(This column was published April 20, 1995.)
The next time Fort Worth attorney Jennifer Last sees her stepfather, she needs to hug him.
“He left one office for another meeting,” she said, unleashing a sigh of relief after getting a phone call through to Oklahoma City and her stepfather, former Mayor Andy Coats.
“He had been away 10 minutes.
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“When he came back, that office was gone.”
A few minutes.
A few steps away.
That is how close we are at any moment to losing our families, our friends and our children.
On a street in Fort Worth, we can lose loved ones instantly to some sick teenager's gunshot, or to a drunked-up driver, or to a gust from a springtime tornado.
After what happened yesterday on a downtown street in another drowsy cowtown 200 miles north, we know very well now that we can lose loved ones not only to the crack of a rifle shot, but also to the flash of a terrorist's bomb.
Before 9 a.m., Coats was sitting in the window of a Southwestern Bell office two blocks away from the bomb. At 9, he left for an executive meeting.
“There was this massive boom, and all the ceiling tiles came down, and all the dust shook,” he said.
“It was nothing but confusion, smoke and mess everywhere.”
The first office was “totally blown out,” he said.
“It made us weak at the knees. If we had still been sitting there — well, we would not be talking to you now.”
The blast in Oklahoma City also jolts Fort Worth, because that city might be our long-lost twin.
Both cities serve metropolitan counties almost exactly the same size. Both wear the same wardrobe of Old West buckskin trimmed in uptown silver and gold.
Yesterday, the people we saw crying and bleeding were not from some faraway city of unfamiliar accents and attitudes.
They were our neighbors, people like us.
In the darkest days of the Cold War, we grew up fully expecting a foreign attack on Fort Worth. We drilled on hiding under school desks and fleeing to fallout shelters, hoping for any advance notice of what seemed like the inevitable day when our Air Force base, our bomber plant or our helicopter plant would be hit by a bomb.
Not any bomb. The Bomb.
In those days, the threat of death hung in the air with every test of an air-raid siren.
I had forgotten that feeling. Until yesterday.
“What it makes you realize,” Coats said, “is that anything can happen any day.
“So enjoy as many days as you can. Because you don't know how many of them you're going to have.”
And enjoy every hug.
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