Sally Walker. No matter how many years go by or what's happened in my life, that name still brings a smile to my face. She was my first real love. I had feelings for Lucille Bandy, there’s no denying that, but she didn’t make my heart race like Sally did. She didn’t make every hair on my body tingle like Sally. She didn’t make me forget who I was like Sally.
I still remember the day I met her. Why, it was…okay, let me start at the beginning.
You see, this story really should start when I was in school the day before. As you know, I had recently been promoted to half day only classes. That brought a lot of excitement, but a lot of responsibility. In a way, schoolwork was even harder now. Pa stated it was teaching me discipline, but I figured Pa had given me enough of that over the last 13 years or so.
“Well, well, well…if it isn’t Mark McCain!” Lucille declared as she folded her arms that morning and slowly walked over to where I was tying up my horse. “Why Mark, of all the nerve!” She humphed.
I cringed wondering had I done something wrong. And I’m sure Miss Bandy would let me know exactly what that was in short order. “What did I do?” I asked, not turning from my horse.
“Do you know that I waited at the church for an hour last night?” I turned to her and shrugged. I still had no idea what I had done. “You were supposed to meet me at the church so we could go gather flowers and put them on some of the graves. Mark, we planned this over a week ago!”
“Oh.” I took my books and started toward the door. “I apologize for making you wait, Lucille. Pa said I should never make a girl wait. But a cow got into some loco weed, and my Pa didn’t get home until later last night so I had to tend to him way into the evening.”
“Loco weed? That’s your excuse?” Lucille cocked her head to one side and glared at me. I could tell she didn’t believe me.
“Look, I have a lot of responsibilities now, Lucille! I’m not a kid anymore. When things go wrong at the ranch, I have to stay there and tend to them.”
“Oh really! Seems to me its just an excuse for you to have time to play!” Lucille stomped up the steps without another word.
I shook my head. She didn’t seem to understand that since I started half-days at school, I really did have a lot more responsibilities on the ranch. My Pa depended on me. How could I go put flowers on graves when I had a loco cow in danger of hurting herself and others? “Women!” I rolled my eyes and hurried inside.
Lucille didn’t talk to me at all that morning. She wouldn’t even look my way. When I stood up, I decided two could play that game. “Well, that’s just fine then!” I said. “Perhaps I’ll meet someone a little more mature!” I shook my head again as I went to my horse to ride into town. “Women!”
Lucille was coming out the door for lunch. “Oh yeah, Mark McCain! Men!” Then she ran off to begin her flirting on another boy, who would no doubt welcome it.
I hurried into town and saw Pa’s horse outside Micah’s office. I came inside and saw Pa and Micah enjoying a nice cup of coffee. I shook my head as I slumped down into a chair. “Women!” I declared again.
Micah looked at Pa, then grunted. “Don’t tell me you’re already having woman problems!”
I looked up at the two adults staring down at me. “I’ll tell you this much: I’m through with them! I want nothing more to do with them – EVER!”
Micah laughed. “Well, that’s my opinion, sonny! That’s why I’m single.”
Pa turned and grinned at Micah. “Oh now stop it, Micah! The only reason you’re single is because no woman would have ya, what with that ugly grin on your face all the time!”
I listened as the two bantered at each other. “You just say that because you have all the looks, Lucas Boy. I think women go more for brains then looks.”
I let out another big sigh. “That Lucille! I ain’t never setting my sights on her again as long as I live!”
“Seems to me, If’n I remember correctly, Mark said that last week,” Micah said and tried to hide a laugh.
“No, no, Micah. That was the week before. Remember? When she stood him up at the café for lunch? She had to take care of her sick pig.”
“Yeah? Well of all the nerve! That Lucille got mad at me…ME! She said I stood her up at the church yesterday!”
“And did you, son?” Pa asked. I looked up at him. “Did you stand her up?”
“Well…not…not exactly, Pa.”
Pa and Micah looked at each other. “He stood her up,” Micah answered.
“No…No!” I declared. I stood up and walked over to them. “Now look, here’s how it was. I had agreed with Lucille to go with her to plant flowers on some of the graves, and I had every intention to do just that!” Pa nodded with a grin on his face. I planted my hands on my hips and looked from Micah to Pa. “Well, can I help it if a cow got into loco weed and I had to tend to her?”
“OH…” Micah said. “He used the sick cow excuse!”
“But it was true!” I looked anxiously to Pa as he tried to hide a grin behind his hand. “Pa, you saw her last night. I mean, she was getting better by the time you got home, but that was only hours after my tending to her!” I looked from Pa to Micah again. “What was I supposed to do anyhow? Leave the cow to fend for herself – possibly killing herself and some others, or leaving her to bust up a fence that I’d have to repair – or go keep a meeting with Lucille?”
“Well son,” Pa stood up and slapped me on the back. He lifted his leg and propped his foot up on a chair, rested his elbow on his knee, and leaned in really close to my face. “Here’s the thing, it depends on who you want to please. You could have chosen to leave the sick cow for awhile and go in to at least explain the situation, but then you would have gotten into big trouble by your father, but been in good standing with Lucille.” Pa smiled. “Or you could have done what you did and get in big trouble with Lucille, but be in very good standing with me. When it comes to girls or women, son, there’s always a sacrifice to be had.”
“Well then, I made the right decision!” I declared. Pa and Micah looked at me waiting for me to explain why. “Well, Lucille can’t punish me like you can, Pa!” Micah spit out the coffee he had just took a drink of.
Pa and Micah laughed. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the two of them laugh so hard. “Let’s get home so you can hit the books, son.” I groaned. “Now, you’re tending to that sick cow last night caused you not to study yesterday. And since you have a big test next week, you need every chance to study that you can get.”
“There, you see?” I asked as we walked to our horses. “That dumb ol’ cow is causing me more problems!”
“That may be so, son, but that dumb ol’ cow, as you so elegantly put it, has bred us several good bulls and put food in your mouth many a time!”
But when I got home, there were some chores that needed doing. Even though I didn’t totally hate school like I used to, I didn’t exactly jumpe for joy in sitting quietly at the kitchen table to do my homework. So I fed the chickens and slopped the hogs. I also thought Blue Boy needed a really good brushing. That’s what I was doing when Pa came home.
Pa never said a word. He just planted his hands on his hips and pointed to the house. I never said a word either. I handed him the brush and raced to the house before he could bring his hand down onto my backside!
After supper that night, Pa quizzed me on my political science. We ended up getting in a bit of an argument over the issue of rights for men and women (and I won’t bring that one up again!), but it thankfully ended when my bedtime arrived.
Pa reminded me the next morning as I went about in doing my chores that I would have to tend to my chores alone. He would be in town to meet Milly’s niece who was coming in on the stage. That was fine with me.
Pa took another long swig of his coffee. “So,” he said as he rinsed his cup out and sat it down on the counter. “I want you to check cattle this morning.”
“Alright,” I answered.
“That’s it, son. Just check the cattle.” Pa figured I’d get off track again. I assured him I’d do just as he told.
But as I rode out on the range checking the cattle, my stirrup broke. I pushed my hat way back on my head and bent down to examine the stirrup. I could only imagine what Pa would say if he saw it – just do my work and tend to it later. But I decided to take it into town and have Nils tend to it. If I played my cards right, I’d be home and have the cattle checked before Pa returned anyhow.
I rode into town and went straight to the livery. “Nils? Nils!” I called.
Nils came out from the back. “Stirrup leather broke,” I explained, pointing to the stirrup.
“So it did.” Nils looked at it. “Only take me a minute. Come on back in a few and I’ll have it ready.”
I decided to head on over to the General Store for some candy while I waited. I sort of hoped I wouldn’t run into Pa since he gave me strict orders to stay home.
Then that’s when it happened: magic, excitement…love. Milly called me over to help her. “Hello Miss Mil-“ I started as I started over. But then I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at the beautiful…girl in front of me. Her smile melted my heart. My eyes grew wide and my mouth open. I could hardly believe my eyes!
Was she real? Was a girl really able to look this beautiful? This inviting? There was that smile again that liked to melt my heart.
