I walked out to the corn field early that morning. Pa was still at the table drinking his coffee. The dew was thick on the grass, and as I looked at my feet, I noticed that both my boots were soaked from the thick dew. But I didn’t care. This was MY corn field. I remembered back to the day Pa walked me out there. It was early spring. Pa had announced that he had something to show me.
He lifted a hand and I looked to where his hand swept across the land. I saw a rope dividing off a large piece of land on all four sides. “This…is yours, son,” Pa declared.
“Mine? For real?” I asked with excitement in my voice.
Pa laughed. “Well, not on paper, but by word of my mouth. I’m giving you a man-sized job to do this spring.” Pa put his arm around my shoulders as we walked toward the field. “As a father, it’s my duty to grow you into a man. So this year, I want you to learn a man’s job. I know we are ranchers, son. But as you’ve noticed, there are times that I have to turn to crops for our daily bread. “ Pa stopped and turned me around He put his hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. I saw tears of pride shining in his eyes. “And I think, son, that you are ready for such a task.” Pa turned and looked toward the grassy field, then once again looked into my eyes. “You are going to have your own corn field – from start to finish. I’ll be here with you and help you along as you work, but YOU will do 100% of the work.”
My heart began racing as I thought of the prospect. Pa was putting so much trust in me and I suddenly felt nervous. I’d heard others speak of “coming to manhood” tests. I wondered if this was mine. Pa could have made it easy for me. He could have given me cattle to bring up or some other duty pertaining to ranching. But instead, he gave me the hardest possible job – raising a crop.
I’ve heard tell of families in these parts who lost everything they had after losing their crops. I understood the hazards of cattle – disease and death…but crops – every year a farmer could face grasshoppers, drought, fire, and storms.
Pa must have really believed in me. Either that – ore he was testing me to see what I was made of. Now was the time for me to find out myself.
But then I started thinking about the money. You know me and money! And the profits?” I asked excitedly.
Pa smiled. “We are partners, son. The profits go toward the ranch. That’s hard for men to accept, but that’s reality, son. And since I’m teaching you to be a man, now’s a good time for you to learn the realities. The profits you make from the corn field will go toward things we need for the ranch.”
I nodded, declaring I was indeed ready to tend to the task at hand. Pa watched as I worked on plowing the field. It was hard work! I’d never done this before – I’d always watched Pa do it. Pa carried out a bucket to me every once in a while and allowed me to drink; but as he promised, he allowed me to do ALL the work.
Then a couple days later, I held out my hand as Pa dropped some coins in it. Then he closed my hand and smiled. “Go get our corn seed, son.” You should have seen how proud I was as I drove the team into town all by myself, went to the hardware store, and bought my corn seed. I’d bargained with the clerk, and talked my way down, that allowed me to buy my very own seed pouch to carry the seed in.
After the plowing was finished, I used the garden tools to make the rows. Pa showed me how to spread string across the rows to mark them. Then I walked down row after row and dropped the seeds into the ground. Pa stood outside the corn field and just smiled as he watched his young man work. I knew I was doing him proud. But when I was half-way through, a sudden storm came up. The lightening cracked across the sky as the thunder shook the ground. “Let’s get home, son!” Pa shouted above the wind.
But I stared at the field. Had it already become a failure? Had I already failed my test? “The seeds, Pa?” I asked as he grabbed my arm. I shook off his hand wishing he’d let me stay.
“I’m sorry, son. This is going to be a bad storm! We must go now!”
I obeyed, but I wasn’t happy about it. I fretted as I paced the cabin. I stopped every now and then to look out the window. The sky was so dark – almost green in color! The wind blew something fierce. “What if a tornado comes, Pa?” I fretted then.
Pa sat the stew on the table. “Sit down, son. Fretting won’t solve the problem.”
But I continued pacing the floor. I couldn’t imagine…”All that work!” I groaned again. I hit the wall with my fist, hoping somehow that would stop the storm. But suddenly, the house shook as thunder started. Then we heard the rain and hail mixed in together. “It’s washed away for sure!”
“Sit down, son. Let’s eat,” Pa ordered.
