I almost choked on the piece of roast that was in my mouth. Pa raised an eyebrow at me as I quickly drank some water down to make the meat go down the rest of the way. “What?” I suddenly asked.
“I said that the new preacher is coming this week.” Pa stood up and started cutting the apple pie he had baked earlier. “He and his wife will be here at the end of the week.”
“You mean, we’re gonna have a regular preacher?” I asked. We’d had a circuit riding preacher for so long that I didn’t know what it would be like to have a preacher watching over me during the week too! It sure would make being bad a lot harder, knowing that preacher was close by to watch you!
“Mark,” Pa scolded lightly. “I told you about the new preacher weeks ago!”
“Guess I wasn’t listening,” I stated.
Pa nodded his head “Hm, why am I not surprised?”
Pa sent me to bed just a little early that night. I’m not sure why, and sometimes it didn’t benefit me to ask questions. But it was actually a good idea that I did because it gave me time to think. I suddenly had a great idea. “Pa! Pa!” I called out.
Pa hurried in and rushed over to my bed. “What is it Mark?” Pa asked in a concerned voice.
“Pa, I got me an idea – a good one!” I cried excitedly. “Well, I thought I’d go fishing on Saturday and catch ourselves a whole mess of fish!”
I suddenly heard a sigh from Pa. “Mark, you’re supposed to be going to sleep!” Pa exclaimed. “Besides, you have some chores to do Saturday morning that you are going to do, young man!”
“I will!” I answered. “And then I’ll go fishing on Saturday morning.” Pa said nothing, so I figured I could explain. “I’ll do my Saturday chores on Friday night.”
“All of them?” Pa asked.
“All of them!” I answered. I didn’t have to see his face. I could feel it as Pa raised his eyebrows. I couldn’t help but to roll my eyes at him. “I’ll do my milking and gather the eggs in the morning, of course! There are just some chores you can’t do ahead of time.”
“Goodnight, Mark.” From the tone in my Pa’s voice, I figured it was a good idea to roll over and go to sleep. But when I got up the next morning, I started in on it again. Pa was in the kitchen getting my lunch ready. I took my bowl over to the sink and turned up my nose at what he was putting in my lunch. “Pa, you know I don’t like tomatoes!”
“And you know they are good for you,” Pa shook the butter knife at me. I sighed. “Eat it,” he pointed at me. Then he stuffed the sandwich and tomato in my box and smacked me on the backside. “Now, get to school!”
I smiled at him as he ruffled my hair. As I mounted Blue Boy, Pa stood on the porch and watched me leave like he always did. I’d say my Pa misses me when I go to school. As I started to leave, he stopped me. “Go to Hattie’s after school. I’ll meet you there.”
“Oh, but Pa! I have lots of chores to do!” I complained.
“We’re delivering groceries to the parsonage this afternoon. I’ll need both of our horses to do it,” Pa stated.
I left with a wave.
After school, I immediately went over to the General Store. As soon as I walked inside, Hattie handed me something to tie to my horse. “Can’t I look at the candy first? I had it in my head to suck on one of those sourballs!”
Miss Hattie turned and looked at the candy. Then she looked up behind me. “Well, I’ll tell you what Mark. If you help me with all this stuff, I’ll give you two sourballs.” I didn’t know it, but Pa was standing behind me, and apparently he was about to offer his complaint. Hattie suddenly raised her hand to stop him. “And they’ll be no complaints from you, Luke,” Miss Hattie declared as she put a grandmotherly arm around me. “I have a right to spoil this boy, and you know it!”
I smiled at that. “Yes ma’am!” That meant I could keep my money for candy another day.
As we began packing our horses, I thought on the fact that a real preacher was coming to this town. “Say Pa,” Pa grunted his huh as usual. “That preacher comin’ to town…does that mean we have to go to church every single Sunday now?”
Pa suddenly gave me one of his looks. He grabbed what was in my hand to tie it to his horse. “Yes it does, Mark,” Pa answered firmly.”
“Oh,” I said. But I guess I sounded a little disappointed because I suddenly had two sets of eyes looking at me. “I mean, that’s great! I get to go to school five days a week then church once a week.”
