The Plant and the Hippo

by Laurie Pehl Jennings

One year after the stabbing death of her son, Tanner, Laurie found herself in the psychiatric ward of Sacred Heart Hospital. Her daughter, Katie, had taken her there as a last resort. She learned that her mother had been spending many of her grief-filled nights in her hallway where her son had taken his last breath. Forming herself into the position the police had found Tanner in, she would fall asleep. In the hospital, she was asked to start a journal and write about the turning point in her life, the death of her son. Heavily medicated, she picked up her pen and began writing about a precious day when her young son brought her home a Mother’s Day gift, a plant. Once home, she continued her journal with an interesting twist; the plant and the hippo will tell the story from their perspective about a young boy, his downfalls and his triumphs, and eventually the witness to his horrific death.

“What can I do?” She usually responds, “Remember him; please don’t forget him.”

Over the past four years since the completion of the book, Laurie has done numerous book signings in western Washington and also asked to do a high school assembly, as the book relates to many issues – teen-age depression, teen-age love along with the heartache of young love, safety in meeting “new friends,” unconditional mother’s love, grieving, and eventually climbing out of the ‘rabbit holes.’ The audio version is in the works and should be available later this year.

Book excerpt:
At first it appeared that Tanner was happy again, staying busy and spending more time with friends, but Hill and I often discussed our apprehensions. And then we saw it. One of his so-called friends came by and we listened as he asked him if he would like to get high again, just this one time.

“NO!” Hill screamed out to the young man. “Leave him alone!”

“Hill, it’s up to Tanner. Tanner needs to be strong. It’s not his friend’s fault. Tanner needs to learn to say no. But it looks like this isn’t that time. I’m sorry, little Hill. It is a sad day, indeed. Hill, why don’t you look away, maybe that will be easier.”

Laurie would tell him how proud she was of him for kicking the habit and give him big hugs, but Hill and I could see the other side of that hug, Tanner’s face, and it was a very sad face behind her shoulder. She would be away for the day and he would get high in the morning. By the time she came home, he had made sure it had worn off enough that she would be unaware. When she went to bed at night, he popped another. Hill and I cried together many times. How could we fix him this time? What does it take?

Little did we know, Laurie had a plan of her own. She hadn’t missed a thing. We were surprised, as was Tanner, to see her walk in early one day from work. She talked to him about his day, about plans for dinner, and what his plans for the evening might be.

“Do you think she notices he is high?” asked Hill.

“Well, she is acting like she doesn’t know, but she seems smarter than that. Maybe she is saving it for later. She is talking and asking more questions than usual. We’ll have to wait and see. Tanner looks guilty, and I’m sure she can sense that. Clearly he hopes he has pulled this one off.”

With Tanner, my emotions can go in a million directions in one split second. I wanted him to get caught. I wanted her to figure it out. I wanted him to hurt from this so he might stop doing it. I wanted her to hurt enough that she would get mad. And yet, at that moment, for some reason my heart was aching for him enough that with just a look in his eyes, I suddenly wanted to hug him. I loved him so.

“What? She’s going to bed without saying anything about it?” Hill was very disappointed.

The next day Tanner and his mom went about their ways as with any of their typical morning goodbyes, I love yous, etc. Hill and I had decided she must not have known after all. We were simply helpless.

When Laurie arrived early from work again, she nervously awaited his return from school. She was tearful. She watched from the window, occasionally sitting down but shortly returning to the window, looking at the clock on the wall. She paced.

“I think this, Hill, is what we have been waiting for.”

No sooner had he opened the door when she announced, “Hi Tanner. Leave your bag here and lets go.” With a bewildered look, he followed her out the door.

“Plant,” said Hill with disappointment, “I hate that we can’t see ‘the rest of the story.’ We will only have hearsay, and Judge Judy says hearsay doesn’t count.”

I smiled. “What do you mean, Hill?”

“We always hear what goes on in the house, but we never see what happens out of the house. We always hear what someone else ends up saying later,” he answered, hoping I would understand his strange way of explaining things.

“Don’t worry Hilly ole’ boy,” I reassured him. “We’ll hear about it all soon enough.


“This book is so many things. I got it this morning and just finished it. It was written by Laurie Jennings and it is about the teen life and murder of her son. I never met Tanner but I feel like I got the opportunity. As I write this, it is still very heavy on my heart. Brilliantly written. Thank you Laurie.”

“I read the story in two days – couldn’t put it down. I love the story being told from a plant’s perspective, like seeing through a picture window. Amazing. It truly touched me how she told the truth. She didn’t make her son the perfect kid, nor her the perfect mother, but instead shared the real struggles. It made it honest and lets us love him for the imperfect kid he was, the kind we all have.”

Tanner is the youngest son of Dave Pehl, Manager at Fogle Pump, who lives in Colville. Dave and Laurie moved to Colville in 1989, when Dave began his employment with Fogle Pump. Laurie now resides in Raymond, Washington. Tanner’s surviving brothers and sister, Cameron, Katie, and Matt, all graduates of Colville High School, now live in the Spokane area.
The book is available at Fogle Pump and Supply, in Colville, Washington, as an e-book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or by emailing Laurie at