I wanted to call this one “The Tooth,” but Pa didn’t want to mislead you, but honestly for a few days, that’s all that was on my mind.
Now, I remember when I was five years old falling out of a tree and loosing my two front teeth. And I remember having a tooth pulled when I was ten or eleven – I remember how bad it hurt to get the tooth pulled and how much I fought my Pa against going, but he threatened me great bodily harm if I didn’t obey him and “get in that office right now,” so I went against my own free well.
But I had never had a toothache like this before. You see, it all started on a Friday afternoon. I ran over to the General Store right after school let out. “Hi, Miss Milly!” I called. I hurried over to the candy jar and chose the piece of candy I wanted – a great big peppermint stick! After giving Miss Milly my penny, I took a bite of it. “Ow!” I cried as I threw my hand to my cheek.
Miss Milly hurried around the counter. “What happened?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly. It just hurt to bite into this-“ I remembered the last time I felt a pain like that, except it was on the other side of my mouth. My eyes grew big just thinking about Dr. Burrage’s pliers coming towards my mouth.
Milly’s face wrinkled up. “Mark? What’s wrong?” She asked.
I looked towards the door and saw Pa riding up. “N-nothing!” I answered. “Don’t tell Pa!” Then I hurried out of the store.
I practically ran into Pa. “Wow there, boy! Slow down!” I apologized as I sucked on my piece of candy. Pa folded his arms. “Well, you had to spend that last penny! You keep this up and you’ll be getting another cavity, boy!”
I laughed nervously. “Oh, that’s funny, Pa!” Pa looked at me strangely. “Well, I better go um…check…check the mail.” I gave Pa a nervous smile then turned and nodded at Miss Milly. “Bye.” I hurried off, hoping Milly didn’t say anything about my tooth.
Things only got worse from there. I was doing chores in the barn when Pa announced that supper was ready. I hurried inside and quickly took a drink of milk. I was famished! “Ahhhhhhh!” I suddenly gasped and grabbed my cheek. I shot my hand down before Pa could see. “It’s cold.”
Pa laughed. “Oh yes, I had it in the cooler. It stayed pretty cold that way today.” Pa cocked his head to one side as he sat down with the coffee pot. “Something…wrong?” he asked.
“Oh no,” I answered. “Just surprised it was so cool is all.” I looked down at my plate and saw the beef steak on my plate. My eyes widened as I thought about chewing it.
I laid down my fork after chewing one piece on the other side of my mouth. I never realized that chewing was so much work. “Oh, Pa, I don’t feel too hot. I don’t think I can eat tonight.”
Pa took a drink of his coffee and popped another bite into his mouth. “Would some soup help you feel better?” Pa asked.
“Oh yes, vegetable soup? You got some?” I asked, suddenly hopeful as I leaned toward him.
Pa narrowed his eyes at me as he popped another bite in his mouth. He waved his fork at me as he chewed. “Which tooth is it?” he asked.
“Huh?” I suddenly asked.
“Come on, which tooth, Mark?” he asked again, this time a little more impatiently.
Pa put down his fork and stood up, still chewing. “Let me see, son. Which one?”
“Miss Milly told you!” I exclaimed.
“No.” Pa began squeezing my chin to force my mouth open. “I’m just a smart Pa!” he declared. He started feeling my teeth on the side that hurt.
“Ow!” I cried out.
“Well, it’s that one. It hurts pretty bad, huh?” Pa asked as he sat back down and took another bite.
“Uh huh,” I stated. “It didn’t hurt at lunch, least wise I didn’t notice anything.”
Pa used his bread to scoop up the rest of his gravy. He popped the rest of his gravy up as I tried eating as much of the food as I could. “Well, as soon as you’re done eating, we’ll ride back into town to see Doc Burrage.” Pa shook his head at me as I stared in horror. “I wish you had come clean with me while we were in town. We could have saved some time.”
“No!” I declared. “No, no, no!”