I remembered the Sundays the circuit riding preacher didn’t come to our town. I know church-going was important and all, I mean hearing a man of God preach a sermon that made you too scared to do anything wrong for at least a couple days. But on the Sundays the preacher didn’t come, I would get to sit and listen to my Pa read from the Bible. If it was a cool morning, I’d sit in front of the fire on the floor. Sometimes, I’d sit on the floor in front of him where he sat in his big, leather chair. Then I’d prop my arms around he knees, lay my head on my arms, close my eyes and just…listen.
When my Pa read, you could hear the love he had for God and the Bible in his voice. Rather he was reading a story from the Old Testament about a man that sinned and was put to death, or a promise from Paul the Apostle in the New Testament, every word from his lips just flowed out in a passionate, loving way. I could just sit there and listen for hours!
Then when he closed his Bible, he’d look at me and smile. Then he’d put his head back on the back of the chair and we’d sit there silently, thinking on what he had read. Long after he stopped reading, I’d hear the words from the Bible echoing throughout my brain. The way he read made the words stick with him. He allowed me to ask questions and discuss what he read if I needed to.
It was Pa’s rule that on Sunday mornings, when ever possible, we would do nothing but sit inside the house and reflect on God and all He’d done. Pa said that was very important for him. He wanted us to have that opportunity each week to reflect on the God who made us and gave us everything we had. I respected him for that, and felt sorry for the others at school who didn’t have the same respect for God that I had been raised to have.
Then Pa and I would work together – side by side – fixing lunch. The afternoon was free for me to do whatever I wanted. He didn’t usually assign special chores for either of us on that day, though Pa always had lots to do on Sunday afternoon, and sometimes I would help him because it was the right thing to do, and I loved being with my Pa!
As I reflected on those memories, I suddenly looked at my Pa. He had been studying my face. I smiled into his eyes and he put an arm around me suddenly. “Don’t worry, son. We’ll find those special times somewhere else.” Somehow he always knew what I was thinking. I smiled at him. “But for now, let’s get back to work, huh?”
As we worked, I started looking at all the food she was sending. Boy, he certainly was going to have plenty to eat! Micah stopped by and suddenly wanted to know what we were doing. We told him what we were doing. Then Miss Hattie announced that she had a trunk to unpack for the preacher. Pa informed her that I was in a hurry to get home.
I explained my plan on doing the chores tonight so I could go fishing in the morning. Her reaction was about the same as Pa’s! In fact, Pa shot her that look, and I know what he was thinking – that only I could come up with a plan like that!
Pa suddenly asked Micah if he’d been to see the doc yet. He ordered Micah to see the doc. His voice was sweet enough, but as his son, I’ve learned when my Pa’s giving an order; and sweetly telling Micah to see the doc with a “huh Micah” at the end of it was an order! Pa didn’t like his orders to be disobeyed!
As we left for the parsonage, I asked Pa what that was all about. Miss Hattie wanted to know too. Pa shook his head. “He’s been having a pain in his chest for a couple weeks now. It’s been getting worse, regardless of what he thinks.”
Miss Hattie suddenly looked very concerned. “Well, he should see the doctor! It could be his-“ But she suddenly stopped. I looked up at Pa who was holding a finger to his lips.
“Could be his what?” I suddenly asked.
“Uh, Mark,” Pa suddenly rubbed the back of his neck. “I would appreciate you helping unload the trunk before you leave, huh?”
I stared at Pa, who waved me on ahead with my horse. I saw him shoot Miss Hattie a look. “Pa, what-“ But I knew he didn’t want me to worry.
When we arrived there, we quickly unloaded the horses. I don’t know about Razor, but I know my poor horse was more then happy to be rid of all that extra load! I told Pa my horse wasn’t a pack animal and he just gave me one of those shrugs.
We went inside to unload the trunk. Miss Hattie was of course happy to see the Bible right on top. I picked up…something…and held onto it. It was hair, but I wasn’t sure what it was. As I studied it, Pa said that I’d probably never seen one of those before. “It’s a switch,” Miss Hattie informed me. It was supposed to make women beautiful that didn’t have very long hair, I guess…
But I thought that was pretty shameful for a preacher’s wife to act that way! After all, weren’t they supposed to be living their whole life for God and not worry about material things? But Pa and Miss Hattie both reprimanded me for thinking such a thought.
