The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

Clarence Bibs Story Episode 104
Mark’s story

I looked at my math homework Mr. Griswald had just passed out and shook my head. “D-!” I sighed. “Pa’s gonna skin me for sure,” I muttered.

“Too bad,” Bobby said from where he sat behind me. “I got another A+.”

I shook my head and sighed. “Yeah, you probably cheat.”

“I do not!” Bobby said just a little too loud. We both looked up at Mr. Griswald. Bobby quickly sat back in his seat.

After school, I slowly walked outside. “Mark, wait up!” Bobby hurried over to me. “Mark, you gonna tell your Pa about that paper?”

“I don’t want to,” I answered. “But I expect I better. If I don’t tell him and he finds out later, I’ll get into even more trouble.” I shook my head. “I don’t know how, but somehow, Pa always seems to find out these things.”

I looked down at my books. My math paper was stuffed inside my math book. Right now we were working on figuring fractions through word problems. We had to decide rather to add, subtract, multiply, or divide them. Last night, I decided I wanted none of the above. But somehow, I didn’t figure Pa would like that reasoning. Pa usually helped me on my homework because he was really smart in math. But last night I got a late start on account that I went fishing before coming home. Pa was already sore at me for that –. He had sent me to my room where I had done my homework.

“I’ll show my Ma and Pa my homework!” Bobby stated.

I stopped and stared at him. “Yeah, well that’s on account that you always make A’s! I wish I could bring home A’s to my Pa.”

“I’ll help ya,” Bobby suggested.

“Really?” I asked. “You’ll help me do my homework?”

“Sure,” Bobby answered. “Just come over to my house and we’ll get started.”

I couldn’t that day, but I told Bobby I’d come Sunday after church. Then I hurried into town to meet my Pa. He was in Micah’s office. “How was school today?”

“Oh, you know,” I answered. “About the same.”

Micah and Pa looked at each other. “You got homework?”

“Yes sir,” I answered.

“Well, we better get started for home then.” Pa stood up and turned to Micah. “See you later.”

“Uh…Pa?” I suddenly stopped. Maybe showing him my paper in front of a witness would go better for me. “I have something to show you.” I unfastened my books and took out my math homework. Then I handed it to him.

Pa started to take it, but he turned to Micah. “Is it something I want to see?”

I continued holding it out to him. “I don’t think so,” I answered.

Pa pushed my hand away. “Then I’ll look at it when we get home.”

“Oh,” I answered. “No witnesses, huh?”

Pa chuckled. “Something like that, son.”

Pa ordered me to do my chores as soon as we got home. It wasn’t until after the dishes were done and Pa was sitting out on the porch that he called me out there. “And bring that piece of paper for me to look at.”

I groaned as I took the piece of paper from my book. Slowly, I walked out onto the porch. “Have a seat, son.” Pa patted right beside him. I sat down. “What is it you want to show me?”

“It’s a…uh…it’s my math homework.”

“Is it bad?”

“Ye-yes sir,” I swallowed.

Pa took it from me and opened it up. He studied it for a minute. I watched his face. He held a blank look on his face, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. “You know I don’t like getting papers like this, son,” Pa spoke without looking up from the paper.

“Yes sir.”

“You didn’t even try.”

“No sir.”

“I reckon you know that the fishing plans we had for tomorrow are canceled.”

I was afraid of that. I knew that instead of fishing, I’d be doing every single one of those word problems over again – and Pa would do his best to make sure they were correct. That was a long weekend. I did my Saturday chores all morning while Pa went into town. Then after lunch he sat me down on the porch and we started on those stupid word problems. It took all afternoon for me to get those done. Pa did his best to explain the reasoning to me, but I still didn’t completely understand.

