A Very Merry Suite Life

How an unexpected catastrophe can bring new meaning to the holiday season

Jessie Hynes illustration

One nice thing about a Spokane Christmas is that it looks and feels like Christmas. Growing up here, the decorations and snowfall always lined up perfectly with the Advent calendar.

When my family would take the highway home around this time of year, my sister and I would always look for the giant, lighted tree atop a building filling a corner of I-90 near the Hamilton Street exit. Perhaps only extravagant to a childlike eye, the Shilo Inn's tree never went unnoticed from the back seat during any evening trip. At least the Clarry kids always looked forward to spotting it.

When your mom's minivan somehow ignites the family garage and torches a solid portion of your nearby bedroom, you don't expect that the next six months and first quarter of the second grade will be spent hopping from relatives' houses to long hotel stays.

But thanks to some handy homeowners' insurance (that I have about the same understanding of now as I did back then), my family happened to spend the final two months away from home in that very Shilo Inn we'd remark upon every December.

I don't recall that the inside of the hotel was really all that festive, though my sister and I would eventually learn new holiday traditions while there. The hot cocoa we'd always enjoy at home, with a tower of whipped cream on top, was definitely not served there. And while making gingerbread houses is the most classic of Christmas kitsch, stacking and making a log cabin of restaurant mozzarella sticks is surely an underrated competitor when it comes to food-meets-art-installation.

December 24 also happened to mark the day we'd finally get to move back home; "The suite life" of the hotel restaurant lounge and swimming pool we'd become accustomed to was coming to an end. What was, no doubt, the biggest cathartic release for my parents was countered by a bittersweet reflection from my sister and me, as we waded into the deep end of the pool inside its glass natatorium. No more concierge cart rides, trying to time exactly when the automatic doors would be open just enough to slide through. No more smelling like chlorine for days. No more personal-sized cereal boxes and Styrofoam milk bowls before school. We were going to miss this.

That was until an early morning hotel fire alarm went off, and we spent the pre-daylight hours of Christmas Eve in our pajamas waiting to hear if a gas leak was a legitimate threat or not. Then finally, we made it home and decorated the house well for St. Nick, and for ourselves.

And every December after that, my sister and I found ourselves with a new sense of appreciation for that giant Christmas tree seen afar from the freeway. ♦

Tuck Clarry is a Spokane-born freelance writer for the Inlander.

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