You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer & BluewindFarm aka Deanne Bertram
'Old Man Running' — Episode 166
Thoughts were reeling through my head as that word registered with me like a bank robber pointing his gun in the face of a banker. I’d never really given the fact that I had a grandfather much thought. I remember asking Pa about my mother’s parents once – knew that my Pa’s folks had died during the war – and he simply told me that my grandmother died when I was little. I don’t reckon I ever really thought about the fact that Pa didn’t directly mention my grandfather.
But now what I had seen earlier registered in my mind. Pa had become upset earlier when he saw that man ride up. He had sent me inside, and even closed the door. I’d watched the conversation from the window. Of course, Pa didn’t know this because I knew he didn’t want me to see. But when I heard the hate in his voice I knew something was amiss.
“Someone who has no right being here, son.” Pa answered me when I asked who he was. I watched the hatred in his eyes…I saw the hatred on his face…and I wondered.
“I’m sorry you had to find out this way, Mark,” Pa said. His voice held regret as he looked at me.
It was then that I asked a question I already knew the answer to. But at this point I was still trying to get the information straight in my head. I still couldn’t quite believe this. How could my father possibly hate my grandfather? “He’s the man that came out to the ranch this morning. Isn’t he, Pa?”
Pa simply nodded. “Let’s go outside and talk.” Pa asked Lou to excuse us.
"Why didn't you tell me before who he was, Pa?" I asked after we got outside.
Trying to control his voice, Pa answered. "Because I'd also have to tell ya' what he did and I'd hoped I'd never have to do that." The tone in his voice was sad, filled with years of regret.
I suddenly found myself pleading with him. "Pa...I'm not a little kid anymore. I've got the right to know what's real so...well so I can make up my own mind about things.”
Pa sighed heavily. "Alright Mark." He put an arm around my shoulders as we started walking toward the stairs. "What was real the night your mother was dying, was that the doctor said that the only medicine that might help her was in Oklahoma City, ninety miles away. Your grandfather came by that night...tried to borrow some money. I didn't have to ask him what for, I could see he was still sober. I told him to stay with your mother that I was riding to Oklahoma City. She begged me not to go son. She said...’send Pa'. She begged me Mark. I gave him the money for the medicine and helped him saddle up. He never came back. That was the last time I saw him until today." The whole conversation was hard for me. The memories of my mother’s death were still so real. "After I buried your mother...I only had one thought Mark.....to find Gibbs and to kill him!" Pa went on to tell me that after some time he realized making a home for me was more important than tracking down a man and killing him for revenge.
I can’t explain what Pa’s words did to me. I loved my mother, and at the time of her death I thought my whole world had died with her. . Pa had told me that there was NOTHING that could have helped her. Suddenly, I began to question…question everything about that time. Nothing seemed real anymore.
“Then he killed Ma,” I declared quietly.
“No, Mark. He didn’t kill her. But he might have saved her.”
Those words hit me like a rock slide! I felt the air leave my lungs. I felt myself heat up all over as anger boiled up inside of me. "But that's the same thing as killing her...isn't it?"
Pa turned and looked at me. “I’m sorry, son.”
“Pa, you had no right…no right to keep this from me!” I lashed out.
“It would have served no purpose to tell you, son. I was…” Pa swallowed…”Protecting you.”
“I don’t need protecting, Pa! All these years you made me believe Ma’s death was completely unavoidable – that there was nothing…ABSOLUTELY nothing that could have helped her! And now I find out that…”
Pa closed his eyes and banged his fist on the step he was sitting on. “I’m sorry, son!” Pa shook his head and held up a hand. “No…wait…” He turned to me. “I’m NOT sorry, Mark. I was doing what I thought best and I ask you to respect my decision.”
“I can’t talk about this, Pa. I…” I closed my eyes. “I have a lot to…to think about.”
“At the ranch?” Pa lifted his eyes and looked at me.
I nodded with a sad smile. “Yes, Pa…at the ranch…”
We stood up and walked toward the wagon. Suddenly, Lou called over to us. “Lucas! Where are you going?”
“Back to the ranch,” Pa answered.
“Without even seeing Mr. Gibbs?”
