|Middletown Township lost 37 residents in the attack on the World Trade Center, many of them parents of young children. One was Rod Wotton, who worked at Fiduciary Trust Company International. He left a 2-year-old daughter, Dorothea. A son, Rodney, was born days after his father’s death. Now 11, Dorothea says her memories of her father are beginning to fade. Rodney, now 9, says he misses his father he never knew. They think about him most on Sept. 11 and on his birthday, when they have special meals in his honor.
By Yorbelid Herrera
When 11-year-old Dorothea Jean Wotton comes home feeling crummy from a bad day at school, her mother Patricia doesn’t console her with cookies or gifts.
Instead, Wotton asks Dorothea and her younger brother Rodney Patrick, 9, to follow her downstairs into their Middletown basement to a box labeled “Love Letters.”
The box contains hundreds of letters addressed to Dorothea and Rodney from people all over the world after their father, Rodney “Rod” Wotton, died in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Letters came from strangers who read about the children’s loss seeking to comfort them.
And letters came from their father’s co-workers at Fiduciary Trust Company International, where the 36-year-old was senior vice president of web site design.
A few letters, hand selected by Wotton, were written by their father when Dorothea was a girl.
Wotton said she has let her children know if they feel sad, they can come to the box anytime. She hopes reading the letters help remind her children just how loved they are.
On the day of the attacks, Rod Wotton stayed behind in his office on the 97th Floor of the South Tower to attempt to restore lost data -- but not before making his last phone call home to ask his father-in-law to take care of his family.
Ten years later, sitting on a bench at the Middletown World Trade Center Memorial Gardens, the Wotton family talked about their loss. They were accompanied by a young woman, Heidi Lynch, who acts as a mentor to Dorothea. Lynch was matched five years ago with Dorothea through Tuesday’s Children, a non-profit organization that promotes healing and recovery for families impacted by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The memorial is next to the train station where Rod Wotton and many other 9/11 victims from Middletown last took the train into New York City.
It consists of 37 plaques, one for each of the city’s victims. The plaques feature a picture and quote about each person and are aligned on both sides of a brick path through the lush gardens.
At the end of the path across from a pond is Wotton’s plaque with a picture of him smiling, wearing a bow tie. It reads: “Rod was an adoring family man and gregarious person. He enjoyed life completely. We will miss Rod forever.”
Wearing light coats, Dorothea and Rodney sit almost directly in front of their father’s plaque.
The children are measured when speaking about their father, often glancing at each other or looking down in silence. Both agree fervently that they wish he was still alive.
Dorothea, who has golden brown hair that falls past her shoulders and her father’s smile, says that sometimes it is difficult to remember her father.
Rodney, on the other hand, never knew him. The aspiring cartoonist was born eight days after the attacks.
When the family welcomed the baby boy, they named him after both parents, Rodney Patrick. Doctors say the stress Wotton experienced after 9/11 contributed to respiratory problems suffered by Rodney, who was nursed back to health in the intensive care unit.
Rodney gets sick easily and has been hospitalized five times, but his health continues to improve, according to his mother.
Wotton says it wasn’t easy explaining her husband’s death to then 2-year-old Dorothea. She took the girl into the back yard of their ranch-style home, a house that the couple had selected after looking at 65 others. She told her that there had been an accident, and that “Daddy wasn’t coming home because he is a star now.” Afterwards, she said, they sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
One way to measure the consequences of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 is to see the tragedy through the eyes of the victim’s surviving families.
Most people who lived through the attacks remember where they were, what they were doing, even what they were wearing on Sept. 11, 2001. For the generation of children born a decade before and after 2000 -- the memories of the attacks also include classrooms and teachers and an understanding of a world both before and after 9/11.
For the past 10 years, Wotton says she has shielded herself and her children from certain images of that day, including the planes hitting the towers and the towers falling. She tells her children a little more detail of the towers tragedy with each passing year. But conveying her own thoughts to her children, she says, is difficult because she can’t make sense of what happened.
To help them open up about their grief, the two children have mentors from Tuesday’s Children. Rodney’s mentor also taught him how to pitch, but because of medical problems he has had to back off from his involvement with Rodney lately.
“Unfortunately, Rodney does not have a strong adult role model in his life,” related Wotton.
The death of Osama bin Laden in May brought sadness to the Wotton children as they remembered the life of their father, reported Wotton.
Rodney says he feels “good that (bin Laden) died and won’t be killing anyone else.” But it also brings mixed emotions.
“I kind of feel guilty that we cause trouble or something,” he said, adding that bin Laden’s family is “probably sad that he died.”
Dorothea said that she would like to learn on her own what happened. She writes to express herself and hopes to one day write a book on her experiences.
Rodney, who loves to draw, says he would want to be an illustrator for the book. He envisions drawing a picture of people gathered around a memorial place, because this is how wants to remember 9/11. Recently, he has asked his mother what happened to the people flying the plane and could not wrap his head around the idea that people were capable of taking their own lives to cause harm to others.
Dorothea says her memories of her father are beginning to fade, and Wotton says she has difficulty talking about how she feels.
Rodney, on the other hand, says he misses his father even though they never met and feels “left out when people talk about their dad.”
The children say they miss their father the most on Sept. 11 and on his birthday when they have special meals in his honor.
And while their wishing can’t change things or make them understand what happened, Wotton believes their struggles make them stronger.
“I think because of what happened that they are special and that they can make a difference when they are older,” Wotton said of her children. “They were challenged at such a young age, and it helps to make them more resilient and to feel. Maybe be more compassionate towards other people.”
Yorbelid Herrera is recent graduate from Rutgers University with a double major in Political Science and Journalism and Media Studies. She was born in Mexico and moved to central Jersey at the age of three where she has lived ever since. She hopes to begin a career that combines her interest’s international politics and the media. The same that influenced her to take part in the 9/11 project.
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