I had some exciting news to tell Pa and I couldn’t wait to get home and tell him! I rode into the yard and jumped off Blue Boy. “Pa! Pa! I got something to tell you!” I ran inside the house and found him in the bedroom. He was packing some clothes. I stopped and stared. “What-“ I started.
Pa didn’t stop the packing, but grinned. “How was school today, Mark?”
“You going somewhere, Pa?” I asked as I slowly walked up to him. Then I saw him putting my nightshirt in the bag. “We’re going somewhere?”
Pa continued grinning. “Yes we are, son.” Then he turned to look at me. “Now, what’s this good news you have to tell me?”
I stared at the packed bag and watched as he turned back around to buckle it up. He turned back toward me and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, uh…” I licked my lips. “Miss Adams told us there’s no school next week. But…you already…know that?”
Pa chuckled, shaking his head. “Yes. Have you forgotten that I’m on the school board? We planned this week vacation a month ago.”
“Well, why didn’t you tell me?” I wondered.
Pa took my hat off and handed it to me. “Because we wanted you kids to learn up until the last minute instead of sitting in class counting down the days until vacation.”
“But, you could have told me!” I declared, feeling a bit put out by his silence.
Pa laughed and swatted me on the backside. “Go get your chores done, son. We’re leaving on the stage later and I want us to eat before we go.”
“Where are we going?” I asked suddenly.
“Santa Fe. We have something to do there.” I started to ask, but Pa told me it was a surprise.
It took three solid days to get to Santa Fe. By the time we got there I was sore and didn’t feel like ever sitting again! I looked around the town which was quite a bit bigger then North Fork, and quite a bit noisier too! The saloon wasn’t as quiet, and there were guns going off everywhere. Pa took a firm hold of my arm and led me quickly down the street. We then stepped into the hotel and he got us a room. “Get to bed, son. We have to get up early in the morning.”
I did as told, already being told not to ask any questions. The next morning, I was up before Pa. I knew whatever the reason we were here must have been exciting. I stared out the window and waited for the first rays of the sun to appear so I could wake Pa up. They finally did. I ran over to the bed and crawled back up into it, getting under the covers. I didn’t want anything to stand in my way of my surprise. I suddenly let out a big, loud yawn and stretched my arms. “Do you have to be so noisy about it, son?” Pa muttered. I barely heard him.
“Boy, did I sleep good last night!” I declared, playing it up as best I could.
“No you didn’t,” Pa muttered as he opened one eye and yawned. “You tossed and turned like a twister all night. Then you got up and stood at the window for an hour.” A slow grin spread across Pa’s face and I laughed, throwing my pillow at him.
Pa finally sat up and filled the wash basin with water. “There’s plenty of soap there for you, son. Make sure you scrub good!” I groaned, but Pa whirled his head around at me and had that look on his face.
“Yes sir,” I quickly answered as I jumped out of bed and immediately began scrubbing. Pa laid out my clothes on the bed and I hurriedly dressed.
At breakfast, I leaned across the table and whispered, “Pa, can you give me a little hint?”
Pa took a long, slow drink of his coffee as I stared at him, waiting for the answer. Then he sat the cup down and licked his lips. He sat back in his chair and folded his arms. Then he cocked his head to one side. “Nope,” he finally answered. He pointed to my plate. “Eat!” He demanded.
“Oh, but Pa!” Suddenly, Pa stood up and motioned for me to do the same. I turned to see what he was looking at. The sight that met my eyes was too much for me to take. There he stood in front of us. I heard the fork I was holding crash to the wooden floor, but I simply continued staring at the familiar face. He stood there with his arms outstretched and smiled at me. Never in my days had I seen a more welcoming sight.
I suddenly ran, closing the distance between the two of us. He lifted me up as I threw my arms around him. His arms closed around me and we just relished in each other’s embrace. Suddenly, Pa was beside me and grabbed me from his arms. He groaned. “Thanks, Luke. I was just about to drop him!” He said.
Pa sat me down beside him. “What are you doing here?” I suddenly asked.
“There’s a carnival in town, boy. I’m going to do some light rodeoing. I can’t do much with this hip,” he answered, patting his bad hip.
“Come sit down so Mark can finish eating,” Pa invited him. I groaned. Eating was the last thing I wanted to do. But Pa’s stern expression told me that’s exactly what I was going to do.
“When’d ya get out of jail, Uncle Johnny?” I suddenly asked as I stuffed a huge bite of eggs in my mouth. I was in a hurry to finish. Pa cleared his throat, and I decided not to be in such a hurry with my food anymore.
“About a month ago. I was a good inmate…” Uncle Johnny looked at Pa. “If you can call an inmate good. The judge was lenient with me after I told my story. He understood my position.”
“Whatcha been doin’, Uncle Johnny?” I asked between bites.
