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And Hope to Die
Six-year-old Lori-Anne stared down the road as she watched her mother and father’s Toyota disappear into the distance. Walking up the driveway to her grandparent’s house in Central Pennsylvania, she could recall in detail their parting conversation.
“But Mommy, I don’t want you to go. Who will tuck me in tonight? And who will read my book to me?”
“Grandma and Grandpa will be here, and we’ll only be away for the weekend,” Karen, Lori-Anne’s mother, answered.”
“Mommy,” Lori-Anne whispered, “cross your heart and hope to die that you’ll be back soon?”
“Yes, Lori-Anne. Cross my heart and hope to die. Now give me a kiss, and before you know it, we’ll be back.”
Lori-Anne’s parents’ weekend trip to the Poconos really wasn’t a big deal. She knew Karen and her father Tim would be less than three hours away. She loved her grandparents, too. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Lori-Anne had never been away from her parents for any length of time. She was experiencing a new feeling—insecurity. And she wasn’t sure she liked it.
Friday night’s sun was sinking over the mountains, and the shadows began to creep in on the old farm house that belonged to Karen’s parents. Grandpa read Lori-Anne a bedtime story, said a prayer with her, and tucked her safely beneath the covers. He also took the time to wipe the tear that was beginning to form in the corner of Lori-Anne’s eye.
When the light went off, Lori-Anne began to softly whimper. Loneliness was setting in and she was becoming homesick. Grandpa went downstairs, and two hours later, Lori-Anne had finally cried herself to sleep. She awoke about 1:30 and then spent the rest of the night experiencing a strange feeling that she was in touch with her mother.
Tim and Karen arrived at their destination ready for a good night’s sleep of their own. They had met on the ski slopes eight years ago, and this was the first opportunity either one had to go skiing since Lori-Anne was born. The cold January air was invigorating, and with it, came a feeling of anticipation. Morning couldn’t come soon enough. Sleep came quickly, but Karen awoke about 1:30 feeling that something was wrong.
Wiping the sleep from his eyes, Tim managed to calm Karen and persuade her to wait until they could call Lori-Anne first thing in the morning. From then on Karen spent most of the night staring at the ceiling. At her grandparent’s home, Lori-Anne spent most of the night staring at the ceiling, too.
Finally, morning arrived with a bright winter sun reflecting off the crusted snow. The maroon and green decor of the motel room was now bathed in light, and Karen was already at the phone.
“Hi, Mom. It’s me,” Karen said trying not to sound alarmed. “Is Lori-Anne okay? I couldn’t sleep last night. I thought about coming home, but Tim wanted to wait. Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. It’s her first night without you, but she’s fine. She kept saying she could see you lying in bed staring at the ceiling, that something was wrong, but I convinced her you were having a good time and everything is fine. She’s out with Dad right now building a snowman. It’s probably better if she doesn’t know you called.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Just as long as she’s okay. I’ll see her tomorrow night. Bye.”
After building the biggest snowman in Clinton County, Lori-Anne was ready for some hot chocolate. Not a word was mentioned about her mother calling, and Lori-Anne hadn’t taken the time to talk about her mother since before breakfast.
The warmth of the fireplace and Lori-Anne’s hot chocolate began to lull her to sleep. A short afternoon nap and she’d be ready for some sled riding down the hill that led to the barn. She had decided that this trip away from her parents really wasn’t that bad after all.
Nestled under piles of blankets and a fluffy pillow under her head, Lori-Anne drifted off to sleep quickly. Although she was sleeping, she was not still. Within a short period of time, she awoke.
“Grandma, Grandma. Mommy’s hurt. Her ankle is real puffy. Grandma, call her and make sure she’s okay. Please.”
Grandma did her best to reassure Lori-Anne that Karen wasn’t hurt. But still, she made the call.
“Karen, this is Mom. Lori-Anne’s worried about you. She insisted I call and make sure you’re all right. She said something about a dream she had, that you hurt your ankle. She’s upset. Can you talk to her?”
“Actually Mom,” Karen began, “I did fall on the slope and twisted my right ankle. Tim had to bring me back to the motel. It’s sore and swelled just a bit, but other than that, I’m fine. Put her on.”
“Mommy, are you all right? I know your ankle hurts. Are you all right?”
“Yes, Pumpkin. I’m fine. Just twisted it a little, but it will be fine, and I’ll see you tomorrow night, okay! I love you.”
With the assurance that her mother was doing good, Lori-Anne began putting on her boots and gloves while Grandpa was getting the sled ready for her. The path to the barn had already been broken in by some neighbor children. The trail was hard and fast. Lori-Anne could hardly wait. A gentle breeze blew a sprinkling of light snow across the path as Lori-Anne was preparing for takeoff.
Grandpa gave one quick shove and the sled was moving with Lori-Anne behind the controls. The hill was steeper than the one she usually sledded on at her house. In the not too far distance, Lori-Anne could see the sun reflecting off a layer of thin ice on the pond.
The path headed straight downhill, then, gently curved to the right away from the pond and into bales of hay next to the barn. But in Lori-Anne’s panic, she slipped off the path and began to swerve to the left. She stopped just inches from the pond. That ended her afternoon of sled riding. Not being much for adventure, Lori-Anne trudged up the hill pulling her wayward sled. She was ready for the fireplace and some hot chocolate.
Supper would soon be ready, and shades of winter were beginning to fall on the old farm house. Night was beginning to settle in, and so was Lori-Anne’s loneliness. Although Lori-Anne was hungry, she really didn’t feel like eating. As she sat playing with her peas, sleet began to pelt the dining room window. The storm made Lori-Anne ready for those piles of blankets and that fluffy pillow. It wasn’t that she was exceptionally tired. She was just missing Mommy and Daddy again. The steady rhythm of the sleet moved Lori-Anne into her dream world quickly and quietly.
