Remembering 2001 and a Birthday Kingfisher

Do you remember where you were on the evening of September 10th, 2001?  I remember it well because I was quietly celebrating my birthday with my lovely children and their father having dinner at a local steak house in our quiet hometown on the Central Coast of California. A happy day spent together opening cards and presents when the children returned home from school,  speaking on the phone to my family back ‘home’ in England.

Nothing out of the ordinary on that particular Monday.

We were all sweetly oblivious of the hideous preparations which were taking place on the East Coast, the results of which would shock us to the core the following morning.

It was a school morning the next day but I was awoken even earlier than expected by the harsh ring of the telephone.  The ringtones had an air of menace about them.  It isn’t natural to have someone call so early in the morning.  All had seemed well the night before but I immediately sensed something was wrong.  This happens when you live in a different country away from your ‘homeland’, when you are so far away from your loved ones.  It is hard not to assume that something is wrong, some kind of family emergency.

When I picked up the phone, it was my then mother-in-law.  She had bad sleeping habits, slept on the couch every night and watched TV on and off all night long and always got the news before anyone.  It was the same when Princess Diana died.  She called me and all she said was “Turn on the news, Princess Diana has died!” I was shocked.  What?  It can’t be?  When I did turn on the news, even then there was speculation that she might still be alive.  Of course, my mother-in-law was right.  She always seemed to know before everyone else.

This time when I took the call she said:

“Turn on the news, somebody’s crashed a plane into the Twin Towers, a plane with a bomb is heading to LA (she lived in LA) and we are under attack!”

I turned on CNN and watched the fireman being interviewed by the news reporter just after the first plane had hit.  As I watched I was thinking that it must be some kind of awful accident, but I wondered about the plane supposedly heading to LA.

I remember hearing another plane in the background and thinking, hmmm, that plane seems awfully low to me.  It got louder and louder and then the TV cameraman panned away from the two men talking and zoomed in to the burning Tower and then, sure enough, there was another plane looking very close to the Towers.  Before any of us watching had a chance to assimilate this and register just what was going on the unthinkable happened. Right there, in front of me, along with thousands of others on live TV, I watched, horrified, as the plane flew straight into the side of the other Tower.  The kids were downstairs by now.  I was crying with shock.  This was it.

The world knew then that this was no accident and nothing would ever be the same again.

All that day, I thought of my family back in the UK.  I thought of my brother who was a pilot for a major UK airline who that very day had been flying a Boeing 747 from Heathrow to Newark.  Had he been diverted to Canada as I had been hearing on the news?  Where was he?  Was he alright? I couldn’t call my mother or anyone back home.  For three days I couldn’t make contact with my family due to communication shutdowns.

That was the worst moment for me, being so far away from my family back in England and not being able to talk to any of them for comfort and assurance.  I felt very cut off from my homeland. Of course, this was nothing compared to what others were suffering at that horrific moment.

I eventually found out that my brother, as with all approaching aircraft to the US that day, had received a call to say that he must not approach US airspace but he was not told then what had happened.  As the captain, he had calculated enough fuel for a turn around and by some miracle had managed to return safely back to the UK.  At the time, the passengers were demanding to know what was going on but once back on British soil and a press release was handed out, they were very grateful indeed to have been returned safely back to their homes in the UK and not stuck in Canada, separated from their loved ones.

Ever since that day in 2001, and on my birthday ever year, I take pause and think of those events and remember that day I spent with my family before the world was ripped apart.  My heart goes out to all those who lost loved ones and who, even now, are affected by the seismic ripples sent out from the catastrophic events of that day.

What I also like to remember is my birthday last year.

We had a day out on a little boat trip on the river Avon in Bath. Oh I do like messing about on the river! It was a delightful day, my hubbie had even packed a bottle of bubbly so that we could celebrate in style as we watched the world go by on the water.

What was extra nice was that we had the boat all to ourselves.  Our little boat man (pilot!) was so friendly and took great pains to give us the background and history of the various buildings and bridges as we motored down the river.  Then, it happened.  A flash of the most glorious turquoise blue, quick as a wink, caught our eyes.  Our pilot stopped the boat, reversed very slowly and turned off the engine.  He pointed, in silence, and there he was, the most beautiful Kingfisher, in clear view, perched majestically on a branch hanging low, just above the water.

I was desperate to get a photograph of it, my hand was shaking as I turned on my camera, and that Kingfisher didn’t move a muscle.

Now, I love Kingfishers, but they are very elusive. This was most unusual to have been able to get this close to one. Up to that point, I had only ever seen one once before and that was on Ranworth Broad in Norfolk.  We caught sight of it from the back of our boat but I was unable to get photos as it flew off as quickly as it had arrived.  From that day, some 15 year’s ago, I had desperately wanted to see one again.

My grandmother, ‘Dear Granny’, also adored Kingfishers.  She made a lovely cross-stich picture of one once and had it framed.  It hung on her wall in her living room for years and I always admired it when visiting.  She obviously took note of this and ended up giving it to me as a birthday present one year.  It’s so funny though.  Many more years passed and now it was Dear Granny who was visiting me (in the States, when she was 89 years old, but that is another story!) and she was greatly admiring this beautiful, handmade picture of the Kingfisher as it hung on my wall.

This is how the conversation went:

“What a lovely Kingfisher picture dear, is it homemade?”

“Yes Granny, remember, you made it, isn’t it lovely?”

“Did I…oh yes, of course I did, I had forgotten!  How did it end up here?”

“Errr, you very kindly gave it to me for my birthday a few year’s ago because I always admired it!”

“I did? I gave it to you? I must be going mad, I wondered where it had gone!”

Dear Granny, we had a good laugh about that.

Birthday Kingfisher (c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

Birthday Kingfisher
(c) copyright Sherri Matthews 2013

When I look at this photo I  think of the beauty of nature, of the good things in life, of the gifts we have been given by God above and I am reminded that even in the midst of the many troubles of this world there is still so much that is good, and beautiful and lovely.

My Kingfisher was my birthday present from heaven.  All that was missing was the wrapping paper and the bow on top.

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri is a writer with work published in print magazines, anthologies and online. As a young British mum of three, she emigrated to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England's West Country, a full-time carer within her family. Her current WIP after completing her memoir is a psychological thriller.
This entry was posted in Birds of a Feather, Current Affairs, Family Life, Family Traditions, Musings, Nature & Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Remembering 2001 and a Birthday Kingfisher

  1. tieshka says:

    Happy birthday Sherie!!! I am glad that you celebrated your special day before the chaos in NYC. I still can’t believe that it happened. I was working at an ESL school at the time and remember someone telling me to turn on the television on 9/11. It put me in shock. I went through JFK Airport shortly after and it was eerie. I also visited Ground Zero my last time crossing New York. Haven’t been back to see the new building. I love my country & hope nothing so horrible happens to it again. I hope your birthday this year has been a great day!!


    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Tieshka, for the birthday greetings (I did have a lovely day thanks, no Kingfisher but we did see a barn owl on the way home after a nice dinner out with my hubbie!) and for sharing your 9/11 story here. Just now getting a chance to catch up with my replies. A shock it certainly was, who could have expected that such an awful thing to happen in NYC that day? The healing continues…


  2. Denise says:

    Two such different memories. I can feel the shock as you describe it in the first. But glad you found beauty as well, one that was rare and will stay with you.

    Happy birthday!


  3. Dylan Hearn says:

    Happy Birthday Sherie! Another evocative blog. My birthday gift to you is a Kingfisher poem written by a good friend of mine
    I hope you like it!


    • Sherri says:

      Aww, thanks so much Dylan! I just clicked on this link to your friend’s blog and I do love his kingfisher poem! I’ve left a comment for him there. That was really thoughtful of you and sorry that it’s taken me a while to reply here, I was a bit tied up yesterday, it being my birthday and all… 🙂


  4. Happy Birthday! I’m glad you have been able to add some good memories to this date.


  5. I remember the images on TV quite vividly; I was stuck to my television for hours on end. I still don’t think we’ve healed as a nation from that experience. On the contrary, I think each day since then, we’ve become more divided than ever. We have to put in the work to find common ground. The question is: Will we?

