My September 11th Story – 20 Years Later

Well, this wasn’t the plan for today. The plan was to produce two posts. This one, and one purely interior design, in case some of you aren’t interested in my September 11th story.

However, as per usual, it’s all taking way longer than it should. I am working on Mrs. F’s guest bathroom. And, I think you’re going to enjoy it. While it’s fun for me, it’s a lot more time-consuming to design AND then write about it.

So far, I’ve done several versions of the sink/toilet wall. It’s not a large bathroom, but not super tiny, either at 7′-7″ x 8′-1″.


Anyway, it’s probably for the best because it’ll give me a chance to run the boards past Mrs. F. first.

Some of the bathrooms have wallpaper, and some don’t. But, I used a few bathrooms as inspiration for the design. It’s something I talk about a lot in other posts.


Mélanie Cherrier of Blanc Marine Living - dark green bathroom via Canadian House & Home

Mélanie Cherrier of Blanc Marine Living – dark green bathroom via Canadian House & Home


dark green wall with moulding white vanity Mrs. F
And, the board that I did. I can’t wait to share the rest of them with you and here which ones, if any, you like the best.


There’s going to be a lot more to see on Wednesday.


Now, it’s time to tell you my September 11th story.

Like many readers, I was directly affected by the attack in New York City. But, in a way, I never could’ve imagined.


This is how September 11th unfolded for my family and me.


The morning of the 11th, I woke up already sad because it was the 14th anniversary of the passing of my beautiful older and only brother, Donald.

He was only 38 and died of arrhythmia. A driven marathon runner, his heart stopped beating, and he was home alone.

But, that was September 11, 1987, when I was only 31 and living in New York City with my then-boyfriend, soon-to-be husband.

However, on September 11, 2001, now married for 13 years and with two children, we had moved up to northern Westchester County 10 years earlier.


Above is almost the entire county, just north of New York City, the Bronx, to be specific.  We’ll see some more maps shortly. Ack, Goldens Bridge isn’t even on this map. It’s such a tiny place. It’s actually a small hamlet tucked in between Katonah and Waccabuc on the map.

My kids were in school, of course, and my wasband, at work in midtown Manhattan. However, as a COBOL mainframe programmer, he had frequently worked in the Trade towers; both of them.


And, he was always on a high floor and always got to work by 8:00 AM.



However, not at that time, thank God!

Shortly after 9:00 AM, I was on the phone with a delivery company in New Jersey. I got out a sentence or two, and then he said, “Did you hear what happened?”

“No, what?” I said.

“Well, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

Of course, I’m sure I said, “Oh, no!”


However, in my mind, it was a small plane, like a single-engine Cessna. Maybe the pilot had a heart attack, and the rogue plane crashed into the building—something like that.


And, then came the news that a second plane had hit. That was no accident.


Goldens Bridge to One World Trade Center


I was still on the phone, but then, I turned on the TV, and there it was…


As the crow flies, we lived only about 45 miles away from the twin towers. (see the map above) However, we had a close friend that was in her apartment that morning, only one block away from the north tower. She saw and heard things that no person should ever see or hear. She ran for her life, out of her apartment, barefoot.

And never returned. After a brief time, she moved to Los Angeles.

I tried to reach my husband, but all of the lines were tied up. There was so much confusion.


How many planes were there? I was on the phone with a client whose husband also worked in Manhattan.


I hung out with a neighbor friend. All day long, fighter jets were roaring overhead. Were these more terrorists or our airforce protecting us?

Around 2:30, my son Cale who was only 11, called me from school. The secretary checked in with me first before handing the phone to him. By then, I had spoken to my husband, who was on his way home, but it took him four + hours what was normally a 90-minute trip.

Cale asked me in a voice so small and weak; I didn’t recognize it as belonging to my son. It hurt my heart to hear him so frightened.


“Is Dad okay?”


I assured him that he was. But, in truth, none of us were okay. But, at least we were alive. I guess that constitutes being okay on that day.


My husband walked outside his building in Rockefeller Center, in midtown Manhattan with a straight shot down 6th Ave.


Rockefeller Center 6th Ave - View of Towers September 11, 2001


Although nearly 4 miles away, normally, you could see the 100+ stories twin towers. But, by then, the towers had fallen.


