I Can't Stop, Mom... I Can't Stop!
Mom, standing in the entryway of our 1959 farmhouse, her breakfast apron speckled with bread crumbs from making our sandwiches, waved as we boarded the bus. “Don’t forget! As soon as you come home from school, change your clothes and help with the potatoes.” Her shouts barely reached our ears before the bus door unfolded to close out the crisp morning chill.
Fall harvest was in full swing. Our family of seven knew firsthand about “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” and we didn’t complain. Cracking open a steaming baked potato in the dead of winter was reward enough for our labors.
After the day’s lessons and the long ride home, I hopped down the steps of the bus and lugged my book bag to my bedroom. I changed clothes—and stopped in the kitchen to quickly make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.
Taking a bite of my sandwich, I pushed open the front screen door with my foot and saw that Mom had recruited some extra help for the day’s task. Grandma and Grandpa Warkentin along with Aunt Laurie nodded their friendly greetings. My three-year-old niece Karen, played with my little brother. Billy was two years old and melted everyone’s heart with his bib overalls, bare feet, and winsome smile. He tagged along everywhere, always wanting to be part of the action. Today that action would include burrowing beneath the wilted potato leaves in our Manitoban soil to dig out the Red Russet and Golden Yukon potatoes which would be stored in the basement for the winter.
Mom looked out across the front field, and spoke quietly, within earshot of Grandpa. “Last year we took so many trips with the pails; today we’ll use the front-loader to bring the potatoes right up to the front step, as close as we can get to the house.”
“Would you like to drive, Linda?”
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”
-Psalm 34:18 NLT
I broke into a smile. At only fourteen, I was already an old hand at driving the Cockshutt 35 tractor. Mom continued her instructions.
“We’ll pile the potatoes in the front-end loader. When it’s full, Linda, drive it to the front of the house. I nodded my obedience and quickly ran to climb the thirty-four-inch tire, boosting myself into the red metal seat.
We emptied pail after pail of potatoes into the bucket of the front-end loader until it could hold no more without spilling. Now it was time to head back to the house. Hopping once again into the metal seat, I positioned myself behind the wheel and turned the key. I peered over the top of the faded yellow tractor and, carefully shifting into reverse, backed the vehicle away from the garden, turning the steering wheel to change directions. Next, I shifted into drive and steered the 5,000-pound tractor toward the doorway of our pink stucco farmhouse. Billy and Karen played on the front step, watching my approach.
I neared the house and released the hand throttle, one foot on the clutch and the other on the brake. I pressed the brake, anticipating the deceleration of the Cockshutt.
It didn’t happen.
The tractor didn’t slow.
I gripped the steering wheel for leverage and pressed harder on the brake. Bewildered and confused, I sensed the betrayal of the machine beneath me, rejecting my efforts to bring it under control. Quickly it was swallowing the distance to the house. I screamed the only explanation I knew.
I can’t stop the tractor, Mom! I can’t stop!
Mom shrieked as the front-end loader slammed into the stucco wall of the house and white wooden doorframe. The kids! Where were the kids? Where was Billy?
The tractor had slammed into the house exactly where Karen and Billy stood. Billy, attempting to escape the huge machine that was barreling toward him, had taken one step in front of the stucco house, almost as if to mark his destiny.
Through the swirling furry I saw Karen’s colorful floral blouse wedged between the splintered panels. Quiet whimpering told me she was alive—thank God! —and I strained to hear Billy’s little-boy sobs.
My eyes swept the scene wildly, looking for the baby brother who giggled and chased fireflies. My heart cried the words my lips could not form.
Scooping up Billy, I wrapped one arm under, one arm over the too-still shoulders, the same way I had held him as a newborn. His semi-conscious form molded easily into my body as I spun around with him to race after Mom to the car.
I pleaded with God not to let Billy die… but that night we cried ourselves to sleep as we lost that precious little boy.
It was the beginning of a long journey, a very long journey… but eventually healing came, complete healing.