29: The Warning

29: The Warning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

The Warning

The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated.

~Washington Irving

I had felt that something was wrong ever since my seventeen-year-old daughter went out earlier that evening. Even after she came home and went to bed, I still felt a sense of foreboding. I kept telling myself, “She’s safe. You just checked on her.”

But that feeling of imminent doom continued to haunt me for the next hour. Then it stopped. I checked my daughter again and she was sleeping quietly.

The next morning we learned that a friend of my daughter’s had died in an accident. It happened in those early morning hours when I lay awake, staring terrified into the blackness. My daughter’s friend looked a lot like her and their birth dates were only weeks apart. And, most important, although they were unrelated to each other, their first and last names were identical in spelling.

From my earliest childhood, I had had this sixth sense that would alert me to significant happenings before they occurred. My family moved to Southern California when I was eight and for the next couple of years, I would always know when friends or relatives from Northern California were about to drop in to visit. Mom had learned to act on my feelings. She’d give the house a quick cleaning and make sure we were having a nice dinner. Late that afternoon, the very friends or relatives I had told her about would arrive to surprise us and find a sparkling clean house and the special dinner we “just happened” to be eating that night.

Several years later, on Christmas Eve, my daughters and I were supposed to drive up to visit my brother and his family about fifty miles from us in Washington State. We planned to get there in time for Midnight Mass.

But that afternoon, as I bustled about my house, wrapping presents and getting ready to leave, my happy thoughts about the coming evening suddenly turned dark. I felt that familiar heaviness settle in my stomach. I tried to ignore it. Everyone was expecting us. My mother was already there from California. This was Christmas, and bad things don’t happen at Christmas. What could possibly be bothering me?

And then it came to me. Part of the drive to my brother’s house was around a lake — on a curving stretch of two-lane road with high rocky bluffs on one side and a straight drop-off into deep water on the other. It was a beautiful drive on a sunny summer day, but a hazardous one on an icy winter night. Through the years, that deep lake had claimed many lives. Something was warning me not to take the drive that evening.

We couldn’t go. But everyone was expecting us. My mother was already there. Reluctantly I called my brother’s house. As Mom answered, my stomach continued to roil. When I explained, she didn’t hesitate. “If something’s not right, don’t even think about coming out. Just take care of yourselves.”

“We might be able to come tomorrow,” I offered tentatively. “It’s just tonight that’s wrong.”

“Only if you’re sure. Don’t take any chances.”

I promised and hung up the phone. As I knelt again beside the wrapping paper and gifts, the feeling of foreboding left me.

The next morning was fine, and we drove to my brother’s home. I didn’t feel the slightest panic or uncertainty on any part of that ride, not even as we wound around the lakeshore and I stared into those freezing depths. I didn’t hesitate either, when later that afternoon, my older daughter asked if she could take my car and drive home with my younger daughter and my niece. Mom and I planned to spend the night and drive back the next day in Mom’s car. My sister-in-law and I gave permission, and the girls left for home.

When Mom and I got home the next afternoon, my older daughter, wide-eyed, greeted us. “Remember you were scared about driving on Christmas Eve?” I nodded.

She gestured to her younger sister. “Well, we didn’t tell you, but we planned to ask if we could drive out in my car that night, instead of with you.” She grinned sheepishly. “I know you would’ve agreed because I would’ve pestered you until you gave in. After we got home yesterday, we went for a ride in my car. We were in town, so I wasn’t going fast. I pulled up to a stop sign and my brakes failed. I steered over to the side of the road and stopped, so we were all right.”

Her next words came out in a rush. “I checked the odometer. The distance I drove yesterday afternoon, if I’d been driving on Christmas Eve night like I planned, we would have been at the lake when my brakes went out. I would have been going faster and wouldn’t have been able to stop. Mom, we would have gone into the water.”

I looked at my mother. She looked at me. Simultaneously, we lifted our eyes heavenward and fervently whispered, “Thank you.”

~Louise Lenahan Wallace

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