Special Reports

CLOSER TO HOME: Charting a new future

Mark and Izzy are on vacation again this September, on the road somewhere between Los Alamos, N.M., and Denver. But just about everything else has changed in the last year for the married Air Force pilots, who coincidentally found themselves vacationing in South Carolina during last year's Sept. 11 attack on America.

After 10 years active duty in the Air Force, Mark has decided he most likely will forgo what appears to be a promising military career and get out after his commitment expires in about 18 months.

He wouldn't have made that decision before Sept. 11, but believes it's in the best interest of Izzy and the couple's children, Alex, 3, and Jenna, 20 months.

"I've been gone 220 days over the past year," says Mark, whose last name can't be used under Air Force policy. "I've had it as busy as I can manage, and it's not going to get any better."

Izzy, a reserve pilot, is poised to take his place as the family's full-time flier. This summer, she landed a job with Alaska Airlines as a commercial pilot, fulfilling a longtime ambition. She will begin training in October.

Mark figures he'll be deep in thought by Wednesday, pondering all of these changes as the family drives from Los Alamos, where they went to visit his father, to Denver, where he grew up.

The trip began last week in Colorado Springs, Colo., with his 10-year class reunion at the Air Force Academy.

"It's a trip that doesn't quite go full circle, but it completes some mini-circles," Mark says.

In some ways, Mark and Izzy's post-Sept. 11 experience has run opposite from that of the American public.

Just after the attack, when many were alarmed and confused, the couple's military experience allowed them to react with a professional cool. Then, as the months passed and the public became less interested in the war, the pressure on their household grew.

By Christmas, Mark was beginning to think he might need to leave the Air Force. Three months later, when he returned from a mission, Jenna didn't know him.

"That's heartbreaking," he says.

In June, Mark told his superiors at McChord Air Force Base that he might get out. He informed them shortly after he learned he was being promoted to major, and he was pleasantly surprised at their reaction. They didn't try to talk him into staying. They said they understood.

"It can't be a surprise to anybody that people would make this decision now," Izzy says. "It's affected so many lives in so many ways."

Other families are straining, too, to juggle the demands of parenthood and patriotism.

The war on terrorism has placed huge demands on Air Force personnel, especially those who fly the giant C-17 cargo planes that carry troops, ammunition and supplies all over the world.

"When things like this happen, retention rates go down and divorce rates go up," Mark says. "A lot of ultimatums are going around right now. Get out, get another assignment. Or get a lawyer."

The choice wasn't nearly as explicit in his case. With a pilot for a wife, Mark has a spouse who is more understanding than most. Still, he doesn't want his children to grow up without him around.

"I would not be the husband and father I want to be," Mark says, "and still be the officer I want to be."

He plans on joining Izzy as a reserve pilot if he does quit active duty, so he won't completely leave the Air Force. He also might try for a job as a full-time civil servant at McChord, though he's considering becoming a schoolteacher, too.

It will be a new challenge and a new life that's better in some ways, Mark says. The family will get to stay in one place instead of moving around the country every few years.

Even so, leaving active duty will be difficult.

"It will leave a void," Mark says. "A lot of my identity is in the Air Force."

Jason Hagey, The News Tribune

Optimism, work sustain book seller

Wearing sandals and a Hawaiian shirt imprinted with Pan Am Clippers, David Comstock ambles into the sun-dappled kitchen of his suburban rambler.

He looks ready to relax.

But today - his day off - he will work at what he loves the most: Comstock's Bindery & Bookshop. Since 1984, he has sold used books and restored old books with his business partner and ex-wife, Anita, on Auburn's Main Street.

The perfectly musty bookstore - you catch a whiff before you open the door - offers a sanctuary for browsers.

Sept. 11 threatened to reduce it to a memory.

The terrorist attacks punctuated a receding national economy, afflicting the lifeblood of Auburn's blue-collar economy, The Boeing Co.

The aerospace giant has laid off hundreds of workers at its manufacturing plant in town. Consequently, sales dipped at the bookstore, and walk-in traffic dried up.

But the bookstore bounced back. Comstock spent conservatively over the past year. Loyal customers and referrals came through. Sales are up. As he looks ahead, Comstock sees a bright future.

