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- November 25, 1996
- Vol. 46
- No. 22
After Their Parents' Death on Flight 800, Two Determined Brothers Carry on Bravely
Then, early last July 17, Dennis, 49, and Peggy, 48, took off for a two-week biking tour of France. After a brief layover in New York City, they caught a 747 bound for Paris. By dusk they were dead—among 230 people killed in the explosion of TWA Flight 800—leaving Evan and Logan, like 11 other American children who lost both parents on the plane, instantly orphaned. Their life since the crash has not been easy, and many may find it surprising. Nevertheless, it offers a lesson in the psychology of grief and, perhaps, the resilience of youth in the face of a sudden, incalculable loss.
Far from retreating into despair, Evan and Logan have thus far carried on with stoic equanimity. They are not preoccupied with assigning blame; they are not frustrated that federal investigators have yet to nail down the cause of the disaster; they are not even upset by the spate of conspiracy and cover-up theories, most recently brought to light when Pierre Salinger (White House press secretary under John F. Kennedy) released a report, discredited by the government, that Flight 800 was shot down by friendly fire from a Navy ship. In fact, the Price brothers say, the cause of their parents' death isn't what's important. "It doesn't really matter one way or the other," says Evan. "It won't bring them back."
Still, the boys' sudden loss is brought to mind almost daily by well-intentioned people extending their sympathy by offering favors. At first teachers gave Evan—like Logan a straight-A student—extra time to complete his assignments. "I don't think that's fair," says Evan, a senior at Heritage High School. "I get to turn in my paper late just because [my parents] died?" And adolescent social life, treacherous at the best of times, is more perplexing than ever: How can you tell who your real friends are? Longtime pals have been a source of strength, of course, but kids in general have been a little too attentive. "You don't know if they actually like you and want to hang out with you and stuff," Evan explains, "or if they just don't want to make you feel bad."
The Price brothers still live in their parents' house, but now, in accordance with the couple's will, in the custody of their maternal grandparents, Kenneth and Anna Marie Normile, who have left their own home in nearby Littleton. A muscular six-footer, Evan sits with one arm draped across the back of the sofa and over the hunched, wiry form of Logan, who always looks to his big brother before answering a question. For boys in their circumstances, they are astonishingly composed. "I used to cry if I got out in baseball," Evan says. "But in this case, neither one of us has cried yet."
It's not that they aren't grieving. "Obviously I miss them," Evan says of his parents. "But this is such an unbelievable event that you can't begin to comprehend it. Just going about everyday life helps." And so, a couple of weeks after losing their mother and father, they reported for fall sports, Evan for tennis and golf (he shoots in the 70s) and Logan for soccer. "I think friends, school and soccer have helped me [cope] the most," says Logan.
"Our friends will tell their parents we're having fun and stuff," adds Evan, "and their parents will say, 'Well, they must be in denial.' "
The brothers have no interest at present in seeking professional counseling, and their grandparents haven't pressed the matter, but the boys do have a kind of in-house father confessor in Jim Dunne, a close family friend who is a professor of computer science at nearby Arapahoe Community College. Dunne, 55, is a former Catholic Fiatorian brother who left the order 33 years ago and found himself adrift. The Normiles took him in, and he has stayed with them ever since. Dunne, who once counseled high schoolers, is the one adult with whom the Price brothers have discussed their feelings. "I thought I'd be able to talk to them since I had shared in so many of their life experiences," he says. "I could tell they were not suppressing anything...but that they were dealing with things as their parents taught them, in a responsible way. I counseled them not to be concerned whether they shed tears or not: [not] to cry just because people are saying you should, and, on the other hand, [not to] try to repress [the tears]."
For now, the Price boys seem more concerned for their devastated grandparents than for themselves. "It makes us feel bad," Evan says, "because their daughter dies, and now they have to live with two teenagers again." The Normiles, of course, had never imagined they would be caring for the boys, and Peggy and Dennis had never discussed their will. "We have given up our retirement; we had a wonderful life of ease," says Anna Marie, 75, an artist who works in oil paints and sculpture. "But the boys are primary." Still, she adds, it's not always clear who is minding whom: "Sometimes we almost feel like the children. [The boys] look out for us."