From deep within me, I vaguely heard her name: Sally Walker. Sally was Milly’s niece. I saw…no felt…no…I saw Sally extend her hand, still with that deep, beautiful, oh-so-sweet smile! I took her hand. “Hello.”
There she went again, flashing that beautiful smile! And those eyes – the way she batted them at me! Oh, I felt like I was in Heaven!
“Mark!” I suddenly heard Milly call. “The bag!”
“Oh!” I gasped. I suddenly realized my hat was still on in the presence of this…this…beautiful woman! I took it off as we continued smiling at each other.
I just couldn’t take my eyes off her! She was so very, very pretty! I backed up to get her bag and suddenly bumped into Milly. “Mark!”
Then they laughed and walked away. I bent down and picked up the bag without taking my eyes of Sally. Then I started to walk forward.
I vaguely remember Pa behind me asking what I was doing in town. “Carrying a bag,” I answered without even acknowledging him. Maybe I didn’t even know he was there!
Anyways, I walked across the street and stepped into the General Store where Milly and Sally were. I sat down the bag Then I just stood there and stared. I couldn’t believe how incredibly beautiful this young woman was!
Milly asked me to introduce her to my Pa. How could I when my throat was so dry? I could hardly get her name passed my lips. “Pa, this is…” There it goes…I had to get her sweet name passed these lips of mine. “…Sally.” I smiled.
Pa welcomed her and Milly thanked me for helping. “Yeah,” I answered. I could hardly bare to think on going back to the ranch and working with plain ol’ cattle after laying my eyes on such a beauty as this! “We’ll see you at six,” Pa said.
I turned and looked at Pa suddenly. “We’ll be there,” Milly answered.
“Where?” In all the excitement, I had forgotten that Pa had invited Milly and Sally over for supper tonight a week ago. Then it seemed like just a regular supper where I had to be polite to my guests. Now…it was a whole different feeling. It was a disaster…it was a pleasant surprise. I was excited…I was dreading it…Oh, what WAS I feeling?
I wanted to stay and just look at Sally. She was very easy on the eyes, after all. But Pa tapped me on the shoulder a few times and said “Let’s go.” I turned and tripped over the suitcase I had sat down. My knees suddenly felt like jelly as Pa pulled me back up to standing position.
I could feel my face getting hot at the horror of the three figuring out what my problem was. Sally suddenly announced she needed a letter delivered. She needed it delivered all the way to the Willow Ranch. I knew where that was. “Oh, I’ll take it!” I practically ran forward and took the letter from her.
There was no power on earth that would stop me from delivering this letter! I’d do anything for…Sally.
Then she announced she wanted the letter delivered to Bruce Henry. “Do you know him?” she asked.
“Oh, I…I’ve seen him around,” I answered. I began wondering why a beautiful, sweet, intelligent woman like Sally would have anything to do with the likes of a no good ol’ looser like Bruce Henry. But no matter, I would deliver that letter! The smile she gave me as a thank you for doing this favor for her was well worth the trip, and then some!
I slowly walked out the door. I felt Pa put a hand around my neck and I immediately stopped. “Hey young man, how come your willing to ride five miles out of your way to deliver that letter?”
“I don’t mind,” I answered with a big smile as I remembered that beautiful smile on Sally’s face.
“Five miles out of your way and…you don’t mind,” Pa stated.
“Sally…” just the sound of it on my lips…”Isn’t that a nice sounding name?” I think that the most beautiful name in the whole world!
“What are you doing in town? You’re supposed to be checking cattle.”
I had to think for a minute, because the truth was, I had forgotten the reason I was in town. I seemed to have trouble thinking at all since…Sally…arrived!
I told Pa my stirrup broke. Then I started thinking. Sally…Sally Walker is coming to my house tonight! I didn’t want her walking into a pig sty! I didn’t want her to think I couldn’t take care of myself and my Pa! I had a lot of work to do if I was going to really impress her. “Say Pa, we better get going! I got this to deliver, the house to clean up, dinner to fix…”
I didn’t stick around to do anymore talking. I had a lot to do! My first order of business was to deliver this letter to Bruce Henry. As I rode, I started listing in my head all the things that needed done. I wanted to give the house a good sweeping, scrubbing, and dusting. I didn’t want a speck of dust to be found anywhere in the house. I even wanted to put fresh linens on the bed because I was afraid that a girl like Sally would only smell to realize they were dirty. “Let’s see now…I’ll make sure the yard is clean and even spray some of that scented stuff around that Miss Milly gave us to use.” I looked at Blue Boy as he galloped along the road. “Can you believe Milly telling us it stunk in our house? Well, she won’t say that tonight, Blue Boy!” I bit my lip as I thought on it some more. “I wonder if I’ll have time for a bath. It would do me much good if I didn’t smell good. I don’t want to smell like a…a…sod buster, after all!”
I arrived at the Willow Ranch. I saw Bruce whipping one of the horses. I couldn’t believe the owners of this ranch allowed him to beat the horses like that! I felt like taking that whip and beating him with it a few times. Then when he read Sally’s letter, he laughed and acted like she was nothing to him. I just looked at him trying to figure out how he…or anybody else for that matter…could think such things about such a wonderful girl.
I rode away and raced home just as fast as I could. It was already 1:00. We only had five hours before Sally and Milly arrived! I took the saddle off of Blue Boy and ran into the house. Pa was calmly sitting at the table eating a sancwich and drinking a cup of coffee. “Hey Pa, why you sitting there? We got lots of work to do!” I declared.
Pa pointed to the chair beside him, indicating for me to sit down and eat. “No thanks, Pa. I got too much work to do. “ I started looking around. “Where’s the broom?”
Pa reached out and grabbed my arm. “I want you to sit down here and eat, boy.” He pulled me down in the chair. “Then you are too go back out onto the range and check the cattle like I told you to do this morning.”
“Oh, but Pa! I want to sweep and scrub these floors!” I declared.
“You do that every Monday afternoon, son,” Pa answered.
“Well, we have company coming over today! I-“
Pa was giving me a strange look. One of his eyebrows was raised really high and he eyeballed my sandwich. “Yes sir.”
“Mark, I don’t care what you think needs done in this house. The fact remains that I gave you a job to do this morning, and you are going to carry out that job.” I lifted my head up to argue, but Pa held up a hand to stop me. “That’s an order, boy!”
I sighed and ate on my sandwich. Then I started thinking on supper. “Uh…Pa?” Pa looked up at me. “Uh…what are you fixing for supper?”
Pa grinned at me. “Your nose must be way off kilter, son. Can’t you smell?”
I sniffed the air. I could smell an apple pie baking. “Your making apple pie for dessert?” Pa nodded. “What else?”
Pa chuckled. “Well, I have a roast on the counter ready to go into the oven as soon as the pie comes out.”
I looked around. “Well, the floor needs swept good, Pa.”
“After you tend to the cattle.”
“And it could use a good dusting.”
“After you tend to the cattle.”
“And I reckon I’ll take a bath.”
“I know,” I said as Pa opened his mouth We both said it together. “After you tend to the cattle.”
I took another bite of my sandwich. “Wait a minute.” Pa pointed at me. “You…You want to take a bath?”
“Well, it is Saturday night, Pa.”
“Yeah but…Are you…feeling alright?”
I smiled as I thought again about Sally. “I’m feeling wonderful, Pa. Just wonderful!” Then I bolted down my milk, wiped my moth with the back of my hand, and raced out the door before Pa could yell at my table manners.
I groaned when I got out onto the range. The cattle had to be spread out everywhere! One calf was trapped in a thicket and crying for his Ma. His Ma was mooing, no doubt upset that she couldn’t get her calf out of the mess. I quickly freed him and went on my merry way. Everything else looked good. There were 92 head with four calves – all accounted for!
I hurried back to the ranch. The aroma of apple pie and cooking roast filled the air and spilled out of the house. I smiled as I hurried in. But then a horrific thought hit me. “Pa!” I gasped as my eyes widened. “What if Sally doesn’t like Roast?”
“What?” Pa asked. “A person from Denver not liking beef? Why Mark, there’d have to be something wrong with her!” Pa answered as he quickly worked on peeling the potatoes. “Cattle checked?”
“Yeah.” I ran up to Pa. “Did you check with Milly to make sure what your fixing is appropriate?”
