You'll soon know why I asked my friend Randy Southern to write today. He has some powerful stories to tell. Our town may never recover from his move, but a new life with his amazing new wife Holly has made it bearable for us to say bye.
Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again.
--Moonlight Graham, Field of Dreams
My wife Ann and I moved to Mount Prospect in 1996 because we found a house with the open floor plan we were looking for. It was in our price range and was an easy commute to Arlington Heights, where Ann taught. Period. We had no attachment to the village. Didn't know anyone there. It was just another northwest suburb, as far as we were concerned.
Ann made friends quickly. I ... mastered the art of the nod and wave. Polite to everyone, but close to none. The solitary life of a writer, and all that.
We lived in Mount Prospect when Amy was born in 1998 ... when Brady was born in 2000 ... and when Matt was born in 2001.
We lived there when Ann found a lump in her breast in 2003. We lived there through countless rounds of chemotherapy. We lived there when doctors cautiously declared the cancer in remission. And we still lived there when the cancer returned and metastasized in 2005.
We lived in Mount Prospect when Ann died on the night of October 28, 2005.
Amy was 7. Brady was 6. Matt was 4.
And we were alone.
I should say, we were on the verge of being alone. In the days following Ann's death, we were surrounded by loved ones who'd traveled great distances to be with us, comfort us, and celebrate Ann's life at a memorial service planned for November 1. When that service ended, though, our loved ones were going to return to their homes and their daily routines. And then we would be alone. Surrounded by nodding acquaintances in a northwest suburb we'd chosen on the basis of a floor plan.
I was scared.
For two days, I busied myself planning Ann's memorial service. The kids busied themselves being the objects of their family's undivided attention. We made do under unbearable circumstances. But in the midst of such intense grieving, we needed a diversion. And on October 31, what better diversion is there than trick-or-treating?
We left the house with four young cousins in tow. My goal was to stay as inconspicuous as we could. To make the rounds and get back home with as little interaction as possible.
As soon as we walked out of the house, we ran into one of Brady's friends, who was trick-or-treating with his family. They invited us to join them. So much for minimal interaction.
I braced myself for their inevitable well-meaning questions ("How are you really doing?"). But those questions never came. Instead, we made small talk. Glorious small talk. About school, costumes and kids' goofy excitement over Halloween. About everything but the white elephant staring us all in the face.
It wasn't long before an amazing bit of news reached us through the trick-or-treating grapevine: A man was giving away giant Hershey Bars. Not regular-size bars, mind you, but those enormous one-pound beauties. Candy bars the size of hardcover books. The holy grail of Halloween. So naturally we (along with our new companions) set off in search of it.
Time was of the essence. Such a supply had to be very limited. We made a mad dash from house to house, hunting the endangered giant Hershey Bars. We stopped random trick-or-treaters along the way, desperate for clues to the enormo-chocolate's whereabouts.
And for an hour or so, we lost ourselves in our lighthearted pursuit. Grief gave way to fun. Fears about the future were brushed aside in the excitement of the moment. All was forgotten in our single-minded quest to find the Hershey Giants.
Maybe you'd like to hear that we eventually found the house, that the kids got their giant Hershey Bars from some kindly old man, and that all was right with the world on October 31, 2005. But that's not how this story ends.
The truth is, we never found the house. Maybe there never was such a house. Maybe the whole thing was a Mount Prospect urban legend. What happened was that after an hour so, we had to abandon our search and leave for Des Plaines and Park Ridge to show the kids' costumes to their aunts and uncles before bedtime. Plus, we had to prepare for the memorial service the next day.
The kids got in the car with bags filled with more candy than they could eat in a month. But all they talked about on the way to Des Plaines were the giant Hershey Bars--where they might have been, how we could have missed them, and what we could do differently next year to find them. When we got to Park Ridge, the only Halloween story they wanted to tell was the one that ended in disappointment.
We got home long after dark. Ann's car was parked in the driveway, the same place it'd been since I'd driven her to the hospital two weeks earlier. As we walked past, I noticed a Walgreen's bag sitting on the front seat. It wasn't unusual for people to leave us cards and meals, so I brought it in without much thought.
While the kids took inventory of their Halloween goodies at the dining room table, I cleared a space between them and dumped out the bag's contents:
Seven giant Hershey Bars.
Now, I've spent eleven Christmas mornings with my kids, but I've never seen the wonder and amazement I saw in their eyes that night as they stared at those candy bars. That night, as far as they were concerned, magic really existed and wishes really came true.
I don't know about all that. But I do know this: When those candy bars tumbled out of that bag, I realized that Mount Prospect wasn't just another suburb ... and that my neighbors weren't just acquaintances ... and that I wasn't going to be alone after all.
For the next four and a half years, the villagers of Mount Prospect--specifically, the parents at Lions Park School, St. Mark's Preschool, Green White Soccer, and the MPPD sports leagues--embraced, nurtured, and cared for the four of us like family. And none of us will ever forget that.
These days we live about 220 miles away. The address on my driver's license reads, "Fishers, Indiana." But my hometown will always be Mount Prospect, Illinois.