By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, KENT FISCHER and ANITA KUMAR
© St. Petersburg Times,
The news is grim.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are the deadliest ever on American soil. The stock market is struggling to recover from its largest one-week loss since the Depression. Thousands of workers are being laid off as the nation prepares for war.
Yet life goes on. Wedding plans move forward. A couple prepares for a trip to China to adopt a baby. Retirees buy a new car, and a family leaves for a cruise this morning.
The trauma of terrorism still fresh in their minds, Americans nonetheless are trying to rebound, trying to move forward. At a time of great uncertainty, they are making big and small investments in the future.
Celeste Fernandez is getting married Saturday.
The ceremony at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa will stray a bit from the routine. The "Prayers of the Faithful" will include prayer requests for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks.
"It would have been insensitive not to remember those affected by this tragedy," said Fernandez, 28. "We have to still go on, but you have to remember what happened."
One bridesmaid will not be there. She lives in Germany and canceled her flight after the terrorist attacks. Fernandez will not replace the bridesmaid and will make due.
"Three weeks ago, there was not a care in the world," she said. "The world has totally changed."
Some of her guests are flying in from the Washington area. Others are driving.
Fernandez, a travel and transportation services consultant, said when she heard about the attacks she decided immediately to alter her prayer requests. But she never considered canceling the wedding or the honeymoon.
She and her groom, Paul Pramberger, still plan to fly to Italy.
"The terrorist tragedy was the most horrific event that I have ever witnessed and has definitely affected our wedding," she said. "But we are doing our best not to let them have the satisfaction of disrupting our lives even further."
Brent and Margaret Small are flying to China in two weeks. They are more than a bit apprehensive.
The Tampa couple has been jumpy -- not because of the terrorist attacks but because they will be bringing home their adopted daughter.
As first-time parents, they are worried about strollers, feeding schedules and mounds of government documents.
Brent and Margaret, who have endured the adoption waiting game, will fly to China on Oct. 12 to pick up the little girl from an orphanage in Hefei, 300 miles west of Shanghai.
"Nothing was going to stop us from going," she said. "It's not even an option. We have to go get our little girl."
She is 17 pounds 24 inches long. She responds to music and can be a bit obstinate. She was abandoned in a police station soon after birth.
The Smalls never considered canceling the 8,000-mile trip. Instead, they are trying to find possible benefits of traveling now, such as fewer passengers and more security.
"We've been waiting two years for her," Brent Small said. "We wanted to make sure this happened."
Brent and Margaret, both 36 years old, worry that a war may start and they may not be able to go to China -- or get back.
"We're sort of in limbo to some extent," Brent said. "But we're not sure what will happen, what it will do to us or to the country."
The new car
At first, Bob Deppner and his wife, Ilene, just wanted a newer car. The New Port Richey couple's 1998 Honda Accord had logged 73,000 miles, and its warranty was kaput. He thought maybe they could upgrade to a 2000 model. Ilene, the family's bargain hunter, started researching Hondas.
That was before terrorists attacked and the stock market tumbled.
When Bob first saw the footage of the attacks, "my thinking was a little bit along the lines of the apocalypse," he said.
That was soon followed by the notion that it probably wasn't the best time to buy a car. But the more he thought about it, the less sense that made. Besides, he figured, if the nation is on the brink of all-out war, why not ride it out in style, in a brand new automobile?
"I thought, "Why not go ahead and just buy a new car?' " he said. "This might be the last new car we ever buy."
He and Ilene, 52, picked one out the first day they went looking. They paid a "little less" than $25,000 for a 2002 metallic gold Honda Accord EX. It's got a tan leather interior. CD and cassette players. All of the power options.
"It's Honda's top-of-the-line model," said Bob, 61, who retired to Florida four years ago from Boston after a nearly 40-year career with Polaroid.
There was another motive for the Deppners' purchase. He and Ilene are friends with some of the workers at Gateway Honda at Port Richey in Pasco County, and they knew how much the attacks and the economy were hurting the salesmen's paychecks.
"I just thought that we might be able to help in some way," he said. Like many Americans, he said he's not sure that the country can ever return to normal, but he and Ilene are making the effort. They are contemplating making their annual trip to Las Vegas for a huge bingo tournament. On Tuesday, Ilene was looking for another bargain for the trip.
"She's on the phone negotiating right now," Bob said.
The cruise was in the works for more than six months. It was planned as a celebration for an ill mother's successful operation, a daughter's 40th birthday and a couple's 60th wedding anniversary.
It has turned into a journey toward healing.
Devika Maharaj and her family, 10 members in all, will sail out of the Port of Tampa today on a five-day cruise on Carnival Cruise Line's Jubilee.
After considering whether to postpone the trip, the relatives from Tampa and Miami, Gainesville and Merritt Island, moved forward.
"We thought about (canceling) for a while," said Maharaj, a 40-year-old jewelry store worker from Apollo Beach in Hillsborough County. "But then we realized that we were looking forward to taking a break from all this to try to pull ourselves back together again."
She said they still plan to celebrate the significant events in their lives in recent months, including her mother's successful surgery to fix a blocked artery in July, her 40th birthday in August and her parent's 60th wedding anniversary in May. But they will also use the time to reflect on the events and appreciate each other.
"It's important for us to be together," she said. "We need this time."
Although her family members do not have direct ties to victims of the attacks, Maharaj says they mourned for them along with the rest of the country.
"For the first week or so, you were so glued to to the TV, nobody could concentrate on anything else," she said. "We've been dwelling on it so much . . . we need to move on."
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Mary Jo Melone