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Notes, receipts -- families remember lost through little things
By Sara Kugler, Associated Press
NEW YORK — The final days of their lives are documented in receipts from their last errands, doodles they drew for their children, messages they left on answering machines, clothing they wore before they were killed in the World Trade Center.
Then, they were gone, and these otherwise unremarkable things became treasures -- evidence of some of the last things they did.
While politicians and the public will mark the anniversary of the attacks with ceremonies, television specials and planned memorials, the families of the victims have clung to these little things to remember the lost.
Among the pile of mementos that Terry Strada has saved is the receipt from the pharmacy where she sent her husband on Sept. 8, when she needed special detergent for their day-old son's baby clothes. She keeps the receipt with other things like his monthly parking pass, and a handwritten list of 10 names he liked for their baby.
"It seems kind of silly, but that's what everyone does I guess," Strada said. "This way, no matter how much time goes by, you'll never forget, because you'll have these things that remind you."
The night before he was killed, Thomas Strada brought home baby gifts from three Cantor Fitzgerald coworkers, all of whom died with him in the trade center's north tower the next day.
Strada also posted a heading on his e-mail that day, announcing baby Justin's birth, "9 pounds, 2 ounces, 21 inches ... born 2:32 a.m. Sept 7."
Terry Strada learned of the e-mail weeks later, and framed it for her son.
"It's the only thing he has," Strada said.
The families of the lost have held on to countless e-mails and notes. Many widows have kept letters their husbands wrote years ago. Holli Silver's breath catches when she comes across something with her husband's handwriting -- from anniversary cards to luggage tags to their checkbook ledger.
"That's what I have, and that's what I hold on to," Silver said. "Everything you have, you're happy that you have it, so it's a joy, but it's a reminder that he's not here, so it's a pain too."
Much of what families have saved is piled together with keepsakes collected after the attacks -- tapes from memorial services, sympathy cards, newspaper clippings, the urns of trade center debris that were given to families by the city.
Many have also preserved answering machine messages; at some homes, unanswered phone calls reach cheerful greetings from those who are now gone.
At Silver's home, callers hear her husband saying, "Hi, you've reached David, Holli and Rachel Silver. Please leave a message."
Silver said she doesn't care if the greeting bothers anyone.
"I like to hear his voice, and so I want to keep that," Silver said. "It's nice when I hear it."
Every few days, Joan Kirwin replays an answering machine message that her husband, Glenn, left the night of Sept. 8. He was calling from the golf course to discuss a plan to meet for dinner.
"We're on the sixth hole, just call us when you get here, and we'll meet you in the clubhouse," he says.
Kirwin has also saved little things from over the years. In her wallet, she carries her husband's Cantor Fitzgerald business card, now laminated with several photographs. Other items, like his Disney World pass from a family trip there four years ago, are collected in his nightstand cabinet.
The little things remind Kirwin of what now seems like a luxury -- having a partner to share in the joys of life. Some memories, however, are still too painful. She still has not been able to sort through her husband's closet.
When Stephen Hoffman's family finally went through his things, his identical twin, Gregory, ended up with some of his clothing.
The hulking 6-foot-tall twins coached a youth football league together in Queens, where they grew up. The last time Gregory Hoffman saw his brother was on Sept. 8, when they held Saturday morning practice. This year, he wears his brother's size 11 1/2 black high-top Nike cleats during games and practices.
Hoffman is among many victims' relatives who say they appreciate the public memorials, but that the intensely private process of grieving depends on the little things.
"To us, it means so much, and no one knows," he said. "It's just what we
do and how we choose to remember."