“That’s right Lou.” Pa used that tone of voice with a warning in it – that warning should have told her to back off. But she didn’t heed the warning.
“What about you, Mark?”
“I’m going back too,” I answered.
Lou was upset. “He came all this way…and he’s risking his life just to see Mark!”
It wasn’t often that I saw Pa grow angry with Lou. Over the months, he’d learned to contend with her ways, but today was so unexpected, and Pa allowed his words to fly. "Lou...this is something that doesn't concern you."
Instantly, I saw the hurt in Lou’s eyes. I’m sure Pa’s words pierced her like a knife. They had become friends over the months. Though they had decided to be nothing more than friends, Lou still thought highly of both Pa and me.
“Well, it concerns me that he’s liable to be killed. Micah too if you leave town.” Pa wondered what Micah had to do with this. “His job!” Lou declared angrily. Her Irish temper was really up as she turned and went back to the hotel.
Nils hollered to Pa before we could leave. He said Micah had just asked him to ride out to the ranch to get him. We walked in to the Marshal’s office.
Micah was glad to see Pa and told him to pick himself out a badge. “What’s this all about?” Pa asked. Micah asked Pa if he’d seen Mr. Gibbs. “What’s that have to do with your handing out deputy badges?” I heard the tone of Pa’s voice change as he started to realize what was happening.
Micah told Pa something about the Sherman boys being after Mr. Gibbs, and figured them getting to North Fork around midnight. Pa matter-of-factly told Micah how he felt. “Well, that’s his problem, Micah. And if you want my advice, you’ll tell him what I told him…Keep movin'!"
“You mean to tell me this Gibbs fellow lied to Micah? He ain’t really Mark’s grandpa?” Nils asked.
“No. I’m saying it doesn’t make any difference!” Pa answered angrily. He turned and looked at Nils. “Now look Nils, if you’re doing this for me, forget it! He’s not worth it.”
I can’t remember ever hearing such hatred in my father’s voice. Anger boiled up inside me as I heard it. I wasn’t sure who I was angry at. Was I angry at my grandfather for not doing as promised, which would have possibly saved my mother’s life? Was I angry at my father for hating my mother’s father? Was I mad at him for not telling me the truth? Or was I mad at Micah and Nils because they were forcing this anger from my Pa?
Micah knew Pa meant business. He told Nils to put the badge down. After Nils left, Micah turned to me. “I know you must have reasons for feeling the way you do, Lucas, but this town still has to operate on the basis of law and order.”
“Micah, I want you to send Gibbs away!” Pa ordered, anger still heavy in his voice. But I felt the more anger boiling up inside me as well.
“I can’t do that! I already gave him my word!”
My voice was broken as I spoke. I was so angry and hurt…confused… “You don’t know what he did, Micah.” In my mind, Mr. Gibbs had committed the worst possible crime he ever could!
Pa tried to stop my fiery words. “Mark, wait outside, son,” Pa said sternly.
I just grew angrier. “You…You gotta tell him!” I yelled. “You gotta make him understand!”
This time, Pa’s voice was softer and he touched my arm. “Mark…wait outside, son. Please.”
I saw the torture in his eyes. I felt the tension in the room. Would things ever be the same again for us? Would we ever be able to put this tragic moment of truth behind us?
I slowly walked outside and leaned against the wall outside Micah’s office. “I never thought I’d see Mark so filled with hatred for another human being.” I heard those words sadly come from Micah’s mouth.
It’s no secret that I had my mother’s love for mankind. I believed in a person even when everyone else gave up on him. I loved man until I had a reason not to, and yet here I was feeling hatred for my grandfather. I didn’t even understand why…except that he killed my mother!
“Well, maybe it’s because Gibbs deserves it,” I heard Pa answer Micah. I lifted my head from the wall and turned to stare at the door. There was something in Pa’s voice that bothered me. He was saying that my grandfather…deserved MY hatred?
"The only Gibbs I know is an old man willing to die to see his grandson," Micah declared.
I stepped off the porch and made my way out into the street. I moved toward the hotel. As I stared at the door, I swallowed hard. I turned back and looked towards Micah’s office, then I slowly walked up the steps. I knew I wouldn’t have Pa’s blessing, but I had to see this man for myself. I had to…to try to make sense of why this happened to my family.
