There it was again. For months it had disappeared, but just like spring crocuses start to emerge in March, it was back: A fireman’s hat that looked badly damaged, a menagerie of small American flags and a few memorial candles in red, white, and blue that were possibly bought in a Dollar Tree store.
I have used this part of the North County Trailway for the past eight years through various stages of my life. When I first moved to this part of bucolic Westchester from the City, I was looking for a replacement of the running route I used to do along the East River with my jogging stroller. It needed to have wide pathways and a relatively flat course. I was hoping to meet a few other moms doing the same route, but instead I got bicyclists and power walkers. It didn’t have river views, but at times I felt transported to the forest with its many trees providing ample shade. The Japanese call this shinrin-yoku — forest bathing — which is something I definitely didn’t do in the City.
I’d often use the makeshift memorial as a turning point on my route, but I’d always stop and take a moment to pay my respects. I was a city girl at heart who had been there for 9/11 and it was the least I could do. One day I would tell my kids about it, but for now my daughter needed to be nursed or changed so I’d head back to my car wondering who this fireman was. Did he have kids, too? Did he ride bikes with them on the trailway?
Flash forward a few years later, and I am on the same route, only this time with my son on a scooter. “What’s that?” he asked excitedly.
He wanted to put the fireman’s hat on as he was in the midst of a love affair with all things fireman-related. “Whose hat is it?” he asked aloud. Funny, as I was always wondering the same thing.
“Someone very brave,” I answered.
“What was his name?” my son wanted to know. I didn’t know either, but decided it was time to look into it. There were many local Facebook groups from towns surrounding the makeshift memorial. Surely someone would know if I posted a question.
And so I did, but my efforts proved fruitless. No one knew who put up the memorial and why they chose this particular overpass along Route 100. I thought maybe the fallen fireman used to live around there, or perhaps he was an avid biker or runner who used the trailway on his days off.
As the years went by and my kids got older, I started to answer their questions about 9/11 with more honesty and more details. Spray-painted above the makeshift memorial, a message reads, “Have You Forgotten?” I may never know the identity of the fireman, but I do know that we will always remember that day.
Stacey Pfeffer is a freelance writer and editor based in Chappaqua. When she isn’t glued to her laptop, she enjoys running on the North County Trailway with her dog Arlo.
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