I began describing to Pa and Miss Hattie what I thought the preacher and his wife looked like. But they were suddenly there – the preacher and his wife! And when I saw her, I could do nothing else but stare! I stood up when the others did and walked over to them. I had described her as plain, but she was anything but plain! She was beautiful, in fact!
She reached out to shake my hand, but I was so awestruck by her that I barely realized I shook her hand. Pa suddenly looked down at me and realized I still had my hat on. He immediately plucked it from my head and gave it to me to hold. I also didn’t realize I was still holding the switch. She reached out and grabbed it from me. Boy, was I embarrassed.
I continued staring at her. She didn’t look like no preacher’s wife I’d ever met! She was so young and pretty! She looked a lot like my teacher, and my teacher was sure the prettiest teacher I’d ever had!
Pa was talking, but I barely heard him! I couldn’t take my eyes off this beautiful preacher’s wife! I didn’t know how I was ever gonna get through a Sunday service with her! Pa suddenly turned and looked at me. I realized then that I was staring at her and we left. On the way home I got to thinking about her. “You know, Pa, she don’t look like no preacher’s wife I’ve ever met! Why, she’s pretty!”
Pa turned and looked at me as we rode our horses for home. “Something wrong with that?” he asked.
“Well, I…I don’t know. Isn’t a preacher’s wife supposed to be homely and humble and such?” I asked.
Pa shook his head and laughed. I rode the rest of the way home. Then I immediately started on my chores. Pa came into the barn at one point and saw me swishing the hay so fast that he shook a finger at me and told me that the only good chore is one done right. I was getting more hay on the ground then I was picking up. “Just remember that if you don’t do them to my satisfaction, you’ll do them over tomorrow, son.” His voice was stern, but I could see the humor in his eyes.
I was just about done with the barn when Pa announced that it was supper time. I groaned, wishing I was further ahead in my chores, but Pa made it very clear that I was to come in and eat then. Afterwards, he made me wash the dishes. I had just finished my chore of cleaning the barn when he announced it was time to think about sleep. “Oh, but I don’t have to go to school tomorrow!” I argued.
“No, but a boy still needs a good night’s sleep.” He grabbed the rake from me. “Besides, it’s too dark to do anymore chores tonight. Go on,” he smacked my backside lightly. “Get to bed!”
I was just getting under the covers when Pa came in. He tucked the covers up over me and said, “I think you deserve your fishing adventure tomorrow. I’ll chop and stack the wood.”
A big smile spread over my face at that. “Oh gee!” I shouted. “Thanks, Pa! Thanks a bunch!”
He patted my covered legs and smiled. “But only after you do your morning chores!”
The next morning, I was up before Pa. I hurried into the kitchen and grabbed the basket for the eggs, then I hurried outside. The cows were milked, the eggs gathered, and the chickens were fed in record time! I even drew a bucket of fresh water from the well. Finally going back inside for the last time, I heated up the stove so I could fix me and Pa bacon and eggs. I was just putting the skillet on the stove when Pa came in. He yawned as he came into the kitchen and smiled at me. “I’m sorry, Pa! I forgot the coffee.”
Pa just waved it off. He fixed the coffee himself while I worked on breakfast. In no time, we were both sitting down to a hearty breakfast of scramble eggs and bacon! Boy was I happy!
As I left the house, Pa warned me to be careful and to meet him in town that afternoon. I waved at him excitedly as I hurried down to the stream and started my fishing adventure! And what an adventure it was! As soon as I put my line into the stream, I got a bite and another and another! When my stringer could hold no more, I picked up the fish and stared at them. Boy, was my Pa going to be proud tonight!
But guess what that preacher went and done? He went and decided to have a meeting on Saturday night! He sure didn’t waste any time at all! Pa of course thought we had to go. He missed going to church, I know. He said there was something special…renewing about sitting in a pew on Sunday – or any day for that matter!