As I walked into the hotel, Lou looked up from where she was working on the books. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked toward the top. Then I lowered my head. “What room?” I asked quietly.
“I thought your father…” Lou started.
“What room, Lou?” I asked louder with a bit of Pa’s sternness in my voice.
Lou gave me the room number and I started up the stairs. “Mark…” She called softly. I didn’t even turn. I just hurried up the stairs.
I stood in front of the door and raised my fist to knock, but I paused. At the moment, the only thing I wanted was for this man to leave so we could go back to the way we were before. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and then knocked.
“Come in,” I heard.
I opened the door and stood inside the doorway. We stared at each other. I looked at the gun in the man’s hand. So…this was my grandfather. Grandpa…Mr. Gibbs knew exactly who he was looking at – I was his grandson – his daughter’s son. I looked so much like Ma.
He invited me in. I had reservations. I knew I was deceiving my father, but there was something in me that wanted to try to understand the truth. I couldn’t take my eyes off this man in front of me – my mother’s father…and my mother’s murderer…I allowed the door behind me to slam shut in anger.
“Well boy, do you know who I am?” the man in front of me asked quietly.
I didn’t hesitate to answer. "You're the man who killed my Ma!" I answered angrily. Anger was flashing through my mind as I again remembered that day. I remembered so many things and they were all so painful. I was trying really hard to keep my emotions under control.
My answer upset Mr. Gibbs. He slowly turned and walked to the mirror. “Well now…did your Pa tell you that?”
“You trying to say he was lying?”
“No. I ain’t trying to say he was lying, boy. He was telling the truth, your Pa was.”
I stared at his image in the mirror. I could not believe this! “You…you mean you admit it?”
Mr. Gibbs turned from the mirror in silence. He slowly walked over to the bed and sat down. “That's what I came here for son. To admit it…” He looked up at me as he added the last words. “…and to ask you to forgive me."
I was shocked. He couldn’t believe…In disgust, I asked, “Forgive you!?”
"That’s right, son. Forgive me. I don't know if I killed Margaret exactly...but I'm admittin' that I'm to blame just same as if I did kill her. Never admitted that to your Pa." He’d never even admitted it to himself. “I just kept running from the truth…like I always ran from everything.” Mr. Gibbs went on to tell me what happened before my mother died.
“It was eight years ago...it was a cold rainy night...I rode just about as far as I could go. I was afraid your Ma would die if I didn’t get back in time. I just thought that if I got one drink, it would give me the strength to go on. At least that’s what I told myself. Well, when I got back, your Ma was…dead and buried. Then when I rode up to that empty farmhouse, I went out to your Ma’s grave…and I sat down and waited for Lucas to come.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I wanted him to kill me.” We just looked at each other. Neither one of us could could speak on that. Finally, Mr. Gibbs stood up and crossed the room. “Well boy, you can…go now. It ain’t easy for a man to ask someone to forgive him. I can’t ask a second time.”
I struggled to get my words out. I was confused about my feelings. I loved Micah and didn’t want to see Micah, or anyone else, get hurt. But…no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to hate this man. Pa saw the man who killed his wife. I saw a broken down old man who had lived with the guilt of what he had done for 8 long, hellish years. My hatred for him…or my unforegiveness…would ever change that. But still…I couldn’t bring myself to go against my father. The words I had to speak were hard, but I forced them past my lips.
"Mr. Gibbs...I came here to ask you to leave town, before someone gets hurt."
"You want me to keep running?" He asked.
"I...” The truth was, I WANTED him to stay…He was a connection to my mother. But still… “I want you to leave town!" I was trying to stay calm. I was trying to keep the confidence that I didn’t feel in my voice.
He told me he would leave, that it would be easier to run from gunmen then it would be to keep running from himself and admit what he had done. He told me he would be gone within an hour and asked me to tell Micah.
With a heavy heart, I turned to leave. But when I got to the door, Samuel Gibbs stopped me. “Mark?” I didn’t turn, but paused and waited for him to speak. "I took pleasure in seeing you boy."