Pa sat down the knife and turned to glare at me. “If what I’m fixing is-“ Pa stopped. “Mark, I don’t consult Milly to make sure she approves of my cookin’ or when I decide what to fix for supper anymore then I consult with you! What I tell you goes for anyone else who enters this house.”
“I know, I know…Be pleased with the food in front of you and eat it rather you like it or not!” I declared.
Pa gave me an annoyed look. “Not quite, son. Maybe it’s a little different for our guests. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat it.”
“But Pa, Sally’s different!” I declared. “She’s-“ I suddenly stopped. I didn’t want to reveal anymore, even to my Pa.
Pa turned from the potatoes again and looked at me. “She’s what, son?”
“Oh…my…I best get to sweeping!” So for the next two hours, I worked hard at sweeping the floors, dusting the whole house, straightening the kitchen (since Pa was in the kitchen preparing supper, he wasn’t too happy with me on that), and making the house smell pleasant for lady company.
As I squirted the sweet-smelling aroma in the bottle around the house, Pa groaned. “I think you’ve smelled it enough.”
“Oh no,” I answered. “I want it to smell-“ Pa grabbed to bottle from me and told me if I overdid it, it would stink. “Go…pick some flowers to put on the table.”
“Oh right!” I stated. “Flowers!”
After the flowers, I announced to Pa that I was going down to the creek to take a bath. Pa nodded as I grabbed the bar of soap and scrub box with a towel and clean clothes and hurried away. I wanted to take a nice warm tub bath, but there just wasn’t time for that!
When I came back, I slicked my hair in the mirror. I fussed for a long time trying to get it looking perfect. Pa shook his head as he stood behind me. “Son, I’m going down to the creek to wash up. You set the table.”
I turned toward the stove. My eyes grew wide. The potatoes were still cooking, and he had beans cooking on the stove too. Pa was the better cook! I didn’t know much about sophisticated cooking, and Pa said he prayed I married some day because I wouldn’t survive on my bachelor cooking. “Pa, you can’t leave!” I declared.
Pa looked toward the stove and put his hands on his hips. “Don’t worry, son, the stove has no teeth. It won’t bite you.”
“But Pa, what do I do?”
Pa laughed. “Well son, the meat and vegetables in with the meat won’t be ready before I get back. Check the potatoes and when they are soft, drain them and smash them, then stir some butter in there. When the beans are soft, just remove them from the stove.” Pa patted my back and walked out the door.
I set the table and checked the potatoes often. Everything had to be perfect! I heard a wagon approaching and looked around. “Oh no!” I gasped. “Oh dear!” They were early! How could they come early? Pa wasn’t back from the creek yet and-
The front door opened. Milly stepped inside. “Hello, Mark.”
I hurried forward. I looked at Sally. “Hi, Sally.” I smiled. She returned the smile with that gorgeous smile of her own. I hurried to the table and pulled out a chair.
“Oh no, I can help,” Sally declared.
“No,” I said just a bit too loudly. I cleared my throat. “Uh…I mean…No, that’s okay, Sally. You’re a guest.”
Sally nodded and sat down. I grabbed Milly’s hand and started to lead her to the kitchen. “What about Aunt Milly?” Sally asked.
Milly looked at me and smiled. “Oh, well…she’s more like a member of the family.” My face blushed. That sure didn’t sound right!
I drug Milly into the kitchen and to the stove. “Help!” I begged. “Pa…he done left me there to go wash up at the creek. Why, he knows I can’t cook!” I declared.
Milly laughed. She proceeded to check the vegetables and said they were done. “Oh.”
She laughed again. “Don’t worry Mark, I’ll take over here. Why don’t you go put up my horse.”
“Oh yes.” I started toward the door. “I’ll go put up your horse, Milly,” I announced from the front door. I looked toward Sally and gave her a weak smile as I grabbed my hat. “Uh…uh…thanks for offering to help, Milly. I think those vegetables are just about done!” I looked towards Sally and nodded. “I’ll…uh…be right back!”
I hurried outside. Pa was coming up from the creek. I shook my head and hurried down to him. “They came early!” I declared.
“You asked them to, son.” Pa walked toward the barn. “In town earlier, remember?” I thought. A lot of it seemed to be a blur. I groaned as I remembered me telling them they could come a little early if they wanted to.
“Oh Pa, me and my big mouth!”
“Agreed!” Pa declared. “Go tend to Milly’s horse, son.”
When I returned from the barn, I had my guitar with me. Pa raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. I smiled as I sat the guitar down and went to wash up. Pa came up behind me. “What’s with the guitar, son?”
“Well…” I turned and looked towards the table. “I was thinking that I’d play for Sally after supper.”
Pa nodded. “Oh.” He reached around Milly and grabbed the fresh bread as she smiled up at him from stirring the gravy. “I just haven’t seen you with it lately. I…OH!” Pa grunted.
I’d turned back just in time to see Milly elbow Pa in the ribs. “Why don’t you put the gravy on the table, Lucas!” Milly said. I noticed them communicating silently with their eyes.
After Pa left, Milly put an arm around my shoulders. “Mark, I think it’s wonderful that you want to play for Sally. She loves listening to the guitar.”
“Really?” I turned and looked at Sally. She flashed that smile at me again. “Well, that’s great!”
We soon sat down to eat. My heart started racing, though, when I realized the seating arrangements. Pa and Milly sat on one side of the table while Sally and I on the other. Soon Pa would ask us to hold hands while he led the blessing over the food. “Mark?”
“Huh?” I asked.
“Aren’t you going to take Sally’s hand so we can pray?” I looked down at the one hand still in my lap. Pa was already grasping my other.
“Oh…” I swallowed really heavy. “Yeah!” I licked my lips as I slipped my hand inside Sally’s. I looked down and waited for the prayer to end.
We started eating. “Uh…” I swallowed hard. “I hope you like roast, Sally.”
“Oh, I do,” Sally smiled at me. “Of course, one of my favorite meals is fried chicken. Milly makes the best fried chicken!”
I smiled. “Yes,” I agreed. “She does.” There was nothing in this world that tasted better then Miss Milly’s fried chicken! “Course…my Pa makes the best apple pie.”
“Oh, I can hardly wait to taste it.”
The conversation was awkward, to say the least. I think we finally blended in with Pa and Milly’s conversation. Sally asked about ranching and what North Fork was like. I could talk about that stuff.
After dessert, I stood up. “I’ll um…start on these dishes.”
Milly stood up and grabbed the plate out of my hand. “Oh no, Mark. Why don’t you take Sally out and show her the ranch. Your father and I will do the dishes.”
“Huh?” Pa asked as he turned and looked at Milly.
“I said we will take care of the dishes.” Milly turned to go into the kitchen. “Give the kids a chance to visit.” Milly went into the kitchen and Pa followed close behind. “Oh Sally, Mark said he’d love to play the guitar for you. I told him you like listening to it.”
“That’s wonderful, Mark!” Sally declared.
I hurried to the front door and handed Sally her shawl. She thanked me as I opened the door.
“Why do I have to do the dishes?” I heard Pa teasing Milly in a whining voice as we walked out.
“How serious is it?” Sally asked as we walked out.
“What?” I asked.
“Their relationship. How serious?”
I smiled at Sally. “Oh well, neither one of them will admit it, but they’re in love. I can tell.” We slowly walked toward the barn as I spoke. “My mother died when I was six and Pa had a really rough time getting over it. He hasn’t said anything, but I think he’s afraid of being hurt like that again. That’s why they’re taking it so slow.”
Sally nodded. “Mother said Milly ended a relationship with her fiancé before coming to North Fork. She was really hurt.” We walked in silence. We were by the barn now. “You think they’ll ever marry?”
I turned and looked toward the house. “Well I don’t know.” I opened the door to the barn. “Well, you saw how they are in there. They already act like they’re married when they’re together. They can communicate without saying a word and Milly takes over a lot of the woman things when she’s here. Just like my Ma would do, if she was still alive.“ I lit a lantern as we stepped into the barn. “I think they’re happy where they’re at.”
“I want her to be happy.” She walked toward the cow. “It’s important to mother. She’s seen so much sadness in her life.” She didn’t go on and I didn’t ask. I figured it was none of my business.
