Matriarchs of September 11

69874600_10162170180345287_4685747403687460864_oMy uncle Earl used to say there was one meal a day served at my Grandmother Collins’ home.

“It starts at 7 am…..” was his punchline.

It was true.

People came in and out all day and there was always a meal or a snack and dishes to wash after. When company was expected there was baking and cooking and fussing and preparation. The door was welcome to anyone and everyone and another chair was pulled in to the table.

My mom continued the tradition of offering meals and beds to anyone who might want or need them. I remember holiday weekends as a child in Ontario with aunts and uncles and cousins spending weekends and pyjamaed bodies strewn all over the place. It was usual, often and normal in our house.

When they moved to PEI, dad only half joked that folks who never came to visit in Ontario would drive half way across the country to spend a week with you in PEI.

Family and friends pulled trailors or pitched tents but mostly slept in our beds and we slept elsewhere when needed. Mattresses or when I was in high school I stayed at my Grandmother’s house in Montague because I was working in the summers and after school and it was more practical. I didn’t see half the people who slept in my house and they didn’t see me but it was very constant and normal in our house.

Mom worked as a Visitor Information employee for the PEI Department of Tourism and loved telling people about Prince Edward Island. She was knowledgeable and passionate about tourism and also about the importance of tourism to the economy of the region. By introducing intiatives like a newsletter of local events for tourist operators (pre email and social media) she was recognized as a leader and an innovator and eventually worked at the provincial government level on projects like promotion of shoulder season events. Her newsletter was designed to slow tourists down in the Kings County area of the province by sending them to Strawberry Socials and Ceihlids to hear local musicians and to increase stays in our area before everyone took off for Charlottetown and Cavendish beach.

Similar initiatives are still being tried now, 40 years later in local tourism regions.

Mom was an activist too. She was a community and church leader. She helped others, especially young mothers in the community. She loved little kids.

As a 4 H volunteer and a  very proud carrier of a Citizenship card after attending a 4H conference about citizenship she taught youth sewing and crafts and cooking tips. She looked out for the disenfranchised and underdogs.

She loved meeting new people and trying new food or recipes and learning about new cultures. She was so excited to be dressed in a sari for my sister’s wedding reception when she had left such and impression on my bother in law’s family, especially his mom and aunts.

Kids in cages would have broken her heart.

September 11th is my mom’s birthday.

After the attacks on America in 2001 she told me she’d never forget that birthday. She did, due to the tragedy that is Alzheimer’s Disease.

On September 1, 2001, my neighbours and friends and I  honored what we learned at our mother’s knee by sharing, caring and comforting the many passengers that crossed our paths in Gander.

Each location, whether a school, church all or service club had it’s own experience and the stories will roll out for years. Each community, Appleton, Glenwood, Gambo, Norris Arm, Lewisporte and Gander had a stream of support from surrounding communities who also knew the right thing to do when someone needs help.

Thousands of kind acts created a wave of response and comfort to the 6 700 passengers grounded at Gander unexpectedly.

I would do anything to put those building back and restore the lives that were lost and changed forevery due to the terrorist attacks. There are many days it still seems strange to be recognized for doing the right thing when something terrible happened.

It’s strange to be recognized as being responsible when I was in fact part of a huge group of citizens and hundreds of teachers who responded. My co-workers, including substitute teachers and retired teachers with their spouses and families volunteered at  Gander Academy and other schools because it was what was right to do. It was not usual, but it was normal.

Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of the attacks in the United States and the first of my mom’s birthdays since her death last month. I get through by imagining her whole and  with prime seats to Come from Away and learning about all she missed in the 10 years of illness.

I’ve met hundreds of people this summer who have seen the musical or documentaries about Gander and area’s response on 9/11.  I have realized that talking to people, assuring them the story is true, and just being kind to them is almost as needed as the help I have at Gander Academy to passengers I met.

People are coming to Newfoundland talking about not knowing their neighbours, being afraid and wondering if where they are from ‘used to be like this’. I’ve met people from all over the world and all over our country and they feel this way.

Some are lost and looking for a sign. I’ve had hugs from so many strangers who desperately need a hug. One woman whispered that her son had died. Another whispered that her son was dying. I don’t know why this is happening to me but I’ve realized it’s not about me, it’s about giving them what they need at the moment of our meeting. I just do what my mom would have done for them.

I joke that I’d hoped to be represented as a sex symbol and instead, am referred to in articles as a matriarch.  I take it gladly now.

My mother’s daughter.




6 thoughts on “Matriarchs of September 11

  1. We met you via social media and icebergs. We had no idea of your role, but as our possible rescuer when our plane was diverted to Gander because of fog. You offered to pick us up, complete strangers, from the airport to begin our NL adventure. We decided to stay with our luggage but kept our Facebook friendship going. We discovered through our time in NL that your actions on 9/11 are just how it’s done in NL. And to your point, we are hurting in the US from a lack of the truly generous spirit that exists in your province.


    1. Oh Lisa! Yes, it’s how it can be. Folks are worried about rejection when they offer to help and sometimes we worry about being a bother when help is offered but it’s truly in giving that we receive. Lovely to hear from you again. Diane


  2. Diane, this made me cry. Your Mom would love what you’re doing, I’ve seen you in action welcoming tourist, using your boundless energy (and knowledge) to get weary travellers excited about what they are going to see and do. You are making a difference to a lot of people!


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