WILMONT, Minn. — Step aside Superman and Wonder Woman. Abi Reetz is vying for your title.
“She is a superhero to me,” Steve Brake says about his 17-year-old next-door neighbor.
Last fall, Abi leaped to help when the 63-year-old Nobles County farmer found himself in the hospital – in the middle of harvest - with Miller Fisher syndrome, a rare and debilitating nerve disease.
“When the priest gave me last rights, I didn't think I'd walk out of there, much less ever farm again,” Steve says.
Steve left the hospital weak, wobbly, and seeing double – yet wanting desperately to get back on his John Deere tractor.
“He came home the end of October,” Mary Brake, Steve’s wife, says. “Four or five days later he wanted to go out and try to plow."
Both Steve and Mary knew it wasn’t safe for Steve to be on the tractor alone.
“So, I went with him on a Sunday afternoon,” Mary says.
And how did Mary feel about riding around on the tractor?
“Well, I didn't want to do it every day, all day long,” she laughs, knowing that’s exactly what her husband had in mind.
“And then,” Mary says, “Abi called.”
Out of the tractor cab went Mary.
In climbed then-16-year-old Abi.
And there in the cab, she's remained. Not just for a day or two, but for months.
“If it wouldn't have been for her, I couldn't have been out there driving,” Steve says, “because I couldn't see well enough to even drive the tractor home.”
After school, until 10:00 or 11:00 at night – all day on Saturdays and Sundays – Abi stayed at Steve’s side, helping him read the tractor’s screens and navigate the fields.
“Then, we'd pull into the fuel pump on a freezing cold night and she would climb up on that tractor and fill it with fuel,” Steve says.
All the while, Abi kept a watchful eye on Steve, meaning Mary didn’t have to worry.
“It gave her a sense of relief that this young lady was here taking care of me,” Steve says.
Then, one day, Steve and Abi switched seats. She drove, while Steve sat in the tractor’s buddy seat.
“I'm more comfortable over here now than over there,” Steve says with a laugh, as Abi sits in the driver’s seat, steering the massive tractor and grain cart loaded with newly harvested shelled corn.
Before Abi and Steve became partners in the field, they lived as next-door neighbors in the small farming community of Wilmont.
Eventually, Steve decided the town girl was ready to drive the farm tractor solo.
Their conversations continued on two-way radios, with Steve in one tractor and Abi in another.
“I would say it’s pretty much a grandpa-granddaughter relationship. I will tell him things that I won’t even tell my parents sometimes,” Abi says.
Andrea Reetz, Abby's mom, watched as her daughter missed football games and other high school events to spend time at the farm.
“That's just where she wants to be,” Andrea says.
So much so that Abi wanted to skip her high school band trip to Texas last month, rather than miss even a week with Steve during this year's harvest.
“In a sense, I was worried about leaving him,” Abi says. “I've never been that far away from him since he got sick.”
Abi departed only after Steve promised to send her daily video updates.
In one clip, Steve drove as he pointed his phone’s camera at the tractor’s buddy seat and addressed Abi, “As you can see, Tractor Princess, that seat is now empty and I'm occupying the throne today.”
When Abi finally arrived back in Wilmont after the long trip from Texas, Andrea suggested her daughter rest for a bit.
Not a chance.
“We got home probably about noon, by 12:30 she was out on the farm,” Andrea says.
There seems to be no end to Abi’s commitment to Steve and his farm.
As her Worthington High School classmates scheduled their senior portraits, Abi struck a pose in front of Steve’s largest tractor.
“I spent every day after school in that tractor with him, just us two,” Abby says. “That tractor is just so special to me.”
Speaking of special, how about a busy farmer clearing his day to attend the confirmation of the girl who blessed him?
Steve wouldn’t have missed it.
“She basically took a year out of her life so I could get this back – my life back,” Steve says.
Back from the brink.
Back on a tractor.
Thanks to the girl who has Steve Brake's back.
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