I recall him telling me that he was in a daze, just shaking his head in disbelief. I’m sure there was a lot of head shaking in New York City that day.

Of course, the entire world was in a state of shock. However, some people lost dozens of colleagues, friends, and family members. Even if you didn’t live close by, we’ve all been affected.



Now, the surprising twist to my September 11th story.


September 11, 2001, was on a Tuesday.

But, coincidentally, my husband and I were in Boston for a Bar Mitzvah the previous weekend.

And, since my wasband enjoyed staying at the finest hotels, he booked us a room at the swanky HoJo’s adjacent to Fenway Stadium.


Boston, MA 120313 Howard Johnson Hotel on Boylston Street in the Fenway, Tuesday, December 3 2013. (Globe Staff/Wendy Maeda) section: Business slug: 04hojos reporter: Casey RossBoston, MA Howard Johnson Hotel on Boylston Street in the Fenway, Tuesday, December 3, 2013. (via Boston Globe Staff/Wendy Maeda)


Boston-5-25-99--Howard Johnson on Boylston Street

Howard Johnson on Boylston Street via the Boston Globe

Sweet, ain’t it?

But, frankly, I didn’t care. It was rare that we were able to get away without the kids. It shouldn’t have been rare, but that’s another story.

By the way, the hotel closed several years ago.


Meaghan Murray - The-Eliot-Hotel-Boston-Back BayVia Meaghan Murray – The Eliot Hotel-Boston-Back Bay 370 Commonwealth Ave.


Oh well, I guess we’ll have to make do with The Eliot Hotel. ;]


So, why am I telling you about our stay in Boston the previous weekend?


This is why.

Several weeks after September 11th, the phone rang.

“Hello, are you Laurel Bern?”

Something told me not to give a glib answer as I might to a telemarketer.

“Yes, I’m Laurel.”


I don’t remember the exact words, but I do remember hearing these five words,


“The Federal Bureau of Investigation.”


Apparently, some of the terrorists enjoyed fine hotels too as they were staying at the same place!

And, no. We didn’t see or hear anything whatsoever. But, of course, the very thought creeps the crap outta me!

Now, I looked this up. And I did find an article that stated that two terrorists stayed at two other places not too far away but in Cambridge. Neither of them is there any longer, either. And, sometimes newspapers don’t have their facts straight.


The point is, the FBI had investigated everyone at that HoJo’s that September 11th weekend, including my husband and me.


I’m sure they investigated thousands of people in the coming months and years.

Yesterday, I read a chilling article that gave some startling statistics.
About September 11th and the aftermath.

I had no idea.


Well, that’s my story.


The only thing good thing was how truly UNITED we all were in the following days. I loved seeing all of the American flags on the cars, and I put one on, too.

I do wish it could’ve lasted…

Blessings to all of you!

Much Love,


Donald Irving Bern 911Dedicated to my brother Donald Irving Bern February 13, 1949 – September 11, 1987.

Nine years ago, I was helping my mom after she had just done her first massive downsizing. We were going through a box of photos. But, my blood went cold when I saw the house number. This photo above was taken about a year before he died while on vacation in Australia and New Zealand.

And yes, I know. I’m the female version of him. Same.

Like me, my brother loved art and classical music. Unlike me, he played tennis, golf and, as I said before, ran 70-80 miles a WEEK!  That, he had no business doing. But, he loved to run!


Donald was also a natural-born salesman.


Of course, he sold shoes. But, he also sold furniture for our step-dad, and in the years before his passing, he sold advertising for a classical music radio station in Carmel, California.

Donald adored technology too. I fondly recalled in 1987, him tell me about something called a “fax machine.”  You can send documents via the telephone! How cool is that!

And with that, Don is not-so-gently nudging me to remind you to check out the HOT SALES. Lots of great things to see this weekend!


40 Responses

  1. Catching up on your blog posts. Gosh…I’m sorry–especially about your son. That hurt to read so I can only imagine. Thank you for sharing your feelings and experience with us. I admire your openhearted-ness. <3

  2. What an astounding set of coincidences, particularly with your dear brother. My sympathy for having lost him so tragically at such a young age. My husband and I are both runners and also stayed in that hotel in 2003 when he ran Boston.
    I love your work, Laurel. I have been considering contacting you as we have bought a new house and, guess what? It’s open-plan!
    Keep up the wonderful work and entertaining posts. Love your sense of humour!