I knew there’d be no fish-eating tonight! Even eating at the hotel didn’t sound good when I looked at the mess of fish I was holding! My Pa could cook up the best fish dinner you’d ever sink your teeth into! Why his fish and fried tators were out of this world. But there was no use dwelling on what couldn’t be! I decided to clean them and give them to the preacher and his wife.
But when I got to their house, I saw her brushing her long, beautiful hair. And she had her outer shirt off. I just stared at her! She suddenly turned and looked at me, that beautiful smile on her face! I suddenly held the fish out to her.
Why would a lady with long, beautiful hair like hers need something like a switch? She certainly didn’t need it! That switch was nothing compared to her hair! I had to tell my Pa about this! Something just wasn’t right.
I turned and ran before she could say a word. I ran all the way back into town and straight to Micah’s office where Pa was. I busted into the door. “Pa-“ I started.
“Hold it, son. Hold it,” Pa stated as he tried to talk to Micah.
Now, I wasn’t sure what he and Micah were talking about, but I had something important to tell him. I tried again. “Not now,” he stated in a warning voice. I tried one more time. “Mark!” The way he said my name made me suddenly realize that I should stop speaking right now or I would be punished. Pa wasn’t interested in hearing what I had to say!
“Yes sir,” I immediately said.
“Maybe you better wait outside.” You remember how I told you that his sweet suggestion to Micah wasn’t a suggestion, but an order? Well, the same goes with this latest suggestion. He might have used the word maybe, but I’m afraid that if I hadn’t taken his advice I would have been deeply sorry!
I suppose it was daring of me, but I did manage to squeeze out a quick question. I asked him if I could wait at Hattie’s. “Alright, but you wait for me there! I won’t be long,” he assured me with that same angry tone in his voice.
But before I could even get off the porch, the preacher called me and wanted to talk to me. He told me I was rude for just running away like that. I knew I should have gone on to Hattie’s store, because if Pa got there before me, he’d be awfully sore! But would Pa want me to disobey a preacher?
I went with the preacher back to the parsonage. He wanted me to apologize to Mrs. Gethers. But as soon as I walked inside, I knew something was wrong – terribly wrong!
You see, in the kitchen wasn’t only who I thought was Mrs. Gethers, but there were also about two strange men in there. When the man I had believed to be Mr. Gethers suggested I sit down, I immediately knew there was trouble – big trouble!
One of the men, named Spence Hadley insisted I tell him why I ran to Pa, and what I told him. I must admit that I was scared, and I didn’t really want to tell them anything. I hadn’t told Pa a thing – he hadn’t let me because he was talking to Micah. Now, I really wished I had risked getting in trouble to tell him what I thought!
I looked around at the faces. I could tell they didn’t believe me, even though I was telling the truth. I stood up, suddenly wanting my Pa very badly. I told them I was supposed to meet Pa at Hattie’s, so I had to go. But Mr. Hadly laughed at me as if I had told a funny joke. He shoved me down in a chair, then they made their plans.
Remember the woman I thought was a preacher’s wife? She wasn’t a preacher’s wife after all! She was Spence Hadley’s wife! Mr. Hadley walked over to the stove and ordered her to cook those fish. The men left the room to talk. Before leaving, Hadley ordered his wife to keep a close eye on me and not allow me to move from the chair. He kept the door to the kitchen open, and I knew he’d be able to see me if I moved.
I watched her cook in silence. Thoughts went through my head. She seemed like a real nice lady! “Those things in the trunk – they aren’t yours,” I stated this. It wasn’t a question. She said nothing, but continued cooking. “Why are you here?”
She sighed as she fried the potatoes. “It’s probably best if you don’t talk. My husband…he can be mean.”
“How could you?” I finally said. “How could you come here and pretend you were a minister’s wife? That’s just like…well, like lying to God!”
She turned and stared at me. I saw the sad look on her face. “I…don’t want to be in anything against God. He makes me.”
“What happened to the real preacher?” I asked. She turned from me and toyed with the fish. The aroma of the fish was filling the air. “You killed him and his wife?” She said nothing, but I saw her shoulders slump. “You mean…you killed a…a preacher?” I gasped at the mere thought! I couldn’t believe it – I just couldn’t! “How could you?”