We fed the horses, the cow and the pigs before heading back to the house. I hurried inside and got my guitar. “Sally, you can sit in the rocking chair if you like,” I invited her.
She smiled. “No, I think I’ll just stand here.”
I thought on a song I could sing as I began strumming the guitar.
Oh, now I knew the perfect song! I cleared my throat as I began to sing the words.
“The First time that I looked at her, I…”
My throat suddenly seemed to close up! I tried to keep from blushing as I cleared my throat and started over.
♫ The first time that I looked at her,
It wasn’t hard to see
She is something special
Especially for me.
The bluest eyes that I’ve ever seen
And pretty as can be
She is something special
Especially for me!
I’m lucky that I found her
On that special day
I want so much to tell her
The Things I cannot Say
If she would only look my way
I know that she would see
She is something special,
Especially for me!
When I was finished, I saw that Sally’s mind had wondered off. I asked her if there was anything else I could play with her. “Sally?” I asked when I got no response.
She asked me about the letter. I told her that Bruce Henry found it sort of funny. She got mad. The last thing I wanted to do was make a girl like Sally mad! She said he was no friend of hers, and I couldn’t help but be a little happy about that!
But then I started hoping that Sally was my friend. "Sally...I'm your friend, aren't I?"
She again flashed me that beautiful smile of hers. "Of course you are. A very nice friend." She walked over to me and put her hand on mine. For the second time that night, I felt the softness of her hand. That put a smile on my face and made my heart beat really fast!
The door soon opened and Milly and Pa stepped out. “Sally, Lucas and I are going for a short stroll, then we’ll be ready to go.”
Sally smiled. “Alright, Aunt Milly.”
“Mark, you get the buggy ready,” Pa said softly as he turned and looked Milly in the eye. I saw a soft smile play on his face as they looked at each other.
Sally and I sat there on the porch and watched them walk away. I saw Pa stretch out his arm to his side and Milly took it as their fingers crisscrossed and looked together. I saw them look at each other. “Looks like they really are comfortable,” Sally mumbled.
“They are,” I answered. “I think she’s wonderful. Pa and I don’t talk about it much, but I think she’s made him feel alive again.” Sally looked at me. “Well, like I said, my mother’s death was really hard for Pa. She was his life and when she did, part of him died too. I saw the ache in his heart – even through my own ache. I heard him cry late at night when he thought I was sleeping. Every anniversary…birthday…death day…Pa was so sad. He tried to hide it, but I knew. He ached for me of course, but he also ached for him.”
Sally shook her head. “I’ve never experienced anything like that. Both my folks are alive and well. They’ve always been there. I’m sorry you two had such a hard time.”
I turned and looked at Sally. She had a saddened look on her face as if what I had told her really did make her sad. She was so sweet and so kind! “Well…uh…” I looked away so I could speak. Looking at her made me all tongue-tied! “Since he’s met Milly, he hasn’t had that sad, empty feeling. I think Milly filled that space inside him. I would love to see the two of them get married. I haven’t said anything to Pa because I don’t want to pressure him. I’ve watched his struggle over the last year and a half with this relationship.” I lowered my head and looked at the dirt. “I guess I see a lot more then Pa thinks.” I looked up at the sky. “It’s been hard for them to get into the comfortable relationship. I think they’re happy with where they are, and if they are happy with it, then I’m happy with it.”
As I spoke the last words, I stood and stepped off the porch. Sally came to stand beside me. She wrapped an arm around mine. “You’re so mature for your age, Mark. You have a wonderful insight on a complicated relationship. Milly’s written me about her and Lucas. We were always close.” Sally took her arm away and wrapped her hands around her back as she spoke the next words. “You have nailed their relationship quite well. I don’t think Milly could take anything more right now. The scars on her heart are deep and heal very slowly, just like your father’s.”
We were at the barn now. Sally said she’d stand outside while I got the horse out of the corral. I soon had the buggy hooked up. Sally and I saw Pa and Milly walking. They finally stopped in the moonlight. We could see as Pa took his arm from around her shoulder and turned to her. She looked up at him. Pa lowered his face to hers as they shared and intimate moment. I quickly turned my head to give them their privacy, but Sally just watched and smiled. She liked what she saw.
I suddenly wondered what it was like to kiss a girl. There had to be something wonderful about it since Pa and Milly did it. Pa told me once I should never kiss a girl without her permission. I turned and looked at Sally. My face grew hot as I quickly hurried away.
They soon left. I couldn’t take my eyes off the buggy as Milly drove down the road. I heard Pa say something about Sally being nice. “She sure is,” I said softly as I continued staring down the road. Pa said something else, but my thoughts were on Sally. I didn’t even hear him. “Alright,” I said absent-mindedly. “You want to come with me?”
I suddenly realized what Pa was asking me. It was the middle of the night – where could we possibly go tonight? “Huh? Go where?”
“To bed. Come on,” Pa coaxed me.
I started to go in obedience, but I couldn’t take my mind off Sally. I couldn’t help wondering when I would see her again. I’d never felt like this before. I wondered if I could be in…
"Pa?” Pa stopped and turned around as he stood in the doorway. I was still looking in the direction the buggy had gone off in. “When you met Ma...I mean at first. How did you know she was the one?"
“Hm…Well that’s kind of hard to explain, son. It’s just a feeling you get…you just know…You understand?” Oh yeah…I understood!
Pa went inside, but I just stayed out there thinking…”Mark!” I suddenly hear from inside. Pa came out with a cigar in his hand. “We got church in the morning. Get to bed.”
“I couldn’t sleep. I have too much on my mind, Pa!” I declared as I looked up at the stars. I wondered if Sally was looking up at those stars too.
Pa reached out and grabbed my arm. “Well, you’re gonna go to bed anyhow. Go on,” he swatted me on the backside. “Get going, boy!”
I went inside and got ready for bed. I fell asleep with visions of Sally’s smile in my head.
The next morning, I was up before Pa. I dressed and hurried out to do the morning chores. I gathered the eggs, fed the animals, and milked the cow. Then I went back inside to start the flapjacks.
Pa got up and came into the living room yawning. “What makes you so bushy tailed this morning, son?”
“Well, like you said last night, Pa. It’s Sunday morning. We wouldn’t want to be late for church!”
Pa went to the cabinet and got a coffee cup down. He poured a cup of coffee then bent over my shoulder to look at the flapjacks. “Hm,” Pa said.
I turned and glared at his retreating back as he walked over to the table. “You reckon Sally will be there?”
“Sally…” Pa mumbled. “I reckon she’ll be there, knowing Milly.”
I smiled, thinking on her seeing me in my Sunday best. I thought on it all through breakfast. “You reckon Sally eats flapjacks on Sunday mornings too?” I asked.
Pa stopped his fork in midair and looked at me. “Uh…I wouldn’t know, son.”
“I bet she can cook up a nice batch of pancakes! I bet they’re as good as Ma used to make!” I couldn’t help smiling as I pictured her in the kitchen cooking. “You reckon she-“
Pa sighed and sat down his fork. “Mark, how about if you do a little less talking and a lot more eating, huh?”
I decided to keep my thoughts to myself after that. When I was done, I hurried and started getting dressed while Pa cleaned up the dishes. I came out of the bedroom with my Sunday best on and hurried to the mirror to tie my tie. “Church isn’t until ten, son. What’s the rush?”
“Oh…” I turned. “You know how I am…I would hate for us to be late!”
“Hm,” I heard Pa grunt again. “It’s never bothered you before.”
“Well, this is different!”
“I know…I know…” Pa sighed. “Sally.”
I fussed with my tie for what seemed like forever! Pa finally walked up behind me, firmly grabbed me by the shoulders, and turned me around. He tied my tie without any trouble at all. “Pa, did Ma tie your tie?”
Pa grinned. “She sure did. Almost every Sunday morning.” I started thinking about me and Sally and how she could probably tie my tie for me on Sunday mornings as we got ready for church.
Pa walked away as I started on my hair. I gasped as I thought on my thoughts. Boy, I was thinking about Sally as being my…my wife…
I smiled. I really liked the idea!
