Tim Elder…now, there’s a name that brings back precious memories! I don’t remember his pa too well – not much to remember. He was drunk, and my pa didn’t care for me to talk to him much. But Tim, after his pa’s death, was another one of those wayward young men that got a fresh start thanks to my Pa’s straightening out his thinking!
The last time I saw Tim’s father was only mere moments before he died. I had gotten a dollar and I had to put it in my savings because I knew the first time I saw something in Hattie’s store I really wanted, that dollar would be gone! And since the savings account is set to where my Pa has to give me permission to get money out, I knew my money would be safe from any whim I had on spending it. Besides that, Pa said I had to!
How I got that dollar is another story! You see, back in the 1880’s a dollar was considered to be worth a lot of money, especially for an eleven year old boy! I worked hard for that money! You see, school was out on break for spring planting and I worked right beside my Pa. He made the rows and I planted the seeds. I hauled water from the creek to make sure they were good and wet. And I hauled off many clods of grass from the dirt. Do I even need to mention the rocks we had to pick out?
I didn’t get to deposit my dollar that morning like I wanted to though. As Pa and I were going into the bank, Mr. Elder was yelling at Mr. Hamilton, and he ran smack into me! It startled me, and upset pa who just grabbed a hold of me to keep me from being knocked down by this man. But only moments later, we heard shouts out on the street. Just like that, Tim’s father was dead and Tim was very upset.
There was no one else. Tim and his father had pretty much been left alone. Tim was so sad as he sat in the middle of the street crying. I stood on the porch and watched Pa carefully helped Tim to his feet and walked him to the hotel. I started to follow, but Pa only turned and held up his hand which told me not to follow. I looked at Mr. Hamilton. He cleared his throat. “I think it’s best if your Pa helps him mourn in private, Mark. A man doesn’t want company when he’s mourning.”
I nodded in understanding, but didn’t say a word. Mr. Hamilton ordered two of the men standing in the street to get Mr. Elder’s body to the Undertaker.
It was several hours later before we were able to leave. Just a simple pine box was loaded in the back of Pa’s wagon. I saw that Tim’s eyes were red from crying, and the way Pa had put a hand on Tim’s back told me that he had given him some fatherly comfort in the privacy of the hotel. Still, there were no words spoken as Pa motioned for me to climb in the back of the wagon. I stared at the coffin, not sure that I wanted to sit beside it, but quickly climbed up when Pa had to look at me a second time.
We rode in silence to the Elder ranch. Tim sat beside my Pa sniffing back tears. I didn’t know what to say, so I stayed quiet. The silence was an uncomfortable place to be, though, and I couldn’t wait for it to end.
When we got to the ranch, Tim picked a place to bury his father. He got a shovel and simply began digging. Pa came to stand beside me and I watched as Tim began digging the hole, the coffin sat beside the place where it would be laid. I swallowed hard and finally looked at Pa. “Should…we help him?” I asked. Those were the first words I had spoken since the incident had occurred. My voice sounded strange…loud as it broke through the eerie silence that surrounded us. I nervously played with the hat in my hands as I asked the question.
Pa put an arm around my shoulders. “A man needs this time to himself, son. It’s the last thing Tim will ever do for his father, so he needs to do it alone. It’s out of respect.”
I nodded, but stared at the coffin. Then I swallowed. “How long,” I started.
“Hours. Let’s take a walk, son.” We silently left. I turned and looked at Tim as we walked away. Tim looked up at us. His sad eyes stared into mine. Pa turned my head back around as we walked further away.
We returned a long time later. Tim sat beside the freshly dug grave, and tears laid heavily on his cheeks. He turned away when he saw me and I wanted to apologize for walking into such an intimate time. “Ready?” Pa simply asked. We had grabbed a Bible at the Elder’s house on our way back and Pa opened it to the familiar passage.
As I stood beside this grave, my mind went back to four years ago when I heard these same words coming from another man’s mouth. Pa held me tightly in his arms as I cried bitter tears into his suit coat. When the words were finished and they lowered my Ma’s casket down into the hole, I began screaming for them to bring her back. Pa had to walk away.
“…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.” Silence again. Pa slowly closed the Bible and walked over to Tim. He handed him a handful of dirt, but Tim only shook his head. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” Pa dropped the dirt onto the casket that was in the hole. Then he gently turned to Tim. “It’s going to be dark soon, son.”
Tim stood up and began filling in the hole. The whole thing was so depressing that I could hardly stand it. Pa came and put an arm around my shoulder. I put my arm around him as we held each other in half a hug. We watched in silence as Tim buried his father.
Pa made a stone for the grave while Tim completed the burial. He put the stone on the grave as Tim completed the burial. Then we stood back, our hats in hands, and watched. I asked Pa if he could work for us for awhile. I could tell he had no one, and knew Pa would be the best one for that job. Pa asked Tim to come with us and Tim agreed.
As Pa fixed a late supper, I sat with Tim at the table. Tim was quiet…sad. “I remember when my ma died,” I said softly. “It was hard.”
“Yeah,” Tim answered.
“It’ll get better.” I stated soflty.
“Uh-huh,” Tin answered softly.
Then Pa spoke softly from the kitchen. “Son, will you give me a hand?” I came into the kitchen. “Son, I know you’re trying to help, but give him tonight. And maybe tomorrow.” I nodded as I went to set the table.
We gave him tomorrow. The day after that, Pa told Tim we would go to church. Tim nodded and went with us. But he was still so very sad. I watched Tim over the next few weeks. He began to open up more and more as he worked with my Pa. But it’s like I said before. You can’t stick around me or my pa for long and not be everlastingly changed.
