From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

A Reason to Live

In October 1986, farmer Darrell Adams needed help with the corn harvest. He asked his wife, Marilyn, if eleven-year-old Keith, Marilyn’s son and Darrell’s stepson, could stay home from school to help. Darrell’s request wasn’t an unusual one in farm country, where children are often needed to help bring in the crops.

Marilyn stifled a sense of foreboding and gave her permission. Staying home from school to help with the harvest is a rite of passage for a farm kid, she told herself. Keith had shown his mother he knew the rules of working safely around farm machinery, and the boy was proud that Darrell had asked for his help.

Before she left for a computer class in Des Moines the next morning, Marilyn fixed a big farm breakfast for Keith and Darrell. As she walked out the door she told them, “You guys be careful today. I don’t know what I’d do without either one of you.”

Later that afternoon, when Darrell rolled his combine into the farmyard to unload more corn, he found Keith curled in the fetal position at the bottom of the grain wagon, 14,000 pounds of corn on top of him and kernels clogging his throat. In a panic, Darrell rushed Keith to the nearby medical clinic, where medics did what they could for the boy while a hospital helicopter flew to the rescue.

Marilyn had been rousted from her computer class to take the telephone call all parents fear. She was driven to the hospital, dread cloaking her like a shroud. Darrell, who had been driven to the hospital by clinic personnel, met her there.

“I killed him! I killed him!” he cried, as he buried his face in his big, rough farmers’ hands.

At Keith’s bedside, Marilyn anxiously examined her son, his eighty-pound body shaking from shock, his face almost covered by the oxygen mask. Keith was hooked up to every medical device imaginable and an intravenous bag hung from a metal stand over his head. As Marilyn brushed her son’s hair from his forehead, she noticed that his face felt cold and clammy. She felt his arms, legs and feet—they were like ice.

Stricken and helpless, Marilyn sat and prayed for Keith, who had read the Bible cover to cover and wanted to be a minister. Several hours into her vigil, she leaned over and spoke to her son.

“Keith,” she said. “We have to talk to Jesus now.”

A single tear fell from the corner of the boy’s left eye and ran down his cheek.

At 2:30 A.M., with Marilyn on one side of his bed and his grandmother on the other, Keith stopped trembling. Marilyn felt her precious boy slip away to a place beyond pain and suffering. Her only son was gone.

Marilyn sank into sorrow so deep that even her family’s love and concern could not reach her. She stopped going to church because all she did was cry. She couldn’t drag herself to school programs or go to parent-teacher conferences. Her remaining daughters had to parent her. She watched, numb with grief, as she and Darrell grew apart.

It was a request for help from her daughter, Kelly, that started Marilyn on her road to recovery. Kelly had joined FFA, Future Farmers of America, which teaches young people about agriculture and related occupations. Her younger brother’s death had spurred Kelly to do a presentation on the dangers of grain wagons.

Together, mother and daughter researched the subject and found a recommendation that warning decals should be placed on the side of grain wagons. No one, they found to their surprise and consternation, had followed up on the recommendation. No one, that is, untilMarilyn Adams decided that she and her family would do it.

Marilyn realized she could resurrect her son’s memory, if not his life, by spreading the word about the dangers of farming for children. A woman with a mission, Marilyn channeled her profound sense of loss into starting an organization called Farm Safety 4 Just Kids.

Her employer donated enough money to print the warning decals Marilyn and her family had designed, sitting around their kitchen table. Iowa FFA chapters distributed thousands of these decals, sticking them on grain wagons while farmers waited in line to unload at grain elevators across Iowa. Marilyn felt reborn. She had found a reason to live and a way to keep Keith’s memory alive.

Marilyn knew that there was still a lot of hard work ahead. Garnering the support of the Iowa Farm Safety Council, she did a radio interview, and then a couple of articles appeared in farm magazines on Marilyn and her fledgling organization. The publicity prompted a flood of phone calls from the public and the media.

“The phone just rang and rang and rang. We couldn’t even eat dinner. A lot of people called who’d lost a child in a farming accident. They wanted to talk to me and reach out. Many of the people who get involved in Farm Safety 4 Just Kids have also lost children in farm accidents—it helps them in their grief. Any time a grieving parent calls me, I put them to work. It gives us something positive to do in our lives. That was when I began to feel I had a purpose in life, like I could begin to nurture again,” Marilyn recalls.

Marilyn tirelessly traveled the country, talking to businesses. She eventually lined up enough financial support so she could quit her job and work on farm safety issues full-time. She convinced then-First Lady Barbara Bush to be honorary chairwoman of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids.

“Nobody says ‘no’ to Marilyn Adams,” Mrs. Bush said.

Over the last ten years, the organization has grown enormously. Today Farm Safety 4 Just Kids has a staff of nine, an annual budget of $750,000 and seventy-seven chapters in the United States and Canada.

And recently, a study found that farm accidents claimed the lives of 39 percent fewer children since the founding of Farm Safety 4 Just Kids. There are many reasons for the decline, but most of the experts agree that Farm Safety 4 Just Kids is one of them.

Fulfilled with her success, her family whole and happy once more—Marilyn and Darrell even had another baby— Marilyn seems at peace. When asked how she envisioned Keith in heaven, Marilyn laughed and said, “I believe he’s very busy pointing his mother in the right direction.”

Jerry Perkins

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For more information about Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, write to P.O. Box 458, Earlham, IA 50072 or call 515-758-2827.]

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