The bereaved family has settled into a domestic routine. "We fix our own breakfast if we have time," says Logan. "I get the bus, and Evan drives to school. We're totally taking care of our own rooms." Their grandmother, in fact, finds them a bit too self-sufficient. "The boys have finally allowed me to do a little of their ironing," Anna Marie says. "I have convinced them that I enjoy doing things for them. It makes me feel useful." She also cooks dinner every night but Thursday, when women from the neighborhood take turns bringing meals to the Normile home.
Kenneth, 79, a retired business administrator for a private school in Evanston, Ill., breaks down at the mere mention of his deceased daughter and son-in-law. "You shouldn't outlive your children," he says, after sobbing at the stove while stirring a kettle of soup.
It is small consolation, no doubt, but Peggy and Dennis lived their lives fully and with flair. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, Dennis and Peggy met at Northern Illinois University in 1967. The couple moved to Denver and wed on Sept. 13, 1972, then spent that afternoon picnicking and picking wild-flowers with friends in the mountains. "They were married on Friday the 13th," says Anna Marie. "They didn't believe in anything bad."
In many ways it was a union of contrasts. Peggy was spontaneous—and chronically late; Dennis was unfailingly methodical, known by pals as the Commish because of his organizing skills. "Peggy dressed like Dynasty—glitzy, glittery," says Colleen Prust, a close friend. "Dennis was more like Ralph Lauren, Polo. She drank champagne; he drank Coors Light. She was night, and Dennis was day."
Peggy gave birth to Evan in 1980, just hours after finishing a tennis match; Logan followed three years later. As parents, the Prices kept the kids on the move, starting their sons on the ski slopes almost as soon as they could walk, adding golf and tennis before each boy turned 5. "Peggy and Denny did everything with the boys," says Suzan Weber, Peggy's longtime friend. "I remember we took a camping trip together. Denny hated camping, but Peggy wanted to introduce her boys to everything. Denny couldn't wait for the weekend to be over, but he went anyway. The boys adored him. He was like their third playmate."
When the boys began to play team sports, their parents were always there in the stands, and for Peggy the games were social events. "She would talk to everybody," Logan says with a smile. "It would take 10 minutes to leave anywhere because she would see all these people she knows."
Both Denny and Peggy were excellent cooks. On the night of July 16, 1996, however, they were busy packing, so the Normiles brought over roast pork for the family. "We were sitting right here," says Anna Marie, at Peggy's kitchen table. "And I said, 'Honey, why are you going TWA?' She said, 'This friend of mine could get us upgraded to first class.' I said, 'It worries me. I've always felt so safe about you flying United.' Denny was sitting over there on the counter. He had a cup of coffee in his hands and said, 'If our plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, it was our time to go.' "
After dinner the Price boys left to play poker at a friend's house. "They said, 'Get back at 9,' " Evan recalls of his parents. "And we kept pressing and pressing them to make it 10. So we saw them for such a short time to say goodbye. I think I would have felt a little better if we wouldn't have gone out that night...."
"No," Logan breaks in. "At that time we weren't thinking we better stay home in case they get in a plane crash."
The next afternoon the boys heard their mother's voice for the last time—on their answering machine. "We're about to get on the plane for Paris," Peggy said, calling from New York, "so we'll talk to you later." It was about 7:30, after Evan had come home from a round of golf, when another call came. This time it was a family friend calling from France, asking Evan if he knew exactly what flight his parents were on. "I said, 'No, why?' " Evan remembers. "And they said, 'Oh, no reason,' which was a lie, but they did it to protect us."
Later their paternal grandmother, Eleanor Price, called from Illinois, asking the same question but pulling no punches. "She is very logical, straightforward and blunt, I guess you could say," Evan observes. "I think her exact words were, 'because a plane exploded over the Atlantic Ocean.' That was the first I heard."
Evan, who was in the family room, near the kitchen, sent Logan downstairs. "I didn't want him to be worrying about anything he didn't need to be," he says. Then he turned on CNN to see coverage of the crash. "I knew something was wrong," he says. Shortly thereafter, Anna Marie, realizing that the plane had crashed, sent their grandfather over to pick them up. "She was beside herself," Evan says. "It was hard for me to be in the same room with my gramma because she would cry all the time. I can't stand it when people cry."
