One day a friend of mine played me a song, and though they didn’t give me the background to it, I figured it out myself. It was called, “Me and the Sky” and from the first few notes, I was hooked. After I finished listening to the song, I did some research and discovered that the character who sings it, Beverley Bass, was a real, actual person. The song she sings in the musical Come From Away is based in fact. The same friend suggested I read Kevin Tuerff’s book, Channel of Peace, Stranded in Gander on 9/11, and I did. I fell in love with both the people of Gander and how wonderful it was to see that, despite all the pain and horrors going on in the world, that there was still at least one place in the world where candles are in the window and the kettle is always on.
As I read more of the book and researched what happened, I came across the names of other characters from the musical. I learned that they were real people, too! Sure, some were conglomerations of characters, but some, like Nick and Diane Marson, were not. Their story, a love story which came from darkness and pain, was one which most intrigued me. When I did the interview with Kevin, I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe Nick and Diane would do one with me as well. After gaining up the courage to find them, I asked them if they would do an interview and a few days later it was on my calendar!
The first thing that I’d like to mention was that the first thing they both said was to thank you for asking to interview them. I really haven’t done all that many interviews in my life, but only TWICE have people thanked me for wanting to interview them! Just hearing that they were just as excited to talk to me as I was to talk to them made the whole interview process all the more fun!
When we started the interview, the first question that I asked them was “When you first met over the times of 9/11-9/12, what were your initial thoughts, both on the day and on each other?”
There was some initial chatter, but what stuck with me was Nick’s response, “It was kind of unnerving. It was unsettling. It wasn’t just a normal day at the office. We were taken off of life’s treadmill and put down into a piece of heaven with angels looking after us. Five days later, we were placed back on the treadmill again.”
When he said that, I got goosebumps, though I was expecting a deep answer to this question of what their initial thoughts were, I wasn’t expecting to be as taken aback as I was. Even now, days and even weeks after the interview, every time I think about the quote or repeat it to anyone else, it gives me goosebumps all over again.
Although Nick and Diane were on the same plane, they didn’t meet until after the lines of checking in and getting medications, at a shelter that was set up in Gambo, a neighboring town of Gander. The pair met on a line for blankets. They chuckled as they told me about it, telling me that the blankets smelled like mothballs! They were not allowed to take anything from the plane other than their carry-on bag.
Diane mentioned that all she had with her “was my makeup bag,” and she made it a point to tell me that she’d “get up thirty minutes earlier than anyone else just to put my makeup on.”
To that, Nick replied about how he “woke up to a pretty lady next to him and thought that maybe she looked that good every morning, but she DOESN’T!” This had both of them, as well as myself, laughing!
The next question that I asked them was, “When were you able to find out what happened in the United States, and where were you when you found out?”
Nick mentioned that all they’d been told on the planes was that “there was a problem with the airspace in the United States, and we were blissfully unaware of what was going on outside. All that we knew was that we were diverting to Canada. It wasn’t until we got to the shelter in Gambo where there was a television that we actually saw it. We had no idea the enormity of what was going on in New York until then. When we landed, the captain told us the truth of what happened, but we couldn’t see it until the looping news on the television when we finally got to Gambo.”
Diane mentioned that they’d spent “over twenty-four hours on the plane before even being able to disembark to go to Gambo in the first place,” and that she “was really worried about her son in Houston, who flew for work.”
The two met in Gambo, which, as Nick told me, “was about twenty-five miles from Gander, and we met and stayed in the SUF, Society for United Fisherman, which was a gathering place, sort of like a VFW Hall here in the United States.” Nick seemed excited to tell me that “most people around that area were fishermen or did something to do with fish or lumber.”
Diane mentioned that “it was not a huge place, by any means, but it was the largest place in the town outside of the schools and churches.”
The next question that I asked them was“Where were you (and when was it) that you realized that you met your ‘person’ that you were going to love forever?”
Nick spoke first, telling me “That’s an easy question. It wasn’t just that she’s awesome, we formed a companionship, we started talking, she was an interesting lady from a different walk of life, and as the days progressed we got to know each other!” Nick and Diane together told me a little story about how when they were taking a tour around the area, that Diane bought him a soda, and they had a little chuckle about that, too.
Nick mentioned that they’d gotten screeched in and that people there even thought they were married. When they said they weren’t, they were asked if they wanted to be, and Diane even said YES! Though they did tell me that was because of the alcohol she’d had to drink that night. They mentioned the saying, “Whatever happens in Vegas, STAYS in Vegas.”