  3. Twenty years may have passed, but heart hurts as freshly as it did then for those directly affected by the terrorist attack. All of you continue to be in my prayers!

  4. My DIL’s best friend and maid of honor at her wedding was a flight attendant for American and lived just outside Boston. When I heard the first plane was an American plane out of Logan, I called my DIL (who was a brand new sleep-deprived mom who had not yet heard the news) and said, “Is Amy flying today?” Madeline Amy Sweeney was flying that day and she bravely relayed information about the terrorists to a ground crew. And then she died, leaving behind a husband and two small children. Just heartbreaking.

  5. Haven’t commented in a while and am looking forward to the additional bathroom boards as your work is amazing.

    As to Sept. 11th, though not an American (am a Canadian) I recall that horrific day and the tears that I shed for all those who were affected. Also though Sept. 11th is my and my husband’s Wedding Anniversary (50 years now); we have celebrated it the day after for the past twenty years, as a nod of respect and remembrance to them. May there never be a repeat and God Bless America!

  6. Thank you Laurel for this post. It is so important to remember. My daughter’s charter school still has a remembrance ceremony for 9/11, & I hope it always continues.
    My husband is a Pilot & thankfully wasn’t on a flight on 9/11, 20 years ago; as the other commenter mentioned, he knew immediately after the first plane hit that it was a terrorist. Shortly thereafter we saw the 2nd plane hit while watching TV. Terrible. I agree with you-it was amazingly heartwarming how it seemed our whole beautiful country came together. It makes me sad to see how divided we seem to be, 20 years later. I really appreciate you, and each of your personal stories. Thank you!

  7. Thank you for sharing your memories. My older daughter (now 33), just asked me last evening to share my memories of the day, because she was just now starting to realize the context and significance. Thank you also for sharing the information about your younger son. I had been wondering for some time, because I remember that you used to talk about both sons. I know that must be terribly difficult for you, and I send you virtual hugs. And for your brother as well.

  8. Oh Laurel, Thinking of your beautiful brother made me cry, but thinking of your Wasband’s taste in fine hotels made me laugh! As you often do.

  9. I’m so deeply moved reading this lovely tribute to your brother. It’s hard to lose a brother – mine passed away at 47yrs from cancer. It was 28 years ago, but I think of him and miss him every day.
    Beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing this part of your life.

  10. oh my gosh Laurel! My blood ran chilled cold with your experience. I have a brother Donald also, but your brother Donald was so incredible and so handsome. I’m so sorry for your loss. I love your work so much and especially enjoy your postings. Love you much!

  11. My late uncle was a pilot for United Airlines. This was very long ago when flying still had a sort of glamourousness about it. I also have a close friend whose step father was a pilot during that era. They would have known right away that the first plane that hit the tower was a deliberate act. A plane that size, flown by a professional who flies commercial airplanes, do not ever fly that close to buildings, and generally stay away from populated areas unless they are landing or taking off. The most dangerous parts of flying are during takeoffs and landings. If a plane is in distress, pilots will do everything in their power to keep their passengers and crew safe, and land their plane safely so that no one is hurt.

    1. Something else that I did not know until yesterday. But, on one of the planes that hit the tower, the terrorists accidentally contacted air traffic control instead of talking to the passengers. ATC then contacted the powers that be and fighter jets were deployed from Boston. But, that plane hit only 26 minutes later; not enough time, and even if they had gotten there in time, what happens then? This graphic shows very clearly the timeline.

      I don’t know what the protocol was, but I imagine the pilots were informed of what was going on quite quickly. Some of them may have turned around and landed back where they came from, depending on circumstances and how far they were into the trip? They wanted to clear the skies ASAP! Such an awful day!

  12. Wow. What a story. I am so sorry that you lost your wonderful brother, Laurel. The picture of him standing in front of the house is a bit unnerving. I too have family members who have suffered from mental disorders/illnesses, and aside from being extremely painful for the entire family, it is extremely disabling for them.

    Some years ago I read an autobiography by the actor, Rob Lowe. If I remember correctly, at the time he was appearing in the TV show, The West Wing, and he routinely flew back and forth from D.C. to southern California. He wrote about being on one of the flights with some of those terrorists while they were doing a “trial run” before they actually carried out their plan. The FBI contacted him too.