Evan went to bed, still without word of his parents' fate but contemplating the likelihood of their death. "I tried going to sleep," he says. "But pretty much I couldn't stop thinking. I thought about the decisions we would have to make, where we were going to live. I think that night was probably the toughest." When Logan nods at the thought, his big brother gives him a playful jab to the shoulder. "What are you saying?" Evan asks him. "You slept all night!"
"I wasn't going to analyze [my parents' death] when I wasn't, like, positive," Logan retorts, adding, "He thinks way too much, and I never think."
Peggy's brother Dan, 46, then working for a Key West, Fla., real estate company, spent much of that night hoping against hope, calling the hotel in Paris where his sister and her husband were to have stayed—only to be told each time that they had never registered. "And then I realized," says Dan. "I went to work the next morning, and at 10 to 11 [TWA] called me. That was the first official word." Dan, who is single, has moved to Colorado to be near his family and serve as their financial adviser. He now lives in his parents' old house.
That morning, as a crowd of relatives and friends gathered at the Normile home, the boys learned the stark truth from a family friend. "I think he said, 'Your parents were on that plane,' " Evan recalls. "For about two or three hours, I felt like I was just lost. But then after a while, me and my brother said, 'We want to go back home.' " In August their grandparents moved into the Price family home.
Dan Normile, meanwhile, had flown to New York the day after the crash, and he kept vigil for a week and a half, waiting for the bodies. He was there when divers found Peggy's remains, and he spent several more days waiting vainly for her husband's.
"And then," Dan says softly of his only sister, "I brought her home."
Dennis is one of only 16 victims unaccounted for. The Normiles cling to the faint hope, however, that they will be able one day to scatter the couple's ashes over the mountains in Vail, Colo., where the Prices kept a vacation condo. "Oh, if Denny's body were found, I'd be so grateful," says a sobbing Anna Marie. "Because, you see, we are not taking Peggy's ashes out of our house until we have Denny's."
The boys are more pragmatic. "It's not like we are holding on to some last hope that he wasn't on the plane," says Evan. "We know he's not alive, so it doesn't really matter whether his body has or hasn't been found."
An overflow crowd of 1,100 attended the July 28 memorial service for the couple, held at the nondenominational Mile Hi Church of Religious Science in Lakewood, Colo. Poster-size photographs of Peggy and Denny were displayed near the altar. "It wasn't hard seeing my parents' faces," says Evan. "To see all the people that liked our parents and the pain they were in—that was the hardest part."
And yet images can be disturbing. In the weeks after the crash, before the Normiles moved in with them, Evan and his brother rarely visited their grandparents' house, largely because of its shrine of family photos. "I didn't like to walk in and see three pictures of our parents on one wall, six more in the living room and two on the kitchen table," he says. "It's just like torturing yourself." For the same reason, the boys haven't yet watched home movies. "It's too early to be looking back," Evan says.
"Yeah," adds Logan. "Yeah."
As it is, their parents' memory is everywhere, especially since the boys remain active in sports, which were so central to the life of their family. "I think playing golf and skiing mostly remind us of them," Evan says. "We used to listen to Queen and Tom Petty CDs on the way up and back from Vail.... When we hear them, it reminds us. That's good and bad.
"I think Christmas will be the strangest time," Evan says. "You know, waking up and running into their room and then looking at all the presents and stuff. It's just going to be a lot different. It's like we've separated. We're not little kids anymore."
And so they continue to cope the only way they know how, one eye on the future but living resolutely in the present. "We always sort of keep in mind that we have to get good grades and do well on the SAT test," Evan says. "Because the kind of school you get into [determines] what kind of job you're going to get."
"The domino effect," Logan chimes in, eyes on his brother. (An Evan and Logan Price Education Fund—at P.O. Box 3443, Littleton, Colo., 801613443—has been set up for the boys' schooling.)
"We had such a good life up to now," Evan muses. "One of our parents' ski friends used to say, 'I believe in reincarnation, and I want to come back as the Price boys.' I guess that's probably not true anymore."
VICKIE BANE in Englewood
- Vickie Bane.
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