    I know there are pockets of overcomers who continue to strive for peace, search with open hands, and freely give love, grace and mercy to others. Lord, please let me be one of them. Your kingfisher is a good reminder that God gives us good gifts all the time; we need to be willing to see them.


    • Sherri says:

      Yes, it was one of those defining moments where we all remember where were and what we were doing. I wanted to make sense of it all from my personal perspective by writing about the contrast from it being a lovely family meal together the evening before and then waking up to such horrendous violence and terror the next morning.
      This has never left me and my birthday has, ever since, been tinged with these memories.
      That is why I hoped by bringing in the story of my Kingfisher I could share some measure of healing.
      This is the first time I’ve ever written about 9/11, not by design, I just never have. That is what is so wonderful about blogging, it is an opportunity to write these things down and share them and get these hidden thoughts out into the open so that healing can take place.
      Thank you Susan for sharing your heart here and all prayers going out today into the pain which remains for so many…


  6. jennypellett says:

    A good contrast, Sherri, and nice to have the kingfisher memory to block out the horror of the other one. I remember collecting Son from school and my neighbour standing on the driveway looking ashen. All she said was – nothing will be the same again – and told me to try to watch the news without alarming my boy. I will never forget that.
    On a brighter note – many happy returns – hope you enjoyed your day today.


    • Sherri says:

      Hi Jenny, and many thanks for your birthday wishes. I did have a lovely day thanks, and as I said above to Tieshka, no kingfisher, but we did see a barn owl on the way home last night!
      Yes, a very powerful memory of that day, and you never will forget it. The world changed irrevocably that day for us all, your neighbour was right…


  7. xbox2121 says:

    Happy Birthday Sherri, What I really enjoy about this post is you reminded us of something very tragic that happened in our recent history then turned it around to leave me and most readers with a positive memory of you and the Kingfisher. Well done my friend


    • Sherri says:

      Many thanks Bob, for the kind birthday wishes and also for what you shared about my post, I really appreciate it and I’m so glad that you were able to leave with a positive memory. That has made my day 🙂


  8. parrillaturi says:

    Happy Birthday, Sherri. Thank you for remembering our fallen brothers on that fateful day. I was at home, when I received a call, urging me to watch the morning news. What a devastating day that was for me, being from New York. I just posted that on my blog, what I went through that day. Blessings.


    • Sherri says:

      Thank you Johnny for your kind birthday wishes. I just read your post and was very moved by it and your personal experience. As I commented there, how horrendous for you being from New York to have seen what happened to your ‘hometown’. I could really relate to your sense of helplessness, just as I felt when I couldn’t contact any of my family in the UK. All blessings going out to you all in the USA today…


  9. Beautifully expressed, from your remembrance of Sept 11th, to your B-day last year, to your conversation with your dear Granny who I was blessed to meet so many years ago. Hope yesterday was lovely and talk soon my friend! xo


    • Sherri says:

      Thanks so much Diane. Yes, you will remember dear Granny well! I shall be sharing more of her as time goes on, and you will remember even more!
      I had a lovely birthday thank you, and am looking forward very much to spending time with the boys, when all my chicks will be back together in the nest 🙂
      All love and blessings going out to you and yours as we remember today, 9/11, and all who lost their lives and the ongoing pain of that day as it remains for so many…xoxo


  10. Catherine Johnson says:

    I do hope you can enjoy all your birthdays and not always think of 9/11. It sounds like you’ve done some lovely things. Always nice to meet a fellow Brit in the blogosphere. I remember drawing a kingfisher at high school. They are beautiful.


  11. Sherri, thank you for sending the link to this post–WOW! Amazing. Both the remembrance of the Twin Towers, and your mother’s wonderful response to the kingfisher.
    Once again, you’ve written a superb post!


    • Sherri says:

      Oh Marylin, I’m so glad that you enjoyed reading about my kingfisher! I don’t know why but when I was commenting on your delightful post this memory of my grandmother embroidering the kingfisher flew into my mind, quite literally! Thank you so much for reading 🙂


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