Pa suddenly looked up from his plate. “What do you mean no?”
“No!” I gently put a bite of potatoes in my mouth, chewing it on the other side. “Not after what he did to me last time!”
“What did he do to you last time, son?” Pa asked.
“He yanked that tooth right out! Don’t you remember?” I could feel my tooth throbbing now.
“Well, it isn’t gonna get any better, son. A toothache like that only has one cure that I know of..” Pa even was nice enough to sit down his fork and demonstrate a yank with his hand.
“Oh Pa, please don’t make me!” I moaned. “I can’t! I just can’t!”
Pa shook his head at me. “Alright, son. Best start on these dishes then.” But I just sat there holding my cheek as it throbbed. “Mark.” I looked at him, wishing he’d be a little sympathetic with me. But Pa knew what I was thinking and shook his head at me. “Look son, I told you what you need to do to take care of the problem. If you choose not to obey me, then you won’t get any relief from me. Now get the dishes done.”
I didn’t sleep very well that night. I tossed and turned that night. Pa came in to check on me a couple times and just shook his head at me. When I woke up at midnight, I got up and went to sit on the porch. Pa came to the doorway yawning. He scratched his head then put his hand under my arm and lifted me up. “Come on,” he said as we walked into the kitchen. He opened a medicine box and pulled out a bottle. “Take some of this Willow Extract. It’ll help with the pain.”
I slept better after that. The next morning, the pain was back. I asked Pa for some more of that medicine – it had seemed to do the trick. Pa studied me through narrow slits in his eyes as sweat poured down his forehead. He was busy oiling the wheels on the wagon. “Mark, you need to go see the doc,” Pa stated.
I shook my head. “No, Pa! It’ll go away! Can I have more of that medicine?” Pa sighed and shook his head. He wiped his hands on the towel and walked towards the house to get me some more of the medicine.
The pain was better for the rest of the day, and I was even able to chew the food at supper that night. I even slept all through the night, and when I woke up Sunday morning, the pain was still not as bad.
But by the time we got into town, I was moaning and groaning. Pa looked at me and frowned as I sat beside him holding my cheek. He nudged me and nodded toward my hand, telling me to put it down. After church, Pa started over to the hotel with Miss Milly. I just stood there not wanting to go in. “Go ahead Milly. We’ll be there soon.”
Pa looked at me then scratched under his nose. “Well?” he asked. I shook my head no. Pa put his hands on his hips and raised his eyebrows at me. “Stay right here.” He walked down to the doctor’s office.
I stood there nervously, knowing Pa had enough of my nonsense, as he called it. But I didn’t want to see the doc. When Pa came back, he said “Well you’re in lucky, boy. He’s outside town delivering a baby and probably won’t be back until late tonight.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “Mark, why are you so reluctant to go see the doc?”
“He’ll yank out my tooth, Pa! It already hurts, and he’ll just make it hurt worse!” I cried.
“Mark, you’ve been a lot worse off then this before. You remember when you fell out of that tree and broke your arm?” I nodded. “You remember when you got bitten by that snake and that man cut the poison?” I cringed, but nodded. “You remember-“
“Alright Pa!” I suddenly exclaimed. Pa raised his eyebrows at me and gave me a stern look. I sighed. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to yell.”
“Well, tomorrow morning, you and I are riding into town together to see the doc.” I started to argue but Pa held up his hand. “I don’t want to hear any excuses. Now, I’m going to go inside to eat. If you aren’t coming, you might as well start for-“
Suddenly, Miss Milly came out and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Mark, I have the cook fixing you up a nice big bowl of vegetable soup. That should be nice and soft for you. And for dessert, you can have some bread pudding. How’s that?” She kept her arm around me as she led me inside.
“Milly!” Pa called. But she didn’t even turn to look at him – she just kept on walking.
As I sat there eating, Miss Milly smiled sympathetically at me. Pa was studying me and Miss Milly both intensely and shaking his head at us. “Micah,” Pa said. “If Milly had any children of her own, they’d be spoiled rotten to the core!”
Milly turned from me for a moment and narrowed her eyes at Pa. “Now, there’s nothing wrong with giving an ailing boy something he can eat, Lucas McCain! It’s not his fault that Doctor Burrage is out of town!”
“No,” Pa stated as he folded his arms and looked at Milly. “But it is his fault this wasn’t taken care of Friday evening or Saturday morning.”
“Well, he’s just a little nervous, Lucas. That’s understandable.” She smoothed my hair back as I continued eating. Maybe it was a bit babyish of me, but I actually liked all this pampering she was giving me! “Mark?” I turned and looked at her. “I know it’s scary…I mean, nobody wants to have a tooth pulled, but just think about how much better you’ll feel. Would you go to the doctor in the morning?” I stared at her, still unsure I wanted to do that. Her face was right in front of me. She suddenly broke out into a big smile. “For me?” She raised her eyebrows at me and asked so nicely.
I’m not sure if it was her soothing voice or just the fact that she was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met since my Ma died; but I found myself smiling at her and nodding. “Yes ma’am,” I answered. I looked at Pa then, who looked at Micah and shook his head.
After I got home, I was sitting at the table working on my studies. I guess Milly’s niceness had rubbed off, because as I was trying to read my history lesson, Pa came over to the table with the Willow Extract. I took some of it and thanked him. Then he sat down. “That Miss Milly is something else, isn’t she Mark?”
I suddenly looked up at Pa and smiled. But I saw a bigger smile on his own face. “You riled cause she went against ya?” I asked.
Pa laughed. “No, son. She didn’t go against me exactly. But I think she did baby you a little too much.” Pa laughed and shook his head. “Course, I can’t say your mother wouldn’t have done the same thing. In fact…” Pa’s voice died as he put his hand to his chin and started thinking.
“She reminds you of Ma?” I asked suddenly.
“Oh, a little I guess.” Pa smiled. “She’s so different from your mother, but she’s so like her too. I can’t…” Pa shook his head slightly. “I can’t explain it.”
“It’s her smile,” I answered. “Her smile is as pretty as Ma’s. Just seeing her smile today made my toothache feel better.” I saw a lonesome look on Pa’s face then. “You still miss her, huh?”
“Everyday,” Pa whispered as he started toying with his wedding ring.
I sat down my pencil and looked up at Pa. “Pa, I’ll go to the doc’s in the morning. I won’t fight ya.” I sighed. “I’m sorry I’ve been difficult for ya.”
Pa suddenly looked at me and smiled. “You got much homework?” he asked.
“Yeah. A math test tomorrow. It’s sort of a pretest, Miss Adams said. We have big testing coming up next week, you know, and she said they are really important so she’ll know where to place us in the class.” Pa scooted his chair around. “Well, let’s get at it.”
I looked up at Pa and smiled. Then I showed him what the test would be over. “Ew, square roots! Okay, well…” I smiled as Pa got my tablet and started drilling me on how to work these problems.
By the time I laid down in bed that night, I thought my Pa was the smartest man in the whole world!
It was still dark when I woke up the next morning. “Ohhh,” I groaned. “Ohhhh!” I rolled from side to side groaning at the pain.
Pa came over to my bed and looked at me. “Is it bad, son?” he asked. I just nodded as I groaned again. “Okay, I’ll fix some mush for you so you can eat. Then I’ll tie a kerchief round to keep your mouth from jarring too much.”
He did that exact thing. “Just stay there son, I’ll go saddle the horses.” I sat at the table moaning. Pa stopped in the doorway and turned back around. He walked back over to the table and kneeled before me. He took out his kerchief. “Son, I’m gonna tie this gently around your head. It’ll keep your mouth closed and hopefully help with the pain. As he did so, I looked into his eyes. I saw the pain in his own eyes as he watched me moan. He rested a hand on my cheek for a moment. “Feel better?”
I nodded and moaned. Pa raised he eyebrows at me then. I’ll go saddle the horses. He stood up and went back to the doorway. “Maybe next time you’ll listen to me.” I rolled my eyes. Hearing Pa say “I told you so” was the last thing I needed right now!
Pa came back into the house and grabbed my schoolbooks off the table. He buckled the leather strap around them while I grabbed my hat. “Alright, come on, son. I started out the door. He helped me mount Blue Boy with me moaning the while time.
The ride into town as very slow. Every bounce of Blue Boy’s hooves sent jarring pain through my entire body! Never did I know a tooth ache could make your feet hurt! But this one sure did…Two miles outside of town, I finally stopped the horse. I mumbled to Pa that I couldn’t ride anymore. He jumped off Razor and helped me slide down as gently as possible.
Pa made a few comments as we walked further into town. I only moaned at most of them. The only thing I could think of was how bad my tooth was! After we got into town, Pa reminded me again that we should have taken care of the problem two days ago and that he didn’t appreciate walking the last two miles. I wasn’t in the mood to hear any of it.
Pa took the horses and I started toward the doc’s office. But when I was standing in front of it, I got cold feet. “Come on, son,” Pa said gently as he took my arm.
“Uh, no…” I started. But Pa firmly gripped my arm and I had no choice but to go with him. As he knocked on the door, I got behind him. He walked inside and told me to come on in. Something told me Pa was enjoying me learning this lesson! I couldn’t believe he was finding pleasure in my pain – but I guess I did deserve it after all!
Doc said he was on his way to see an old lady about her back. I figured she needed him more then me. “Maybe we can come back tomorrow?” I asked Pa. But Pa gave me a look that told me he knew I wasn’t concerned about the poor old lady nearly as much as I was about the pain that was about to be inflicted on me. He was right!
Then after Doc looked at my tooth, he confirmed my suspicious. He was going to yank it out. That’s right, he actually used the word “yank.” Now, why didn’t he use the word “take” or “pull” or even “coax?” But Yank? That word made my tooth hurt that much more and I was certainly very frightened to be there.
The doc could tell to because he asked me if I’d rather have it out then hurting like this for a couple more weeks before it fell out. I looked at Pa, hoping Pa would just tell him to leave me alone, but Pa just said, “It’s up to you, son.”
That’s what Pa said, but you know as well as I do that it wasn’t really up to me. Because if I had gotten out of that chair and tried to escape, Pa would have found some way to get that tooth pulled. That was just his way…Parents always tell you that you have a choice until you make the wrong one. Then suddenly, you don’t have a choice. And yet they get by with it so smoothly that sometimes even the kids never notice!
So I decided to just save us all the time and get it over with. Doc reached for the whisky, but the look on Pa’s face told me that wasn’t going to happen. I wish I had been old enough to have some of that. The yank was gonna hurt an awful lot.
I watched Doc as he walked over to his cabinet and grabbed the pliers. The look on Pa’s face told me that I wasn’t going to enjoy it one bit, but I honestly didn’t need to see the look on his face to know that!
Again, I was really hesitant on letting Doctor Burrage stick anything in my mouth. But he just ordered me to open up. I felt a very sharp pain as he wrapped those pliers around my tooth. Then he braced his hand and closed his eyes. Yank! I cried in pain as he pulled it out. And the pain was so intense that I just sat there for a few moments trying to regain my composure.
It did feel better. Doc Burrage stood me up out of the chair and turned me toward Pa. “Here’s you a young man, Lucas,” he stated. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that he just pulled my last molars, so I was officially a man…but I wasn’t as I found out only moments later.
Pa paid Dr. Burrage then we started for the door. I was kind of happy that I had to have a procedure done, because that would mean a relaxing day at home with no chores and lots of spoiling, so I thought. But as soon as we got outside, Pa made a point to let me know what I was going to do instead.
I told Pa I was feeling better. “Good. If you hurry you'll be able to get over to school before morning recess."
I couldn’t believe this injustice! “School!” I exclaimed.
