“What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
Twice after answering these questions, once on a Manhattan street while on my way to an Irish language class at Glucksman Ireland House, and once in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve then been asked,
“Are your father and uncles all cops or are they all firemen?”
There are six firefighters in my family: my father and his four brothers: Battalion Chief Joe Donohoe, Captain Jack Donohoe, Firefighter Peter Donohoe (left the job due to injury) Lieutenant Edward Donohoe (my father).
My mother’s sister was also married to a firefighter. Lieutenant “Gentleman” Tom Cleary who died in June 2012. http://www.watkinsst.com/news/fullstory/newsid/165744
Their son, my cousin, is Firefighter Tom Cleary. Six firefighters from his firehouse were killed on September 11th. He’d gotten off work at 9 am that morning. Had he worked overtime, as he’d told his father he might, he would have been one of them.
We have never lost anybody in the line of duty. Luck.
Next fall, my novel, THE ASHES OF FIERY WEATHER, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is about six generations of women from a Brooklyn, NY family of firefighters, from famine-era Ireland to a ten years after September 11th.
In this excerpt, twenty-eight-year old Maggie O’Reilly, the daughter of a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty, finally works up the courage to look up the names of firefighters who are confirmed dead or missing in the attacks.
Because it is quiet. Because she is alone. Because two weeks have passed and the number has settled. It is not expected to go higher, and it is not expected to go lower, not anymore. For all these reasons, Maggie will now look.
The Worst Day in the history of FDNY has always meant the 23rd Street Fire. Twelve men killed, from a Captain to a probie. Twelve! A dozen! The Worst Day in Brooklyn is Waldbaums in 1982. Six firemenkilled when the supermarket’s roof collapsed. Then, a year later, her father, with his lone death and unnamed fire.
September 11, 2001. 343.
Of which 146 were members of the Emerald Society. She can’t recall where she read that.
What does 343 sound like, to those who’venever heard of the 23rd Street Fire? Horrific, but can it possibly be as phantasmagorical? It’s not a word Maggie would ever use but it’s the only one that comes close to fitting.
Maggie sets her fingers on the keyboard and types, FDNY, dead or missing, September 11. She clicks on a link and up comes a list with an alphabet key. She moves the mouse past G, deliberately, and clicks,
Haskell, Jr., Thomas
Maggie’s not sure about the Harrells and the Henrys, but the Haskells were brothers. There is a third brother, also a fireman, of course, who was not working that morning.
She runs a finger down the screen, touching each name. Then she scrolls back to the top of the page and though she tells herself not to, Maggie clicks,
Marchbanks Jr, Joseph
Miller Jr, Henry
Muldowney Jr, Richard
Maggie stares stupidly at the screen. The fucking alphabet, she thinks, has twenty-four more letters.