Still.

Boeing is not stable. Rumors suggest a strike or more layoffs. And Auburn is at a crossroads with its downtown. Will the city fathers turn their backs on Main Street?

On the anniversary of Sept. 11, Comstock will open his bookstore like so many other days, and the bell on the door will ring like it always has.

Yet, optimism is just a notion without work. And working is one thing Comstock controls.

Inside his kitchen, the television flickers. On the screen, a CNN reporter delivers the news that not much else in the world is under control: "The president has made it clear he has no intention of talking to Arafat ..."

The 6-foot-2, 65-year-old Comstock swallows a blood pressure pill, turns off the TV and heads outside to his boat of a car, a 1988 Chevy Caprice.

It is 8:30 a.m. The August sun promises a loafer's paradise.

But Thursdays are when Comstock scouts the local salvage stores for a new stock of old books.

Time to work.

• • •

Comstock pushes a grocery cart up an aisle inside Bargain World in suburban Kent. He picks over some paperbacks and talks about his customers.

One, Rain, was a bubbly teenager when she last visited the bookstore. The daughter of hippies, she loved to cuddle the store's resident cats.

A few weeks ago, a college-age Rain - no less bubbly - dropped by. Seeing her again reminded Comstock of why the bookstore is more than just a place to exchange dollars and books.

"I enjoyed your store," Rain said. "I'm glad you're still there."

Comstock tells this story fondly as he stacks books into neat rows in his cart. Then he falls silent for awhile.

Loose ends hang in his mind. A nonprofit group might redevelop the dilapidated J.C. Penney store next to his building. Will the city pursue more of that kind of helpful development?

And Boeing. Some customers who work at the plant talk about layoffs and predict closures. Unsettling. But the bookstore has made it through rough times before. Like a god, Boeing will do what it will do.

Comstock wheels his cart to a checkstand. Rob, the chunky clerk with a scruffy goatee, taps in the cost of the books.

Rob talks about opening his own music store. Maybe with karaoke.

Immediately, Comstock encourages him.

"Your idea has merit," he says, catching Rob's eyes with his own.

"You never know," Rob says. "Maybe I'll win the lottery."

Comstock smiles and nods.

Next stop is Thrift Center in downtown Kent. It has pretty good buys, too. Inside, a pungent mixture of fugitive odors wafts through the place, ranging from dirty socks to ammonia.

Everything is ancient here. Forgotten, really. Microwaves with dials and buttons. Lonely, battered couches. Bikes the color of rust because they are rusted.

Except the books. Still readable.

Comstock picks one, "Miami, It's Murder," by Edna Buchanan. He doesn't immediately set it in his cart. First, he presses his thumb hard into the spine of the paperback, straightening it.

The little things. They're important to a small business, especially these days. Customers notice when someone cares.

And, if they remember, they might just come around again.

Aaron Corvin, The News Tribune

Afghan family copes by trying to teach

For Yunus Peshtaz and his family, coming to America from Afghanistan more than two decades ago was an act of faith.

Over the years, that faith was tested many times but never failed him.

Since last September, the 46-year-old has called on it several times as the impacts of the crumpled twin towers reverberated right into his Puyallup living room.

A week after the Sept. 11 attacks, Peshtaz helped organize a candlelight prayer service attended by more than 100 members of Western Washington's small Afghan American community. His family brought a large American flag to the service.

"I left Afghanistan because of the Soviet invasion," Peshtaz said then. "I chose to come to the United States. I became a citizen of this country. Why? For the love of freedom and democracy."

Some neighbors left flowers at the Peshtaz door after the attacks. Daughter Polly, then a senior at University of Washington Tacoma, said students sent her comforting e-mails.

Others were less charitable.

Son Edrease, an Emerald Ridge High School student, remembers someone at school asking whether Osama bin Laden was his uncle. The boy's made-in-America reply: "No. Is Timothy McVeigh yours?"

"If we complained about ignorant people," Yunus Peshtaz said, "we'd have to complain every hour. But more people are open-minded than ignorant."

Instead of complaining, Peshtaz set about educating his South Sound neighbors.