His words had quite an effect on me. I turned and stared at Mr. Gibbs…my grandfather…I was hoping he’d ask me to forgive him again. I was hoping he’d beg me to say. I was hoping…
But he wished me good luck. I felt disappointment. There were so many things left unsaid as I walked out the door.
I hurried down the stairs, not even acknowledging Lou, and ran straight to Micah’s office where Micah and Pa were still talking. “He’s leaving, Pa. Mr. Gibbs is leaving.”
Pa just stared at me, confusion written on his face.
“How do you know that, Mark?” Micah asked the question I knew Pa was wondering.
I looked Pa straight in the eye as I answered. “I went to see him.” I saw it…regret in my father’s eyes. But he said nothing. I turned and looked at Micah. “I asked him to. He promised he would.”
I didn’t want to talk about this anymore. I just wanted to go home. We had a lot of talking to do when we got there, I know, but for now…I needed to think.
Micah told us to go on, looks like it was going to be a quiet night after all.
We walked out the door. Neither of us spoke. Pa looked at me with mixed emotions. He really didn’t know what to say. He waited for me to speak. After we were seated in the wagon, I told him that Grandpa admitted it was his fault. “He said he…he came here to ask me to forgive him.”
I couldn’t look at Pa. I didn’t want to see the emotions his eyes held. I was so afraid of his disappointment. After what I heard him say earlier…
Pa silently studied me for a moment before asking. “Did you forgive him, son?” I heard it in his voice. He wanted me to, yet he didn’t. It killed him to think of me hating someone, yet…he wanted me to share this hatred with him.
I couldn’t do it.
The next words I spoke were quiet. They were hard for me to say. “No, I didn't think you’d want me to.” Pa said nothing.
As we were sitting on the wagon seat talking, three men rode in. I couldn't help but wonder if they were the Sherman's, and I just had to ask, “Are those the Sherman’s?” Pa didn’t answer. I looked up at my Grandfather’s hotel room window. The light was still on. He hadn’t had time to leave. I turned and looked at Pa.
He was my grandfather! I didn’t want to see him hurt. I turned to Pa, hoping he’d realize he was family and would protect him, But Pa tapped the reins and started the horses in motion. Regret filled my heart. I’d never seen my Pa walk away when someone was in trouble. How could he do this to my grandfather?
But suddenly, Pa stopped. He grabbed his rifle and turned to me. “Gibbs is my problem, Mark. I don’t need it to be yours or Micah's.” I turned in my seat and watched as Pa hurried back into town.
I stepped down from the wagon and looked towards town. Tears filled my eyes. “Save, him Pa,” I whispered. “He’s my grandfather!”
It seemed like forever before I heard gunshots. Then there was silence. I started forward, but then stopped. Then I started forward again. As I ran into town, I saw Pa leading Lou out of Mica’s office. I hurried forward, afraid something was wrong. Lou leaned against Pa for support. “Mark, help me get her to the hotel,” he ordered.
I grabbed Lou’s other arm and we helped her to the hotel. “Was she shot? What happened?”
Pa sat her down. He leaned in front of her and softly touched her cheek. “Lou? Lou, talk to me.”
“I…” Lou swallowed. “I just…just…”
“You just what, Lou?” I asked as I looked up at Pa. “Pa?”
“She just killed a man, son. She saved our lives.”
“I hurried to the kitchen to get her a glass of water. When I returned, I held the glass up to her lips and allowed her to sip. “Are you going to be okay?” I looked up at Pa. He had a hard stare on his face as he stared toward the stairs. I turned and looked. Grandpa looked at us in silence.
I wanted to run to him and tell him I forgave him. As he stood there on the stairs, I saw a weriness in his eyes, and I knew that he had been running for a long time. I opened my mouth to speak the words, but I quickly closed it.
Pa didn’t want me to forgive him.
I watched in regret as Grandpa turned and walked back up the stairs.
I shook my head as I turned back to Lou and Pa. Pa locked his eyes with mine. I didn’t understand the emotions in his eyes. I didn’t know if I wanted to understand them. “Lou, will you be okay?” I asked her softly.
“She’ll be fine, son.” Pa winked at me. “A feisty female like that bounces back quite easily.”