    Last night I watched a 9/11 special on the History Channel. There was no commentator. Only remarks from the people who were actually there at the time and happened to have cameras and video equipment. For those of us who were not there, it was chilling and the closest one could ever get to living the actual experience.

  13. Thank you for sharing this, with the HoJo laughter and the tears. You are not wrong about the small plane, NPR originally said it was a small plane. I was driving to work and a few minutes later NPR said it was a jet. Sending hugs for you and Aaron. I know many friends who don’t share these family matters or things like a cancer diagnosis for exactly the reason you give. Unwanted/unneeded advice. Much, much love to you.

  14. Thanks Laurel and everyone for sharing these stories. It’s so difficult when personal painful events happen on days that are marked and commemorated annually.
    I was working in the cruise ship industry 20 years ago and was home in Victoria Canada on a work break on 911. I was due to fly to NYC and board a ship on 29 September, my birthday. The ship was relocated to Boston and I decided I better leave home 4 days early if I was going to get there. I spent 27 hours in the Vancouver airport and got on the first flight to Toronto that I could find. Then I spent another day and a half in the airport in Toronto before I could get a flight to Boston. The airports were guarded by soldiers with semi automatic weapons and it was terrifying. Everyone was stressed and scared I really felt for the airline staff. So many people had lost the capacity for kindness and patience.
    When I got off the plane in Boston me and hundreds of cruise ship passengers were herded into this room to wait for ground transportation. Again there was a lot of tension. Then this fabulous bus driver with a thickest Boston accent I’ve ever heard came in, climbed on a chair and just started bellowing out jokes and getting people to laugh and reassuring everyone. He was fabulous and I’ll never forget him.
    He got us to the port safely. We had to wait eight hours on the bus before we were allowed to disembark and he somehow managed to keep the whole busload calm and happy. Another of the unsung hero’s of that time.
    Just a few years later I was due to disembark a ship in New Orleans the day Katrina hit. That’s a story for another day. My heart goes out to the victims of Ida that are suffering such devastating loss.

  15. 9-11 wa my mother’s last birthday (on earth). She was in a nursing home and I had planned a celebration at a restaurant. The Klastran was booked to collect her along with me from the home and meet some elderly relatives there. Everyone was looking forward to it. I scrambled to make a change of plans, because you are right no one knew how many planes and if there were more or if it was over. So I brought her home with me for an improvised lunch, since everything had immediately shut down. For about two weeks the nursing home residents were told that that the TVs were broken except for VCR movies. The ones who could still read a paper got their newspapers suspended. The families were all sent letters not to discuss the day with any of the residents. Fortunately, most of them remained oblivious.
    Your last photo is a very prescient reminder that something larger than ourselves is at work. Now I am going back to read the article you referenced about the FBI etc. That is creepy!

  16. Hi Laurel. Thank you for sharing your story on the 20th anniversary of 911. It is so hard to believe it’s been 20 years.

    Im so glad your wasband wasn’t in the tower that day, but definitely creepy that the FBI called you because of terrorists staying in or near your hotel the weekend prior. I’m sure it took a long time to shake that one off.

    I did know about your other son Aaron, which is unfortunate, but I did not know about your brother. Or perhaps you told me on one of our chats, but I forgot as you know my memory is bad.

    That is very sad about your brother. I am so sorry for your loss. He was so young. And that photo of him at a 911 address is such a strange coincidence. He sounds like a brother you loved and miss very much. I am so happy that Cale is in your life as you’ve had to experience a lot of loss.

    Thinking of you and hope you’re doing well. Xo♥️

    1. Thanks so much, Deb. BTW, you know that pillow with the special zipper that you took of me? Well, I use that pic on my (ugh) dating profiles and the guys adore it! hehehe

  17. Hello Laurel, I am sorry you had such a sad personal tragedy connected to this date, in addition to the universal horror that transpired. My brother’s middle name is Irving also. It was supposed to be his first name (after my father’s father) but my mother thought the name too old-fashioned, so she let Irving be his middle name.

    1. Hi Jim,

      My bro hated his middle name. Absolutely hated it— until he went to sleep away camp for two weeks and the coolest kid there was named Irving. He never said another word about it.