He and his wife, Nahid, 46, became guest speakers at schools, colleges, churches and civic organizations. They talked about their life in Afghanistan and their hopes for their homeland's future.

At home, they worried about family members living for years as refugees in Pakistan. Months passed after the attacks before they finally re-established communication with them.

As the new year began, Peshtaz was full of anticipation, confident he and his family soon would be returning home to Kabul for a long-awaited visit.

A member of U.S. Rep. Adam Smith's Tacoma office read about the family's plight in The News Tribune, and his immigration caseworker put Peshtaz in touch with the International Rescue Committee, a refugee-assistance organization in Seattle.

While there are no definitive answers yet, Peshtaz is glad someone in authority is at least paying attention.

But elsewhere, a cloud has hung over his family. A day after the terrorist attacks, someone approached Nahid Peshtaz at the elementary school where she was a teacher's assistant.

"Are we in danger?" she remembers being asked. "Are the terrorists coming here?"

Nahid Peshtaz was shocked but tried to ignore the incident. Others who overheard the conversation did not. Soon, the school's principal was making inquiries, citing the school's zero-tolerance policy on discrimination. After that, she said, a teacher began criticizing Nahid Peshtaz's work and refused to talk to her.

Nahid Peshtaz complained about what she perceived as harassment, first to her union and then to an attorney. She filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

At the end of the school year, when she was informed she was being "displaced" from her job, she was devastated.

An independent attorney the Puyallup School District hired to investigate found no basis for a harassment claim. The EEOC complaint is pending.

School district administrator Tony Apostle said several teacher's assistants received the same job notices Nahid Peshtaz did. He said it was a routine personnel shuffle.

Over the summer, Nahid Peshtaz accepted a teacher's assistant position at another Puyallup elementary school and is looking forward to making a fresh start.

As the anniversary of the attacks approaches, Yunus Peshtaz has no invitations to speak to community groups. Right after Sept. 11, he said, the United States awakened to global events, but now, it's as if people are asking, "Osama who?"

"Everything is back the way it was," he said. "One sad thing about this country is that everybody is asleep until something happens."

He worries that talk of war in Iraq will distract Americans from the situation in Afghanistan. He fears that the United States will abandon his homeland, as it did in years past.

"If the United States leaves Afghanistan, it will be the biggest mistake ever," he said. "Al-Qaida will come back overnight."

This year, Peshtaz said, Sept. 11 will be a time of personal reflection.

"It will be a day to think back, pray for the lost ones and hope that our world can come together," he said. "We have to realize that we are all one world, and we have to live together."

Debbie Cafazzo, The News Tribune

Friends, traditions keep life in focus

On a sunny August morning, Joan Stout and her daughter get together to decorate Christmas cards.

It is 132 days until Christmas, 339 days since the Sept. 11 massacres.

They could be actresses in some feel-good TV ad meant to urge folks to stick it to Osama bin Laden by returning to normal American lives.

"Well now, what happened? Not enough ink," Stout, 75, says after her latest rubber-stamp job yields a less-than-perfect card. "My excuse is: Well, they are homemade."

She cackles joyfully.

Her daughter, retired Air Force Maj. Barb Hiatt, is puzzling over a card she made the last time they did this.

"Oh teacher, how did I do that?" she jokes, holding up the card.

She's talking to Barbara Holl. This is Holl's house. The mother and daughter come here to make cards for at least two reasons: One, Holl is an old friend; two, Holl's collection of rubber stamps is so vast she tracks it with a computer database.

Holl has binders of her successful experiments in card-making. She says earnest things like, "I don't know if I have anything else that's done with a shaving-cream background or not."

Later she says, "There's not much point to coming to rubber stampers. All we talk about is rubber stamping."

The line is delivered deadpan, but it seems to be meant facetiously.

Her guests are chatting about news reports that the U.S. government has asked humanitarian groups to propose projects for central Iraq, the core of Saddam Hussein's territory. Mother and daughter wonder aloud whether the Bush administration expects to be running central Iraq soon.