I walked toward the table. “I can’t eat!” I sighed. “Pa, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky! Not a cloud!”
“Sit down, Mark.” Those three words held so much more in them. I knew I had to sit down. Pa took my hand, bowed his head, and blessed the food. He asked God to give me understanding. After he said “Amen,” I looked up at him. I didn’t say anything, but just stared at him.
There was silence in the little house as we began eating. But the wind blew through the cracks in the door and let us know there was still a fierce battle going on outside. I sighed a few times, but kept quiet. When Pa finished his stew, he picked up his coffee cup and swirled his coffee around. Then his lips slowly parted and he spoke words deliberately and softly. “Do you remember when our cattle came down with hoof and mouth…the first time?”
“Do you remember the second time?”
Again, I nodded.
“What did I do?” Pa asked then. “Did I ask myself what I could have done? Did I believe I was a failure? Did I pace the floor in frustration and ask God why?”
My head lifted at that last question. “How did-“
“I can hear it in your voice. I see it in your actions.” Pa lowered his head. “That’s why I gave you this job, son. You’re old enough now to learn what being a man is all about. It’s not painted with rainbows and roses. It’s covered with thorns and dark clouds. But if we live right, we see the beauty of those thorns by looking at the flower And we see the waters flowing with water by looking at the rain.”
Pa stood up then and put his hat on. “I’m going to feed the stock. You wash the dishes.”
The rain didn’t end until noon the next day. Pa didn’t allow me to go look at the field until two days later.
When I got to the field two days later, my heart stopped as I looked at it. The rows were all messed up and the seeds I’d planted were long gone. “Oh no,” I said disheartingly.
Pa put a arm around my shoulders to comfort me. He lifted his head toward the sky. “Looks like God’s helping me out in teaching you to be a man.” He looked down at me sternly. “Don’t get discouraged, son. That’s the way these things go.”
“But Pa, I spent days on getting those rows just right! And the seeds I lost, why it’ll cost the price I bargained them down to replace them! Oh Pa, it’s just not fair!” I groaned.
“This is a hard lesson, son. When we lost all our cattle to Hoof and Mouth, did I throw in the towel and give up? Or did I pick myself up and start all over again? Then when it happened again last year – did I give up then?” Pa sighed. “The reality, Mark, is that you may have to do all this work again three or four times. Grasshoppers or drought may come and take your crops away. There are many things that can go wrong. But no matter what, you pick yourself up and move on. You do it again…and again…and again. You fight for the land.”
“I wish it wasn’t that way,” I groaned again.
“Mark, now this is part of your growing. Groaning doesn’t get the plants growing. Only hard work from the sweat of your brow….” Then Pa looked up to the heavens as he quoted,
“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Pa patted my back, then turned and walked away. I knew what he expected. I picked up my garden tools and went back to work.
I remember a couple instances during the growing season too. The sun grew hotter and hotter until it was well over 110 every day. The well began drying up. The plants began withering, but I had the will of my father – and nothing was going to make my plants die – not if I could help it! I’d hurry home after school every day, load the water barrels on the wagon, fill them up, and dump that water on my plants. Pa said I could do that unless the water got too low – then we’d have to conserve.
Then one hot summer evening, I walked the dust outside our house in my bare feet while Pa sat on the porch smoking his cigar as cool as a cat in a yard full of mice. I fretted and fretted over those dying plants. “I saw some of the leaves a browning today, Pa!” I said at one point.
Pa took a long puff off his cigar as he listened to me. “I’ve spent many hours on my knees in prayer, son.” I knew he had. Here lately, I’ve spent a lot more times talking to God as well. I was beginning to understand why Pa read his Bible so much and spent so much time talking to God long after I went to bed. “Now it’s…all up to God, son.”
“What if…” I started.
Pa allowed another long puff of smoke to leave his lips as he raised his eyebrows at me. “The world is full of ‘what if’s,’ son,” Pa declared. “There’s a chance the crops will dry. It certainly wouldn’t be the first – and it won’t be the last.”
I shook my head and sighed. “Farmin’s sure hard work!”
