The Man got out of bed really early on Christmas morning. (He’s usually out of bed between 3am and 5am in the winter, so this was not unusual.) I woke up around 5am, and joined him in the living room. We opened a few little presents from each other and as well as the wrapped treats my sibling had sent in a big box. We ate miniature powdered donuts for breakfast, watched the sun rise through the east-facing window, and spent some quiet time together.
Around 10am, we decided to watch A Christmas Story on the DVD I’d given The Man that morning. I needed something from the truck before we started watching, so I put on my boots and trudged through the snow.
Once at the truck, I grabbed the thing I needed (I no longer remember what it was), then glanced over to the backseat. On the passenger side of the backseat was a green backpack. I didn’t own a green backpack. At the time I owned a purple backpack and black backpack decorated with red and orange flames and a blue backpack, but not a green one. As far as I knew, The Man didn’t own a green backpack either.
About that time I realized I didn’t see the blue backpack I normally kept in the truck. The blue pack was stuffed with hats I made and wanted to sell. There wasn’t room for the backpack in our tiny trailer, and I only needed the hats in it when I was selling at a flea market or craft fair, so I left the bulging thing in the truck. But where was it?
I rummaged through everything I could reach on the driver’s side of the truck. No blue backpack. I walked over to the passenger’s side of the truck to rummage through the things on that side. No blue backpack either–only the green one.
A wave of realization passed slowly over me. Had last night’s hitchhiker left her backpack and taken mine?
I opened the smallest, outermost pocket on the green backpack. Right on top I saw a debit card with a women’s name on it, a set of keys, and a flip phone. Oh no! I opened the main pocket and saw, among other things, a block of Tillamook cheddar. Oh no! This was serious! We had the woman’s cheese!
I went back into the trailer.
We have a problem, I told The Man. I explained my backpack was gone and a backpack holding important things (keys, phone, debit card, cheese) was in its place.
Go get her phone, The Man suggested. He thought we could call someone on her contact list and let them know we had the hitchhiker’s belongings. Good idea!
I went back out into the snow and sunshine and grabbed her phone. Once inside again, The Man flipped the phone open and looked at the phone log. Most of the calls had been made to one number. The Man said we should call that one.
He dialed, then handed the phone to me. A fellow answered after a couple of rings.
Good morning, I said, feeling awkward. I told him my name and explained how the night before my guy and I had picked up a hitchhiker. I mentioned the name I’d seen on the debit card.
That’s my mother! he exclaimed.
I told him how we’d driven her almost home and that I’d just discovered my bag missing and her pack (filled with important items) in our truck. I told him we wanted to get her bag back to her but because she’d had us drop her off down the road from her house, we didn’t know where exactly we should go with the pack. Of course, because she didn’t have her phone, we couldn’t call her and arrange to meet.
The son said he would text his mother’s neighbor’s phone number to me. He thought maybe the neighbor could help. He thanked me for calling, and we wished each other a merry Christmas before saying goodbye.
In a few moments a text with a name and phone number came to my phone. That must be the neighbor, I thought.
I called the number and started another awkward conversation with another stranger. After I explained everything, the neighbor sighed and said his family had given the hitchhiker a lot of help in the past, and they were, frankly, burnt out.
It’s Christmas morning, my brother’s here, we’re about to eat breakfast, he told me.
I was a little stunned. I realized not everyone was as excited about getting the woman’s backpack to her as The Man and I were.
I suggested the neighbor contact me later when he wasn’t so busy. He said he would think on the situation and try to figure out a way to help.I got off the phone and updated The Man. We agreed there was nothing we could do until we heard from the neighbor again.
The Man and I talked for a while, ate a few more Christmas treats, then decided to start the movie. He was hooking up the DVD player to the television when my phone rang. It was the hitchhiker’s neighbor. He’d decided the best course of action was for us to meet him at his house. He thought he should ride in our truck with us and direct us to the hitchhiker’s house. Once there we could simultaneously hand over her backpack and retrieve mine.
The neighbor had just begun to give me convoluted directions to his place when the hitchhiker’s phone began to ring. Hang on a second, I told the neighbor.
Answer it! Answer it! I directed while gesturing wildly at The Man.
He answered it while I explained to the neighbor what was happening.
The hitchhiker was on the phone. I could just barely hear her voice and understand what she was saying. It seemed that she’d found someone to let her use their phone so she could call hers.
Yes, we had her backpack, I heard The Man tell her. Yes, we could meet her on the road where we’d dropped her off the night before. We could even meet her at her house, he offered. She must have declined because he said, Are you sure? then Ok.
After flipping the phone shut, he told me the hitchhiker didn’t want us to go to her house. (I wasn’t surprised.) She wanted us to meet her on the road we’d driven down before we dropped her off.
We put on our cold weather gear and headed to the truck. The Man drove. The bright sun hitting the white snow was blinding, and we both wore our sunglasses.
It was slow going on the bumpy main road. When we turned off onto the road where we’d meet the hitchhiker, the ride wasn’t any smoother.
There she is! I said when I saw the short woman wearing a puffy purple coat.
I waved, and she waved, and The Man brought the truck to a stop next to her. I got out of the truck and handed her backpack to her amid much thanks. She said she’d gotten home the night before and opened up (what she thought was) her backpack only to find–instead of her keys–a bunch of hats. That’s when she knew she had the wrong bag. She’d had to break into her own house since she didn’t have her keys, but she said it hadn’t been too difficult.
While the hitchhiker talked, I looked about her person for my backpack. She wasn’t holding it, and she didn’t seem to be wearing it on her back. Where could it be? Had she left it at home?
Do you have my backpack? I asked timidly.
She told me she had left it safely under a tree and pointed to one of the few in the area. I thought it was a little strange that she had abandoned my pack under a tree, but whatever. I would be happy to have my pack and my hats again.
I went to the tree she’d pointed out and looked around. No backpack.
I don’t see it, I called out to her.
Oh, maybe I left it under that one, she said.
I didn’t know how she could be confused about what tree she’d left the backpack under. There were only two in the area! I didn’t ask any questions, just walked down the road to the other tree. Yes! There was my pack, nestled in the snow at the base of the tree.
Thanks and Christmas wishes expressed, I got back in the truck and the hitchhiker went on her way, up the hill again.