Stout calls the whole thing "scary." A retired Veterans Administration nurse, she is a self-described peacenik. She was glad when someone leaked potential invasion plans to the press. The leaks woke people up and sparked public dialogue, Stout figures. Whatever happens with Iraq, she hopes the American people will go into it with open eyes.

But she doesn't say all that now. She just calls the whole thing "scary" and returns to her card-making.

A roar fills the room. C-17s are familiar here in the flight path of McChord Air Force Base.

Stout has no specific plans for marking the Sept. 11 anniversary. She'll probably watch a TV special. But big-crowd events like the one planned for Cheney Stadium aren't her thing.

She stamps and embosses the last of the 10 Christmas cards she'll send to what few relatives she has and to her really close friends who live beyond the South Sound.

Frank Holl, husband of the rubber-stamp queen, rises from his easy chair in front of the TV and joins the women.

"I didn't like the game last night," Stout tells him.

He knows, without her saying, that she's talking baseball - specifically, the Seattle Mariners' suspenseful run-in with the Boston Red Sox.

"Why not? We won," he replies.

"It was scary."

"One run or 1,000 runs," he says. "It doesn't matter."

Changing the subject, Stout's daughter asks a question of her rubber-stamp guru: "Do you know what you're going to do for your Christmas cards?"

"Probably go out and buy some," she replies.

They all laugh.

David Quigg, The News Tribune

Teacher starts anew to pursue a dream

In the movie of her life, Cole Peregrine is making a dramatic scene change.

One segment closes with a white 1987 Toyota driving south along the Oregon and California coast. The final destination is some little village in western Mexico.

In the car are Peregrine, her husband, Matt, a ton of camera equipment and their 8-year-old Italian greyhound, Maasi. The couple is moving south of the border to try their hands at documentary filmmaking and writing. To "try something different and follow a life-long dream."

"I'm so excited," says 28-year-old Peregrine. "I can't wait."

This is but the latest adventure for the former Foss High School teacher.

For three years, Peregrine taught English, history and geography at the Tacoma high school. After Sept. 11, she took on an added role - unofficial mentor, counselor and confidant to students who needed answers about their vulnerable world.

They watched that world crumble as news reports showed a pair of hijacked planes crash into the World Trade Center towers again and again.

Peregrine used the tragedy as an opportunity to teach, warning her students about the dangers of hate and xenophobia. She taught lessons on terrorism throughout American history and tried to provide a context for the Sept. 11 attacks.

The teens debated the definition of terrorism and the act of declaring war on a word, instead of on a country. ROTC students shared concerns on whether they should join the military.

Months passed, and the students started to feel more secure about their futures and lost interest in their fears.

Terrorism was too far away to monitor. There were tests to take and lives to live. Things went back to normal, and the Class of 2002 graduated.

For Peregrine, it's hard to say how life has changed since Sept. 11.

"My personal life hasn't been that impacted," she said. "But as someone involved in current events and politics, things have been really ... upsetting and disappointing."

Peregrine is concerned with the Bush administration's policies.

"Long-term peace is not his priority," Peregrine said of the president. "His priority is to solidify the U.S. as the world superpower and increase our military might. He is working through that goal through military and economic force instead of diplomacy and international cooperation."

"He is our modern-day Harding."

• • •

Classes ended in June but Peregrine couldn't bring herself to pack up her belongings at Foss until August.

She intends to return to teaching one day, though her plans far exceed the walls of Foss.

"I can teach anywhere from Tanzania to Thailand," she said. "I've wanted to be a teacher since third grade. I got into teaching because you have the ability to teach anywhere."

Peregrine plans to visit Vancouver, B.C., in February for an international teacher recruitment fair. She'd like to find a job abroad.

"I could also continue to make documentaries in those countries and not worry about expenses," she said.

Though Peregrine relishes her next step in life, she's reluctant to say goodbye to her family and students. She is close to her four nieces and nephews and doubts they'll understand her choice. "Time feels like forever when you're a kid," Peregrine said, referring to her nieces and nephews.

As for her students, Peregrine thinks about them all the time.

"I plan to keep in touch with a number of them," she said. "They inspire me to pursue my dreams and find joy and beauty in a seemingly ugly, unjust world. I hope I have done the same for them."

Mekeisha Madden, The News Tribune

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