Pa hitched up the team. We had a church social this afternoon – picnicking down at the meadow just outside town. Milly was bringing her fried chicken, which always made me happy. I knew the wagon was for Milly’s benefit…and now, I guess it was for Sally’s too….
I looked around at God’s nature as we rode into town. Everything looked so bright and beautiful today. I mentioned that to Pa, but he made no response. I’m not quite sure what Pa was thinking about.
When we rode up to the church, I jumped down and looked around. Milly and Sally weren’t there. “Pa, you reckon we should go escort the ladies to church?” I asked.
Pa put a hand around my neck as we started inside. “I reckon they know where the church is, son.”
“Yes, but it would be gentlemanly to escort them.”
Pa laughed. “You never wanted to do that before, son. But then, I reckon Sally hasn’t been here before either.” He pushed me down onto the bench. “Scoot over.”
I kept looking for the two to get there. Sally and Milly finally appeared in the doorway. I stood up and waved with a smile. “Over here!” I called.
“Mark, sit down!” Pa ordered in a loud whisper. “We’re in church, not on the playground!” Pa gave me one of his famous warning looks. I smiled as Milly and Sally came to sit down on our bench. Micah came in and had to sit behind us. I wasn’t too happy with the seating arrangements, but I reckon Sally’s sitting beside me would prove a fatal mistake in church.
I struggled to stay still and quiet throughout the service. I don’t know that I succeeded since I felt Pa pinch me a couple times as a warning to stay still. I sighed. I couldn’t even concentrate on the sermon, knowing that Sally was sitting close by.
I breathed a sigh of relief with the long-winded circuit riding preacher finally closed his Bible and stepped off the platform. “Let’s stand for the benediction,” he announced.
We sang a closing hymn then he prayed. Pa motioned for me to turn and start down the aisle after the Amen was said. I turned and saw the Connor family. I walked up to the brood of Connor boys and smiled. “I want you to meet Sally.” I turned to introduce them, but Sally was no longer behind me.
The boys laughed. I walked over to Sally and touched her arm. She turned from speaking with the preacher. “I’d like you to meet some of the other boys,” I said politely. We walked over to the Connor brothers again. “This is Jeff, Kevin, and Steve.”
Sally smiled as she shook each hand. Jeff’s smile told me that he found her pretty too. “You two ready?” Milly asked. As she put a hand on each of our shoulders and ushered us toward the door.
Pa and Milly sat up front while Sally and I sat behind them. I must say that I was happy Pa had thought on bringing the four seater buckboard today! Sally smiled as she looked around. “It’s simply beautiful out here, Mr. McCain!”
I jumped in before Pa could answer. “Thank you, Sally. We love it here. Would you ever consider living here?”
Sally smiled. “Well, if I had a reason to stay, I wouldn’t mind being a rancher’s wife. I love to cook and do all those wifely duties. My older sister is more of a woman’s liberator type, but I’m just an old fashioned girl. I would love to be the wife of a rancher!”
“You would?” I asked. “Well now, that’s alright!”
We rode in silence. The ride wasn’t very far out of town. When we got there, I hopped down and offered my hand to help Sally down. She thanked me as she smoothed her dress out. Milly carried the quilt while Pa carried the picnic basket. “How about under those trees?” Pa pointed to a secluded spot.
“It’s perfect, Lucas,” Milly’s voice answered him softly. We sat down as other families arrived and found their picnic spots. Milly and Sally worked at setting out the food while Pa went to stand with some of the men for an after-church cigar. I sat there awkwardly, not sure what to do. I sure was happy when Milly called to Pa that lunch was ready.
Pa quickly blessed to food informally today. I was sort of glad I didn’t have to take Sally’s hand, but on the other hand, I was a bit disappointed. We ate as Pa and Milly discussed the morning’s sermon. This was a weekly routine on Sunday’s the preacher was in town. “We’ve been talking in the town council meetings about hiring a preacher full time,” Pa announced. “Brother _______________ is thinking on quitting the circuit and settling down in Santa Fe to preach every Sunday. He said circuit riding is dying out, what with preachers finally moving in to the communities.”
“Any idea on where to start?” Milly asked.
“We’ve written the church in Santa Fe. They’ll send us a list of prospective preachers looking for a church. At the moment, the pay can’t be much, but we hope it’ll be enough to encourage a preacher to come.”
Milly smiled. “It’s wonderful! I would love it if we could have a full-time preacher.”
“We had one hired a couple years ago,” I announced then. “Remember, Pa?”
Pa nodded. “Yes, Reverend _________ and his wife were killed by bank robbers on their way out here. One of the robbers and his wife posed as the couple. She was killed and he was sent off to a long prison term.”
“Pa, when will we get a new preacher?” I asked as I finished off my second piece of fried chicken and Milly held out the plate for me to take a third.”
“Well, it’s hard to tell, son. I just sent off the letter last Saturday after the meeting. Could be months or…”
“Years,” Sally answered. “When our last preacher left at our church back home, we were without a minister for three years!”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Oh,” Sally shrugged. “The deacons would lead services a couple times a month. The rest of the time, we simply worshiped at home.”
“We do that when the preacher isn’t riding through,” I stated. “Some of my best lessons were learned at my father’s knees.”
Sally crinkled. She got a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “At them or…over them?”
“Both!” Pa declared with a wink. We all laughed.
Pa laid back and propped his head up with his elbow. “It was wonderful, honey,” Pa stated with a satisfied smile.
Milly smiled a thank you. Pa turned and looked at me. “You…uh…usually play baseball around this time, don’t you?”
I turned and looked at Sally. “Well, normally, but not today.”
Pa raised his eyebrows and motioned for me to scoot. I could tell he wanted to be alone with his sweetheart. “Yes…uh, Sally, I’m sure you would love to join the girls to watch the game. It’s usually pretty entertaining.”
I looked at Sally. She stood. “I think they want us to go, Mark.”
We started away. We stopped half-way to the field where the ballgames always take place and turned. Milly was smiling as Pa gently touched her hand and rubbed his thumb across it. Pa was talking softly. I turned and looked at Sally and we smiled knowingly at each other. “Come on,” I said.
The game was a disaster! I couldn’t keep my mind on the game. I kept turning and looking at Sally. She rooted for me and every time I heard her call my name I fumbled. I shook my head when the game ended and wiped the sweat from my neck. When we got back to our picnic spot, Pa and Milly were folding up the blanket.
I tried to think of an explanation to my bad ball playing as we rode into town, but I couldn’t come up with an excuse that sounded good. When we got to the General Store, Pa helped Milly down from his seat. I started to get down to help Sally, but Pa said we had to get going. He turned in his seat and took Sally’s elbow to steady her as she jumped down. Pa waved as he clucked the horses and started out of town.
I was disappointed when we got home. It had been so exciting the last twenty-four hours with Sally. We walked inside and Pa grabbed a cigar. “I’m going to go check the cattle, son. You want to come along?”
“No,” I answered with a sigh as I sat down at the table and put my head in my hands.
“Why don’t you go fishing?” Pa suggested as he checked his rifle.
“Maybe,” I said.
Pa came over to the table and leaned down next to me. “Something wrong?”
“No, I’m just thinking.”
“About Sally?” I nodded. “Mark, do you want to know how old she is?”
I lifted my head out of my hands and looked at Pa. “I reckon she’s a sight older than me.”
“A sight?” Pa raised an eyebrow and studied me. He saw something in my eyes that kept him from saying anymore. “Well, I don’t want you moping around here all day. Sunday’s your day to do what you want after you give your respects to our creator, but I won’t let you just sit around and mope. I’ll put you to work.”
“Alright,” I sighed. “I’ll go fishing!”
Pa shook his head. “Seems like a chore as you get older, huh son?”
I didn’t answer. I just walked toward the barn to get my fishing pole, then headed for the pond. I decided to walk. The walk would do me good!
I looked over the range and remembered when we first settled here. Pa told me about his plans for the ranch. I still remember the day we rode out on the range and stopped at the top of the hill. Pa and I looked down over the range. It was ours as far as the eye could see. “You know son, someday you’re going to grow up to be a fine man – a man I’m proud of, and a man who lives by the values I taught you. Someday when you marry, I’ll have a fine piece of land to give you and your bride.” Pa had swept his hand around the range. “When that time comes, I want you to pick the place you want your house. Then you and me together…both men…father and son…will build your house to fit your needs.” Pa had turned and slapped a hand on my shoulder. “There’ll always be a place for you here. No matter what you decide. Remember that.”
