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Unease Pervades a Peaceable Town

"She cut them down. To put up football ribbons," she said.

"You've got to be kidding," he said.


For Berwick, along the Susquehanna River, ribbons and the nuclear power plant upstream seem to symbolize the spirit of unease that has settled on the community since the 2001 attacks and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (David Finkel -- The Washington Post)

_____Where's Berwick?_____
Map of Area


"And then," she says, relating the conversation, "he got quiet," and now, she says, she is sure he is somewhere in Baghdad brooding on it and will bring it up the next time he calls. "He's not one to forget," she says. "When he calls Saturday, if he calls, he's going to say, 'Did you get the ribbons back up?' " And she will be thinking what she is thinking now, that who would have expected this? Any of this?

Fourteen years ago, Finucan says, she was a Berwick High School cheerleader to whom blue and white were the most important ribbon colors in the world. Now, still in the place where she has always felt safe, her life is tied up in yellow ribbon, she has doses of potassium iodide for herself and her daughter hidden among her cookbooks, and she gets phone calls all the time about things she can't believe she is dealing with, such as one the week before asking if the names of Berwick's soldiers could be released to someone named Bernadette DiPippa to be read aloud that night at the stadium.

All day, her phone rang with calls from wives who were worried that such a public acknowledgment would identify them as living alone and make them vulnerable to burglars, to rapists, to mystery men in minivans. At 7 p.m., she was in the midst of another one when she heard something in the distance that made her realize the problem had solved itself. It was a roar. Pre-game ceremonies were over. The game had begun.

"It's not a large town," she says of Berwick. "Everything echoes."

Suddenly, a Game Freezes

"Good evening," the public announcer says. "With tomorrow being the anniversary of September 11, at this time we would like to observe a moment of silence to honor all those who lost their lives on that tragic day . . ."

Day 1,095. The second game of the season. This time DiPippa's theme for pre-game is a recognition ceremony for all of the police departments, fire departments and ambulance companies in the Berwick area. The yellow gift bows stuck here and there on the sidelines are still not what DiPippa had hoped for, but the ceremony this time is. Chief Nunkester and two dozen other officials, who will be the first responders if a terrorist attack ever does occur, get certificates of appreciation and applause, and then, as 5,000 people settle into their seats for a bit of Friday night football, the game gets underway.

A kick. A run. A touchdown. A roar. It is a timeless American moment, where the view from the top of the press box, from which all of Berwick can be seen, offers the clearest view of all.

Over there are the cooling towers, under the ever-present cumulus clouds.

Over there is the bow factory where a daydreaming Irene Lukashewski is two hours into her shift.

Over there is the home of Karen Finucan, who is 12 anxious hours away from a phone call.

Over there and there and there are the churches and buildings with flags, ribbons and anti-radiation pills that on Nov. 2 will become polling places.

And here, where half the town has come on a Friday night, Berwick has scored again. Up goes the point-after kick. It soars between the goal posts, keeps going and slams into the scoreboard -- at which point something happens that has never happened in Berwick before.

Somehow, the ball hits the scoreboard in a way that causes a short-circuit, which in turn causes a row of lights to go out, which in turn causes the game to come to a sudden stop.

Everyone looks. No one seems quite sure what to do.

"There's a digit missing on the scoreboard," the announcer finally says, and some people shake their heads, and some people say they have never seen anything like it, and that's what everyone says Berwick is on Day 1,095 of the war on terrorism: a place where you never know what's going to happen next.


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