  18. Laurel, I just wanted to say that I am so sorry for your situation with your son. There is not much we can do to influence our adult children (particularly when clear reasoning is not there) except let them know the door is always open. I hope that one day he comes around and finds his way back to you.

  19. Dear Laurel,
    Thank you for sharing both stories that lie in reverence of 9/11. Your creative soul knows the heart and this follower of no means or stature appreciates your words, your designs, your very gifts.

    1. Hi Dianne,

      I mentioned him 6 or 7 years ago. It’s very difficult. He has high-functioning autism and has decided to disown me. Everyone in my family has tried to reason with him, but all that does is alienate them, temporarily. I’m loathe to talk about it, because I realize the natural assumption is: “What on earth did you do to him?”

      I did the same as any other mother under the same circumstances would’ve done. I spent thousands of hours advocating for him from the time he was three and we realized that he wasn’t developing normally.

      Anyone who has a loved one with a severe mental disorder that affects reasoning will understand. But, most readers won’t. And, I also don’t wish to invite a lot of unwelcome suggestions. It’s very painful and mostly I try to gently stuff it down because I am helpless to effect any change.

      But, thank you for asking. He lives in Seattle and fortunately, is quite adept at taking care of his own basic needs.

      I prefer not to give up hope, but at this point, Aaron has rewritten history and made up things that never happened.

  20. Thank you for sharing your 9/11 memories, and memories of your beloved brother, Laurel. My family was in CA but I remember every moment of that horrific day, including my best girlfriend calling me, telling me to turn on my tv and my 7 and 9 year old daughters standing next to me, seeing the 2nd plane hit the tower.
    Laurel, also wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your blog, all your amazing design tools (I have them all) your razor-sharp wit, and your sweet nature. I look forward to every email from you.

  21. You went through two tragedies in one day in different years. My heart hurts for you. Very compelling blog. God bless you and everyone suffering in this world.

  22. Hi Laurel,
    Thanks for sharing your story of what you went through that day. The picture at the end of your brother is spooky!
    It’s amazing that there is a whole generation of people alive now that weren’t on that terrible day. So much time has passed. So many lives lost that day & since.

  23. What sad and frightening memories of Sep. 11 for you. I’m very sorry for the loss of your brother. But, so happy for you that now you’re living right up the street from the stately Eliot!

  24. Wow that is creepy that you were staying in the same hotel as the terrorists! I was on the phone with my husband when the first and second planes hit the towers. He was in his lower Manhattan office on the 26th floor watching it happen out his windows, and like everyone, we thought it was a fluke accident until the 2nd plane came into view. He and his colleagues shepherded hundreds of employees out of their building and walked through smoke and ash for hours to get to Grand Central and wait to get a train – I was out of touch with him most of the day when he showed up at home in a taxi where I and my two sons were waiting – his dark suit covered in dust and debris. Your post brought back a lot of memories. We lost a cousin that day and so many friends lost loved ones – thanks for sharing your story.

  25. Reading your 911 story made my heart ache. I can only imagine the worry and terror you must’ve felt that day. I remember exactly where I was that morning when it happened. I had just gotten and paid for my groceries that morning and came out of the grocery store and was walking past an electronics store that had a tv in the window. I only stopped for a moment and was trying to comprehend what was going on. Of course, there was no sound as I was outside the store and I didn’t recognize the twin towers because I had never seen or even heard of them before (I’m Canadian) . But, I remember watching in horror at what was unfolding. It’s funny how you mention how everyone UNITED during that time and how only twenty years later how divided it has become. Very sad. I read an article the other day about how the younger generation now have no idea what 9/11 is or was. It’s just part of American history now.

  26. Hi Laurel,What a story! Its the middle of the night , I really want to wake my husband up to tell him about this. We lost 11 people in our North Jersey town ,my husband took a later train that morning or there could have been anotherI wasn’t home he he left and wasn’t aware of the later train,terrifying day, All of our lives changed forever, God bless,barb xox

    1. Oh my, Barbara! There are so many stories as certainly millions of people were close enough to feel in extreme danger. Were there more planes? How many was it? 6, 12, 20. We really didn’t know. Thank God your husband took a later train!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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