Uncle Johnny laughed at me. “Oh, a little of this and a little of that. This carnival in town wants me to do some work for them. It’ll make a little money…enough for me to survive.”
“Why don’t you come back to North Fork?” I asked.
Uncle Johnny continued smiling at me. “Well now, I would love to come visit sometime, Mark but…well, I’m too much of a restless spirit.”
I continued eating. Uncle Johnny suddenly frowned at me. “What’s the matter?” I suddenly asked.
“How do you stand it, Luke?” he suddenly asked.
Pa looked at Uncle Johnny then. “Stand what?”
“Well…looking into his face…he looks just like her.”
Pa smiled. “Johnny, I look at that face everyday of my life. I guess I’m just thankful that God’s kept her alive through Mark.”
Things got really quiet as Uncle Johnny just stared at me. “It’s like having her here….”
I popped the last bite in my mouth and shifted uncomfortably in my chair. “You gonna win any prizes today Uncle Johnny?” I suddenly asked. Thinking about Ma only caused my heart to hurt. Having Uncle Johnny here made me happy and I didn’t want to focus on anything else but him. Uncle Johnny shook his head and told me he was getting paid to be in the carnival.
We stood and walked outside. There was shooting coming from the saloon and I felt very protected when Pa suddenly grabbed me and pulled me to his other side. Then Uncle Johnny put his arm around me on my other side and I walked in between the two. I could hear the carnival music already! Then I sniffed the air. “I smell popcorn and Carmel apples!” I declared, looking from Pa to Uncle Johnny.
“I’ll buy you all the apples and popcorn you want!” Uncle Johnny declared.
“Oh boy!” I shouted excitedly. Then I turned and looked at Pa. He had an eyebrow raised. I suddenly looked away but didn’t say anything like I’m sure Pa wanted me to. “I won’t see him again for a long time, Pa,” I commented.
“Now Luke, it won’t hurt none to spoil him just this once.”
Pa shook his head and sighed. “You can have one Carmel apple today. That’s it.”
We walked around all morning playing various carnival games and watching the clowns do tricks. Then we ate sandwiches they sold. They must have been expensive, because while Pa bought them, he grumbled about never seeing the likes of these prices. After we ate, we headed over to see the rodeo. I ran up to the fence and waved at Uncle Johnny. He came over and handed me the money for the Carmel apple and I ran off to buy it, hearing Pa’s deep sigh.
When I came up, I saw Pa wave at me from the seats. I ran to sit by him, eating the sticky apple. Pa frowned at the mess I was making, but said nothing. It was finally time for the rodeo to start. I watched Uncle Johnny climb on the horse, showing how he could break the wildest horse of the west. My eyes grew wide as I watched too. Boy, could that horse ever buck!
“Hang on, Uncle Johnny!” I screamed. Pa looked at me like I was being too loud, but then he let out a big holler too. I jumped to my feet, forgetting the apple in my hand. “Go, Uncle Johnny,” I screamed as I jumped up and down.
Pa grabbed me by the back of my shirt and pulled me down. Then he quickly snatched the Carmel apple from my hand as he shook his head. “Forty-Five seconds!” the announcer suddenly shouted.
I jumped up and took my hat off. “Yahoo!” I shouted as I threw my hat up into the air. I was so excited. “Good job, Uncle Johnny!”
The horse finally stopped bucking and walked around the corral. Uncle Johnny jumped from the horse and took a low bow. Everyone stood up and clapped. Some of the men whistled, and even the women were screaming for him. Uncle Johnny smiled and waved at everybody. “That’s my Uncle Johnny!” I yelled proudly. “He’s the best rodeo star in the West!” Pa looked down at me and laughed.
We watched the rest of the show, but nothing was as good as Uncle Johnny’s. He did the best trick ever. My Uncle Johnny was the only star of the entire show that got a standing ovation anyhow! Eventually, he came to sit by us and handed me another Carmel apple. I smiled and grabbed it from him. Pa quickly removed it from my hand and shook his head. “I said one!” he declared.
“Are you gonna eat it, Luke?” Uncle Johnny asked. Pa shook his head. “Well, neither am I. Now, that there candied apple cost me a whole $.25! You don’t want to see a whole two bits go to waste, now do you?”
Pa handed me back the apple. I laughed, but he raised his eyebrow at me. “No…more…” Pa said very sternly, pointing to both of us. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face though as I sat eating that sweet apple, savoring each bite.
By the time we left the carnival, the sun was going down. Pa announced that we would have to leave early in the morning. I was standing outside the hotel when he announced this, and I suddenly turned to Uncle Johnny. “But can’t we stay just a day longer so I can visit Uncle Johnny?” I asked.
“Three days here, three days back…that makes a solid week, son. You have to go back to school on Monday.” Pa answered me sternly.