After this point, they mentioned the Dover Fault and Nick’s now famous picture, and why he took it. Nick said, “I didn’t want to forget her, I was afraid we would be off the treadmill and lose track, and I didn’t want to forget her, I didn’t want to leave. If Diane hadn’t kissed me on the bus, I think the relationship would have come to an end eventually, I wouldn’t have started that myself as a British Gentleman. From my perspective, it wasn’t love at first sight, but the attraction grew rapidly.”
Diane mentioned to me, that “Being there, we had no role to play, we could be silly.” What she meant was that she could be whoever she wanted to be. “Our first kiss wasn’t in the Screech-In,” as it was in the music, but that “it was on the school bus. I had just had a birthday, and I thought, ‘Am I ever going to meet anyone again? It’s difficult to meet people at this age, and if you don’t take the chance, you’ll wonder if you’ll ever get the chance again!’ And it had to be done rapidly, because he lived over 5000 miles away!”
Next, I asked them what the one thing that truly attracted them to each other; their answers were similar. Nick replied first, saying, “In any relationship, there are more things to attraction, physical, yes, but over and above that, when you start to think about spending your whole life with someone, there’s other things there. Compatibility. Diane is very intelligent and that helped. At the end of the day, companionship is important.”
Diane added, “I think companionship. Some people are easy to talk to and the conversation just flows. Other people aren’t like that, as they shut things down and don’t seem interesting in talking. Nick likes to laugh and he’s a rascal that likes to rile me up, but we love that. We’re both just ordinary folks, we went to the doctor today, even went shopping together, we do pretty much everything together. Sure, we have some things we do differently, but then we come back together and get to tell each other about it. It’s nice.”
My question was, “How did the proposal happen? Where were you? How long after 9/11 was it?”
Nick started us off with this one, telling me that, “I’ll give you the lead up. I met a rather amazing lady over those five days. I woke up in England after that, looking at her phone number and that picture. Those five days were so surreal, so I needed to be sure that this was real. I needed to come back and see this lady. I’d actually come to Houston for work during that 9/11 period. I then and managed to convince the head of the company to let me come back to Houston to check back on the project. I met Diane in the evenings and she was still the same person that I met, and it wasn’t a figment of my imagination! That was in October.”
Diane added, “Over mid-September to October, we used to email back and forth, we called each other using phone cards. That was a little difficult with the six hour time difference and that we both were working. We emailed back and forth about how we felt about all this. First week of November, I think it was a Sunday, Nick proposed over the phone. He said he was on his knee.”
Nick interjected here, “I was in my car when I proposed.”
Diane went on to tell me, “On Thanksgiving, my daughter-in-law told me that she’d found the perfect house. I came out to their neighborhood and the next day, bought a house for us!”
Nick went on, “I offered her to come live in England and Diane wasn’t going to do that. To counteract that, she bought a house in Houston!”
Diane added that she’d, “never lived anywhere else, and besides, the weather is better here.”
Nick then told me that he “told the one who’s in charge of the company what happened those five days and I told the boss that I was moving to Houston. I moved permanently in May 2002.”
I asked them when and where they were married and they were very excited to share that they were married September 7, 2002 in the living room of the house Diane bought in Houston! Incidentally, they were talking to me in the same room, sitting on the exact couch from their wedding photo, when we did this phone interview!
After asking about their wedding, I asked about their honeymoon. They went back to Newfoundland for it, and they went back to Gambo, to be near the friends who took care of them so kindly. Diane wanted to make sure to share that “there was a one year anniversary of 9/11 at the airport and we stayed at the honeymoon suite. Daytime we spent time with our friends in Gambo and they even gave us a wedding reception! The Mayor of Gambo actually wrote a song and people sang it for us! The song is what put us in the whole adventure.”
Nick joined in to share that they “tried to avoid the reporters, we weren’t comfortable sharing the story back then. We felt guilty and it didn’t seem right. We didn’t want the attention then, but when Tom Brokaw approached us in 2009 for Operation Yellow Ribbon, we decided that maybe that was the time to say something.”
Diane added, that “it was a tribute to the people of Newfoundland, and so we chose to share the generosity and compassion of the people. That’s why we chose to speak.”
Nick added, “If it hadn’t been for these people, Diane and I would never have met, I would have been who knew where.”
Diane added, “Instead, they took us in.”
Another thing that they mentioned was a quote I’ve heard elsewhere, and it was something that was said by Gander’s Mayor at the time, Claude Elliot. “Day one, we had over 6,000 strangers. Day three, we had over 6000 friends. Day five, we had over 6000 new family members.” I couldn’t help but shiver at this, too. It made me think, if something like 9/11 had happened again somewhere else in the world and people were diverted here to the USA, would whole towns and areas do this for those plane people? And to be honest, in this day in age, I’m not sure full towns would.