“Ranching, farming, it’s all hard work, son. We have to rely on nature a lot. And nature isn’t always friendly with us. Nature can be stingy with her water, her animals, and her good weather. You just have to…have faith.”
I walked the length of the yard once more. Finally, Pa stood up, threw down the remainder of his cigar, and said, “Well son, we best get to bed.” I hesitated as I looked up at the sky. “Come on, son.”
But Pa didn’t go to bed. As he motioned me to the bedroom, he sat down with his Bible and opened it. Taking his lead, I picked my Bible up from the table. “Mind if I read this for awhile, Pa?” I asked.
Pa nodded with a smile. “I’d never stop you from reading your Bible, son. But off to bed with you now.”
“Yes sir!” I didn’t read for very long though. I fell asleep with the Bible on my chest. Some time later, Pa must have removed it from my chest, because when I suddenly sat straight up in bed with a start, it was gone.
But why had I suddenly sat up? There it was again – in the distance…some sort of noise! Pa slept soundly. I pulled back the covers and slowly made my way out to the porch. Was that sound what I thought it was? I couldn’t get my hopes up – not yet.
Suddenly, the sky lit up. I looked up toward the sky. “Lord, can it really be true?” I watched at the sky. Almost in response to my question, the sky filled up with a bright light. In that instant, I saw dark clouds rolling in. “Oh please, Lord! Don’t tease me. Let it be…”
I heard a splat as a big raindrop bounced off the hard, cracked dirt. Then another and another. “Oh blessed Lord in Heaven! Praise you!” I bounded down the porch steps as the lightning flashed and thunder rolled. “Pa! Pa!” I yelled. “Pa! Hurry!”
“Mark, what is-“ Pa yelled in a panic as he ran out the door. He had his pants on and was buttoning them as he stepped out. “Oh, Praise be!” Pa breathed from the porch. Suddenly, another clap of thunder boomed, immediately followed by a flash of lightening. “Mark! Get up here out of the storm!” Pa suddenly ordered.
“Oh Pa, I love the rain!” I answered as I continued standing out. “It’s a blessing!” I lifted my arms skyward and laughed. But suddenly, I felt a hand at the back of my neck and Pa pulling me back up onto the porch.
He gave me a sudden swat on the backside. “What are you doing to your old man anyhow? You trying to make me kill over from fright?”
But I paid no mind. I just stood watching the rain. Pa allowed me to for only a few minutes. “It must be one in the morning, son. Back to bed!” Pa ordered firmly. “Get some dry clothes on!”
I did his bidding, but I just couldn’t sleep! I listened for a long time as I laid in bed. It didn’t take long before I heard the steady rhythm of Ps’s breathing in and out. But the sound that put a smile on my face was the loud downpour of rain that sounded on the roof. It was a long restless, but peaceful, night.
I was out of bed as soon as the first light hit outside. The sun had trouble shining through the clouds that still filled the sky. Pa groaned as I quietly dressed. But I couldn’t wait! I had to see my crop! I didn’t want to wake Pa, because he’d tell me I couldn’t go.
But nothing would hold me back this morning! I just had to know!
I still remember walking out to my corn field and smiling in satisfaction as I looked out over my field. The corn was getting high. The leaves had gotten plenty of water to drink and were looking mighty green again. I ran in the midst of the corn stalks and laughed. I couldn’t help but look skyward and thank God for the rain. “It came just in the nick of time, Lord.” I sighed and shook my head. “God, I appreciate the lessons, but…” I sighed again. “Next time, don’t push it so far, huh?” I was so incredibly excited.
And now today…I stand out on the grass wet with dew with my arms crossed, just smiling with satisfaction. I smiled as I looked at the corn field ready for picking. My hands longed to start now, but Pa wanted me to wait. Again, I felt he was teaching me patience.
I jumped as two hands landed on my shoulders. I turned my head and looked at Pa’s smiling face. “Well, there it is, son. Your corn field – rich for the harvest.” I couldn’t say anything. I was just so very excited. “I’m proud of you, son. You’ve worked hard for it. The Bible says you reap what you sow. Well…I’d say you deserve this reaping. You’ve done great.”