I went down to the pond to fish. I did alright and was able to catch enough to feed Pa and me for supper. But as I fished, I started to imagine my life as a man. I saw Sally there beside me. I smiled. I wondered if she would be happy being a rancher’s wife. She’d be right close to town. I’d make sure she had everything she needed.
I thought on my age. I heard tell about folks who got married young. I didn’t know the exact ages, but I figured if I was old enough to carry myself like a man, I was old enough to get married.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. The next morning, I got ready for school. After strapping up my books, I asked Pa if he should want me to stop into town to pick up supplies. He shook his head no, stating we’d spent our budgeted amount for this month. Anything we needed would have to wait until next month.
“Well, should I stop by and give Miss Milly a message?” I asked hopefully.
“Mark,” Pa looked up at me. “The store will be closed until Wednesday. Milly and Sally are in Little Butte visiting friends.”
“Oh.” Boy, was I disappointed! “How long is she staying?”
“She’s leaving next Saturday.”
“So soon?” I asked suddenly. I didn’t expect to have to ask the question so soon. Pa said she was needed top much in Denver to stay gone too long. She had a lot of responsibilities.
So Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday went by slowly. When I got done in school on Wednesday, I jumped on Blue Boy and hurried into town. The General Store was indeed open. I hurried inside. “Hello, Mark!” Milly greeted me.
I looked around. “Oh, hi Milly. Welcome back!”
Milly folded her arms and walked toward me. “How are you?”
“Fine. How was your trip?” I asked.
“Fine.” Milly smiled. She saw me looking around. “Sally had a terrible headache. Probably all the dust the horses stirred up. She’s in the back napping.”
“Oh, well…” I walked around as if looking at the merchandise to decide on what to get. “I could wait around a bit to…to say hello.”
“It’s a bad headache, I’m afraid, Mark. She’ll probably sleep for hours. The doctor gave her something to help her sleep.”
“Oh.” I studied Milly. “Does she get these…headaches…often?”
“I’m afraid so, Mark. It’s something she’s had problems with her whole life.” Milly smiled into my concerned eyes. “Don’t worry, Mark. She’ll be okay. Would you like some candy?”
“Candy?” I asked. “Oh…no…Pa said I mustn’t spend any money and well…my allowance was held last week for what Pa called ‘damages’.”
I turned to leave. “She’ll be here tomorrow, won’t she?” I asked. Milly nodded. “Alright. Tell her I’ll stop by and see her then.
I hurried home. Pa had ordered me to check the cattle. I went out onto the range and looked toward the West. I decided to take a ride over there.
I tied Blue Boy to a tree and walked to stand on top of the hill. I put my hands on my hips and smiled. “Right here!” I declared. “Right here would be perfect!” I looked in all the directions. A mountain rose from one side. I could make a big window that overlooked that mountain. Sally could sit there and look out that window while she sewed and read from the Bible. In the evenings, we could sit out on the porch and look up at the stars…the moon peaking from behind the mountain…the sunset as the sun sank behind it…
I stepped off the hill and walked a ways. I bent down and took a hand full of soil. This would make a perfect place for Sally’s vegetable garden. I’d do the plowing and planting. I’d let her plant whatever she wanted. There would be flowers around the house.
I turned and quickly walked off into another direction. I felt the ground. Water. There was water down there. We could build a well.
I continued walking around the range deciding where things would go. A shed, a barn, maybe even a stable. Perhaps we could raise some horses here. The outhouse could go out there.”
I scratched my head. It would take some time to pay Pa for the land. He’d been thinking on selling it anyhow.
I shaded my eyes and looked toward the road. I’d have to make us a path down to the road and build a fence around to keep our horses and cattle in. It would be hard work, but I could do it.
Now all I had to do was talk to Pa. I’d have to talk to him like a man. I knew I could do it!
I jumped on Blue Boy and started back towards Pa’s house. I smiled as I thought on a dream coming true.
I walked into the house to talk to Pa. Pa asked me where I’d been. “Oh…like you said, checking on cattle.”
Pa told me that was two hours and the cattle were on the south pasture. "What were you doin' on the west range Mark?"
Now was as good time as any to bring up my idea. "Say Pa...are you still figurin' on maybe selling' that land? I mean you said it wasn't much good! Didn't have any water and it wasn't any good for grazin' or crops." He said he would if he got the right price. I blurted it out. "Would you sell it to me?"
"I'd pay ya a fair price! I'd go shares and then I could start building a house and gettin' it all fenced in..."
"Wait a minute! Just wait a minute! One thing at a time. What do you want with that land?" Pa asked.
"I wanna live on it! It would pay Pa, you know that spring north of here that runs underground...well it comes up over there. I could sink a well and I'd have all the wa-"
It wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. "You wanna live on it?” I could tell Pa was confused. “Mark...what's wrong with this place?"
Now was the moment – the moment I announced to Pa my intentions. I was so nervous. I gave a short laugh deciding the indirect approach would go over much smoother then the direct one. "You live here. Pa, we all couldn't all live together.”
“We! Who's we!"
I smiled. Just thinking on it made me smile "Sally and me. After we get.....married!" I had said it out loud for the first time. My heart beat faster as the word escaped my lips. Excitement inside me mounted. "I'd turn that into the best piece of grazin' land in the whole territory. Why when Sally saw it she'd....." Pa suddenly looked sick. I asked him if something was wrong. He said he’d been out in the sun too long.
Yep, I figure it is about time for my Pa to relax more while I took over some of the duties as his adult son. I told Pa to take it easy as I slapped him on the back and told him to think on what I said.
I walked out the door. I figured it wasn’t just the son. My announcement about getting married was probably pretty hard on him. I took my shirt off and started in on the wood. I had no trouble splitting today. I felt I could do anything!
“Mark?” I turned. “I’m going into town.”
“Pa, I told you to take it easy! I’ll go-“ I started.
Pa held up a hand. He still looked to be in shock. “No, no…” He sighed. “I need to go see someone about a very important matter.”
“You sure I can’t take care of it for you, Pa?”
Pa nodded as he untied Razor from the hitching post and turned him around. “Yes son, I’m quite sure!”
I watched him ride off, shaking my head. Boy, he sure was acting strange!
It was some time later when Pa rode back. He looked really relieved, but still seemed to be struggling with something. “Mark, uh…” Pa looked over his shoulder as he scratched under his nose. “Let’s uh…go for a ride.”
“Why?” I asked, cocking my head to one side.
“Well, we haven’t been horseback riding in a while, and I just thought it would be a nice treat,” Pa answered. He didn’t look directly at me when he spoke, which lead me to believe that wasn’t exactly the truth.
As we rode our horses up the road, I wondered if Sally liked to horseback ride. I imagined her riding beside me as he raced down the road. “Let’s walk here,” Pa’s voice suddenly interrupted my thoughts.
I climbed down and began softly singing “Something Special” as I walked along. I couldn’t help smiling, just thinking about-
Suddenly, it felt like somebody had punched me! I felt the air suddenly escape my lungs. All my plans – all my dreams were suddenly crushed at the snap of a finger! My heart sank as I stared over by Miller’s pond. Sitting there on a blanket was Sally. And beside her feeding her food was…Bruce Henry!
I suddenly felt tears fill my eyes. I was in shock. “Come on, son. I think we’re intruding,” Pa said.
We turned away and started back up the road. I couldn’t even speak. I mounted Blue Boy. “I gotta be alone for awhile,” I mumbled. I didn’t wait for an answer but took off down the road.
How could this be happening? She had smiled at me, touched my hand, been friendly to me…Is that all she was – a friend?
I leaned forward on Blue Boy and dug my heels into his flank to make him go faster. We raced toward North Fork. Before I knew it, I found myself at the field where we had picnicked just last Sunday.
I couldn’t even think as I sat down under the tree and leaned my head against it. I should have known. This was just a stupid boyhood crush. I must look like a silly fool in Pa’s and Milly’s eyes! Why would someone sixteen years old want to be tied down with a boy like me?
