8: The Wig

8: The Wig

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

The Wig

Miracles come in moments. Be ready and willing.

~Wayne Dyer

Our hiking group met at Starbucks at 8 a.m. that Sunday in Scottsdale. We were headed to Tonto National Forest in the Salome Creek Wilderness, northeast of Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Our hiking leader, Richard Allen, estimated it would take two hours to get to the trailhead. We had twenty hikers and six vehicles. My husband Dick and I drove alone so we could leave if we wanted without inconveniencing anyone else.

It was a beautiful drive through the Arizona desert that mid-March morning. Recent rains had brought green to the sagebrush and other shrubs and grasses. There was a profusion of gold and purple wildflowers, starting at the road and running right up the sides of the mountains.

We drove past the town of Punkin Center, where my former piano teacher had moved about twelve years before to live near her daughter. I told Dick that on the way back I would like to stop and look her up, if it wasn’t too late in the day. He asked, “How would you find her?”

Even though I was having trouble remembering my piano teacher’s name, I just knew I would. I knew she was an older woman and I recalled that she wore a large brown wig that reminded me of a beehive. I answered, “Oh, it would be easy because Punkin Center is so small, and her daughter owned a store there.” Punkin Center, originally founded in 1945 as a weather station, is part of the Tonto Basin area.

I remembered being upset when she announced she was moving after I had taken piano lessons from her for several years. Not only was I fond of her, but also knew I would have trouble finding another piano teacher who would accommodate my crazy work hours as a lawyer. And I was right. When she moved, it was basically the end of my piano instruction.

Now we left Route 85, a few miles before Roosevelt Lake, taking a dirt road cut-off that would lead us around the northern end of the lake to the trailhead. Just after exiting the main highway, we came to a large “Road Closed” barrier. We cautiously went around it.

A short distance ahead, we saw the problem—the road crossed a wash, which had water running through it two feet deep. Richard Allen was concerned that deeper water was ahead from recent rains. He suggested we abandon plans to hike the Salome Creek Wilderness area and go to Four Peaks instead, another nearby wilderness area.

When we got to the Four Peaks area, the mountains still had snow in the upper elevations. We agreed to drive to the trailhead, but if we ran into snow, we would eat our lunches and head home.

The dirt road to the Four Peaks trailhead was one lane, twisting and turning up the rugged mountain. While Dick drove, I looked off the steep cliff on my right to the desert foothills below. The rapid change in altitude made me dizzy. After a particularly hair-raising bend, I announced I couldn’t take any more.

Dick got the van turned around at a cutout, and headed back down the mountain. We pulled off at a viewpoint, ate our sandwiches and started home, stopping for gas along the highway.

As we came to Punkin Center, I said, “Let’s stop and say hello to my teacher.”

Dick pulled off the highway to take the bypass through town, saying in a puzzled tone, “I don’t know where to look.” Since it was Sunday, the post office and most stores were closed. But as we drove down the road through a hodgepodge of buildings, off to our left I saw a trading post up on a slight rise, set back fifty yards from the road, just before a large embankment blocked my view.

I said somewhat nonchalantly, “Oh, that must have been my teacher’s daughter’s store we just passed. I spotted my piano teacher’s wig.”

Dick uttered a large “Huh?” but he backed up and pulled the van up the rise to the front of the store.

I jumped out. It was my piano teacher. She had just closed the trading post for the day and was walking to her home about sixty yards away.

She immediately recognized us and invited us in to see her very nice manufactured house. She served mango juice and cookies, and we got caught up on what had happened in the years since she had moved from Phoenix. She had taught one of my sons piano too, and I had the pleasure of telling her he was now married with two young daughters.

As we visited, I finally remembered her name: Helene Todd. How I knew that I would find Helene if we went to Punkin Center in search of her that day is a mystery. A sequence of synchronized steps arrived at this harmonious conclusion.

It was only because Helene had left the trading post exactly when she did, and we arrived exactly when we did, that I saw her. If we had arrived a few minutes earlier because we hadn’t stopped for gas, she still would have been inside the trading post when we drove by.

If we had driven by a few seconds later, I would not have seen her because she already would have walked behind the embankment that blocked the view from the road.

I had no way of knowing the trading post was the store owned by her daughter until I saw Helene walking away from it. Just driving by, it did not even appear to be open, as no cars were parked in front. Since I could not remember her name, I could not have asked passersby if they knew her.

And I would not have realized that the woman I saw from the road, in the second before my view was blocked, was my former teacher, either—except for the wig! You couldn’t miss the wig!

Helene did tell us she was ninety-one, and slightly hard of hearing, but otherwise was fine.

When we got home, Dick sent Richard Allen an e-mail about what had happened. He replied the next morning:

Dear Dick and Brenda:

I’m glad things worked out okay for you. Actually, that bend was the worst place in the road. It got better after that. From the top, you can see Phoenix in the distance. I got the message that you had stopped. Thanks for being such good sports about all the changes of plans, etc. Nice that you could run into the teacher—maybe it was meant to be!

Richard

Yes, maybe it was meant to be. I can always go on another hike, but I might never have seen my piano teacher again if we had continued to the Four Peaks trailhead. She passed away two years later, and seeing her that day was indeed a pleasant, nostalgic experience.

As we travel the highway of life with incidents seemingly taking place at random, small miracles happen in a way we cannot explain.

~Brenda Warneka

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