I breathed a sigh of satisfaction. “You’ve got school today, son,” Pa said quietly.
“I’ve got a harvest,” I answered.
Pa patted my shoulder. “You’ll have this afternoon to harvest. This is the last day of school before harvest break.”
But I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. “Isn’t she beautiful Pa?” I asked. “It’s been a long, hard ride, but I did it.” I turned and looked at Pa. “Did I make you proud, Pa?”
Pa nodded with a wink. “You’ve done me proud, son!”
It felt so right to be here with Pa beside me looking out over a field of corn that I’d planted. “We really are partners, now Pa. I’ve done my fair share on this crop.”
“You did more than your fair share, son,” Pa answered with a smile.
“We’ll always be partners, right Pa? We’ll always be beside each other working like this?”
Pa put his arm around my shoulders and turned me toward the ranch. “You know son…there’s another place in the Bible you just reminded me of. It says that when a man grows, he leaves his father and clings to his wife. Someday that’ll be you. Oh, not for a few years, yet. But when that day comes…well…it won’t be like this. It’ll be…better…so much better. You’ll be doing this not to please me – but to care for your wife and children. You’ll have a purpose – something solid you can hold on to…Because there will be this family who depends on you. And that knowledge will drive you harder and further than any need to please me.”
We stopped. Pa turned me to face him. “Yes son, I hope we will always be partners. I’ll work beside you with the cattle and in the fields for as long as I can. Then when I’m ready for the rocking chair, you’ll have to tie me down to keep me from helping you on your ranch.”
We smiled at each other. “But for now, you get yourself to school. I want a smart, well-educated partner!”
I laughed as I hurried inside to get ready.
“Supply and Demand,” I read as I sat down at my desk. I watched as Mr. Griswald turned from the board. When he turned, I saw more words written underneath it. “Economics” and “Bargaining” were also there.
After the class quieted down, Mr. Griswald cleared his throat. I saw his head nod as he looked at the back. Turning, I saw Pa, Lou, and Micah all standing back there. I wondered what they were doing here. Somehow, I knew it had something to do with me. “As you know, Mark McCain missed many days of school this past summer. Though it is normal for boys his age to miss a lot of school in the summer time, Mark McCain has missed more than the normal.”
I slid down in my seat, suddenly afraid I was about to be demoted for my lack of attendance. I slowly lifted my hand, feeling an explanation was in order. Mr. Griswald shook his head. “Not now, Mark.” Then he cleared his throat. “I’ve had many long talks with his father. I wish more parents would be as involved in the education of their children as Mr. McCain. You see, learning should happen outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom. And Mark has learned a lot.”
Mr. Griswald stepped off the platform and walked closer to the students. “As you know, North Fork suffered a terrible drought this summer. Many lost their crops. But Mark McCain’s corn will be harvested next week because of his dedication and hard work. Mark McCain? Will you step up here?”
I felt my face grow warm. I sure was wishing he wouldn’t single me out like this! I obediently stood up and walked to the front. “The days Mark McCain was missing from our classroom were the days that he was busy working in his garden hour after hour tending to his crops. His father told me he never gave up.” Mr. Griswald turned to me and shook my hand. “Mark McCain, I am very proud of you. You have learned more this summer then I could have ever taught you! Good work!”
I turned without a word and hurried to sit down. I turned in my desk. Pa, Micah, and Lou smiled and waved at me; then they stepped outside.
“Now, can anyone tell me what supply and demand is?” Mr. Griswald looked around. “Well, Mark’s corn crop is in high demand right now. Can anyone tell me what this means?”
Freddie raised his hand. “It means that Mark’s gonna make lots more money cause of the drought!”
“That, Freddie, is exactly correct!” Mr. Griswald turned and underlined the word “demand.” “There is going to be a very high demand for corn this year because many farmers around here lost their corn crop. So when Mark takes his corn to market, he’ll get a good price for it – much higher than if we didn’t have a drought….”
I sure was glad when class let out! I raced home before anyone could hassle me about being singled out like that. Pa was sitting at the table when I got home. I threw my books on the table, leaned against the front door, and folded my arms as I stared at him. “Afternoon, son. Your lunch is on the stove.”