I closed my eyes and sighed. I heard someone walking through the grass behind me. I didn’t even look to see who it was – I didn’t care! “Mark?” It was Milly. I didn’t even acknowledge her. “May I sit down?”
“I’d rather be alone right now if you don’t mind,” I answered emotionally.
Milly sat down uninvited. “I’m your friend, Mark.” Milly took my hand. “I’m…” she lowered her head and moistened her lips as she looked back up at me. “I’m more than a friend, and you know that.”
I nodded. “You must think I’m a fool!”
“You found out?” Milly asked. “Did Lucas tell you?”
I lowered my head. I knew it was intentional. I could tell by the way Pa acted. If I had stayed, I would have yelled angrily at him. “No,” I answered. I felt a tear escape my eye. I quickly brushed it away with my hand. “I saw them together down at Miller’s Pond.”
“Mark?” I lifted my head and looked at her. “Please don’t shut me out. I know this may not be something you can talk to your father about, but I…Well, I want to help.”
“I be you’ll be laughing about this for a long time!” I declared as I wiped at another tear.
“Oh Mark, I don’t see anything funny about getting your heart broke!” I saw Milly’s eyes moist with tears as well.
“I’m foolish! A thirteen year old going all loco over a young woman!”
“Stop saying you’re foolish, Mark. You aren’t.” Milly gave me a sympathetic smile. “If I had to choose between you and Bruce, I’d choose you, Mark.”
I couldn’t help but smile at her. “Oh Mark,” Milly started as she ran a motherly hand through my hair. “You are going through a difficult time right now. You’re not a boy anymore, but you’re not a man. I remember my bro…” Milly swallowed. “My brother going through similar problems. He was thirteen years old the first time he thought he wanted to get married.”
My head swung around. “Pa told you about that?” I stood up and walked away. I was embarrassed.
“Your father and I talk about many things, Mark. He needed advise. He knew you were setting yourself up for heartbreak and he wanted to prevent it. He struggled with that.”
“What did you tell him?” I asked.
Milly put an arm around my shoulders and turned me around. “I told him that you will have to learn to live with heartbreak. That’s how we grow and learn – by getting hurt.”
“Why didn’t he just tell me?” I wondered out loud.
“Because you wouldn’t have believed him.”
I turned and stared at Milly. “I would have! Of course I would have!”
Milly raised her eyebrows and slowly shook her head. “Your father was brave in what he did. The only way to tell a person something like this is to lead them to the truth. That’s all your father did.”
“Thank you, Milly.” We started walking back to where my horse was. “It’s nice to have a motherly perspective once in a while.”
“You can come to me anytime, Mark. You know that.” I walked back towards town with Milly. “Stop by the store for some candy, Mark. I know this isn’t a little boy problem that can be fixed with candy, but it certainly would give me pleasure to give it to you.”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered.
Milly gave me the candy. “I take it you ran out on your father?” I nodded. “Then please go home. Go to him, Mark. These are difficult times for him too.”
I hugged her and thanked her for helping me see the truth. Then I rode away.
I still hurt over the loss of something I thought I had. I walked Blue Boy home so I’d have plenty of thinking time to clear my head. I knew what was real – and what was dreamed up. The fact was that Sally was a friend. She could never be anything else. She was too old for me, and I was too young to think on marriage.
I also knew that I couldn’t leave things the way they were with my Pa. We had to talk this out. It would only be a matter of time before he forced it anyhow.
I rode into the yard and bedded down Blue Boy. The sun was sinking behind the range as I slowly brushed Blue Boy down. I heard the barn door open. “I was worried,” Pa said softly.
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t turn to look at him.
“I have supper warmed on the stove for you. I was about to come looking for you.” I poured oats in Blue Boy’s feed trough and turned to leave the barn. “You uh…want to talk?”
“After supper. Please?” Pa studied me. “I’m alright, Pa. Milly and I talked.” Pa nodded and stood in the doorway to the barn as he watched me slowly walk inside.
Pa didn’t come in until I was almost finished eating. I saw him pause just inside the door and look at me. He opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it. I heard the lid to his cigar box open and close. Then I heard the door behind me close. I was once again on my own to think.
I couldn’t bare the fact of Pa thinking I was silly. I couldn’t stand the silence between us another second. I stood from the table and walked to the door. I opened it and stood in the doorway just watching Pa smoke as he sat on the porch step. He took lazy puffs off his cigar as he thought. "I guess you think I'm kinda silly, huh?" I sat down next to him.
"Why should I think that?"
"Well...all that talk I was makin'." I must admit that it did sound a little silly to me now that it was over.
"You mean about settlin' on the land? Maybe gettin' married. No Mark...my only thought was maybe you were a little too young." We looked at each other. "You know son, I saw a colt once who got himself into a lot of trouble. He ran away from his mother to try and get at some green grass on the other side of a fence. He got his head stuck." I asked what happened to him. "Oh she got him out alright once she caught up to him. You know a funny thing I think she got it across to him that if he'd wait a while, 'till he was full grown, he'd be able to jump that fence and get all the grass he wanted."
I understood the story. It confirmed my suspicions – Pa’s actions this afternoon were intentional. He knew I was “stuck” somewhere I shouldn’t have gone in the first place. I knew that too now. "You knew they were down there, didn't ya'?"
"Yes son, I knew. You angry with me?"
"I was for a while but...but now I guess I'm kinda angry with Sally."
"Why? You figure she lead you on?"
"Course not! It's just that…well…she should know better!" Pa asked him how. "Kissin' Bruce Henry!"
Pa stopped me. "Now wait a minute Mark! They were not kissing!" I guess in my mind they had been – what they were doing was the same as kissing. It hurt just as bad as if they had been!
"Well maybe they weren't and maybe I'm not the right one for her! Maybe I'm too young and all that! But golly Pa...Bruce Henry! He's not good for a girl like Sally! He's got a mean streak in him a yard wide! She should know about it...before she gets hurt." Pa told me I was right.
I looked at him then. He was giving me a chance to be a man right here. He trusted me to do the right thing for the right reason. "Pa...you've had more experience then I have...how do you tell a girl a thing like that?"
"You'll find a way son. You know Milly and I are having dinner tomorrow night. Why don't you come along? Sally's leaving the day after tomorrow and if she's not busy I'm sure she’ll join us. She did tell me she'd like you to play your guitar for her again."
That pleased me "She did?" He shook my head at me.
Pa took a few more puffs off his cigar then threw it down into the dirt. He put his arm around my shoulders. “You okay now?”
I turned and looked at him. He smiled at me. It was the same smile he smiled so many times before. When I was little, that smile would tell me I was okay after falling and skinning my knees. Later, it told me we would be okay on our own. I reckon this was another healing moment for us both. “I’m okay, Pa.”
Pa smiled. “You are growing up so fast! I can’t believe we’re sitting here talking about problems with girls.”
I looked down. Pa put a hand under my chin and lifted my face up to look at him. “Mark, you know you can always come to me and talk…no matter what.”
“I know, Pa. But sometimes a boy needs a mother to talk to. I’m glad I have Milly.”
“Me too!” Pa declared. I raised my eyebrows and stared into his eyes. Pa narrowed his as we looked at each other. “Never mind, Mark. Go to bed.”
I laughed as I stood up and went to bed.”
I groaned as I listened to the rooster crow. At the same time, Pa came in banging on the door. “Mark, get up and come eat your breakfast.”
I rolled over toward the wall and waved a hand toward Pa to go away.
I heard Pa’s boots walk across the floor toward my bed. “Mark McCain, I said it’s time to get up. I don’t want you late for school!”
“Oh, Pa!” I groaned again.
“Mark, unless you want a bucket full of cold water, I suggest you get up NOW!”
I jumped out of bed and started dressing. Pa shook his head and walked out the door. After I was ready, I came to sit at the table and yawned again. “As soon as school’s out, boy, I want you home doing your studies. You have that big test Monday afternoon and I expect to see some serious studying this afternoon!” Pa slapped jam on a piece of bread. I watched him throw a tomato in the bag with the sandwich and bring it to the table. “Oh, Pa, I-“ I started.
