Friday, October 27, 2006


Okay, not that we thought it was dead--yet, but the news we received (from two sources, just to be sure) was such a relief. Our lightning scarred old Sycamore is going to make it! We didn't believe it at first and are still somewhat skeptical but mostly grateful that we won't be watching, or paying for, our tree to be hacked into pieces and then thrown into a chipper. Along with our hearts (stay with me here).

I'm afraid I'm guilty of telling anyone willing to listen the sad saga of possibly losing our tree. But I'm reluctant to take it all back--it doesn't seem true. Yet. There's a country music song about this knocking around in my head begging to be written. Funny, I don't particularly like country music, but I'm convinced one about loving a tree would be an instant classic.

The girls are so happy with the news that it's still on the short list at prayer time. "Thank you God for saving our tree".

We're considering seriously the news the last two tree companies have given us: it will survive. We've decided to wait until Spring and see what really happens, if it grows leaves and/or fungus. One guy said there is a sort of "band" that we can put on the tree to hold up what he calls the leader limbs and keep them from blowing around too much in case they were weakened by the lightning strike. Think underwire bra (I did).

It was also explained to us that there is a lightning rod system that can be put in place on the tree that will ground any future strikes. Think expensive (Monte did).

We went to Indiana last weekend to see my parents. My hometown, Brownstown, sits on the edge of the Hoosier National Forest. I forget how beautiful it is there this time of year. We went on a short hike in a state forest I've been to a million times. I've hiked, attended church pot-lucks, ice skated when the small pond froze and even hosted a boy-girl s'mores party there when I was 14. But for some reason, I've never taken Monte there (he's not so much the "outdoorsy" type). But he loved it. Ellie said in the middle of the hike, "I'm so glad I'm here! I love hiking!" This being the same girl who threw herself on the floor and refused to put on her shoes when I announced we were going.

We found a tree identification path (yes, we are geeks). It was so much fun guessing what tree was what when the leaves were almost gone or so high up we could barely see them. My dad could identify some by the bark. What Monte and I noticed over and over on the dense path was that none of the trees came close to being as big as ours. Not to brag as proud parents can do, but these trees had scrawny trunks with leaves no bigger than our hand. Our Sycamore requires all four of us to hug it completely and consistently drops leaves as big as our face. (I'm telling you, this song is writing itself!) Granted, some of the trees on our hike were probably mere teenagers. I kept singing in my head the line of the song from Pocahontas: "How high does the Sycamore grow? If you cut it down, you'll never know". We're proud to say we DO know and it's standing in our backyard.

I still look out at the tree when the wind is blowing hard and wonder what truly is holding it together. It's scar is still so evident etched in its bark. Then I say a prayer, deeply comforted it's still there. (Does anyone have Kenny Chesney's phone number?)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Halloween is huge at the Hartranft house. It's one of many family traditions that I brought to the marriage. As a child, my family reveled in the creative process of dressing up in homemade, clever costumes. I never owned one of those store-bought plastic boxed costumes. Maybe once or twice my brothers wore a purchased mask, but I don't think I ever did. Halloween was an expression of ingenuity, an outlet for a very creative family. My grandmother still helps us put together our outfits. It's just in our blood. Speaking of blood, my Halloween experience never included any. Halloween wasn't scary at our house. There were no creepy talking skeletons or hands that grab you when you try to sneak a piece of candy from a bowl. We never had a graveyard in our front yard with dry ice. Halloween was full of hobos and gypsies and firemen and cowboys and Raggedy Ann--not a single one of which was gashed open and bleeding profusely.

A few years ago we started dressing up as a family for trick or treat night and using a snapshot for our Christmas card. Monte is such a good sport and friends from all over the country look forward to what he in particular will be donning for our holiday greeting come Christmas time.

Three years ago our Halloween family dress up almost didn't happen. I explain in a story I was inspired to write immediately after the Halloween of 2003:


I recently flew to Atlanta for a friend’s baby shower. No kids, no husband. It was my first flight alone in years. I didn’t check any bags, no car seat to lug around or purse overstuffed with crackers and toys. I read completely uninterrupted on the plane. I was giddy with lightness and solitude.

Later that same day, I called to check in at home. My girlfriend answered the phone. Before I could ask why she was at my house, she informed me that my husband, Monte, was in surgery—an emergency appendectomy. She and her husband were watching our daughters.

“Don’t worry, we’re spending the night”, she said. “Everything will be fine”, she reassured.