Pa kept his head stuck behind the paper. My staring at him seemed to have no effect on him whatsoever. I pushed myself off of the door and walked to the kitchen. “Did your Pa ever do stuff like that?”
“Like what?” Pa asked from behind the newspaper. “Hey, the price of grain has gone up!” Pa suddenly declared.
“Like single you out in school?”
“Huh?” Pa put the paper down and turned to me. “Did someone single you out in school?” He turned back and lifted the paper back up. “I wonder what wonderful thing my boy’s done now!”
I sat down at the table and started eating. “I’ll hitch up the team this afternoon. You’ll of course help me pick the corn?”
“Mm,” I heard Pa mumble.
“Seems the drought has really made the prices go up everywhere! You should get a fine price for that corn!”
“Four cents a sack!” I heard Pa exclaim then as he sat straight up in his chair.
“PA!” I practically shouted.
Pa lowered the paper and stared at me with raised eyebrows. I heaved a sigh. “Will you listen to me? Since when did you start reading the paper at the dinner table anyhow?”
Pa sat down the paper. “I’m sorry, son. I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been able to catch up on the news. I have a Cattleman’s Association meeting next week and have to be ready for it.”
“Will you help me pick the corn, Pa?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “Corn sells for more if it’s husked and off the cob, son. We have plenty of burlap bags. Or we can sell it in the husk for less. Which do you prefer?”
But I glanced down at the paper as Pa was talking. The headline on the front got my attention. “Oh golly, Pa!” I shouted as I stood up. The remaining soup in my bowl tipped over. I grabbed the paper before it ran on it while Pa ran for a towel. “Wilickers!” I exclaimed.
“Mark, what’s got you so excited?” Pa asked.
“Senator Borden’s coming to North Fork, Pa!” I shook the paper in front of his face. “Look at this! Senator Borden! He’s coming HERE! HERE to North Fork! Right HERE, Pa!” I kept waving the paper in Pa’s face. He finally grabbed it from me with an exasperated sigh.
“I know, Mark.” Pa raised an eyebrow at me as he wiped some milk off my face. “I haven’t seen you this excited since…well…since Mart Twain came to North Fork!”
“Just think, Pa! A Senator is coming here…HERE…to our town! Whatever will we do?”
“Well…I guess we’ll meet him just like any other stranger that comes through,” Pa answered as he filled his cup with coffee.
I hurried into the kitchen and leaned toward him. “Yeah, but Pa, this isn’t just a stranger…this is a United States Senator!” Then a thought grasped me. “Oh no! Pa, maybe we did something really bad!” Pa rolled his eyes as he reached to put a lid on the pan of soup. I hurried over to him and got right in front of him. “You think that’s it, Pa? You reckon we went and done something really bad?”
“No, son,” Pa answered.
“Well then why would a United States Senator come here, Pa? Huh?” Pa put down his coffee cup and walked towards the door. I stayed right on his heels, waiting for his answer. “Well Pa, why?”
“Mark!” Pa turned and sighed at me again. He opened his mouth to speak then shook his head. Reaching over me, he grabbed the newspaper he had laid back down on the table. He put it in my hands firmly. “Read the article.” Then he turned from me. “I’ll go hitch up the team.”
I read it. The more I read, the more excited I became. I lifted my head from the paper as I thought on what I had just read. “Wilickers!”
It took a few days for us to get the job done. We worked from sun-up to sun-down picking the corn, shucking it, cutting it from the cob, washing it, and bagging it. Finally, a week after we started, I wiped the sweat off my brow as Pa placed the last bag in the second wagon. “That sure is a lot of corn!” I declared as I stretched a kink out of my back. “Where we taking it?”
Pa looked up at the sun. “Mr. Nelson at the feed store will take it, son. He’ll be able to turn around and sell it fairly quickly. We’ll deliver the corn in today, then get the supplies we need tomorrow when I go into town for the meeting.”
I just stared at the wagon and looked at all the corn. “There sure was a lot of it!” I declared as I patted one of the fat bags. Then I looked at Pa. “I’m glad we did this together.” I suddenly felt Pa’s arm go around me. “The older I get, the more we do together, Pa. I’m glad we’re partners.” Pa smiled at me but stayed silent. “We’re partners in everything, right?”
