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I followed the man through the tall grass. He leaned down and pointed to the spot where the young mother had, just a few days before, laid down her child, turned around and driven away.

Back Story: A baby in the long grass 

Three-week-old Mia Graci Thompson was found crying in this patch of tall grass in rural Stark County, Ill., nearly 11 hours after being reported missing by her mother, 19-year-old Kendra E. Meaker. "Well the first time it cried, we wasn't sure if we heard it," said Russel Van Dran, 68, of Toulon, Ill., who found Mia while searching ditches and culverts with his wife. "We both said, 'Did you hear that?' We shut the truck off and then it cried again." Meaker had told police someone had abducted Mia from her car while it was parked outside a post office. The Van Drans helped local sheriff, police and fire departments locate the baby after investigators began to suspect that Meaker was lying about the abduction. She has since been charged with child endangerment and obstruction of justice.

Photo by D.L. Anderson

Three-week-old Mia Graci Thompson was found crying in this patch of tall grass in rural Stark County, Ill., nearly 11 hours after being reported missing by her mother, 19-year-old Kendra E. Meaker. "Well the first time it cried, we wasn't sure if we heard it," said Russel Van Dran, 68, of Toulon, Ill., who found Mia while searching ditches and culverts with his wife. "We both said, 'Did you hear that?' We shut the truck off and then it cried again." Meaker had told police someone had abducted Mia from her car while it was parked outside a post office. The Van Drans helped local sheriff, police and fire departments locate the baby after investigators began to suspect that Meaker was lying about the abduction. She has since been charged with child endangerment and obstruction of justice.

700 North is largely indistinguishable from the thousands of other county roads crisscrossing this part of the country, rural Illinois, where I grew up. It's just another dusty line woven between an enormous patchwork of gold and brown fields ready for harvest.

A dull red combine lumbered through rows of corn as I looked for the one notable feature described in all the police reports, a small ravine.

"How many times does a tragic situation like this result with such a positive ending?" said Sheriff Jimmie Dison.

As I parked the car near Indian Creek, my phone rang. It was Russel Van Dran, the man who, with his wife, had found the baby, a 3-week-old girl abandoned by her 19-year-old mother. He decided that meeting me would be the best way to show where they had discovered her.

I followed him through the tall grass. He leaned down and pointed to the spot where the young mother, Kendra E. Meaker, had just a few days before laid down her child, Mia Graci Thompson, turned around and driven away.

"She had been there for I don't know how many hours, but her lung-capacity was strong," Van Dran said. "She cried loud enough so we could hear her."

Once the baby was safe inside his big, clattering diesel truck, Van Dran called the sheriff and drove up to the corner, where he passed her off to an awaiting ambulance crew.

"We didn't do it alone," Van Dran said. "It certainly does take a village."

Earlier in the week I had watched my friend, Tyler, and his wife give their 3-week-old daughter a bath. They were very careful, in the way that young, first-time parents are. They soothed her with whispers as she cried; they laughed when she smiled at the sensation of warm water being poured over her. Tyler delicately lifted her out of the tub and dried off her curly, red hair.

Tyler later told me the story of Mia, which was fairly big news around these parts. There were also a lot of theories, with most concluding that the mother must have suffered from postpartum depression. She had reported the disappearance herself, crafting a paper-thin and fantastical story about the abduction.

Once it became apparent that she was responsible, she refused to disclose any additional details that might help authorities find the baby before nightfall.

At this point in my life, many of my friends, such as Tyler, are welcoming offspring into the world. It's been wonderful to be with them and to share their joys and anxieties—as well as their loving suggestions that I'm next in the Order of Things. My wife and I have certainly shared many conversations about when the best time for a child might be, knowing full well that there will never be a perfect time. After all, it's a responsibility unlike any other, a drastic change for anyone.

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