Key chain a reminder of Granny, 9/11

James Phillips
Posted 9/17/16

For about 15 years after losing my grandfather to a massive heart attack, my grandmother, Ruby Phillips (known to me simply as Granny), spent a lot of her time traveling the country with other senior …

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Key chain a reminder of Granny, 9/11


For about 15 years after losing my grandfather to a massive heart attack, my grandmother, Ruby Phillips (known to me simply as Granny), spent a lot of her time traveling the country with other senior citizens on bus trips.

Granny liked to purchase inexpensive mementos during her travels not only as gifts for family members, but also as keepsakes for herself. She would purchase things like small postcards and key chains, but her favorite souvenirs were refrigerator magnets. By the time she passed away, she had almost enough state-shaped magnets to be able to piece together a map of the United States on her fridge door.

As a teenager, I loved hearing about my grandmother's adventures with the other “old people (her words, not mine).” She enjoyed telling me about the sights she had seen and the people she had met from other parts of the country. Her favorite trip ever was to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The landscape in that area of the country was something she had never experienced. She also talked about seeing the bison roaming through the grasslands in South Dakota. On that same trip, she had the opportunity to view the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Taking in all those sights helped make that trip her favorite.

While exploring the Black Hills was her favorite trip, it proved to not be her most memorable. A September adventure to New York in 2001 would be the trip she would never forget. Granny was excited about seeing New York City. She had lived in Chicago for a time during the middle of her life, so she wasn't completely unaware of life in the big city, but the country gal with a six grade education who had never learned how to drive was about to take in the Big Apple.

Granny left for NYC on Sept. 10, 2001. A day later, she was in a hotel room in New Jersey when all of our lives changed. Even though getting calls out were touch, she was able to let our family know that her group was safe and sound in the Garden State. To all of our surprise, the trip wasn't canceled. Instead of heading back to Alabama, the busload of senior citizens forged its way into New York City, even driving around Manhattan on Sept. 12, 2001. When the tour group left New York, it made its way through Washington, D.C., ultimately, driving on the street where the Pentagon is located.

Once Granny, 83 at the time, returned home from that trip, she told us all the stories of “surviving” the attack. While she wasn't in harms way when the attack took place, she was stressed from the incident. She could not forget the smell of the area where the towers had fallen, saying, “I could smell flesh burning.” Often times when recounting that trip, she would say, “All any of us could do was cry and pray.”

My grandmother passed away a few years later, but her memory lives on through her family. Our memories and the stories we tell about her have become her legacy.

One of the keepsakes that she purchased on that NYC trip travels with me wherever I go. I have a small key chain that features the Statue of Liberty standing in front of an American flag with the words “NEW YORK” strategically placed at the base of the statue. The key chain was originally given by my grandmother to my aunt, Jilda Watson. Earlier this year, I was searching for a vehicle and overheard my aunt and uncle talking about possibly selling their 20-year-old Volvo 960. The car, known as Ingrid to our family, had 300,000 miles on it, but it was in great shape and was just what I needed. We made the deal and when the keys were handed over to me, I noticed the key chain. I asked if it was the one that Granny had gotten on 9/11, and was told that was the key chain. I offered to leave it with them, because I knew the sentimental value of the item, but I was extremely happy to hear Jilda say, “Momma would want you to have it.”

I carry the key chain in my pocket every day. Each time I take it out to start the car, I think about my grandmother. I miss her tremendously, but a smile comes to my face every time I think about her and a group of elderly folks touring the damaged streets of New York City. Thinking of that group traveling through New York and back through Washington on the days following the 9/11 attacks brings one thought to my mind.

“The terrorists didn't win.”

Why is that the phrase that pops into my head?

That day changed us all in some way. It made us think about the things that were important to us. For a short time, it made us forget our differences and want to do what was best for our fellow man. The attacks bent us for a few minutes, but they didn't break us. The terrorists didn't win for those very reasons. They also didn't win, because the attacks couldn't even stop a group of seniors from Alabama from finishing their trip to New York.

My plan is to carry this key chain for the rest of my days, and it will continually remind me of the day none of us will ever forget and the lady that I could never forget.

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or