“Eat it!” Pa ordered. He knew I was about to complain about the tomato.
“What’s so important about vegetables anyhow, Pa? Why can’t I have a couple hard boiled eggs or something?”
“Eat it!” Pa stated again.
I drank the rest of my milk. Pa grabbed me by the arm and lifted me from the chair. “Get going, boy!”
Boy, he was in a hurry to get me out of here! “You doing something today?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “I have ranch to run, son.”
“Milly coming over or something?” Pa lifted his head from gathering up the dirty dishes on the table. He raised his eyebrows and gave me a look. “Just asking!” I declared as I bolted out the door.
As I rode, I began thinking on how I could break the news to Sally about Bruce Henry. How was I ever going to convince her that- I gasped. How did Pa get me to see the truth? He showed me in black and white! That’s what I’d have to do with Bruce Henry.
“Oh, I hope he’s taking her out for a ride tonight!” I declared with a smile that would make Pa think I was up to something naughty.
I could hardly wait to put my plan in action. Not only would it show Sally what a looser Bruce Henry was, but it would also give me some satisfaction after the way he treated that horse and acted in general to us folks in North Fork. “Oh Henry, you’re gonna be sorry you ever messed with a friend of Mark McCain!” I declared.
School went by so slowly that morning. Mr. Griswald called me up front and reminded me I had testing on Monday afternoon. He also reminded me my grade had to be better then last time or I would have to return to afternoon classes. I assured him they would be better.
When I got home, Pa had lunch waiting for me. As soon as I finished eating, Pa grabbed his hat and rifle saying he had chores to do. He turned back to me and pointed a finger at me. “And don’t you move from that chair, boy. I’ll come tell you when you can take a break from your studies. You’ll be studying most of tomorrow too.”
“Yes sir,’ I answered with a sigh.
I sure was happy when Pa announced it was time for us to get cleaned up and ride into North Fork. When we got there, Pa tied the horses to the hitching post. I jumped from the wagon as I watched Sally walk inside the hotel. Reaching into the back of the wagon for my guitar, I called Pa back over. “Uh…would you do me a favor?” I asked.
Pa looked toward the porch. “Sure.”
“Whatever you hear, don’t come outside.”
“What are you talking about, Mark?” Pa asked. I reckon he caught that gleam in my eye.
“Well, I’m gonna show Sally what kind of man Bruce Henry is. If it goes as planned, it could get interesting, so just stay inside.”
“Alright,” Pa answered with a leery smile. “But if I hear gunshots, I’ll be coming outside!”
I laughed. “I don’t have a gun…remember?”
“Good!” Pa declared. He tipped his hat to Sally then walked inside the restaurant.
I walked inside. “Sally, are you going to eat with us?”
Sally stepped out onto the porch. “I’d love to; Mark, but I have an engagement.”
I reckon that was a lady’s way to say she had a male caller coming over. “Oh,” I answered. Inside, I rejoiced. I certainly was happy to hear that Bruce Henry would be coming by. He was going to make my plan work out nicely! “Oh, that’s alright.”
“Well, aren’t your father and Aunt Milly waiting for you?” I motioned for her to sit down. I told her I wasn’t that hungry. I wanted to play a song to her just until her “company” arrived.
I started singing “Something Special.” I hoped Henry would show up before I finished my son. Just as I was finishing, I saw him drive up. I started the song over. Bruce walked up onto the porch. “What’s this?” he asked Sally.
I jumped up and faced him. I knew I was about to make an idiot of myself, but some things just couldn’t be helped! "What do you think your doin' any how? Can't you see I'm trying to romance my girl?"
"Mark!" Sally exclaimed.
"What's he talkin' about?" Bruce asked then.
"Well I'll tell you what I'm talkin' about” I shouted as I went face-to-face with Bruce. “I…I don’t like trail bums like you pushin' in when I'm busy! Now beat it!"
My plan was working. Bruce was getting angry. “You better watch what you’re saying, kid!”
I folded my arms. “Well, look who’s talking!”
“Mark, please!” Sally begged.
But I ignored her. I put down my guitar and put up my fists. “Well, ya…Ya wanta make something of it?”
Bruce gave a laugh and pushed me down. “I can’t be bothered!” Then he took Sally’s arm as they started down the boardwalk. But I bolted out of the chair and gave Bruce a shove.
Bruce turned and punched me hard. That sent me flying off the porch down onto the ground. It hurt! Boy, he sure could punch hard! Sally begged him to stop. Bruce thought I needed a lesson. Sally told Bruce that I was just a boy. “So what?” Bruce declared.
I came up out of the dirt and came toward Bruce. Bruce punched me again, and again I fell into the dirt. Bruce then grabbed Sally and told her to come with him. I jumped up again and reared toward Bruce. Bruce again punched me. Okay, I think I’d proven my point. There was no way I was going to take another punch! This time, I just laid in the dirt. I had enough!
So had Sally. She was mortified! Bruce ordered her to go with him as she bent down to check on me. “Come with you after doing this? You’re horrible! Just horrible!” Bruce told her that I had started it, but she told him he had no right. “Look at you! You’re a beast!”
“Now you listen here. Anybody that treats me like that and starts shoving me around gets the same thing.” He was yelling at her. “I don’t take nothing from nobody!”
Sally turned. “Including me, I suppose!” He agreed that she was included in that. She never wanted to see him again. She told him to leave, and he did.
I lifted my head to watch the fight, but when Sally started to turn around, I laid back down as if I was mortally wounded. Hey, I had to get something in return for all my trouble!
I let Sally help me up. “I won’t stay in there another minute, Lucas McCain! I-“ Milly hurried out of the hotel. Pa was right on her heels. She stopped when she saw me. She put her hands on her hips. “Mark! Mark!” she cried out. She hurried to me and grabbed my chin, turning my face from side to side.
“Explain!” she ordered as she crossed her arms and looked sternly at me.
I looked toward Pa. He shrugged and held his hand up. “You heard the lady, son. I’d start explaining before she gets rough!”
Milly turned to look at Pa. “You hush up, Lucas McCain! I'll deal with you later!” She turned back to me. “Well?” She crossed her arms.
“Well, I…” I started.
“It’s alright, Aunt Milly,” Sally spoke up then. “He was showing me the other side of Bruce Henry.”
“Oh, I see!” Milly said. “And just how did you do that?”
“Milly, uh…” Pa gently took her shoulder and turned her around. “Boys will be boys.”
“Oh. I see.” Milly turned. “Well, this boy should have been inside eating a nourishing meal instead of out here fighting with a man! And you, Lucas McCain! You should go after that man and give him a piece of your mind!”
“I think he’s learned his lesson,” Pa answered as he nervously scratched his nose.
“And you’re going to stand by and let him beat up on your son?” Milly asked. Pa shrugged. I reckon he figured anything that came from his mouth would get him in trouble. “Alright, Mark, let’s go to the store and get your face taken care of. Then you are coming over here and eating supper! You understand me?”
I again turned and looked at Pa. Pa just shrugged his shoulders. “Yes ma’am,” I answered.
“Lucas, you and Sally go on inside and order for us. You know what Mark and I like. We’ll be back!”
Milly held firmly to my arm as she led me into the General Store and nursed my wounds. I cringed as she rubbed salve on my face. “Boys and their silly ideas! Why couldn’t you just tell Sally what Bruce was like?”
I smiled and crossed my arms. “Well Milly, a wise woman recently told me that sometimes you have to show the person the truth.”
Milly gave me one of her famous annoyed looks. “Let’s go eat, Mark.”
The next day, I had to say goodbye to Sally. I reminded her that I’d be a year older next year, but she reminded me that she would be also. Yeah, that figured! She kissed me and thanked me. She kissed me on the cheek twice. I reckon I could live with that for a long time!
That next Monday, Lucille hurried up to me. “Mark, oh Mark!”
I turned and looked at her. “What do you want, Lucille?”
“Would you like to come over to my house and see my pig Charlie?” She asked.
I narrowed my eyes and stared at her for only a moment.
“I’d rather go fishing!” I declared as I hurried inside. I could feel her eyes boring into my back.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Man from Salinas
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch