Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thursday Evening in Williamsburg: 9/11 Prayer Service at the Conselyea Street/Graham Avenue Memorial

Just before 7 p.m. we walk down to Conselyea Street and Graham Avenue – the street sign here also says Via Vespucci – by the side of Ralph's Famous Ices. At the southwest corner, a plaque honors the eleven local residents lost on 9/11.

Around seventy people – at 57, we are one of the youngest in this Williamsburg crowd – are gathered by the southwest corner. A microphone is set up in front of the memorial, and there’s a little table with a CD player/radio. A couple of people are passing out the lyrics to the songs and the words to the Knights of Columbus World Day of Prayer for Peace prayer that Pope Benedict XVI said at Ground Zero this past April. Most everyone is taking white plastic cups with little candles in them, and a man is lighting the wicks.

The Grand Knight of the local Don Bosco Council of Knights of Columbus, Frank DeVito, acts as master of ceremonies. Someone turns on a CD of “America the Beautiful” and we sing along, with the more professional voices in front of the mic. Then someone holds up the flag on the corner and we pledge allegiance to it.

Frank DeVito talks about the familiar pledge and how it was first recited in the Columbus Day celebration in 1892, the 400th anniversary of his landing in the New World, how the Knights of Columbus in the early 1950s led the successful campaign to add the words “under God” to the pledge.

Then past Grand Knight Jerry Cardinale comes to the mic and reads the names of the 9/11 dead from our neighborhood:
Sandra Conaty Brace
Lt. John Crisci
Carl Beni
Stephen Johnson
Debbie Mannetta
Luke Rambosek
Joseph Calandrillo
Cono Gallo
Lt. John Napolitano
Thomas Sabella
Firefighter Carl Bedigah
Lt. Andrew Desperito
Catherine Fagan
David Barkway
Paul Ortiz, Jr.
Joseph Graffagnino
Glen Wilkienson
Louis Monefere
Robert Beddia

Then he adds: All servicemen and –women who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Father Tony of St. Francis of Padua Roman Catholic Church up the block - his lilting Haitian accent is somehow comforting - leads us in prayer.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol speaks briefly, noting that there are many in the crowd with “my hair color” – white – and says it’s dependent upon those of us who are old-timers to make the younger generation understand what happened on 9/11 and to make sure that those who died and those heroes won’t be forgotten.

Lentol says those in our community who died in the twin towers died like soldiers in a war. He talks about World War II, which “the real old-timers” remember: how the world was saved for democracy and freedom against dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. (We thought Stalin was on our side in WWII, but never mind.)

Tony DeVito talks about another Jerry, whose last name begins with G but which we didn’t quite catch, who was among the people standing on this corner seven years ago watching when the twin towers fell.

Jerry was instrumental in creating the memorial here, but he’s recuperating from dialysis today and can’t be here, so a certificate of appreciation to Jerry is given to his brother-in-law and sister, who says a few words.

We begin our candlelight procession to the church two blocks down. Most people here have lived in this neighborhood all their lives.

Six years ago we were living in the small Ozarks town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. As our friend Debbie, who walked over to tell us the news that morning, used to say, it was town where people came to hide out or to heal.

We had no TV and our radio couldn’t pick up the NPR station in Fayetteville so in the mornings we could listen only to Christian and country music stations; on one, a DJ mourned, "They were Yankees – but they were our Yankees."

One of the radio stations somehow ran the feed from CBS and we listened to it all that night, the same things over and over again. We’d sleep for half an hour, wake up, sleep for another half-hour, wake up and listen to Dan Rather say the same things about the towers we’d heard three or four times before.

In the morning, when we went to Eureka's Victorian touristy downtown, our familiar waitress at the café told us that our iced tea was free. “The boss decided to give thanks for our regular customers today.” We left Sheryl a bigger-than-usual tip.

It was November 2001 when we finally visited New York, staying on Long Island. Though our friends said they couldn’t bear to join us, we did go to Ground Zero on a blustery day. There wasn’t all that much to see and we didn’t like seeing all the peddlers selling memorial stuff.

We like the homey little memorial on our Williamsburg corner better. Thanks to Jerry and the Knights of Columbus and everyone who made it possible.

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