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The driveway was a pocked as a young boy’s face. Some of the potholes had been worn into craters by the trucks carrying the vegetables to market. Tire ruts rounded into the grass showed where drivers had found a path to avoid the deeper holes. Driving the road was more evasive driving than some of those TV shows she and Gracie watched in the evenings after the boys had settled down for the night.
The family’s and the farm’s mailbox sat on the end of the driveway. The one was open permanently because someone broke the door off once and it was never replaced. Being a country road, they never really feared someone taking their mail. “Let them have it,” Mr. Baker used to rant, “It’s all bills and junk anyway!” Adele giggled to herself at the memory of her dear husband sitting at the kitchen table raving about what the world had become. He always did it with a glint in his eyes, not too serious, yet he still felt the need to spout and show his authority on the subject. Her eyes smiled back as they peeked over cups of midday coffee. Those looks let him know she respected him for his knowledge, but also knew he was just short of talking himself out of his pants.
Their marriage had begun at a young age. They’d met at a friend’s high school graduation party and found each other that night. One quick year later they couldn’t wait any longer. He was working the family farm; she had a job at a local grocery store. They had all they needed and true love to boot. His family farm had an empty trailer next to the farmhouse garage. The plan was to live there, and build their own house at the east end of the field across from the farmhouse next to a young grove of trees that the country church was growing to surround their cemetery. The church was at least a mile away, but the Bakers were kind enough to sell them the land for cheap.
Within a couple of months, Adele was pregnant with their oldest, a son. Life had begun. Four more healthy and bouncing babies came along over a short span of time and by the time Adele was thirty their family was complete. The trailer was soon too small and her husband’s dream to build them a house finally came true after their third child. The growing family moved across the field from the farmhouse into their own three-bedroom ranch with a basement. As she walked through their new home for the first time, Adele felt it was the biggest kitchen she’d ever seen. It was open to a large eating area that would make it easy to make dinner, watch kids doing their homework, and still have room for the littlest ones to play in the cabinets.
Their children grew up as country kids, spending their days outdoors, investigating the earth and their family land. Dirt was often found under their nails on a daily basis. But not for long, and certainly not on Sunday. Adele was of the belief that you could tell if a child was well cared for if they had clean fingernails. So nail cleaning was a daily ritual her children would often tease her about even after they had grown. Each child had a job around the house and helped out with farm work as well. As soon as school started they took the long bus ride to the Christian school. The Baker’s church saw the family’s desire to send them to the school and the strain it caused them as a farming family, and each year Adele’s tuition bills stayed the same, even after all five kids were attending.
As Adele remembered those days at the house, she felt every mother’s thoughts…the days were short, but at times the hours were long. The kids played, her devoted husband worked, and she did her share to keep the costs down. Hang the laundry. Can fruits and vegetables grown on the farm. Cut coupons. Make their daily bread. Making bread was her favorite thing to do. She made sourdough the best. The kids, and later, her grandkids, would cut thick slices, toast them, add butter, and the sugar/cinnamon mix Adele put in a shaker. Adele felt the most proud when she watched her children eat the bread she had made for them. Their slow chews and occasional sounds of satisfaction were thanks enough. Her mother-in-law had always told her that to be a farmer’s wife you needed courage and contentment. She found those words came to her often, even now as the twin boys babbled at the bouncy road.
Adele had always enjoyed children. As she watched her own children become parents, her sense of awe at how children discover their world was source of pure joy. When they visited she would make grand meals and teach them games. “Grandma’s Game” was the popular card game, similar to gin rummy, but invented one lazy afternoon on the picnic table under the shade of an old oak tree. Now, there weren’t too many visits from her grown children and their kids. She’d tried luring them with a promise of paving the pocked drive to keep their shiny modern sedans and SUV’s safer instead of snaking their way down the drive. By that time, Adele and her husband had moved back into the farmhouse after her in-laws had passed. Mr. Baker’s mom had gone first, and his dad soon followed. Many said he died of a broken and lonely heart after seeing his wife suffer through her long sickness. He once told Adele he had seen his wife’s sprirt in the hallway one night, and she had told him she was ok, and just patiently waiting for him to join her.
Even though she never admitted it out loud, Adele knew it was just too hard for her children and their families to be at the farm. The memory of that horrible spring afternoon still gave her own stomach and ache that would stop a person in their steps.
Adele’s whole family had come out for a picnic at the farmhouse for “April birthdays.” Several of the family members had been born in the month of April and it was always a good excuse to head out to the country, be together as a family and see spring arrive with the bright purple heads of the crocus blossoms. The grandchildren ran the length of the farm grounds, exploring barns, most still in use, and filling their young lungs with the country air. That day one of the boys had found a way through the fence surrounding the old inground swimming pool. The pool was the one luxury the Baker’s had added to their home. It was next to the farmhouse, but around the corner from where the adults had taken seats outside. The boy fell into the empty pool. The damage to one of his legs combined with an infection from some bacteria growing on the cracked concrete bottom gave the doctors little options but to amputate the little boy’s left leg.
The next week Adele’s husband and some of the farm help filled the pool with dirt and rocks. Within a year no one would even know a pool had even existed on that spot. The sadness that everyone felt, or maybe even a little guilt, kept Adele’s children from ever coming back to the farm. It was now a “dangerous” place.