Pa had his rifle in his hand. He lifted it up and stared at it. “No son. Not in everything. I’ll always be your father – and I’ll always protect you.”
“Someday, Pa, I want to be your partner in that too.”
Pa sighed. “I hope that when that day comes, it won’t be necessary.” Pa shook his head. “That’s not for quite a while yet.” He looked at his rifle again. “Well, we should get started!”
“Uh, Pa?” Pa turned back to me. “I’ll need you to drive one of the wagons in for me, but…well…” I hesitated. I’d just talked about us being partners in everything, and now I wanted to go backwards.
Pa nodded. “I have some things to talk over with Micah, son.”
I smiled. “Thanks!” Then I got another idea. “Say Pa, while you’re at your meeting tomorrow, I can buy the supplies at the feed store, yes?”
Pa hesitated. He scratched under his nose, then nodded. “Alright, son. That might be a good idea.”
It was a proud but scary moment as I walked into that feed store that afternoon! I smiled at Mr. Nelson as I walked up to the counter. “I have some corn to sell you, Mr. Nelson. Pa said you’re taking the crops.”
“Yes.” Mr. Nelson sat down his pencil and started around the corner. “We have such a demand this year that we aren’t even sending it outside North Fork. I’m buying it and selling it to the customers.” He walked out the door. When he saw the two full wagons, he put a hand to his hand. “Land sakes! You got a bumper crop!”
“Yes sir I did!” I declared with a smile. “We even kept more than normal back for our own use. Got plenty of corn on the cob to last us until spring down in the celler.”
“Land sakes!” Mr. Nelson declared again. “Son, a lot of farmers around here lost their crops in the drought. What did you do?”
“I’ll tell you what he did.” I turned to see Pa walking up to me. He put an arm around my shoulders. “He missed many days of school doing what he did too, Len. Mark here…he drove that wagon down to the creek everyday and filled up barrels of water. He kept that whole entire corn field well-watered. He got down on his hands and knees every night and prayed to God. My boy was dog-tired by the end of the day with all his hard work”
“Pa!” I could feel my face once again turning red. “Stop it!”
Pa smiled at me. “Should I help you two unload this corn? You want to store it in your shed out back?”
Mr. Nelson scratched his head. “I reckon I’ll store a few bags in here. The rest will have to go out back.”
“Okay.” Pa tapped the counter. “Son, you uh…barter with Mr. Nelson here on the price. I’ll start unloading.”
Mr. Nelson got out a piece of paper and quickly began working sums on it as he worked on coming up with a figure on how much the corn was worth. Before I had come, Pa lectured me on the importance of not taking the first amount he chose. I’d watch Pa bargain enough to know how it worked. Nonetheless, when I saw the amount written on the paper, my mouth popped open!
I could feel my heart beating. My palms grew sweaty. I hated turning down a price like that, but I remembered Pa’s wise words. I slowly shook my head and wrote down another figure.
Mr. Nelson turned the pad around and looked at it. His mouth popped open. “Are you kidding me?” he asked. He marked an “X” through that figure and wrote a higher figure than his first, but a lower one then what I had written. He turned the pad around and I read it.
Again, I shook my head. I Xed out his amount and put an amount lower then my first amount. I turned the paper around. Mr. Nelson looked at the figure for several moments. He pressed his lips together in a thin line then scratched his head. He looked at me. A slow smile spread across his face. He stretched out his hand at me and nodded.
We shook hands. “Gee!” I declared. “Gee wiz!”
“Can I make out a bank draft?” Mr. Nelson asked.
“A bank…” I swallowed. I’d never had to face a decision like this before! Then I nodded. “Uh..Uh…Sure, Mr. Nelson. Th-th-that would be great!”
My hand shook as I reached out for the paper. I looked at the name on the draft and smiled. “Mark McCain,” I read out loud. I started out the door. Then I turned back toward him. “Oh…uh…thank you very much for your business…”
I was bursting with excitement to tell Pa, but he wanted to get the wagons unloaded. We worked together as fast as we could – Pa, me, and Mr. Nelson.