I waited until after church the next day to ask Pa if I could go over to Bobby’s house. I didn’t have assigned chores on Sunday on account of it being the day of rest, so Pa was really relaxed on what I couldn’t do. Pa looked at Bobby’s father who nodded his head, then he gave his approval. “Great!” I ran to the wagon and whipped off my tie and Sunday jacket. Then I grabbed my school books. Pa raised his eyebrow and asked me where I was going with those. I told him I was going to see if we could get our homework done early so we could play for the rest of the day.

Pa declined permission for me to spend the night. He said that with the bad grade I brought home last week, all my privileges weren’t to be restored so easily. I didn’t argue with that.

When we got in Bobby’s room, he took out his math homework. “Pa makes me finish mine on Friday night so I’ll have the rest of the weekend to play,” Bobby explained.

“So, what’s your plan to help me?” I asked.

Bobby handed me his homework. “There you go. There’s the answers.”

I stared at his paper. “That’s cheating!” I declared.

“No it’s not,” Bobby rolled his eyes at me as he leaned over his desk and opened my math book. “You see, you read the problem from your book first. Then you look at my problem and the way I answered it and learn that way. It’s not cheating. It’s just…getting extra help.” I stared at the book. I still wasn’t sure this was a good idea. I remembered the last time I copied somebody’s homework! Bobby looked at me. “Do you want to show your Pa an A paper?”

I looked down at the book. If I read the problem and copied Bobby’s paper, I would be learning how to work it. At least that’s what I told myself. I nodded, then grabbed Bobby’s paper to copy. For good measure, I did try to work the problem out myself, then looked at what he had. But sometimes I just couldn’t understand how he got the answer so I finally just copied it.

When I was done, we went out for a piece of pie. Bobby asked his Pa if we could go into town and hang out with the other boys. Mr. Hamilton reminded me that I had to be home by 6:00 or I’d be in trouble with my Pa. He would be driving me home since I didn’t have my horse.

We ran over to the club house that I wasn’t a member of. Freddie had made that rule when he was still living here, and the others wouldn’t change it. Since I didn’t live in town, I couldn’t be a member – but I could come with a guest. I rolled my eyes at the stupid rules. “We have a current events test tomorrow,” Billy suddenly reminded the group.

“What?” I jumped up. “Tomorrow?” I closed my eyes. Boy, oh boy, I wasn’t scoring very well with my Pa these days when it came to school! Pa told me just the other day that he was looking forward to me finishing school more then I was because it was more work for him then for me. At this moment, I think I knew what he was talking about. He didn’t have to punish me. I told him as much, but he said it was his sworn duty as a father.

“George Tanner’s close by. That’s a current event,” Kevin announced.

“George Tanner, the gunfighter?” I declared. “Where?”

“In Slide Creek,” Kevin answered.

“I don’t think that’s going to be on Mr. Griswald’s test tomorrow, dummy!” Jeff said to his brother.

“Well, it’s a current event, ain’t it?” Kevin declared.

“Not a current event our folks want us to remember!” I said. “Pa could care less that I know about George Tanner. If I bring home another bad paper, he’s gonna wallop me for sure!”

“Your Pa’s gonna wallop you?” Kevin Connors stood and put his hands on his hips. “When did you ever get walloped?”

“Well, I remember getting a smack down in that area of my body a time or two!” I declared.

Jeff Connors shook his head. “My Pa can wallop hard! We try to stay out of the woodshed if we can, cause if you make our Pa mad…..whoo boy!”

“Well, Pa may not wallop me, but he sure will do some yelling!” I looked up at the boys. “And believe you-me…sometimes, a good walloping would be better then listening to Pa’s yelling and doing the homework over again because you didn’t make an approving grade!”

Bobby stood up and told me that we better get started so his Pa could take me home. By the time I got home, Pa had supper on the table. After supper, Pa suggested I go lay down fresh hay in the barn. “Well, I have a test to study for, Pa.”

Pa’s head suddenly popped up. “A…A test?” I hadn’t even taken it yet, and he was already hollering!

“Ye-yes sir,” I answered meekly.

Pa stood up to his 6’5” tall frame. He put his hands on his hips and gave a big sigh. “Why did you wait until Sunday night to tell me and to study for it?”