“Grandma! Grandma! Wake up. Mommy’s cold and she needs us. Grandma! Wake up. We have to help Mommy. Please, Grandma.”
Grandma was not easy to wake up at 3:00 a.m. She was snuggled beneath her own pile of blankets and was too comfortable to be disturbed by another nightmare.
It was no use. Lori-Anne’s persistence won and Grandma was heading for the phone. “Tim, it’s Mom. I’m sorry to bother you this late, but Lori-Anne had another dream. She said her mother was cold and insisted that I call. I’m sorry to wake you.”
“That’s okay, Mom. We were awake. The heat went off here, and we’re waiting for it to come back on. It’s freezing, but we’re getting by. The office clerk said the heat would be back on in about a half hour. Other than that, we’re in good shape. Tell Lori-Anne we love her, and we’ll see her tomorrow night.”
Morning came, and the sun was glistening off the mountains. A frost had attached itself neatly to Lori-Anne’s window obscuring the view. Yet she could tell that it was a beautiful day, and her parents would soon be home. She slept longer than usual and was beginning to feel more confident in her independence now that the weekend was almost over. Besides, Grandpa had promised to take her out for a burger and fries.
She could hear Grandpa’s footsteps coming down the hall. “Lori-Anne, get up, you sleepyhead. There are things to do, like getting a hamburger and fries. You’ve slept long enough. Let’s go.”
“Coming, Grandpa,” Lori-Anne yawned.
The meal was good. The time spent with Grandpa was good, and to Lori-Anne everything was looking up. She was enjoying every moment, but still she would also be glad to see her parents again. Even though the day seemed to drag by, Lori-Anne knew the eventual outcome of being with her Mommy and Daddy again would be worth it.
After lunch, it was time for a horseback ride through the snow-covered fields with Grandpa. The wind was cold, but Lori-Anne wasn’t concentrating on that. She was thinking about later that evening when she would see the Toyota pull into the driveway. By 3:15, Lori-Anne was safely tucked away for her afternoon nap.
“Grandma, Grandma! Lori-Anne awoke screaming. Grandma! Mommy and Daddy are all blue. They’re blue!”
Another dream. Grandma climbed the stairs to Lori-Anne’s room. Inside Lori-Anne was hysterical—screaming, crying, and running from one side of the room to the other.
“Lori-Anne, Lori-Anne. You’ve got to calm down! Everything’s all right. Now sit still and tell me about it.”
“Grandma, Mommy and Daddy were colored blue. They looked real sick. Grandma, will you call them? I need to know they’re okay.”
“Lori-Anne,” Grandma answered, “I can’t call them now. They’re on their way home. You’ll see them soon enough. Everything’s fine. You’ll just have to be patient. You’ve waited this long. Another two hours and they’ll be home. Come here. Let me give you a hug.”
Snuggled in Grandma’s arms, Lori-Anne felt a little better. Still, she wondered why Karen and Tim were colored blue. Lori-Anne’s dreams were beginning to take a toll on her. Every time she would try to sleep, the sleep had been interrupted by dreams. Lori-Anne was beginning to feel just plain exhausted.
Grandma carried Lori-Anne downstairs, lit an oil lamp, and sat down on the couch. Lori-Anne never loosened her grip around Grandma’s neck. Grandpa came in with a cup of hot chocolate. Lori-Anne had about three gulps left when the doorbell rang. “Is that Mommy and Daddy?” Lori-Anne wanted to know.
“Let’s go see,” said Grandpa.
The police officer stood to the side looking away from the house. “Sir,” he said, “Could I speak to you privately for just a minute?”
“Yes, of course,” Grandpa replied, looking a little puzzled. Grandma hustled Lori-Anne off to the kitchen.“Sir, is Karen Mourant your daughter?”“Yes, yes she is?”
“Tim Mourant is her husband?”
“Yes. Officer, what’s this about?”
“Sir, both Karen, and Tim were involved in an auto accident. Neither one pulled through.”
Before the shock set in Grandpa wanted to understand what had happened. The officer continued. “Tim and Karen were traveling on a slight downgrade. They came upon a curve, but in the ice storm, they were unable to negotiate it properly. They then veered to the left where the car slid into a pond.
“I’m sorry, Sir. This is not pleasant for me, but you need to know. Someone will be in touch with you concerning the bodies.” Grandpa, now in shock, managed to get back to the kitchen. Grandma and Lori-Anne met him with a “What’s going on?” look in their eyes.
Grandpa squeaked out the news that Karen and Tim had been killed in an auto accident. As Grandma’s mouth dropped open, Lori-Anne began to scream “Mommy broke her promise. Mommy broke her promise. She promised to come back.”
As she tore around the corner in the living room, she bumped the oil lamp. Fire began to bristle up the old wood walls of the farm house. While Grandpa dialed 911, Lori-Anne ran upstairs.
The living room was filled with smoke, and the only way out of the house was through the kitchen. As Grandma and Grandpa began to cross the snow-covered field, they realized that Lori-Anne was still in the house. Grandpa headed back and met the fire trucks coming up the lane.
“My granddaughter is still in the house. You’ve got to get her out! Please!”
Smoke continued to fill the house as Lori-Anne remained trapped in the back bedroom. Panic gave way to peace when Lori-Anne came face to face with her mother. Karen spoke quietly and calmly.
“See, Pumpkin. I told you I’d be back for you. I even crossed my heart and hoped to die.”