When it was done, Pa patted me on the back. “Shall we eat at the hotel before heading home, son?” Pa asked.
“Oh, sure Pa. It’s on me.” I gasped. “The bank! I have to go to the bank, Pa!” I grabbed the bank draft from my pocket and looked at it again. “Can I…meet you at the hotel?”
Pa looked from my head all the way down to my feet, then back up again. He studied me as he cocked his head to one side. “Uh…I’m not a child anymore, Pa. Remember when I sold the pig? Remember what I told you then?”
“I’ll see you at the hotel…mister!” Pa declared. He tipped his hat to me. “How’s that for remembering?”
I laughed as I hurried toward the bank.
When I got there, Mr. Hamilton was lowering the shades. I opened the door. “You have time to cash this bank draft?” I asked.
“Oh…of course!” Mr. Hamilton took it from me and went behind the desk. He looked at it, then looked up at me. “Mark McCain? This money is all yours?”
“It’s partnership money,” I answered.
“Par…Partnership…money?” It was obvious that Mr. Hamilton was confused.
“Well…you know…McCain and son.”
“Oh…” Mr. Hamlton nodded. “So this goes into the uh…general fund.” He stamped the paper. “Would you like some cash?”
“Oh…” I turned and looked out onto the street as if the answer was there. “Um…How about uh…thirty dollars?”
“That sounds about right.” Mr. Hamilton handed me the money in coins and bills. “There you go. And congratulations on your first crop!”
My head was bursting to make the announcement. Pa and I engaged in small talk as we ate. Lou soon joined us. Pa greeted her with that dumb little grin of his. Lou was more interested in talking to me at the moment though.
“So Mark, how did your corn crop yield?” she asked.
I sat down my glass of milk and shot Pa a disappointing look. “Well, I’m glad that SOMEONE is interested to know how much WE made!” I declared.
Lou gave Pa a smug look and folded her arms on the table. “Are you ready for this?” Lou nodded. “$525.50!”
Lou’s mouth popped open. She and Pa stared at each other. “How much?” Pa squeeked.
I started to repeat it, but Pa held up his hand. “Son, that’s AMAZING!” He shook his head. “I was expecting $250 maybe, but…”
“It was a bumper crop, Pa. There’s a high demand for corn.” I leaned over the table and folded my arms in front of me as I spoke softly to Pa. “You see, Pa…when something happens to a farming community like…say…dourght or grasshoppers, many people loose their crops. That loss means there will be less of a SUPPLY coming into the stores. But, the DEMAND for the stuff is still there. The DEMAND is even greater then other years, so the crop is worth a lot more, hence the raise in price.”
Pa shook his head at me and looked at Lou. “Unbelievable!” He pointed to me. “Can you believe this kid? Chip off the ol’ block!”
“Yeah, sure, Pa!” I teased. I leaned back in the chair and smiled. “Yep…He started the price at $350. I raised it to $5.25.50!” I gasped. “Say Pa, I made us a lot more money then you ever expected, huh?”
“Yep.” Pa’s look told me he knew I was about to ask for something.
“Well, maybe we could go on over to the gun shop and-“
Pa’s eyebrows crinkled up and he began studying me intently. “You know something son?”
I leaned into him and waited for him to make the announcement. “We better get home before it gets dark!”
“After the gun shop?” I asked.
“No.” Pa threw a couple coins on the table. “NOW!”
I looked at Mr. Nelson and rolled my eyes. “Oh now, come on! We paid a lot less then that just last month!”
“Yeah,” Mr. Nelson nodded. “That was last month.” He pointed to his receipt. “This is this month.” He held his pencil out to me. “Now, if you’ll just sign…”
“I can’t pay that much, Mr. Nelson!” I declared.
He looked toward the door. “Where’s your father?”
“At Micah’s office. They’re having a Cattleman’s Association meeting.” I gasped then. “Say, did you here that they’re talking about New Mexico gaining statehood?”
“Yes,” Mr. Nelson answered. “I sure hope they don’t go for it!”