“Missing one day won’t hurt much,” I tried. I wasn’t ready for our reunion to end. I loved Uncle Johnny and I had no idea when I would see him again. Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “Yes sir,” I finally mumbled.
Uncle Johnny sat down on the bench outside the hotel and patted the seat next to him. I slowly walked over and sat down, but I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want him to see the sadness and tears in my eyes. I simply stared at the ground. I heard Pa clear his throat. “I…um…need to check on something in the hotel. I’ll be back to say good-bye in a few minutes. Mark, I want you to go to bed when you’re done.” Then he left. It was just the two of us. Even the street seemed deserted tonight.
Uncle Johnny put an arm around my shoulders and lifted my head to where I had to look at him. He wiped the tear off my face that had managed to escape my eye. “Mark, when your Ma and I were kids, we went into the woods one day and found this raccoon. Did she ever tell you about that?” I shook my head, but continued looking at him as he looked straight into my eyes. “Well, we took that raccoon home and showed it to Pa. Your ma was so very happy to have found such a cute treasure. She cuddled that raccoon up to her face and flashed those eyes at Pa. Before we knew it, Pa was out in that barn building a cage for that animal.”
I smiled. “Why’d she flash her eyes?”
Uncle Johnny looked up towards the sky. I saw a look of pain quickly cross his face, but it left so quickly that I could never prove it was ever there. “Your ma was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, Mark. But it wasn’t necessarily just the beauty on the outside. She was beautiful inside. And when she really believed in something, flashing those pretty eyes of hers helped bring her point home. Anyhow…” Uncle Johnny sighed as he picked me up and put me on his lap. He hugged me close as he remembered back. “Pa tried to tell her that that raccoon was a wild animal and couldn’t stay caged up for long, but she was determined to keep that animal.”
“How old was she?” I asked, suddenly wanting to know.
“Well, I’d say she was about ten or eleven…something like that…Three days later, we went to clean that raccoon’s cage. That raccoon escaped from there likety split…and he ran for the woods and was never seen again.” I lowered my head, knowing where Uncle Johnny was going with the story, but not really wanting to hear it. “Mark, I’m like that raccoon. Margaret always knew it and she understood. I’m asking you to understand.” I lowered my head, but Uncle Johnny again lifted it, forcing me to look into his smiling eyes. “I have to leave in the morning. I can’t stay here or there…You understand?”
I didn’t fully understand, but I nodded sadly. Then I threw my arms around him and cried. “Besides Pa, you’re the only one who’s connected to my Ma,” I whispered into his ear.
He patted my back then lifted me off his lap. “I’ll see you again, Mark. You better get on to bed now.”
I nodded and slowly walked towards the door. But I turned. That was a mistake. Johnny had been watching me walk in and I saw a single tear lying on his cheek. He suddenly turned away, embarrassed at what I saw. “I…I love you, Uncle Johnny.”
He said nothing and I walked inside and up to my room. Slowly, I began undressing. Pa had already laid out my nightshirt and I quickly put it on and got under the covers. I shed my tears quietly and alone in the big bed. A few minutes later, I heard the door open. I quickly turned toward the wall and wiped my eyes, lying quietly in the darkness. I felt Pa sit down on the bed. “Mark,” he said softly. I didn’t say anything, but just continued staring at the wall. Pa put a hand on my shoulder then and another tear slipped down my cheek. “I know you’re awake, son.”
“I…I miss her. He…he reminds me of her,” I suddenly said in a voice not much louder then a whisper.
“I know.” Pa squeezed my shoulder. “Come here, son.”
I sat up. It was then that I saw the tears shining in Pa’s eyes. I threw my arms around him and cried some more. “I don’t want him to leave, Pa. I…I love him something awful.”
“Did you like today, son?” Pa asked as he continued holding me in his strong arms. I nodded, not trusting my voice to answer. “Were you happy?” I nodded again. Pa suddenly pulled me away from him and looked into my eyes in the darkness. “Then that’s what I want you to remember, son.”
I nodded and laid back down on the bed. Pa tucked the covers around me and kissed my forehead. “Have a good sleep, son.”
I heard him leave soon after. I was almost asleep. I knew he was going down to talk to Uncle Johnny some more before he had to say his own goodbye to his wife’s brother.
That’s what I remember about that trip. I remember the three days it took us to get home. That was a very long three days, and was I ever happy when we finally pulled into North Fork. “We’ll eat before we ride home,” Pa announced as the stage stopped. But then we heard gunshots. Pa knew that something was amiss, and I figured that would delay our trip into town.
I didn’t get to stay for much of the conversation. I know that Ben Waller was left as Micah’s deputy while Micah left North Fork for a few days. And I knew that all the shooting had something to do with Al Walker who was in the saloon buying drinks for everyone. From the looks on Mr. Waller’s and Pa’s face, I’d say that Al Walker’s presence was worrisome. And I really knew something was wrong when Pa suddenly turned to me and told me to go to the hotel and wait for him.
