MARKLEVILLE, Ind. - Inside their home, Darl and Mary Alice Collins are busy with a labor of love. The two spend hours in their kitchen filling, crimping and baking pies for the Indiana State Fair.
This year, the couple faced unforeseen challenges that threatened this long-standing tradition.
Mary Alice has baked pies for the fair for 57 years. And, she's been married to Darl for each of them.
"Without him I couldn’t have made it this far this year," Mary Alice said. "We do it together. We feel that it's teamwork."
Their team has been tested since last summer. Mary Alice went into septic shock while on a trip with Darl in the summer of 2015. The doctors made the seriousness of her condition clear. Mary Alice recalls their words.
"She either will lose her organs and lose her life or she will lose her fingers and her feet." she said.
So, the Collins' opted for the latter option and coped with the life-changing effects of the amputations. Then in June, Mary Alice was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"We have lived the vows of the wedding," Darl said. "In sickness and in health."
Darl and Mary Alice were high school sweethearts. Their love is now helping them endure a difficult time. Mary Alice's positive attitude is driving her to continue baking, even without the use of her fingers.
"She’s had drive since I’ve known her," Darl said.
Their baking routine now starts with Darl putting on Mary Alice's prosthetic legs. Then, the two head to the kitchen where Mary Alice can stand and still do some stirring. Her husband is always nearby, ready to take over when a task becomes too tough.
"Being married for 57 years, it’s something that you grow together and you do for each other," Mary Alice said.
Moments in the kitchen are filled with laughter, along with the occasional husband and wife squabble about recipes.
"I love to help her out but I don’t like the responsibility of living with results if they’re bad," said Darl of his baking skills.
The joy they share motivating Mary Alice to push through her limitations.
"I tell myself 'I can do it, I can do it,'" Mary Alice said. "It’s not going to get me completely down."
So, she's proving she is not ready to bake her last pie just yet.
Mary Alice expects to drop off her 12 pies at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday.