I reckon we all wonder what things were like back before we could remember. Most of us have early memories of when we were so little we could hardly remember anything. For instance, my earliest memory was helping my mother bake cookies. I remember my Pa walking in late one evening while my ma and I were laughing over the mess I had made with the flour. Pa came over and laughed at me. I remember his lips moving as he laughed, but I don’t remember what came out. Then I remember him picking me up and taking me outside to wash me off.
I know…that’s sort of a strange memory, you may say. But it’s my memory, and it’s so very special to me. You see, I only had my mother for six short years, and during those years, my mind was still quite new. Memories didn’t stick well in my mind like they do now. So every memory I can hold onto, I will.
But the memories of that baby…the one we called Fancy. Pa and I never did learn her real name, and as it ended up, that’s the way we wanted it to stay!
It was getting to be fall and I was out of school for awhile because so many of the other children had to be home helping their folks. Some of them took off longer then our breaks, but schooling was always one of those really important things to my Pa. He firmly believed that when I grew up, I may even wish to go to college, and besides I had my childhood and he wanted me to keep that. Anyways, I had one chore for the week – to smoke the meats. Then with my extra time, I could do whatever I wanted!
I had watched my Pa do the smoking the year before, and he told me to pay close attention, because I’d be taking this chore off his hands next year. Well, you know me and how my mind wonders. I did have to ask Pa for a little help, but I did pretty good on my own. That is, until someone came along and totally wrecked all my work!
I still remember that day. I may not remember everything about it, like why I wasn’t the one milking the cow or exactly what I did all day long while Pa was in town taking care of his business. But I certainly remember when he came home that night! I was reading a book – a book that was not for leisure, but one I had to read by the time school started back up. I complained about it to my pa, but he had simply gone to his books and commented that my Ma had read it when she was in school. No matter, I still didn’t want to read it. But Pa gave me that look – you know the one I’m talking about – it was the “don’t argue with me” look.
Well, anyway, when Pa walked in with that baby, I thought I would fall out of my chair. I remember wondering throughout the day why he was taking so long in town. And a few times, I even thought about going into town to see what was going on. But never in a million years, would I have ever guessed that he was bringing home a baby! I was at a loss for words at first. It’s not everyday, after all, that a father brings home some baby off the street! As I tried to ask him where she came from, Pa simply smiled this silly smile and stated, “It’s a baby.”
I knew that, but still…as I looked at her I smiled. I couldn’t help it! She was just so darn cute! I fell in love with her – kinda the same way a boy falls in love with a new baby sister his mother had just brought into the world.
Oh yeah, that brings up another thing. I had always wanted a baby brother. Never did I think I wanted a sister until that point. But as I look on it now, I can say that was a turning point in my life. I no longer longed for a baby brother, but for a sister. Why, you may ask? Well, I’ll get to that part here shortly.
I know Pa told you a little bit about how we got along with the baby, but there were many conversations left out. I’m sure my questions drove him crazy, but he smiled at some of the memories and frowned at others. I think it’s because my Ma were in those, and sometimes thinking on Ma too much can have a sad effect on one who loved her so deeply.
I remember Fancy’s laughing. “Did I laugh like that, Pa?” I asked as she laughed.
I watched Pa as he softly kissed Fancy’s hands and feet. “Did you ever!” he declared. “You would laugh so hard that…of course, your ma loved laughter too.” Pa suddenly got this far away look in his eyes as he remembered back. “She was always seeing happiness in whatever came her way. Oh, she had some sad times, of course, but there were so many more happy times…”
I smiled as I watched him grin at the memories. “Um…what about me and laughing?” I suddenly asked.
Pa suddenly looked at me. “You and laughing? Well you were always either laughing or crying,” Pa grinned at me.
I smiled as I watched Pa coo with the baby. He sure was attracted to that little package all right!
Later, as Pa fed her a bottle, I asked Pa if he ever fed me a bottle. Pa just sat in the chair with a far away look in his eyes. “Yes. I fed you many, son.”
“You did?” I asked, a bit surprised.
Pa nodded. “In fact, I fed you almost every one for the first month or so.” Pa sat the bottle down and leaned his head on the back of the chair. Fancy was asleep.
I quietly came over and sat down next to him. “Pa?” I said softly. “I-I’m sorry if I stirred up some old memories.”
Pa put his free arm around my shoulders. “You’re mother was…well, it was a hard time for us. You see son, we almost lost her that day.”
“In childbirth?” I suddenly asked. Pa nodded. I closed my eyes and sighed. I had very few memories of her already. If she had died then instead of later, I wouldn’t have any. I was suddenly very thankful for the few memories God allowed me to have. I reckon He knew I’d need those to get through a motherless life. “I’m sorry,” I suddenly stated.
Pa sighed. “It was rough. On her too.” He looked down at the sleeping baby. “I still remember the first time she held you. She cried, son.” I saw Pa’s eyes suddenly get moist as I looked straight into them. “It broke her heart that she missed out on the first month of your life.”
Suddenly, I felt that Pa couldn’t allow his memories to go there. At the age of twelve, I was learning where to allow his memories to go and not to go. This was one place I couldn’t let it go. “Look at how sweet she looks,” I suddenly stated, changing the subject.
Pa smiled into my eyes. “Thank you,” he simply stated. I knew I had made the right decision. “Well,” Pa stood up. “We best get ourselves to bed. She’ll be waking us up soon enough!”
“Why?” I asked.
“Oh, for a midnight feeding or a 3 AM feeding…you know!” Pa laid her down and we watched her sleep for a second.
“Pa, did I wake up at night?” I asked.
We started undressing in the dark. Fancy laid in the drawer at the foot of Pa’s bed. “Yes you did, son. Seems to me you woke up every two hours until you were about six months old! I didn’t ever think I’d get a good nights sleep again!”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I got up and fed you or changed you…whatever needed done. Sometimes you just wanted to know we were still there.” I smiled as I thought on that. Pa sat on the edge of his bed as he thought back. “No matter how many times you woke up in the night, your mother would always have a smile on her face the next morning. She never seemed to mind those 3 AM feedings!”
I laid down to go to sleep, thinking on this. I turned my head to look at Fancy. I didn’t think she’d wake us up. She seemed like a pretty good little girl! I turned toward the wall and closed my eyes.
Suddenly, I heard it. I hadn’t realized that I went to sleep, but I had. I sat up in bed. Fancy was screaming as loud as she could. “Mark, Mark!” I looked at Pa who was still laying in bed. “Son, see if she’s wet and change her.”
“Me? Why me?” I suddenly asked.
“Because the last two times, I’ve gotten up and fed her. I’m sure she needs changing.”
“The last two?” I was shocked. I had slept right through those.
Pa groaned as she got louder. He suddenly threw something in my direction. “Don’t ask questions at 3 o’clock in the morning! Just do it!” Pa groaned, as he turned over and went back to sleep.
I lifted Fancy from her bed for the night and held her. She was wet. I turned up my face as I put on dry britches, but I suppose that was all part of having a baby. “You don’t want to make Pa mad! Trust me on that, Fancy. I don’t reckon he’d make you do any chores at your age, but you still don’t want to make him mad.” I clipped the pen in her diaper. “The worst time to make him mad is at night. He seems to punish harder if you do that!”
I tiptoed back into the bedroom and laid her in the drawer. She cooed and laughed, making me smile. I gave her my finger and she grabbed it. She made me laugh. “Yes, you are just the sweetest baby in the whole world!” I whispered. “You should live with us. I’d be a real good big brother!”
“Mark,” Pa muttered. “Unless you want some extra chores tomorrow, you best get back in bed and stop the gabbing!”
“Yes sir,” I took my finger away from fancy and she laughed again. “See what I mean about waking him up in the middle of the night?” I whispered.
“Mark!” Pa said a bit sharply. I got in bed and went to sleep. Fancy never made another sound.
The next morning when I got up, Pa was yawning his way through the morning chores. I smelled bacon and eggs as I sat down at the table. “Well, it’s about time you were getting up!” Pa commented. “Fancy’s done had her breakfast and a changing too!”
I tickled Fancy under the chin and laughed. Pa yawned. “I’m not cut out for this! I’m getting too old.” Pa sat my glass of milk in front of me. He yawned even louder. “Between you and Fancy, I don’t know how a man can sleep!”
“What do you mean, Pa?” I asked innocently.
Pa took a sip of his coffee, never taking his eyes off of me. “I mean that you didn’t even wake up the first two times Fancy woke up demanding assistance. Then it took forever to get you to help her the third time. Then once you got up, I couldn’t get you two to stop talking long enough to go back to sleep!”
“Oh,” I took a big bite of eggs as I thought of a response. “Well you see, she wouldn’t stop talking!”
Pa sat his cup down and shook his head at me. “Yeah, I’m sure that’s it!”
I can’t explain it, but I really came to love that little girl! As I took care of Fancy that day while Pa was in town, I suddenly felt very protective of her, sort of like a big brother should. Knowing that there was a mean father in town wanting to steal this baby from her mother didn’t help matters any! I knew that I would protect her if I could, and I didn’t want anyone getting their paws on her.
But then when he showed up, something happened. Fear gripped my very being; not because I was afraid of what he would do to me, but because I knew this big man was bigger and more powerful then me. I knew that no matter what I did, he could take that baby by force. I didn’t want to put up too much of a fight. I feared what making him angry would do to Fancy. Maybe he would try to take his anger out on her. I saw no real purpose for it. I suppose that’s why I didn’t put up too much of a fight when he locked me in the smokehouse.
As I looked through that hole in the smokehouse and saw that precious, sweet little girl in that monster’s arms, it made my stomach churn! She deserved better, and it made me sick to think that he would take her far away.