“I…I just killed a man, Lucas,” Lou declared.
Pa nodded. “Yes. But you SAVED two lives, Lou.” Pa turned to me. “Son, I’ll take care of her. You wait outside.”
I knew he wanted to talk to Lou alone, to let her feel she could talk about her emotions openly without feeling shamed in front of me. Slowly, I walked outside.
Pa soon joined me. Then we started to leave for home. But as we were getting ready to go, we saw Grandpa leading his horse around to the front of the hotel. He was keeping his promise to leave.
"Let's go son" Pa said in a reserved voice.
“Just a moment Pa," I answered as Grandpa slowly made his way over to us.
I listened as he told Micah he was going back to Bensenville, he had a little piece of land there. He thanked Micah. Micah told him not to thank him, but to thank Pa, his son-in-law.
"Forget it Micah...he doesn't owe me a thing. What I did...I did for you and Mark." Pa’s answer was harsh. I tried to understand the way he felt.
“I know that, Lucas…I’d like to thank you anyway…and I just hope that someday…you can stop hating me.”
"Now look Sam...I don't hate you!” Pa declared. “I just can't find it in me to forgive you."
"Well...the book says...not hatin' is the first step of forgiveness. I'll settle for that.”
By the way he talked, I knew there was a longing and regret in his heart, as he said good-bye.
"Good-bye," I replied. But I didn’t want to say Goodbye. I wanted to tell him that I forgave him. I wanted to talk to him…to understand…to ask him about my mother and…to understand some more.
“You want to tell him that you forgive him, don’t you son?” Pa asked this question quietly. I knew it was a hard question for him to ask
"I do forgive him Pa,” I answered honestly.
"Well then I think you ought to tell him."
I looked at Pa, surprised at how much his heart had turned since that morning at the ranch. Then I called to Grandpa without hesitation. "Mr. Gibbs...” I swallowed as I spoke the word allowed. “Grandpa...?"
Grandpa stopped before he could mount his horse. I could see a change in him, as if that one word had lifted a burden off his shoulders. I walked over to him. “I forgive you.”
Tears filled Grandpa’s eyes as he put a hand on my shoulder. “Why?”
“Because I can’t find it in my heart to hate the man who gave my mother life.” Grandpa allowed a tear to slide down his cheeks. “Grandpa…I…” I lowered my head. “I…have so many questions. I…hope you’ll stay…just a few days.”
Grandpa looked over my shoulder to where Pa stood. “I don’t think that would be wise, Mark. I…I don’t want to come between…”
“You are my mother’s father!” I declared. “I…” I turned and looked toward Pa. “At least let me talk to Pa. I…I’ll gain his permission.” Grandpa nodded. I slowly walked over to Pa as I dug my hands deep into my pockets. “Can…can I talk to you in private?” I asked quietly as I kept my eyes averted from him.
Pa looked at Micah, then put an arm around my shoulders as we walked across the street. We walked into the hotel. “Where’s Lou?” I asked.
“The doctor gave her something to help her sleep, son.” Pa lifted his eyebrows. “You…love your grandfather. Don’t you?” I nodded. He stared at me, waiting for me to ask the question.
“Pa, I’m not saying that what Grandpa did was right.” I looked out toward the street. “And neither does he. He’s eating himself up inside with guilt, Pa. He…”
“Good!” Pa declared angrily. “Mark, your mother…”
“My mother LOVED her father!” Pa narrowed his eyes at me. “It’s true, isn’t it?” Pa sighed as he nodded his head. “If Ma were here, what would she…” I saw the pain in Pa’s eyes. “Alright, that wasn’t fair. I’m sorry. Pa, he was good once. He HAD to be because…well, look at his daughter.”
“The war destroyed him, son. I…” Pa swallowed.
“I’m going to ask permission for him to stay in town for a few days. I’m not asking you to welcome him into our home. I’m not even asking you to talk to him, Pa. BUT I AM asking you to allow me to come into town and talk to him about my mother. Will you trust me, Pa? I have to do this!” Pa raised an eyebrow. I could tell he was struggling with this. “Please?” Pa didn’t say anything, but nodded softly.