“Mm Hm,” Pa answered sternly.
“But Pa, after all I just had my tooth pulled, and I won't be able to concentrate,” I couldn’t believe he expected me to go to school after the rough two ½ days I had just gone through! Whatever happened to his pampering me after being sick?
“Mark, every day of school is important, especially with exams coming up next week.” This was getting worse. Now he had to go and remind me I had a test today, just the reason I absolutely did now want to go to school today.
“But Pa, you don’t understand!” I argued.
“Look, son, don’t you think I was ever a boy who had a tooth pulled?” Pa asked then. “I do understand.”
But I did not want to go to school. He felt so sorry for me earlier, and I figured if I just remind him of that…I had a right to rest after my experience, didn’t I? “Yeah, but you never had a tooth like this one,” I started arguing.
But Pa got this really mean look on his face. He raised his eyebrows, put his hands on his hips, and pressed his lips together. I knew what the next word out of my mouth would get me, so I chose not to say it. I knew defeat when I saw it! So instead, I agreed to go.
When I got to school, Miss Adams placed her hands on her hips and stared at me. I sighed and shook my head. “I had to get a tooth pulled this morning.” She raised her eyebrows thinking I was trying to make another lame excuse. “Honest, Miss Adams! I can show you-“ I started to open my mouth to point it out, but she ordered me to sit down and work on my studies.
That afternoon, I started back into town to get my horse where I had left him that morning. But Pa came into the schoolyard to greet me. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going home to work with the cattle!”
“I was, son.” Pa put an arm around my shoulders. “Pedro Sanchez was killed last night. A man named Baranca came to deliver swift justice, so I had to stay in town and handle that.”
“Well, couldn’t Micah handle it?” I asked.
“Mark!” I’m not sure what I said wrong. “Micah was lured out of town so Baranca could handle the justice his own way without any interference.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. Then I smiled. “He didn’t expect to run into the Rifleman.” I suddenly turned to Pa. “Hey Pa, did you duel him? Did ya? Did ya win?”
“Mark!” Pa called my name again, except this time there was a big warning in it. Boy, you know, sometimes it just doesn’t pay to open your mouth (no pun intended).
We went to Micah’s office to see if he was back yet. He wasn’t. Pa told me that as soon as Micah got back, we’d go home. Then he asked me if I was feeling better.
He sure was right! I had forgotten all about my tooth until just now! As soon as I got started on that math test, I forgot all about it. Suddenly I saw a man dressed in black riding a white horse. I knew instantly who that was! Pa told me that he had decided to obey the law because he was a good man.
Then Pa asked me a silly question. “Say…um…you think you can get a peppermint stick by that tooth now?”
“Oh boy!” I declared. Then I pushed passed Pa and rushed to the General Store. “Hi, Miss Milly!” I called as I ran up to the candy jar and grabbed a peppermint stick. I bit into it and smiled. “No pain!”
She folded her arms and smiled at me. “I know.” She walked up to me and wrapped an arm around me. “Your father told me you got it taken care of.”
I nodded. “You know, it sure hurt like the dickens, but it sure was better then going another two weeks like that!”
Pa hurried in then. He shook his head as he walked up to us. “Well, doc said I got a young man here, Milly.”
“Yeah,” I stated as I cocked my head to one side and studied Pa. “But young men don’t have to be told to go to school…” I gave him a mischievous smile.
“True, true…” Pa stated. “But young men also don’t need candy.”
I looked down at the peppermint stick in my hand and took a big bite out of it. “Oh, well in that case, you better pay the lady, Pa. Because boys don’t carry much money!”
Pa lifted his hand to swat me on the back side, but I laughed and ducked past him as I raced out the door. I could hear Pa and Miss Milly’s laughter all the way down the street. I turned and looked back toward the General Store as their laughter continued. It reminded me so much of Pa and Ma laughing together.
I smiled as I thought on that. Then I nodded. “Maybe someday…”
*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
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