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For just one short week we got to escape the icy cold and relentless rain that had made it’s way to the beaver state for the month of December. For the past few weeks, I had been inseparable from hot chocolate, blankets, and netflix. So when we stepped foot of the Tucson international airport to be greeted by sunshine and blue skies, it was like entering a whole new world. The weather apps informed us of the 70 degree weather. It was every Oregonian’s dream. You could tell it had just rained from the distinct aroma that the desert possessed. It was a fresh, earthy perfume given off by the creosote bush after a desert rain. Replacing the usual scenery of tree-packed forests was the desert with prickly pears and saguaros and agave plants, even the family of hog-like javelinas that forced my dad to abruptly hit the brakes on way to Granny and Grandad’s house, were familiar. We passed by Sabino High School on the drive, proudly sporting purple and gold, and we took in the dry landscape as we attempted to recite the names of the surrounding mountain ranges (without success). My mouth watered as I spotted Jimmy’s pizzeria from the car window, and I dreamed of garlic knots and calzones big enough to feed a family of 4 for an entire week.
Once we reached our final destination, my Granny and Grandad sprung up from the porch and opened the car doors the way a chauffeur would do, but encircling each and every one of us with welcoming arms. I teased my grandpa about the “cul-de-sac” on top of his head. It was easily noticeable, and his gray-white hairs that made up his beard and mustache and a small amount of his head popped out on his dark skin color. His large glasses framed his face, and each year he more and more resembled black Santa, who sat on a cut out ledge across from the kitchen near the tall fake frosted Christmas tree and sang “jingle bells” when you pressed the red button on his hand. My Granny scowled at him as he laughed that I was his “special granddaughter”. Her black hair, gray at the roots, was slicked back with bobby pins, and her caramel colored face was warm as always. Her eyes were the mirror of her mom’s, dark brown with bright blue rings around them- everyone had always envied her for those. Except for my skin color, I shared very little resemblance with her. I stepped out of the car looking like a ragamuffin. My dark brown hair was lazily up on top of my head in a bun, like usual. I was wearing my bone colored Nike rally sweatshirt, worn black leggings, and indoor shoes that were pinching my toes and ready for the Goodwill bag.
Fast forward a few days, and it was the morning of Christmas eve. My Granny and I were visiting one of her best friends, Bernice Harman, who was currently on bed rest due to a freshly broken leg. There was construction being done on her house, and the workers had failed to inform her of the human sized hole that had been cut into her floor. Unknowingly, Bernice was on the phone walking through her house when she fell into the gigantic hole. Bang! Construction materials clattered everywhere and Mrs. Harman had fallen like Alice in through the rabbit hole, though the extent of suffering she experienced was much greater. So here we were, in the old person home she was temporarily staying in until she got better. We walked into the building and were greeted by the smell of over-applied perfume and something like stale crackers that results from leaving the cracker box open for too long. The room was decorated with antique decor. The floor was covered with an old patterned rug, and the walls were covered in dull striped wallpaper that had definitely seen better days. It was peeling every which way, and by the sound of the meowing coming from the next room over, the claw marks all over it had come from the pet.
In the corner was a Charlie Brown tree, its branches drooping from the weight of the hand made ornaments that it displayed. Everything about the room was ancient, from the wallpaper to the lady at the front desk. “Wait right here”. My Granny told me, as she checked in and proceeded to walk upstairs, her Cole Haan purse in one hand, and a batch of messily-made snowball cookies that were the product of the annual family cookie day in the other. I could hear the whiny “creaaaaak” of the stairs as she stepped one tiny heeled foot in front of the other. In all truth, I was not happy to be here. I would've rather spent the day watching hallmark movie marathons with my older cousins or even playing in the old garage workout room with my younger cousins. But spending my Christmas Eve in a smelly old person home with my grandma? Not necessarily the Christmas Eve I pictured.
I sat down cross legged on the rough feeling couch, analyzing the room around me. I felt on edge, and was relieved when I once again heard the “creaaaaak” of the stairs signaling that Granny was headed back down. Probably meaning we could (thankfully) go home. But when she returned, her usual bubbly expression was replaced with one of worry, as she stuttered out “b...b...b…” she finally found the words “Bernice is missing!” After talking to the front desk lady and confirming that there was in fact a Bernice Herman that was admitted just a few short days ago, even showing her a picture of the short black lady that had short black ringlets bouncing atop her head. Not being able to see the picture with her glasses, the front desk lady was of no help. And so we began what would be the most eventful Christmas Eve we had ever had, not your regular “get together with friends and drink eggnog and go Christmas caroling” type Christmas Eve.