“I didn’t do it!” She suddenly screamed. “They did it! They killed them and buried them along the trail.”
Tears suddenly popped into my eyes at the thought of a minister and his wife coming up on some unsuspecting bank robbers who would do anything to let their plan go off without a hitch. “You killed them?”
“No! I-I didn’t!” she suddenly cried. “It was them I tell ya!”
“But you didn’t stop it,” I stated matter-of-factly. “When I see something bad being done and don’t stop it, my Pa tells me I’m just as guilty as those who did the bad thing because I stood by and let it happen.”
“He would’ve killed me, Mark.”
“It was your duty!” I screamed.
Suddenly, Spence Hadley rushed into the room. “What are you telling him for?” He raised his hand to hit him.
But the fake-preacher, Dan Hewitt, suddenly grabbed his arm. “Don’t hit her! How will you explain it at the church?”
Hadley suddenly turned and glared at Dan. He reared back and punched him hard in the stomach. “You don’t care about that! You just don’t want me to hit her! You’re in love with her!”
Mrs. Hadley suddenly announced it was time to eat. They gathered at the table. “Wanta bless the food?” Mr. Hadly asked me.
I shook my head. “I’m not blessing it!” I shouted. “And I don’t want it!”
“Don’t you like fish, son?” Mrs. Hadley suddenly asked. “And fried potatoes.”
“Only when my Pa cooks it,” I sneered at her.
It got dark pretty fast that night. Mrs. Hadley and Mr. Hewitt left for the church. I looked around, trying to find some way to get a message to my Pa, but there was nothing I could do. I knew Mr. Hadley would kill me if I gave him the chance.
Mr. Hadley suddenly ordered Bro, his brother, to tie me up in the barn. He led me out. I started to make a run for it, but he grabbed my arm. I started to shout, but he pressed his hand to my mouth. He pressed it so hard that it hurt! “You better not give me any trouble, boy!”
Everything that had happened this afternoon was too much to stand. I wasn’t just afraid for my life, but I was afraid for Pa. He was out there looking for me, and if he discovered the bank was being robbed he would try to stop it. There would be shooting. My Pa could…
I didn’t allow my thoughts to go there. I thought of that helpless couple who had probably stopped to help the gang, only to be shot down so they could come into North Fork without any trouble. It made me sick to think that these people were so ruthless that they could shoot a preacher!
Bro Hadley tied me to the wagon wheel. He wasn’t tying them too tight, but I was crying anyhow…not really crying, but just sort of moaning, I guess. My heart was breaking. I never thought a person could be so low as to kill a preacher and his wife.
I stared at him wondering what he was going to do next. My eyes grew wide in fear as I realized he was going to gag me. I tried to fight, but I couldn’t. He gagged me so I couldn’t talk.
But suddenly, my Pa was there. I tried to make noise, to let him know I was here! But Bro Hadley threatened to kill him. He held the gun out toward my Pa. I had no choice but to be quiet.
But I knew my Pa and I were close. If I thought on it hard enough, maybe…just maybe he would sense that I was in trouble. Maybe…just maybe he’d find me.
I started to loose hope and Pa and Micah left without finding me. Hadley sat down next to me and tightened my gag. I was desperate. I had to somehow get out of this situation!
Suddenly, I saw the door open. I watched it silently, hoping it was my Pa. I hoped he had sensed my thinking and come back for another look! But I also hoped that he would be very careful.
I’m not sure if it was the sudden hopeful look on my face or the sound of the door squeaking, but Hadley suddenly knew we were no longer alone. He stood, turned and fired. Thankfully, my Pa was a little faster and killed him!
I was glad to see my Pa! Boy, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see him rescuing me from a sticky situation yet again! I started to tell Pa that he was holding a gun on him, so I couldn’t call out. But Pa interrupted me, wanting to know if I was okay. There was an irritation in my voice.
I couldn’t worry about that now. I told Pa that they were fakes and were planning on doing something bad. I wasn’t sure exactly what. I told them they were going to use blasting powder. Pa got me untied, then he laid a hand on my shoulder. From the feel of it, I’d say he was upset. “Look Mark, I want you to go over to Micah’s office. And this time, wait for me. You hear?”