“Don’t?” I gasped. “You…you don’t want to be a state?”
“Oh…Becoming a state would be alright, I guess. I just don’t like the idea of all those taxes and obeying all the laws and…Well, it’s just not good for us! If I wanted to live in a state, I’d move to Arkansas!”
“Arkansas?” I laughed. “Why there ain’t nothing but Osage and them ol’ mountain roaming them ol’ Ozark Mountains in Arkansas! We’re much more civilized down here!”
“Yeah.” Nelson nodded. “So why risk becoming a state and becoming uncivilized?”
“Well, I-“ I rolled my eyes. “I reckon we oughta get back to the price of all this seed!”
“Yes. I reckon we should.” Mr. Nelson tapped the receipt. “Now, if you’ll just sign here…”
“Wait a minute.” I leaned across the counter. “Now uh…what would it take for me to talk you down some?”
“Now Mark, the price of feed is firm!” He swiped his hand in the air. “No negations!”
“Oh…No negoations, huh?” I drummed my fingers on the counter as I thought on this. “We negotiated the price yesterday.”
“That was different!” Mr. Nelson declared.
“It was? I was selling YOU something, wasn’t I? Well, today you’re selling ME something. It can be negotiated the other way around.”
“You want me to raise the price, Mark?” Mr. Nelson asked impatiently.
“No. I just want to be fair.” I turned and walked to the shelves. “This is an awful lot of corn you have here, Mr. Nelson.” I walked back over to him and looked him right in the eye. “You would have had a lot of irate customers this winter if you didn’t have any corn to feed their children.”
“Oh Mark!” Mr. Nelson groaned. “That was below the belt!”
“And uh…” I again folded my arms on the counter as I leaned over to speak to him. “I can guarantee you that the crops I bring in next year will come straight to you at a uh…reasonable price.” I winked.
“Reasonable price?” Mr. Nelson gave a short laugh. “Like this year.”
“Oh now, that price was reasonable and you know it! Now, let’s say that corn came from somebody like uh…oh…Oat Jackford? What do you think he would have charged you?”
Mr. Nelson groaned. He tore the receipt off his pad and tossed it toward the waste basket. “Okay, okay…” He wrote out another receipt. I looked down at it and smiled. $7.90…hm…now THAT’s more like it!” I signed it and stuffed the receipt in my pocket.
“Let’s get the bags,” Mr. Nelson said with a groan.
I put an arm on his shoulder. “Oh no, no, no!” I smiled. “That new price didn’t include labor. I’ll get the bags.”
“Well…Some of them are heavy.”
I nodded my head. “I know!” I grunted a bit as I did my chore, but the wagon was soon all loaded. I turned and held my hand out to Mr. Nelson. “It’s nice to doing business with ya.”
“McCain!” Mr. Nelson called to me as I started out the door. I turned back to him. It wasn’t often I was called McCain – that name was reserved for my Pa. “Do me a favor?”
I shrugged. “If I can.”
“Next time..uh…send your father!” I studied him silently for a few moments. Then he smiled. “I think he would enjoy watching how slick of a trader you are!”
“Thanks!” Then I waved goodbye, got in my wagon, and drove over toward Micah’s.
Pa and Micah were sitting on the porch talking. Pa looked up at me. I was proud to make the announcement! I got all Pa had asked for: 10 grain, 4 mash, and a sack of barley. “It all came to $7.90.” I folded my arms as I stood in front of Pa. “You know the price on grain went up 4 cents a sack?” Pa knew that of course. “Took an awful lot of talkin’ to get that price back down to where it belonged.”
But I had a plan. "Now about the money I saved, Pa...Maybe I could put it away and start saving for that rifle I was telling you about."
Pa didn’t answer my question. He told me to get cleaned up for supper.
“Alright. But Pa, about that rifle-“ I started.
“We’ll talk about it later!” Pa answered sternly.
As I was getting ready to leave, Micah called to me. He tossed me the slingshot he was working on. "A sling shot?"
"Well granted, it's not a rifle...but it's all David needed to slay Goliath," said Micah. I laughed and went on my way.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
I Take this Woman
around The McCain Ranch