Everything wasn’t fine. I wanted to go home. I desperately wanted to go home. Shocked, I was sucked into the organizational details of booking an immediate flight back home to Ohio and arranged for my parents to drive over from out of state to watch our daughters and relieve my friends.

Back at the airport, the whirlwind of calls continued regarding my husband’s condition and final confirmation of plans from friends and family. Two and a half hours after finding out about Monte’s surgery, I was on a plane and with the cell phone turned off, alone with my thoughts. I want to go home. I can’t wait to get home. The same giddiness I felt on the flight to Atlanta was an empty pang of loneliness on the flight back. Why did I need a break from these wonderful people in my family? Why was I so desperate for time by myself? Guilt overwhelmed me. Thoughts of my husband being wheeled into and out of surgery all alone haunted me. His waking up in recovery to no one felt like a punch in the stomach. In between prayers, my mind screamed, I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home. It became a chant; almost a cheer and I became filled with eagerness to see all things familiar. My oldest daughter in her ripped pink princess dress-up dress with marker stains all over her hands. My 15-month-old daughter with her squeals and spills as she attempts to communicate and turn wobbly steps into running. And above all my husband with all his disorganized (but always well intended) flaws. I couldn’t wait to rush to his side in the hospital and declare that I would never again leave him or the girls and promise to nurse him back to health to the best of my abilities. I loved him more than ever.

Five days after my husband’s surgery, it was Halloween. As a family, we love to dress up and begin discussing our costumes during the summer. The recovery process was slower than Monte (and I) anticipated and playing nurse on top of playing Mom full-time was talking its toll. I considered (much to the horror of my 4 1/2-year-old) not dressing up this year. But I rallied and finished Monte’s and my own costume just minutes before walking out the door Halloween night. We walked (slowly) to a neighborhood Spooky Supper dressed as the Tin Man (Monte), The Scarecrow (me), Dorothy (my oldest daughter) and The Cowardly Lion (my youngest). I have to admit, considering the time crunch in which they were produced, our costumes turned out terrific.

At the supper, I complained to anyone who’d listen about the extra work I had around the house since Monte’s surgery.

“He can’t lift anything for three weeks! Not the girls and apparently not a finger,” I griped. Someone, attempting to be cute, said, “Well, there’s no place like home!”

I stopped what I was doing, my drink frozen in mid-air. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before. The silly irony of it all! My own life was jumping up and down in front of me but I was too busy telling it to sit down and be quiet to see what a beautiful wonderful gift it was. Like the character I was portraying, I wasn’t using my brain. It was just five days before that I was on a plane worried and homesick longing for the familiar chaos that is my precious life. How soon I forgot the helplessness of being far away. The uncomfortable awkwardness of breaking routine. The need to nurse all things sick back to health.

There’s no place like home. No, REALLY. There’s no place like home. That doesn’t mean I’ll never again want to run from the dirty laundry and temper tantrums for a weekend just for me. I’m already day dreaming of a birthday getaway with my girlfriends next month. But this time I’ll keep Dorothy’s mantra in my head instead of straw (it was in my heart all along anyway). There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. I might as well stick the ruby slippers in my suitcase too—just in case.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tree Hugger

This past week has been full of beauty and natural wonder and sadness. Walking to school on Monday, we saw a double-rainbow so bright in spots we could barely look at it. It wasn't raining and hadn't rained. A father crossed the street and commented to us that it was scary, "What does it mean?" he asked. This concerned McDaniel. Why would something so beautiful scare a grown up?

Last Thursday around 4:00 p.m., while enjoying a rare moment of quiet on the couch reading, I heard an explosion and the room flooded with a bright white light. A storm had blown in suddenly, forcing us inside from the backyard where we were playing. I sent the girls downstairs to watch TV so I could enjoy some quiet time. It lasted about 1 1/2 minutes.

Quickly, I thought the house or transformer had been struck by lightning (the power in the den and living room only went out) I rushed to check on the girls downstairs. They had heard nothing and were content, watching their show. I mentioned something had been struck by lightning and McDaniel asked if their was a fire. Good question, I thought to myself as I casually excused myself and then ran like the dickens upstairs to check for smoke. As I gawked out the window for any signs of fire and/or destruction, the black sky was momentarily illuminated by lightning that showed me exactly what happened. Our nearly 100-foot Sycamore tree in our backyard (less than 10 feet from our house) had the perfect markings of a lightning strike. It was as if a big ol' grizzly bear (with just one hook instead of multiple claws--work with me here) had clawed its way from the base of the tree up the ENTIRE height of the tree and then down the other side (which we didn't discover until two days later).