I saw it in his eyes as he spoke. It was irritation at me. I wanted to explain, but now wasn’t the time. I nodded and stood up to go. I turned and looked at the man lying dead on the floor. Somehow, I felt sorry for him. He was only following orders, after all!
I stopped when we got back on Main Street to watch Pa. But he and Micah suddenly stopped. Pa turned and looked at Micah’s office. I could feel him watching me as I walked inside and shut the door.
I sat there for what seemed a long time. I heard a gunshot. I heard people shouting down by the church. There was a gunshot sound. I ran up to the church and looked down. There she was! She was dead.
My heart sank. “She had real nice hair,” I said quite sadly.
Pa suddenly walked over to me. He had a look of anger on his face. “I told you to wait for me in Micah’s office!” he nearly shouted.
I looked around at all the people. Some of them were staring at Mrs. Hadley’s body, but some were staring at us. I didn’t say anything to Pa, but watched Micah lead the two men off to jail. Suddenly, I turned and saw my Pa’s angry face. I slowly walked back towards the Micah’s office.
I shook my head as Micah locked the two outlaws in jail. Then I turned and looked at Pa. “Pa, I know you’re angry, but please listen to me before you start yelling!” I think I used a little more force then necessary, and I was immediately sorry for it. But Pa nodded and allowed me to talk.
“I came in here earlier to tell you about Mrs. Hadley. She was brushing her hair and I could tell she had no need for that switch. She wasn’t acting like a preacher’s wife, Pa! She was only half dressed sitting out in the yard!” Pa groaned. I’m sure he wasn’t happy I saw that!
When I left here, I started to go over to Hattie’s. But the one we thought was the preacher called me over to talk to him. I had to go with him.”
“Did he grab you?” Pa asked. I shook my head. “Could you have come back inside to talk to me?”
“I honestly don’t know, Pa. They wanted to know why I suddenly ran off. They wanted to know what I told you.”
Pa sighed. He turned to Micah and pointed to the door. “You, out!” he ordered in that authoritative voice of his. Micah opened his mouth to say something. “I don’t want to hear it!” Pa practically shouted. “I want you to walk down there and see the doc now!”
I watched him leave. Then he turned back to me. He sat down in Micah’s chair. “Commere, son.” I walked over to him. He stood me in front of him and looked into my eyes. “I…” he paused and swallowed. “I-“ He sighed.
I smiled at Pa. “You don’t have to say anything, Pa,” I stated.
“Yes I do, son. I should have listened while ago when you tried to talk to me. I…I was wrong. I’m sorry.” Pa suddenly looked away.
I knew that was hard for him to say, but I admired him for saying it. “I was wrong too, Pa. I should have come back to you or gone to Hattie’s like I was told to do instead of going with him.”
Pa shook his head. “No, son. You did the right thing.” He smiled and slapped my shoulder. “I was just so scared and worried.”
I could tell he needed a hug. I reached out and hugged him. Then as I pulled away, he looked at me and smiled. “Thanks, son.”
“Pa, I’m hungry,” I suddenly stated.
“Well, while I was being held at the parsonage, Mrs. Hensley cooked the fish and fried the potatoes, but I couldn’t eat them.”
“Why not?” Pa asked.
I smiled. “I told her I only eat your fish and potatoes!”
Pa smiled and patted the top of my head. “I didn’t eat either.”
“Hm, I thought you had plans to eat at the restaurant.”
“Yes, well, I was out looking for my boy!” Pa declared. We both laughed.
Oh yeah, by the way, when Micah got back from doc’s, he reported that there was nothing wrong with him – except eating his own cooking!
Guess what my Pa and I did the next morning? I washed the breakfast dishes. Then Pa sat down in his leather chair and opened the Bible. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the grin cross his face. I ran to the chair, plopped myself in front of his chair, and propped my arms and head on his legs as always. “Pa?”
Pa stopped turning the pages in the Bible and looked at me. “They killed the real minister and his wife.” Pa nodded. “How can people do that? Kill a man of God?”
“There were a lot of people who killed God’s son.” Pa reminded me. He opened his Bible to Matthew and began sadly reading the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
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