Now that we’ve got them married and have gone on their honeymoon, I asked them to tell me about their favorite date and/or favorite moment together.
First, Nick said, “There’s several. On the schoolbus….” which had me grinning from ear to ear, because I knew what he was talking about.
Diane added, that she thinks “it’s every time we see the show, it makes us remember that happy time when we found each other. It reinforces the feeling that we had then. You hear of people renewing their vows, we almost do that every time when we see the show.” At the time of this interview, it was ninety-five times. “One reason we like going to the shows, we like to talk to people in the audience afterwards, seeing our story helps them to remember their story with their partner, makes them appreciate that they do have someone, and then there’s other people, usually ladies, who WANT a romantic partner.”
Nick added, “They’ll come up to me and hug me and ask things like, ‘Do you have a brother?’ That is both sad and a little humorous all in the same sentence.”
Diane went on to say, “When you reach your 50’s and 60’s, you usually don’t find another person. We didn’t get onto the plane that day looking for romance, it just happened!”
My next question was, “Now that it’s almost 19 years after you met, has what attracted you to each other changed? If so, what is it now?”
Diane: Well, of course, we know each other now, and I think it’s fun to think back “I can’t believe it’s that long: I like to think back to things that we shared. We still like to hang out, even now we’re sitting side by side on the couch. Nick has had some health issues,
Nick: “OH MY GOD HE’S OFF HIS MEDS” (We all laughed at this statement, which is actually a line in the musical.)
D: We enjoy the time we have.
N: It’s a part of life’s rich tapestry, like when recently we were driving to Austin to see the author of BeKindr. When we were coming back to Houston our transmission stopped. So we took the most expensive Uber back home in the tow truck.
D: Another moment, we’ve given at least a dozen presentations on our story. We have a storyboard to show it. Last night it was to a group of people about our age, “The Empty Nesters.” We had a nice meal and we sat down and talk about it. People don’t grasp what happened outside of their own little world, everyone remembers where they were but they don’t know the story of the passengers that were diverted and of those who took care of them. Some of them didn’t even know where Newfoundland was! We get to tell them that something happy, something good, came from that event.
N: Actually last Saturday, we went to a wedding, a friend of mine, in his late 30’s (I fly model airplanes with him) and most of the people there were young, they asked how I got here to Texas, and we started to tell our story. One young lady got goosebumps and started tearing up. We’re facebook friends now. It had such an effect on her, that the next morning she booked tickets for her and her mother to get to NY to see the show.
My next question was, “What are you looking forward to doing together in the future?”
Nick answered, “Staying healthy and enjoying each other’s company.”
Diane had one word for her answer: “Exactly.”
Nick added, “For example, Diane enjoys helping people. She is a volunteer, and I know that she’s going to continue doing that for as long as she can.”
Lastly, I asked them if there was anything they’d like to add, anything else that they wanted the people to know other than what had been said already. Once more, they had a lot to say.
Nick started off by saying, “The main thing to come out of all this, how extraordinary the people of Newfoundland are. It’s important to know that good things happen.”
Diane added, “This has come to the surface at just the right time. It doesn’t matter who you are, we’re all human beings.”
Nick continued, “It’s nice to see how people experience the show, go out as a different person, a nicer person. Being nice doesn’t cost anything.”
Diane went on to say, “Give of yourself.”
Nick added, “Without expecting anything back.”
Diane went on, “Get involved in something, no matter what it is, to help other people, you’ll feel better about yourself and you’ll be a better person.”
Nick added again, “Give unselfishly, without expecting a reward for doing something. The generosity of the people of Newfoundland, what they did, they fed us with food from their own houses, what they did was unbelievably generous.”
Diane went on to say, “If you think there’s a chance of happiness, grab it! As you get older, you lose people, it’s good to keep connections!”
Nick continued, “The world’s largest walk-in fridge, actually did happen. Improvise!” He paused before they told a story of something that happened at one of the shows they saw. He added, “It’s an unbelievable ride that we’re on. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we’d be on this ride. Who knew that a musical about 9/11-9/12 would be such a hit, and an international hit, not just at Sheridan College?”
Come From Away is a musical which has only twelve actors and actresses, all of whom play multiple parts. Using only chairs and tables to change the scenes, it's an amazing view into the amazing people of Newfoundland and how they changed the lives of the plane people, two of which were interviewed here. If you get the chance to see this musical, PLEASE take the chance! It will change your life like it’s changed Nick and Diane’s, like it’s changed mine!
Photo courtesy of Nick and Diane Marson.