I was tired. It had been a long week, and I suddenly wanted to go home! “Pa,” I started. I wanted to tell him to leave it alone. I wanted us to just walk away. But when more shots were fired from the saloon and Pa looked in that direction and back towards me, I knew that Pa had to go. So I simply asked him how he wanted his steak.
I went to the café and ordered our food. By the time it was done, Pa walked in the door and sat down. “Everything okay?” I asked. Pa nodded as he started eating his steak. “We can go home after we eat, huh Pa?” I asked as I took a bite of my own food.
Pa started to nod. But then three strange men came inside and sat down at the bar. I could tell that Pa was very uncomfortable with their being there. Several times I asked Pa if everything was okay, and several times he told me they were. I asked Pa if there was something wrong with his steak, and he said no. Then I asked him if he knew those men. That seemed to snap him out of whatever he was thinking about. He told me to eat my steak so I could eat the pie when it came.
But then those men started yelling at each other. They wanted to kill Al Walker. Pa was obviously upset over the conversation. They continued talking about killing Al Walker, and anyone else that got in their way. Our pie came and one of the men told my Pa to forget about what he just heard. Then Pa asked me if I was ready. I turned and looked at my pie. I did want to eat it, but I knew that Pa had more pressing business.
We went outside. Pa immediately ordered me to go to the Marshal’s office. I wanted to stay there with him, to see what was going to happen next. But I knew that no amount of arguing would get me to stay. Pa always made sure I was protected when there was danger. So I walked into the Marshal’s office as Mr. Waller walked out. Then I stared through the window of the closed door. The way Mr. Waller and Pa were talking, I could tell there would be trouble.
Then Mr. Waller came back inside. I asked him what was going on. He just shook his head at me. “Who are those men?” I asked. But he was too upset to tell me. Pa came back with who I later found out was Al Walker. As Mr. Waller locked him up, I asked Pa who those men were. I found out soon enough. They were the Porter brothers. And they were here to kill Al Walker, the man Pa had just put in jail for his own protection.
Pa told me to go to the hotel and wait for him there. I obeyed, picking up our satchel and starting toward the front door. But then one of the men yelled for my Pa. He grabbed me by the arm and shoved me back. I knew his rough treatment was meant to be kind and protective, but that didn’t stop my arm from hurting when he grabbed me. The men were giving him ten minutes before they sat the town on fire.
I was suddenly worried, and I knew things were now very dangerous. Mark commanded me to go to the hotel the back way and to keep out of sight. I knew from the look and the finger he pointed at me that a “Yes sir” was all that was expected from me. So I quickly left.
My heart was beating fast as I raced for the hotel. I had to go way out into the darkness and sneak into the back of the buildings in order to get there. And when I got there, Mr. Halstead saw me come in the back way. “What’s going on?” he asked. I quickly explained what I knew. “Pa told me I had to wait here until it was over.”
But after a few minutes of pacing, I started for the front door to get a look at what was going on. There were others there looking. “Mark!” Mr. Halstead suddenly called my name. I jumped and whirled around. “Um…would you like a piece of chocolate cake?”
I shook my head at first. But then I remembered that I missed dessert at the café. But then I shook my head again. “I best not.”
Mr. Halstead grabbed me by the shoulders and led me into the dining room. He plopped me down into a chair as a piece of chocolate cake was handed to me. I began eating it. But suddenly, I lost my appetite…even for chocolate cake! I heard gunshots.
I quickly stood up and ran to the front doors. “Pa!” I suddenly shouted, afraid that he had been shot. Mr. Halstead grabbed me from behind and held me tightly. I tried to struggle in his arms as more gunshots went off. But then everything was quiet and I froze, afraid of what happened. I slowly made my way toward the front doors again. The men were opening them, believing the fight was over. But four or five more gunshots sounded. I stood in the doorway and stared. Mr. Walker laid on the street bleeding. He was just about to die.
I made my way down the steps and looked around at the dead bodies of the men we had heard talking in the café earlier. I watched Mr. Walker die. Then Pa stood up, walked up to me and put his arm around me. As we walked down the street toward the stable, he told me the story of what happened – the story you can read about in his own words.
He told me that Mr. Walker risked what little time he had left to save the town. I had to ask Pa the question. I wanted to know if Al Walker was a hero. He told me that he died a hero. Then we rode off towards home!
I told Pa I sure would be happy when I was in my own bed! Pa reminded me that the next day was Saturday and we had plenty of work waiting for us at the ranch. “Oh, and I was hoping I could sleep in tomorrow!” I groaned.
Pa laughed. “You sat in a stagecoach for six days this week! How much more rest did you need?”
Then I rode beside Pa as I again reflected on seeing my Uncle Johnny, who was once again free as we galloped our horses toward home.
*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