Volume 81, Number 15 | September 8 - 14, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Looking back at 9/11 • A special Villager supplement

Out of the Ashes

Will he remember? Trade Center was his playground

By Amy Dellasala

“Hey Mom, what was the World Trade Center?”

I was hoping you would remember.

Let me start by reminding you that from the time you were two, you referred to it as the “World Train Center.” Perhaps it was because it’s where we boarded all our subway trains. It may have been because during your toddler years, a Lionel train, complete with button-control steam whistle, ran in a display case during a few Christmas seasons. Or could it be the magical yearly appearance of Thomas the Tank Engine himself during the annual Children’s Day in the plaza? Whatever the reason, it was a fitting name and I never bothered to correct you.

We lived just blocks away and greeted the Towers every day no matter what our destination. Yet they rarely looked the same as the ever-changing light and clouds tinkered with their vertical steel tracks and washed rainbows of color over the glass facades.

The “Train Center” was where we would escape those long harsh winter days. The welcoming whoosh of the automatic doors greeted us with a warm blast of air on our windblown cheeks. We would immediately free ourselves from the layers of restrictive coats, hats and snowsuits. You and your baby sister, less than two years apart in age, would unsteadily charge down the ramp that led to the corridor of shops. I recall the precious sight of my two wobbly toddlers walking hand in hand, diapers crinkling in unison, amid the charmed expressions of the passing office workers.

Could it be possible that you and your sister don’t remember the big outdoor circular fountain capped by the enormous sphere spilling undulating sheets of water? When you were newborns, I’d seek out the serenity of the fountain. The sparkling surface never failed to command your infant gaze and the soothing slosh of water provided a rare moment of certain tranquility for a freshly postpartum mom and baby. I’d lie back on the concrete bench to fill my bloodshot, sleep-deprived eyes with the image of the enormous Towers. And year after year, we’d come back to the fountain. Every spring of those six years we lived here. You and your sister — charged up with the sugar rush of freshly devoured Krispy Kreme doughnuts — would orbit in opposite directions until you’d giddily collide and fall in fits of laughter.

Then, there was this covered bridge we routinely passed through on our way to visit Daddy at his office in the World Financial Center. The mirrored tower elevators gently dinging as we made our way to the bridge level. Do you recall the smell of rubber tiles and sensation of the bumpy surface under the stroller wheels? Do you remember how our walk through this passageway inevitably included repeated slides down the angled windowsills (much to the chagrin of your impatient Mommy)?

And don’t you at least vaguely recall the image of the gnarled face of the tree in the kids’ section of Borders? Oh, the countless hours we spent there watching raindrops streak the glass of the window seat as we read book after book.

Strange how the empty space left behind seems so much larger than the buildings did themselves. Please don’t forget that we who lived in the Twin’s shadows lost more than the 110 stories of valuable office square footage. Those massive buildings existed for us on a human scale and contain echoes of our kids’ childhood experiences, which now lie muffled amid smoldering ruins.

This article is reprinted from the Oct. 31, 2001, issue of The Villager.

World Trade Center plaza — officially called Austin J. Tobin Plaza — with “The Sphere,” a 25-foot-high bronze sculpture by Fritz Koenig. The sculpture was recovered from the rubble and placed in Battery Park, where it is now a 9/11 memorial with an eternal flame.

 

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