“But tonight…I want you to come home. After church tomorrow you and your grandfather can talk. I need you at home with me tonight.” Pa squeezed my shoulder. “Please understand, Mark.”
I nodded. “I understand, Pa.” We stood and walked outside together. Pa pointed toward the wagon as he slowly walked over to Grandpa. I watched as they spoke softly. Then Pa walked back to the wagon, climbed up, picked up the reins and rode out of town.
I could tell by the way Pa was breathing and acting that he wanted me to leave him to his thoughts for now. I can’t pretend to say I understood where his thoughts were taking him. After all, this man wasn’t his wife’s father in his eyes anymore. He was the man who may have saved his wife’s life. He was the man who may have KILLED my mother.
Why did I forgive him? I’m not sure I knew myself. It’s true he was my mother’s father. From what Pa told me, and from what I remembered of my mother, she was a wonderful person. She was so special and loving – there wasn’t a hateful bone in her body…So she HAD to have had a wonderful father growing up! I believed that with everything. But I couldn’t help but wonder…what made him change?
Pa pulled into the yard. He sat silently on the wagon as he kept his head bowed in thought. I turned to get down. “Mark?” Pa stopped me. “I…Hating is bad, son. The Bible tells us to love our enemies. I don’t want you to ever hate a person because it tears you up inside.” Pa turned and looked up at me. “Your mother had a false trust in her father. That night…” Pa stopped again. I knew he was struggling with something.
“Pa, you don’t have to…” I started.
Pa shook his head as he turned in his seat. “Son…I blame your grandfather, but I also blame myself.”
“Why?” I asked in shock.
“Because I knew how your grandfather was. He was a drunk. He could never show up at a party or a celebration..anywhere without being stone-cold drunk. Every Christmas…every Thanksgiving…He seemed to always ruin the special occasions and your mother would end up crying. I would end up yelling at him or throwing him out, then I’d go to your mother and pick up the pieces of her heart.
“I never understood why your mother continued to love him…continued to have this false trust in him…We argued over it at times. I wanted her to see the truth, but she didn’t want to. Then that night when she came down with Small Pox, your grandfather was there. I wanted him to stay while I went for the medicine. Son,” Pa grabbed my hand and held it between his as he desperately searched my face in the darkness. “Mark, I would have done anything…ANYTHING in this world to save your mother. You know that.”
I nodded. “Pa, I never doubted that!”
“Knowing how your grandfather was, WHY did I send him? Why…why…why? That’s what’s eating me up most of all! I gave in to your mother’s pleading. She KNEW, Mark. She KNEW she was going to die! But she sent your grandfather and I gave in. I should have gone.”
I heard the pain and guilt in Pa’s voice. “Pa,” I breathed his name as I stared at him. “Pa, you hold the answer in the words you just stated. Ma KNEW she was going to die. That’s what you just said, Pa. She chose you…YOU, PA! When it came down to who she wanted at her side during her last moments in this world, it was YOU she chose. She sent Grandpa because she wanted you there with her. Don’t you see?”
Pa stared at me as his eyes filled with tears. He slowly lifted a hand and laid it against my cheek. “When did you become so wise, Mark?” Pa turned and jumped from the wagon. I watched him slowly walk toward the house as I unhitched the horses and took them to the barn.
When I came back inside, Pa was sitting in front of the fire. I decided to leave him in his thoughts as I made my way toward the bedroom. “Mark?” Pa’s voice stopped me. I turned and waited for Pa to speak. “All these years…I thought giving into your mother’s wish was a mistake. Now I realize that…” Pa sighed. “If I had gone against her wishes and went for the medicine, I would have regretted it because when I returned, she would have been gone. All these years…”
I slowly walked over to his chair. I bent down in front of it and looked up into his eyes. “Pa…” I swallowed hard. “I can’t tell you I understand what you’re feeling, because I don’t. But I’m glad you were with me…and with Ma…when she died. You were where she wanted you to be – at her side. You were there holding her hand when she died. There’s no other place you should have been. I think Ma knew that. That’s why she sent Grandpa. That’s why.”