“Well, I…I forgot. Billy reminded me in town this afternoon!” Pa’s eyes began to narrow as he continued to stare at me. “Ho-honest, Pa. Honest!”

Pa pointed a finger straight at me. “Well, you better get yourself in that room and study for it, boy! You better pray for a good grade too!”

Now you know my Pa. He’s a pretty friendly sort of man. That is, unless you do something to cross him. Then he can be a mean sort of man! I asked Pa once if he did good in school. He didn’t answer me directly, but told me that learning comes natural for some folks. Those it didn’t come natural for had to work hard at it. I’m supposing that meant it came natural for him, but not for me. He said he’d brought home a few bad grades himself, and his Pa did a lot worse then what I got so I should consider myself lucky.

Yeah, seems my schooling was always getting me into trouble one way or the other, and I was lucky?

Well anyway, I spent the rest of that night until bedtime studying my current events. I won’t waste my time telling you what those were because they aren’t current events any more! The next day, when I got the test, I stared at it for a few minutes. I realized that I hadn’t studied the right information. I was studying the where’s when the questions were in the when’s and why’s.

Somehow, I managed to make it to Bobby Hamilton’s house every day that week. He “helped” me with my math homework the same way he had on that Sunday. I wasn’t sure how much I was learning by copying his work, but I convinced myself that I was learning a lot. Pa smiled at the first A+ I brought home on Monday. The next day, he smiled again, but then did some yelling and extra-chore giving when he saw my D+ on the Current Events test. Wednesday, I wasn’t allowed to go to Bobby’s because of punishment for my bad grade. I had to sit at the table and do my math homework that evening. Pa helped me and scratched his head, wondering how I had managed an A+ two evenings in a row.

Thursday, he allowed me to go back over to Bobby’s after school. On Friday, I brought home another good A+ on my math.

Pa left me at home studying for my math test on Saturday while he went into town. When he came back, he gave me a funny look and scratched his head, but he never said anything. I figured he’d be in an awful good mood seeing as how I managed four A+’s and a B on my math all week, but he didn’t seem to be as exited as I had expected.

After church on Sunday, Bobby ran up and asked me if I could come to his house to study for our math test. I turned and looked at Pa and Pa said a great big NO! I started to argue, stating that we would indeed study. Pa crossed his arms, raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Yes you will study, son. At home. I’ll help you.”

“Oh, but Pa-“ I started.

Pa’s eyebrows raised even higher and his lips tightened. I saw the warning shining in his eyes. “Yes sir,” I grumbled.

Mr. Griswald had given us a few problems to work out for homework besides our test. He said those problems would be a great help to us on the test. I had worked them at Bobby’s house on Friday. Pa wanted to see my work, and when I opened my tablet to show them to him, I exclaimed, “They’re gone!”

Pa had been leaning over me to get a good look-see. But he suddenly straightened up and said, “I see. Well, you’ll just have to do them again.” I looked up at him and he had a grin on his face. He turned and went to the door. “I”ll check them when I get back from checking the cattle.”

“But Pa, I did them Friday!” I declared.

Pa nodded. “Then it’ll be no trouble for you to do them again, son.” With that, he walked out the door.

I sat there for several moments, trying to figure my Pa out!

The next day, Pa told me he’d be in town later. I was to meet him over there. He walked me out to my horse. “Good luck on your math test today, son.” He had checked my problems last night after I had done them. I had to re-do several of the problems again. I reckon I would need lots of luck today!

That math test was hard! I was glad when recess came. I hurried outside where all the boys were talking. “I remember Pa telling me about that!” Jeff declared. “Wyatt Earp was coming up the street when suddenly there was this man who was gunning for him! George Tanner saw his shining gun up on the roof when…Pow! Wyatt Earp himself gave George Tanner his approval to wear his guns for his own protection while he was staying in his town!”

I had been hearing stories on George Tanner all week. “How’d you do on the math test, Mark?” Bobby asked then.

I threw the remainder of my sandwich down. “I don’t know. I reckon math’s not something I’ll ever cotton to!”

Bobby shook his head. “Too bad you didn’t come over and let me help you study. Why wouldn’t your Pa let you?”

“Pa’s been acting sort of peculiar this weekend,” I stated. “I’m afraid.”

“Afraid?” Bobby asked.

“Well,” I sighed. “When Pa gets like this, it means he’s onto something. I hope he didn’t find out about…” I looked up at Bobby.

“So what if he did?” Bobby shrugged. “Ain’t nothing wrong with it! Like I said, it’s just another way of helping.”

“Yeah.” I shook my head. “Remember those math problems I did at your house on Friday?” Bobby nodded. “Well, they were gone. Pa wanted to see them on Sunday, and when I opened my tablet, they were gone.”

“Gone?” Bobby stood up as we started back inside. “What do you mean gone? How can they just disappear?”

“I don’t know. I left the tablet on the table all weekend with my books. I saw them when I was studying for my math test Saturday while Pa was in town. Sunday, it was gone.” I shook my head. “Pa’s up to something. I can just feel it.”

When I got out of school that afternoon, I rode Blue Boy into town. I got there just in time to see a dead man being hauled off in a wagon. Being the boy that I am, my curiosity got to me really fast. I couldn’t help but to think about how much I missed on going to school every day! Pa came up to me. “Hello, son. How was school today?”

I barely heard his greeting. I was much more interested in what was going on in the street. And at this point, I wasn’t too happy about school. “Oh, the same as usual,” I answered as I continued looking around the street, trying to figure out what had happened. “Waitin’ to get out.” I had to ask! I couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. “Something happen in town?”

Pa nodded. “An accidental shooting. Man named Longden.”

Wow! That was really interesting news. “George Tanner’s partner?”

That impressed Pa. “Well, from the last grade you brought home on current events, I would have never guessed you were so well informed!” I don’t know why he had to bring that up again! I certainly didn’t want to be reminded of how much trouble I got in for that test. My instincts told me I was in for even more trouble, but I wasn’t sure when or how.

But I couldn’t think on that now. I had more important things to think on! “Everybody in school was talking about George Tanner being so nearby!” I stated. “Over in Slide Creek. You know, he used to ride with Billy the Kid?” Just thinking about it made me excited! “Saved Wyatt Earp’s life! And in one day, he killed four outlaws that were trying to-“

Apparently, this didn’t excite my Pa. Boy, I wanted to grow up, but I was suddenly not in a hurry to if adults didn’t have a sense of adventure anymore! “Mark, Micah sent word that he was going to be late. So I guess that tonight you’re gonna be bunk mates with Bobby Hamilton.”

I was in luck! Mr. Griswald had given the class more of those crummy word problems to do. I was pretty sick of doing them myself! “Well, that’s great! Bobby’s good in arithmetic!”

I “But you’re not,” Pa declared sternly. “So you’ll do your homework alone in Micah’s office.”

"Oh, now Pa...who said Bobby was gonna help me with my homework?” It wasn’t a lie. I didn’t say he wasn’t…but I didn’t say he was…

"You did." I suddenly looked at Pa strangely. Did he know the truth? Pa laughed at me. “I was your age once, son.”

"You'd never know it," I declared, disappointed that I’d be on my own with those terrible math problems!.

“Oh.”

I rode my horse over to Micah’s office and dismounted. I slowly took my books off the saddle horn and stood outside Micah’s office as I looked around. I saw Jeff and Kevin coming down the board walk. “Your Pa marshalling again?”

“Just until Micah gets back later tonight,” I answered.

“Well, you wanta-“ Kevin started.

“Mark, get inside,” I heard Pa’s gruff voice speak.

I sighed. “Yes sir!”

