom. The initial curiosity of how an accident like that could occur was quickly quelled as the second plane hit. The shock and realization of what was happening set in.

Time seemed to stand still while we watched the events unfold. I can still picture the assistant mechanic running in saying, “They just hit the Pentagon!” right before it too popped up on our little screen. The newscaster said that there was still a missing plane and that all the others were told to land.

A couple of the assistant superintendents had family and friends in New York and were distraught as they tried to get ahold of family to make sure they were OK, only to find all the lines were busy on the then-infant cell network. After about an hour or so, we headed back out to continue sodding, realizing on that day how unimportant dead turf was in the scheme of things. My memory of the day fades from there as the initial shock wore off, but I do recall the surreal effect of not hearing the constant flow of planes above us on their final approaches to Philadelphia International Airport and how shocking it was the next day when a C-5 roared over us out of the silent skies.

It is hard to believe that 20 years have passed, and I can still clearly picture that hour or so of my life.

Over the passing days and months, we heard of the heroes — those who risked their own lives to save others — and how some of these heroes were everyday people including those volunteering their time from the turf industry.

During the summer struggles with the weather, disease, staffing and whatever else can be thrown our way, the course becomes your whole life, so it is easy to lose perspective about the bigger outside world. It’s good to remember at the end of the day that it’s just grass, a playing surface. Yes, keeping it alive and playing well is our job, but don’t forget to take the time to look around and enjoy the real world too, as you never know when that world can change in an instant.

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1 Comment on "Musings from the Ledge: Remembering 9/11"

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  1. Josh says:

    Alan,

    Great perspective. Everything we do on the golf course matters, but it’s not ALL that matters. The key is remembering that tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. Having a healthy perspective lets us work (and live) intentionally.

    Appreciate your thoughts, thanks for sharing!

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