I stood up and walked toward the bedroom. As I opened the door, Pa spoke again. “One more thing, son…” Pa stood and turned around. “It’s Saturday night.” He snapped his fingers and pointed toward the barn. “I want you smelling like lye soap in the morning, boy!”
There was still a struggle in his eyes, but we smiled at each other. Then I groaned. Even at the age of almost 15, I STILL didn’t enjoy taking a bath!
Grandpa came to church the next morning, but he stood in the back. I hoped Pa would invite him to sit with us, but I watched his jaw clinch and knew he still held unforegiveness in his heart. I turned and looked at Grandpa as the new Reverend, Reverend Gathers, told us to stand and sing. Pa nudged my shoulder and glared at me. I turned and sang.
Then as we sat, I turned again. Pa bent his head down near my head. “Unless you want me to embarrass you, you best not turn around again,” he warned. I had been dragged out of church and punished a few times when I was younger, and at almost fifteen it would have been quite humiliating. So I restrained myself and stayed focused on the preaching.
After church, Pa, Lou, and Micah walked toward the hotel. I turned and looked at Pa. “Could I eat with Grandpa?” Pa turned and looked at Micah who nodded his head. Pa turned back to me and nodded. I thanked him and hurried away.
When I got into the dining room, I saw Grandpa sitting at a table by himself. I put my hat on the table as I sat across from him. He stared at me. “You look so much like your mother,” he said with a hint of regret in his voice. “So much like her…”
We ordered our food before I turned back toward Grandpa. “You raised her right? I mean…you weren’t…” I lowered my head. Pa always did tell me I spoke before I thought.
“No, I wasn’t always a drunk. Did your father tell you anything about me?”
“Only that…” I looked up at him. “…What you told me last night,” I answered softly.
Grandpa nodded. “You had an Uncle…Andrew…Andy. Did your father ever tell you about him?”
“Yes sir,” I nodded. “I know he died in the war. And I know that he and Pa were good friends. He told me about taking Ma to the dance when she was 14 when he was going to go with Andy.”
Grandpa nodded. “But he didn’t tell you the reason Andy went to war in the first place…did he?” I shook my head. Grandpa lowered his head and sighed. “Well Mark, your father made an announcement one night at a family gathering – the Gibbs and McCain’s – that he was going to Indiana to join the war. I wanted Andy to go. His brothers were going and I told him it would make me proud. So…” Grandpa sighed. “…he did. And he never came home.”
Our food arrived just then. He waited to speak until after the waitress left. Grandpa took a bit of his steak before he continued. “We received a telegram one day. The McCain’s and Gibbs were together for Thanksgiving…Well…those still there anyhow…” Grandpa took a long swallow of coffee. Then he lifted his head and quoted.
We regret to inform you that your son, Private Andrew Michael Gibbs, died in the line of duty on Tuesday, November 24, 1863.
Everything in the room seemed to suddenly grow quiet when I heard the lonesomeness in Grandpa’s voice. I lifted my head and stared at him. He closed his eyes and lowered his head to his hand. “I remember your grandmother and my daughter’s screams as they were told the news. I was the reason he joined. ‘You’ll make me so proud, son…so proud.’ That’s what I said.”
“And you felt guilty all these years?” Grandpa nodded. “That’s why you drink?”
“I did. I quit six months ago. Haven’t had a sip since, and I don’t plan on ever…ever touching the stuff again. I killed your mother, Mark. It was my stupid drunkenness that killed her.”
I met his eyes and slowly shook my head. “No, Grandpa. I don’t believe that.”
“No.” I looked across the room at Pa, only to realize he was staring at us. “I don’t think Pa does either…not anymore.”
“Your father is very angry for what I did.” Grandpa sighed. “What I did was very wrong.”
I nodded. “Yes, Grandpa,” I agreed. “But…you didn’t kill my mother. You couldn’t kill your daughter! The disease…that Small Pox. That’s what killed her.”
“No.” Grandpa shook his head as he buried his head in his hands. “No…I don’t believe that.”
I stood and put my arms on his shoulders. “Come on, Grandpa. Let’s go upstairs.”
He stood on shaky knees as we walked out of the dining room and up the stairs. As we entered the room, Grandpa slowly made his way to the bed and sat down. I sat down beside him. “Ma loved you. Pa told me she loved you even for what you had become.”