I waited for him to leave, then I took a big ham and busted my way out of there. I didn’t get too far toward town before I met Pa on the trail. I was so upset. My heart was beating a mile a minute. Pa and I raced into town. I prayed hard that Mr. Bartell had stopped in town. He had. I could hear yelling coming from there. “Pa, that…monster’s got that baby in the saloon!” I sputtered, getting angrier by the second! “Doesn’t he know-“
Pa hushed me by holding up a hand. “Stay here, son.”
I did. But soon Pa and Mr. Bartell walked out of the saloon. There was Fancy, that sweet little girl still sitting in that monster’s arms! He took the whip in his hand, and I stared in horror as he used it on my pa.
Crack! Pa screamed out in pain as the whip wrapped around him. He screamed again as the whip wrapped around him. It pained me to watch. He was on the ground, defenseless at the moment. “Get up, Pa!” I begged. It was breaking my heart! I couldn’t stand to see this! “Get up!” If only I was bigger – I’d whip that whip right out of his hands and use it on him – he needs to know how it feels!
But suddenly Pa grabbed the whip from him and punched him. Then it was over. He left North Fork, never to be seen again.
I ran to Pa as he stood there. I could see the pain in his eyes. “Let’s go see Doc Burrage, Pa!” I said, taking him by the arm.
Pa shook his head. “No, I’m okay.”
But I turned Pa around and lifted his shirt. Huge welts were on his back. “You aren’t okay, Pa!” I turned to Micah. “Micah, tell him to go see the doc!”
Micah put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Lucas Boy, perhaps Mark needs that medicine for his pain more than you do.” Micah said.
For as long as I live, I’ll never forget that! Pa turned toward Mrs. Bartell. “Oh, it’s only 2:30. There’s time.”
Pa looked down into my desperate eyes and smiled. “Okay,” he said finally. He put his arm around my shoulder as I held onto his arm and led him to docs.
I didn’t like the look of pain that crossed Pa’s face as doc applied the ointment. I knew it hurt, but I also knew the ointment would help in the long run. And perhaps Micah was right – perhaps it was making me feel better, more then Pa.
I hated saying goodbye to Fancy. I could feel a little bit of loss as I added another memory to my brain. I would never forget her as long as I lived. I remember before Mrs. Bartell got onto the stage – something she said. “I forgot to tell you her name,” she said.
I smiled. “Her name’s Fancy. That’s enough.”
She looked at Lucas and he nodded. “Fancy…” She had smiled at me. “I like it.” Then she got onto the stage.
As I watched her go, I told Pa that I wish we could have kept her. “So do I,” Pa stated. You know, I think Pa really meant that. We had both grown attracted to her. “Sure was a pretty baby. Don't think I've ever seen a prettier one," I commented as I watched the stage drive away.
"I did. Some years ago back in the Nations. It was one evening after a hard day of rounding up strays. I rode back to the ranch house and there was this little newborn calf. Couldn't have been much bigger then that.” Pa stretched out his hands. “Didn't weigh as much as a sack of baked beans. But there it was squallin' and mooin'. Sure was cute!"
"What ever happened to the calf?" I suddenly asked.
Pa smiled. "Couldn't seem to get rid of it. It kept following me around wherever I went. Finally I had to put some clothes on it and send it to school."
He was talking about me. That made me feel really good, I must admit.
Later that night I was in bed praying. Pa came in to check on me and saw me praying. When I finished, he asked me what I was praying so intensely about. “I asked God for a sister,” I stated.
Pa folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. “Oh?” He said in that voice that told me he had a lot of questions.
“Well, I know He needs to send you a wife first. But I think God knows that,” I stated.
“Why a sister?” Pa asked.
“Well, it felt good being a big brother and protecting her like I did. Well, if I had a baby sister, I could do lots of things! I could teach her all about fishing and riding a horse. Then I could make sure everyone left her alone and protect her…well…sorta like you protect me!”
Pa smiled. “Well, did you…uh…ever stop to think that a baby brother would need your protection too?”
I had. “But a brother could fight his own fights. If anyone at school bugs her, I could fight for her honor and not get in trouble for it!”
Pa raised his eyebrows at me. Then he lifted a finger and opened his mouth to say something. I grinned at him. He lowered his finger and closed his mouth. “Goodnight, Mark,” Pa said as he turned from me. I saw him shake his head as he turned to walk out the door.
I chuckled. “Night, Pa!” I called as Pa turned and gave me one more sometimes-I-wonder-about-you looks. Then he closed the door.
I was only teasing about the fighting part, and I think Pa knew that. It had made me feel so good to be big brother to a little girl like that, and I was sure happy to have done it! I hoped that someday I would get the chance to meet her again.
And I did. A few years later. Boy, was that ever a fine story! You know what her name was? Oops, well, you’ll just have to wait and see!
*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
around The McCain Ranch