I was scared too death. One, what if the tree was unstable and going to fall on the house? Two, what if it was smoldering on the inside and eventually going to burn up the entire neighborhood? And three, four and five, what if the tree was going to FALL on the house?!?!?!

I called Monte who was all the way over on the east side of town getting our station wagon serviced. He didn't answer the first three times I called. When we finally connected, he instructed me and the girls to stay in the basement. By the time he made it home, the storm had blown over and we inspected the tree and took pictures. It was pretty amazing the way no limbs blew off or the fact the tree didn't crack or split. Or explode. From the debris on the ground, it did seem to scare it barkless.

During dinner the storm returned so we rushed back to the basement just in time to watch golf ball size hail destroy my beautiful impatiens that grew in the stair-step flower beds outside our egress window. The girls thought the world was ending. Monte and I were fascinated and glued to the window and forgot about our tree for a short while.

The next days were spent raking up green leaves (do you know how much heavier they are then their pretty red, yellow and brown cousins?) and assessing house, window and car damage. And, of course, taking pictures of our tree. The entire neighborhood and many friends have been by to look at, touch and offer advice for our beloved tree. In the past few days I've become a tree hugger, we all have. You see, it's base when we play tag. It's where we count for Hide and Go Seek and it's first base when we play whiffle ball. On the 4th of July at noon, we can sit in our backyard and not swelter. It's an awesome tree--the tallest on our block--quite possibly our street.

Dennis, the arborist, who strangely reminded me of my paternal grandfather who had a tree farm, broke the news to me yesterday in the back yard. "It has to go, honey," he said gently (I forgave him the remark because he was 75+ and I really appreciated the kindness). It was dying, more than likely fried on the inside with badly damaged thick, high limbs that stretch out over our house and our neighbors. There was too much risk to keep it. Sometimes beautiful things do become scary. Surprising myself, my bottom lip stuck out four blocks and shook wildly.

"I hate it when I have to give bad news," Dennis went on sweetly, giving me time to compose myself.

I kept thinking of the Lorax, half-expecting Dr. Seuss's little orange guy to pop out from behind the tree and say, "Mister! I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I'm asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs…"

But he didn't.

"You don't understand," I said brokenly. "That's base when we play tag. It's where we count for Hide and Go Seek and it's first base when we play whiffle ball. On the 4th of July at noon, we can sit right here and not swelter. I love this tree," I squeaked inaudibly. I felt as if I were also speaking for the previous two owners of the house. Sixty years of memories surrounded this tree. It was here before the house was even built. I wasn't the first to utter love for this tree.

"I know, honey," Dennis comforted and then wrote out an estimate for the Sycamore's removal that made Monte cry.

Dennis told me that Sycamore wood is not good for anything: building or burning. Once chopped up, they will throw it in the dump. Something so tall and massive good for nothing but a tree.

Monte is convinced it took the hit for us, sparing the house the lightning strike. A protector while he was away. That's deserving of a hug, don't you think? And a prayer. We've been praising God--for seeing us through the storm and for his beautiful artistry of double rainbows and big tall Sycamores.

We've promised the girls that we'll plant again and let them help us decide what and where. Isn't there a quote out there somewhere about the closest we can come to immortality is to write a book and plant a tree? Two of my favorite things.

I think I became a tree hugger long before now. Digging through an old bag, I found some of my old poetry. This is from middle school or early high school. Forgive the lack of flow and overly brooding nature of it. Some things just don't change.

Looking into a pond of my childhood
I eagerly seek to find
If all my favorite places to go
Had stood the test of time

The log I used to sit and think on
Isn't there
And the place where wildflowers used to grow
Is bare

Turning around I was sure to find
That real tall tree that I used to climb
The one that stood out among all the other trees
And the one that broke my first bone
I found it right away because
It stood there all alone

Upset, I look down to see the one thing
That is left to remind me of my childhood
They're the rocks I wished could take my problems away
And when thrown across the water would

Looking into a pond of my childhood
I question the person I see
I throw in a rock to get rid of my reflection
And run over to hug my tree

I Can't Make This Stuff Up

If I could, I wouldn't be so surprised when crazy things happen. And they do. All the time. Much to my surprise. We went o...