“Yes.” Grandpa nodded. “Everyone else…they hated what I had become, but your mother, she loved me.”
“That last day she sent you because…Well, she didn’t want you to watch her suffer. She loved you THAT much, Grandpa. Can’t you see that? Can’t you understand? Ma loved you so much that she sent you away. You watched her come into the world. You shouldn’t have to watch her die. That’s why she sent you for that medicine.” I stopped. I didn’t know where I was getting the strength to help both my father and my grandfather through this difficult trial of understanding. “Do you see that, Grandpa? Do you?”
Grandpa slowly lifted his moist eyes up to me. He stared at me as if he was looking at me for the first time. I had never seen him smile, but I watched as a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “You have your Mother’s heart. She tried to always see the good in folks. She was so tender and sensitive. You are definitely her son.” He slowly stood and walked to the window as he looked down onto the street. “I replayed your mother’s last words a hundred times. “I love you,” she whispered. “I love you.” I watched as Grandpa’s shoulders sagged. “I never really stopped to think that…” He turned from the window. “She was saying goodbye.”
“Grandpa?” I spoke in a little more than a whisper. “Tell me about… my mother..”
Grandpa chuckled as he sat down in a chair and tipped his head back.
I spent the rest of the afternoon listening as my Grandfather told me stories of my Ma, from a time long before my Pa ever met her. The stories he told me sounded so familiar because I’d done a number of the same things, taking in a wounded animal and then insisting on naming all the animals on the farm.
. Grandpa told me of how, before Pa left for war, he and my Ma talked. “They decided to write letters back and forth. They made a pact before he left. She told me about it later as she cried after he left. The decided that in the letters, they wouldn’t discuss the war. They would only discuss memories and dreams…It was a way to take their minds off the terrible division in our country and focus on things more pleasant.”
Grandpa told me how when he’d go get the mail from town, many times there would be a letter waiting for Margaret Gibbs, with Lucas McCain’s name in the return address.
“They wrote letters?” I couldn’t believe it! Ever since Milly left North fork, she and Pa had been writing. I wasn’t allowed to ready Pa’s letters, but Milly wrote letters of her own to me.
Grandpa nodded. “The whole time he was gone. She took care of his folks when they grew ill. Your other grandfather had a stroke one day. She helped nurse him until he died. Then your grandmother…oh, she was in poor health already but after your grandpa died…well…But I’m sure your father told you all about that.”
I shook my head. “Pa doesn’t like to talk about that. He said it was a really sad time in his life.”
“Yes. Margaret could hardly bare the pain she knew would cause your father...” He shook his head. “Well, anyway, it was still a few years after he came home before they married.”
“I wonder where the letters are now.”
Grandpa smiled. “I’m sure your father has them. Perhaps someday he’ll let you read them. ”
Grandpa’s eyes started to wander and, as he gazed out the window he said, “I meant what I said last night. It does my heart good, seeing you. Knowing that… your Pa has raised you right. As Margaret would have wanted. You best get on back to your Pa. Tell him, I appreciate the time he allowed us. I’ll be leaving in the morning.”
As I left the hotel, I wondered... No… There’s no looking back. I ran to get back to Pa and let him know that I’d be okay. But I wanted… needed to talk more. And Pa was the only one who could answer these questions, about my Ma.
Even today, I remember that day and Grandpa showing me to the door. I remember his eyes sparkling that my Pa had let us spend some private time together. But, I also remember hearing the tremble in his voice and seeing a man trying his best to stand tall after years of regret and hating himself. One weight had been lifted, but there was a new regret in his heart and I understood how hard it was becoming for him to sit there and see me.
It’s been a number of years ago that Grandpa Gibbs was reunited in heaven with my Ma and I’m thankful that Pa understood my needs that day. Through my father’s understanding, I got to know a little bit more about my Ma. Stories that my Pa never knew. Stories I’m not so sure that Ma would appreciate me knowing, but they sure did explain the reasons behind a lot of the mischief I got into when I was younger. Yes, I am my father’s son, but I’m also, my mother’s son.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories — Table of Contents
around The McCain Ranch