Growing up, I had a stepfather with whom I had a very warm and affectionate relationship. I'm not sure to this day what exactly made us click the way we did, but it happened.
Unfortunately, he died when I was twenty-three. I had a new baby (in fact, my older son was only two months old--to the day--when Dad died), my 14-year-old brothers (twins, the children of our mother's marriage to my stepfather--our mother had died when I was sixteen and they were only eight), and a husband stationed in Alaska.
I'll fast forward to the summer of 1982.
My then-husband was deployed to the Sinai Peninsula; he was part of the first multinational force sent to observe the return of the Sinai from Israel to Egypt, a 6-month tour where, it turned out, the greatest enemy was boredom. Again I had a new baby, but only one of my brothers with me. We decided to make a trip home, since my other half was on the other side of the world and none of the family--on either his side or mine--had seen the new addition, who was now the ripe old age of four months.
We made the journey and had an enjoyable two weeks with our older sisters, my in-laws, and friends, but the inevitable time came to start the trip back home.
We left my in-laws' home in Philadelphia at about six in the morning; I had decided to take a different route, staying mostly on US 301. At that time it was pretty much a two-lane road (I-95 was still under construction in many areas), but it had the advantage of bypassing Washington DC and Richmond VA, where most of the traffic tie-ups were at the time. It also spared me the trouble of paying the tolls on the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike.
I was driving through Maryland. My brother had fallen back to sleep and my two sons were also sleeping peacefully. I felt my eyes getting heavy, and the next thing I knew I heard a voice yelling, "Chris, wake up!" I opened my eyes and realized I'd nearly fallen asleep at the wheel. More than a little bit shaken, I pulled off onto the shoulder of the road. This woke my brother, who immediately asked what was wrong.
"I started to fall asleep," I said.
"What woke you?"
I hesitated. The little boys were still snoozing, so I took the plunge.
"I could have sworn I heard Dad yelling for me to wake up..."
My brother's expression registered surprise, to say the least. He sat there for a minute or two before he said, "Really? That's weird..."
I knew he had something else on his mind, so I waited. A few moments later he looked back at me and said slowly, "Well, you know Dad used to drive this road every summer when we went to Florida. But--do you know what he told us Mom said before she died?"
I shook my head. Our mother, by this time, had been dead for thirteen years.
"Well," my brother said, "Dad always told us that one of the last things Mom said to him was, "Promise me you'll take care of Chris and the boys..."
I sat there, my mouth in a positive gape.
Sounds like a cliche, I know--but I guess he made the promise and took it seriously.