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.

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