You could call it a Christmas scavenger hunt. The consensus was after looking for the day, we would contact the police if the search didn't result in a victory. But Granny was hopeful. I, on the other hand, was not thrilled I would be wasting the day looking around for some old lady who was probably just in the wrong room. I grudgingly helped, and after looking in every little nook and cranny of the old person home, we began the search of the city. Though we did have some help from willing family members and friends that dropped their plans to help the search. We went to all the places that Bernice would most likely be found. We went to the clubhouse out in the suburb of Vail, where we were distracted by the beauty of the surrounding lush green golf course that sharply contrasted from its outer surroundings, which featured a dull color palette of tan and different shades of brown. Here, Mrs. Harman often ate lunch with friends or did pool yoga. But based on her not being there, it appeared she was not in the clubhouse mood at the moment.
Next up on the hunt for Mrs. Harman was Udall park, where her boys grew up playing baseball and soccer, where the fields where more dirt than grass, and where she would sometimes walk her yorkie, Sarge, to remember past Sunday's where she'd spent the whole day here for jamborees and was in charge of either orange slices or the canopy or the team’s bench, depending on the weekend. Through these, I found myself actually enjoying the day, conversing with Granny about how my dad and uncle had grown up with Mrs. Harman’s sons, and all the trouble my dad had been.
But neither location resulted in a find. After searching Park Place Mall and some of her favorite restaurants, including Risky Business and Eeeges, (you can always count on a good eegie to help with the pain, it sure made my day better) the search party had agreed to meet back up at the old person home by 7:00 if they hadn't found Mrs. Harman yet. So Granny and I headed back to the car, feeling defeated as Granny dropped her glasses on the way to the car and they shattered. It was one of those “this day couldn't get any worse” kind of days. Even so, my day had, to my surprise, not been half as bad as I thought it would be. In fact , it had been a pretty great day. I felt wiser already, having learned that even if not everything goes my way all the time, a positive attitude and the right mindset can be achieved, and the combination will make for a great day. Not only that, but going down an unexpected path and not always following tradition or traditional ways can result in a newfound experience that paves the way for other discoveries. In this case, both of those applied.
While thinking my newly wise thoughts, Granny punched in the directions to the old person home once in the car, and the whole drive was muttering “that fool” or “big jerk” to any car that was driving too slow. Once we got to our destination, we found it odd to see none of the other search party members had arrived yet. It was already completely dark outside, and if it weren't for the street lamps and city lights, it would be pitch black. Even so, to escape the desert chill, we headed inside. Both Granny and I had to take a second look around and at each other to make sure we weren't going crazy as we stepped inside as this old person home was nothing like the one we had seen earlier that morning.
This new one featured a yoga room, freshly painted lime green colored walls replaced the ugly wallpaper, heathered gray and modern like couches and chairs and a tv that displayed the news. A mini fridge in the corner, a grand Christmas tree that had received its own room and was frosted at the tips like Ronaldo’s hair. At the front desk there were those good welcome mints that you also take extras of when the front desk ladies look away. As we approached the front desk, a woman, who looked no older than 30, turned around to greet us with a smile and a plate of warm cookies that were the reason for the room’s pleasant smell. As we were about to introduce ourselves, we heard a soft voice call out my grandma’s name.
“Styne?” The sound came from the corner. We turned to see a lady that we know was either Mrs. Harman or her secret identical twin. She was in a wheelchair and her leg had a long white cast that was in desperate need of signing! Granny and I her hurried over and embraced each other in a hug that could've resulted in broken ribs too if it weren't for the curiosity that Granny and I had that caused her to pull away.
After an endless amount of questions and a thorough explanation on both parts, we had discovered that was the old person home we had originally gone to had been called “care for the elderly” whereas this one was called “elderly care”, and that Mrs. Harman had in fact given Granny the wrong address. But without her glasses, Granny had (thankfully) clicked on the wrong directions which led us to Mrs. Harman. And from our fellow search party members We contacted the rest of our friends and family that had participated in the search party, and they drove over to the elderly care home. They had also discovered that there was an Ernie Harnan at the “Care for the elderly” home by looking through the patient check in book. The old lady at the front desk suffered from hearing loss and vision loss, and the combination has led us on an adventure. By now, the snowball cookies were smooshed, the gifts we had intended for Mrs. Harman lost, and our energy diminished. But we did have the most exciting and action packed Christmas Eve in the history of our lives . As Mrs. Harman said that evening after continuously apologizing for the chaos, “everything happens for a reason.”