My Hometown

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.




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  • Randy, what an amazing story! Both sad and touching; I just loved it. Fishers, IN??? I've been living here for the last year as well! After spending a decade in the city of Chicago which I, too, consider my hometown. Bravo!

  • Wow, you really shared your story beautifully. I am sure it is bittersweet to replay that time in your life, and I appreciate you blessing us with souch a touching story. Once again, I am proud to live in Mount Prospect because of the amazing people that live here! Thanks for reminding all of us, that with just a little thought and a little heart, we can create magic and hope for others!!

  • I am beyond moved. Tears fell as I read. Being a cancer survivor and a mother of a 2 y/o battling ALL leukemia, this story really touched my soul. One of my darkest fears is that my cancer returns and I leave my husband to raise our children alone. The other involves Atia's fight. You're an inspiration and you've told the story brilliantly. This is a MUST READ for sure. Thank you for sharing your story. We're honored to have you.

    Laura Lutarewych the Tuesday "Ay, Mama!" blogger - documenting my daughter's heroic ALL leukemia story.

  • Randy, since you cannot see my email or fb comments, I will post them here for you to see. The 1st batch:

    Lynda McGarry:Sniff ...Sniff ....damn we are all so blessed ! A terrific reminder not to take our friends for granted.....I remember you telling me that he remarried in the last year or so, and how excited you were for Randy. And I am too.

    Jodi Compton: Thanks for making me slobber all over my key board! JK I remember the Hershey bar was a friend who brought them over! I went to Randy's going away party and met his new wife to be, it was great to be included! He is a great guy and done well for his family! I have many friends who will miss them all dearly and I will send this along to. Thank you for sharing and to help remind all about the most precious things in life...each other!!!! Great start to the morning!

    Erin Trom (NC): What a great story...beautifully written! I hope the person who "committed" the Random Act of Kindness sees it!"

    Wendy Chanccellor: a guest writer on my sisters blog....I was momentarily disappointed she had a guest writer, but now Im glad she did. Good choice Bird, and thanks for sharing Randy.

  • great, now I'm crying...thanks, Holly. Randy, we are so blessed to have you in our community and thrilled that Mt. Prospect showed you the true meeting of about Grace and Mercy! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • great, now I'm crying...thanks, Holly. Randy, we are so blessed to have you in our community and thrilled that Mt. Prospect showed you the true meeting of about Grace and Mercy! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • great, now I'm crying...thanks, Holly. Randy, we are so blessed to have you in our community and thrilled that Mt. Prospect showed you the true meeting of about Grace and Mercy! Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • Randy, thank you so much for sharing and re living this difficult time in your life. It is a testament to the difference others, even stranges, can make in our lives. From someone who relies on a family made out of friends, I was so touched by your story.

  • What a beautiful, touching story, Randy. Thank you for sharing this moment with us. It really is the little things that people do that matter the most in life. Just a simple gesture...forever appreciated and remembered. How powerful.

  • Sad & sweet...I loved this story. Randy, tell "Matt S." Renz says "hi!".

  • Randy, what a beautifully written story. Thank you for sharing it with us. MP is also now my adopted home, although I grew up out of state. You describe the residents and sense of community so perfectly, while also giving us a glimpse into a deeply personal time in your life. I wish you and your family nothing but the best in your new home town.

  • As a family member who walked this road with Randy, I am forever grateful for all of those who surrounded, loved and filled the gaps we couldn't fill for Randy and the kids. Randy, you know this takes me right there - to that time, that moment....and the feeling that we didn't know how we were going to move ahead. And here you are, five years later, - with healthy kids who have been raised so well and a beautiful wife who is the perfect companion with whom to continue this journey. I am so proud of you for so many reasons.

  • Ann always loved your writing Randy. She would talk about how she loved reading things you

  • What a beautiful story, so beautifully written. Thank you for telling this story, and reminding us that we can make such a difference when we share even small kindnesses with one another.

  • more via email/fb:
    Tammy Zach: that was beautiful!!! I knew Ann and my son and Amy went to school together. Randy you are an elegant writer and a beautiful person!!! Bless you and your family!"

    Becky Leija: "I am so bawling right now. I just love you! Not the "let's make joseph and holly jealous" kind of love - but the "I'm so so so grateful that I know you and your life and story are such an inspiration" kind of love. Having lost a parent as a kid may be the reason your life and story are so tender to me... but you are an amazing person, dad and I'm sure husband. Thank you for sharing. Could you pls write me a story everyday to read?!?

    Kris Gritzmacher: I have passed this on to our entire staff here at LP. I remember Amy smiling from ear to ear that Halloween day as she proudly entered the school around 1:00 (for our Lions Park Halloween parade and party) wearing the witch costume that her mother had so lovingly made for her. I was amazed at Amy's positive spirit even though she had just lost her mother. It was a wonderful experience to help her escape reality that afternoon and be consumed by the excitement of pretend and Halloween. Now I know how that afternoon was only the beginning of a very special day for the Southern family. What an amazing story of love! Kris

    Carolyn Story: I had the fun of teaching the kids in my music class at Lions Park School. I have been so thankful for them. Please send Amy, Matt and Brady my greetings and best wishes. Tell them we are waiting to here from them here at Lions Park School!

    Michelle Mekky: Lara I was moved to tears with this story. I am sitting here crying. Thank you for sharing it is beautiful and they are such special people. Today is my 10 year anniversary and it makes me feel very grateful for what I have. Thank you for sharing!

    Lori Many: Thank you so much for sharing the blog from Randy Southern. It brought tears to my eyes as I so remember all those darling little Southerns. I miss them all but I am so happy for them at the same time. Randy was such a great guy and a very VERY good Daddy to those kids. I am glad they have found a new peace and happiness. There appears to be a new road to be paved for them. My best to Randy, Amy, Brady, and Matthew, and my thanks to you for sharing this. I was so lucky to have been their teacher, they touched my life. Lori Many

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