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Coming home

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Home.

It is the only place in the world where 27-year-old Robyn Brenza, who was in the World Trade Center lobby when the first plane hit, wants to be now. She left Baltimore yesterday morning, bound for her parents' house in Pittsburgh, a place where the pink-and-blue flowered wallpaper in her old bedroom hasn't changed in 20 years. "It is the only place I truly feel safe."

Home.

Although the Zaruba family will gather today in Curtis Bay for its annual reunion knowing the oldest daughter, Susan, and her husband Rick are safe, the family will not be at peace until the two come home.

They will worry about the couple stranded in Ireland the way they worried about Susan's brother, Ed, who was stranded in Jacksonville, Fla., until Wednesday. And the way they continued to worry about Susan's brother-in-law, Jay Hauhn, who was finally on his way home yesterday from Boca Raton.

As families scattered by Tuesday's tragic events begin to reunite, they do so with heavy hearts, thankful to be coming together, but mindful that thousands of other families have been torn apart.

"Yeah, I'm stuck and away from my family," Jay Hauhn said yesterday from his hotel. "But in the scheme of things, I'm small potatoes. I know I will eventually get home."

For Ronald Bacon, the journey home was completed just yesterday, when, at last, he arrived back in his Pennsylvania hometown to help his brother Nate bury their father. Though the death was unrelated to the terrorist attacks, the Bacon brothers joined the nation in its grieving. And in their sorrow, they longed to be in familiar territory.

Home.

In just a few days, the word has come to mean so much more than just a place. For the fortunate, home became Penn Station in the afternoon, the satellite parking lot at BWI, any place where people reunited.

Home for 43-year-old Rob Gensler was the opposite end of a 45 1/2 -hour drive across the country with strangers. But that long trek across his homeland proved, despite the week's catastrophe, that the American spirit is intact.

Apublic relations associate at T. Rowe Price, Robyn Brenza was in the World Trade Cener lobby preparing for a meeting when the building shuddered from the first impact. As people spilled out from the second-floor restaurants, she and a colleague stood against the walls until debris stopped falling, then fled across the street. They were heading toward the safety of Midtown when the towers fell.

And when she finally reached a pay phone, it was her parents in Pittsburgh whom she called and said: "All I want to do is be at home."

Though Baltimore was the home she returned to by train, their house in the woods is the place that will comfort her most. On Thursday, as she contemplated her journey home, she could already see it. "I see my mom at the kitchen window. I smell something baking. I see my dad in the garden."

She could see them running out to meet her. She could hear them call her "our Robyn" as they did when she was little, as they did earlier this week, on a long-distance line from Manhattan: "Thank God our Robyn is OK."

Robyn promised her mother she would stay for Sunday dinner.

Her experience has taught her "that getting home is never a hassle, and long-distance bills are not expensive, and time with family is never a waste of time because you don't know how long that time will last."

At home in Brooklyn Park, 39-year-old Jane Zaruba Hauhn waits to see her husband, her sister, her brother-in-law, her 21-year-old son, who is laying fiber optics from a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, and her relatives at today's Zaruba reunion.

How does that feel?

"I'm going through a lot of personal anguish, but I feel it's very insignificant to what a lot of other people are going through. To me and my kids it's important, but it seems insignificant in the scope."

Home for her is two blocks from her brother Ed's home. He erected a flag pole on his corner lot when he finally got home from Florida. Her husband, Jay, called yesterday morning to say his flight from Florida was canceled because of a tropical storm.

"Until he walks through that door," Jane says. "It's going to be pins and needles."

As an executive in a security firm, Jay traveled by air several

times a week. Jane and the kids sometimes woke up to find him gone. But Jane says once he gets home, that will never happen again in her house. Now she'll wake up and get a last kiss in, in case something happens.

Home now is wherever and whenever the family is together, and that includes a picnic pavilion today on the banks of the Patapsco River.

Says Jane: "You want to hug somebody. You want to hold somebody. These are uncertain times."

John Bacon died of heart failure Monday night in his hometown of Chambersburg, Pa. He was 79.

His son Nate Bacon never considered burying his father without his brother Ronald present. Nate had cared for their ailing father these past few months, but Ronald, in San Diego, hadn't be able to see him. He was on his way when the nation's airports shut down.

On Thursday, a day after they had planned to hold the funeral, Ronald was able to get as far as Atlanta.

Yesterday, Nate waited for his brother 10 hours at BWI. He and his wife Sally hoped Ronald, his wife Pam, and their daughter Amanda would reach Baltimore so the funeral could be rescheduled for today.

Meanwhile, the undertaker waited in Pennsylvania.

The minister waited.

The florist waited.

The 40 other mourners who would arrive by car from nearby states waited.

Finally, at 5 yesterday evening, Ronald arrived to Nate's waiting arms.

The brothers and their families headed home.

There were nine of them, six men and three women, strangers at a telecommunications conference in Pasadena, Calif., with one thing in common: a yearning to be home.

Among them was Rob Gensler, a T. Rowe Price vice president and mutual fund manager from Baltimore.

In a Windstar minivan and a Ford sedan, they began their cross-country drive at noon Tuesday. All except Gensler were bound for their homes in New York City.

They were six hours into their trip when the travelers finally reached their spouses and children by phone. The executives from Merrill Lynch learned their office across from the World Trade Center had been destroyed. Everyone knew someone who had died.

Through the deserts of Nevada, through the mountains of Arizona, they traveled. Through Albuquerque, Amarillo and Oklahoma City, on to Tulsa, St. Louis and the state of Illinois.

"We listened to country music, National Public Radio and talk radio, the liberals and the conservatives," Gensler said, "and looked outside at the grandeur and beauty of this country."

Everywhere they stopped, strangers treated them as if they were family.

In Amarillo, a state trooper pulled them over for driving 83 mph, but waved them on home when he understood their plight.

East of St. Louis, when they stopped for a steak dinner, the restaurant staff gave them a private room and their own wine steward.

The travelers stopped in Harrisburg, Pa., where Gensler's wife Libby waited. Five hours after their reunion, he saw his son and daughter for the first time in days.

In the satellite parking lot at BWI where his wife drove him to pick up his car, Gensler e-mailed fellow workers that he had made it home after 2,700 miles.

"I feel lucky," he said. "In the sadness of it all, I got the chance to drive across America and see this land, and it's mind-boggling. ... No matter what they do with the world, they can't change this country, this amazingly resilient country."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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