I know my Pa’s told you about Tim’s asking for shooting lessons and his practice and all, so I won’t go into that. I watched, though, as my Pa showed Tim how to shoot, and couldn’t wait for the day that I would be the one holding that famous rifle learning to shoot beside my Pa. Each day when I came home from school, they would be out there working on those targets. I was proud of how well Tim was doing.
At least, I thought he was doing well. But then one day Tim revealed a truth that rocked both Pa and me to our core. He was learning to shoot so that he could shoot Mr. Hamilton. I watched as this gentle friend whom I had talked to and encouraged all these weeks turn into a cold, vengeful person full of hate for a man who had done nothing but his job. Pa was angered as Tim stormed out of the house. He was so angry, in fact, that I was afraid Pa would let him go.
“No, we can’t do that, Mark.” I’ll never forget those words. Nor would I forget his next words that Tim needed us more then ever now.
Tim didn’t go to church with us the next day. He simply sat in the barn sulking. I asked Pa if I could go talk to him, but he told me to stay away from him and let him feel sorry for himself. As I climbed up over the wagon wheel, I turned around and looked toward the barn. Sorrow was back in my heart. I so wanted to reach out and help him – to show him that to love was better then to hate.
Then when I got to church, that’s what the sermon was about. Loving those who hurt us. I bit my lip as I listened to the words. I had learned it. Pa had learned it. Why couldn’t Tim had come this morning to listen to this wonderful sermon delivered by a wonderful preacher as he told us how to love those who persecute us. He said that our lives were much happier that way. I looked at Pa, but he only patted my knee and gave me a small smile.
As I sat at the restaurant eating my food, I couldn’t help to think on it some more. It bothered me and was eating away at me. I pushed the food around on my plate as I thought. “Son, you’ve hardly touched your plate!” Pa lightly scolded me as he sat his coffee cup down.
“I’m not hungry,” I said quietly.
“What is it, Mark?” Pa asked gently. I looked up into his eyes. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but I already knew the answers to many of them – I don’t know. I hated that answer.
“How can he blame Mr. Hamilton like that?” I asked.
“It’s easier to blame him then the truth, son.” Pa answered me softly.
“What is the truth though?” I wondered to no one in particular.
Pa sighed. “The truth is that his pa was a drunk and in bad health. That’s the truth. But Tim loved his father in spite of all his faults. So he wants to blame someone else – someone who is easier to hate.”
That answer made a lot of sense, but it didn’t make me feel any better. “Oh,” I answered.
“Now, try to eat your lunch, son.” I nodded.
I know my Pa also told you about Tim’s going into town the next day and trying to provoke Mr. Hamilton into a shooting match. Then my Pa showed up and showed Tim just how dumb he was. When I got out of school that day, Tim was waiting for me. I was sort of puzzled at that, but I walked up to him.
“I wanted to talk to you alone, Mark.” Tim sat down under a tree. I sat down with him. “Um…I did something really stupid today.” A tear strayed down his cheek, but he quickly wiped it away. “I tried to provoke Hamilton into a gunfight.” Your Pa and Mr. Hamilton both hate me now.”
“No, that’s not true, Tim.” I laid a hand on his shoulder. “They could never hate you! They feel sorry for you.”
“Your pa…he was so angry at me.” Tim sniffed. “I’ve really disappointed him.”
I sat my books down on the ground and gently laid both my hands on his shoulders, just like I had seen my Pa do to me so many times before. Then I looked strait into his eyes. “I promise you, Tim, that my Pa doesn’t hate you. He practices tough love on people – even me.”
Tim stared into my eyes. “My pa loves me more than anyone else in this world, and he yells at me and looks at me disappointedly sometimes. That’s the way a father is. They are only human.”
“I tried to kill John Hamilton today.” Tim suddenly stood up and banged a fist on the tree. “I tried to kill-“ He drew a fist to his mouth to keep a cry from escaping. “How can he ever forgive me?”
I smiled at him. Then I stood up. “Let’s go, Tim.” Tim asked me where we were going. “To Mr. Hamilton. He’s a good friend of ours.
As we walked into the bank I saw the look on his face. “Mr. Hamilton, Tim has something to say.”
Tim looked around. Mr. Hamilton held an uncertain look on his face. “Well, I…I’m sorry sir. I let hate build up inside me and it exploded like a wagon full of blasting powder.” He fumbled with his hat. “I…I’m sorry.”
Mr. Hamilton asked him to sit down. Then he handed him a piece of paper. Tim looked at it, asking what it was. “It’s the deed to your ranch.”
Tim stared at Mr. Hamilton. “My ranch? But-“
“Lucas McCain is a very convincing man. He talked me into putting up the money for your ranch. You can’t officially have it until your twenty-one, so you’ll stay with me and help out in the bank when I need you. That’ll help pay for the ranch. I’ll pay you a salary, but it’ll go into your monthly payment toward the ranch.”
Tim and I looked at each other. “Shall we ride out there?”
I nodded at him. “Lucas is in the marshal’s office.” We smiled as Mr. Hamilton went to get Pa.
As we stood outside, Tim told me I was lucky to have such a wonderful Pa. “I know,” I smiled as I watched Pa walk out the door. Then I ran up and gave him a big hug. He asked me what it was for, and with a big smile and as he picked me up to welcome another big hug, I stated, “Just because.”
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
'The Mind Reader'
Mark's Memories — Table of Contents
around The McCain Ranch