I opened my math book and tried to concentrate, but that wasn’t an easy task to do when I was in a room full of exciting imaginations! I opened the drawer and saw a deputy star. I held it up and looked at it. Grinning, I said, “Mark McCain, North Fork Marshal.” I shook my head. “No, Marshal McCain.” I shook my head and thought some more. Then I slowly grinned. “Yeah….Marshal Mark McCain, North Fork, New Mexico. Yeah…” I thought on that. “Marshal Mark McCain, the fastest gun in the West! He gets the outlaws every time!”

Silently, I swiveled the chair around and pinned on the Marshals’ badge. I was so deep in thought at how I’d handle the law once Micah retired that I didn’t hear Pa coming in. I felt my chair turn around. Pa grinned. “Well, rushing things a bit, aren’t ya, so?” He propped himself on the desk.

I wasn’t too happy with Pa in that moment! He had forced my mind back to reality. Reality wasn’t nearly as much fun as dreaming! “By the time I grow up, everything will be all over,” I commented. Sometimes, it didn’t seem I’d ever grow up! “Outlaws…Renegade Indians…They’ll be nothing exciting left to do!”

Pa laughed. “That’s the way I had felt at your age too. The past seems more exciting. But when you’re a full grown man, you’ll see there’s still lots of things to do. Railroads to be built…cities…bridges…”

Those things didn’t appeal to me much. “I’d rather hunt buffalo!”

“Well, some things to pass,” Pa stated. “Including Mark McCain.” He took off my hat and handed me my book. “If he studies his homework.”

I looked at the book as Pa stood up. Pa went to look out the window. I read the problem but shook my head in frustration. “Oh, I’ll never understand this!” I declared.

“For a boy who made all A pluses on his math homework last week, you are sure having a lot of trouble!” Pa didn’t say any more but sat down beside me and helped me patiently. I kept asking him to check every problem. Pa finally sighed and told me that as long as I did the problems the way he showed me, they were fine. He said if I could make A pluses on my work the week before without his checking, then I didn’t need him checking so much after me.

I closed my book, declaring I was done. “Put your books on your horse, son. Then go over to Bobby Hamilton’s,” Pa said quite sternly.

I reckon he thought I was going to try to get Bobby to help me more if I took my books with me. As I was leaving, George Tanner walked in the door. I was sure excited to be talking to such a famous gun fighter! He told me he didn’t do much gun fighting anymore – it was a dying profession. There went another dream of mine out the window! “Like buffalo hunting,” I declared.

“Yeah, like buffalo hunting.” I felt Pa watching me so quickly excused myself.

I went over to Bobby’s house. His Ma had supper all ready for us. I wasn’t over there but an hour or so when Pa came over and sat down for supper. Bobby wiped his mouth and stood up, asking if he could be excused. I immediately stood up and started to race off. “You haven’t been excused yet, young man,” Pa declared as he pointed for me to sit down.

“Uh…may I be excused, sir?” I asked as politely as I could.

Pa looked around. “Okay, but don’t run off. We’ll be leaving soon.”

“Micah back?” Pa nodded. “You reckon that he has an exciting stories to tell us, Pa?”

“No,” Pa answered sternly. “He’s tired from his trip and probably sleeping over in his office. We’ll be leaving here directly so you just mind that you stay close, boy!”

We hurried outside. Bobby and I laid back on the grass. “Bobby, what do you suppose being a buffalo hunter is like?”

“Well,” Bobby said as he stared up at the sky. “I reckon they get to travel all over hunting those buffalos. Once they kill ‘em, can you imagine gutting them and skinning ‘em? You probably cook over a camp fire mostly and you eat lots of buffalo.”

“Hm…” He sure didn’t paint a very pretty picture. “What do you suppose a wagon train scout’s like?” Bobby asked me.

I smiled. “You get to see one end of the country to the other. Why, I bet you could see all the way from New York or Illinois to California! You get to travel and fight Indians, hunt buffalo, and maybe see an outlaw or two all the way.” I smiled. “I reckon a wagon train scout has just about as much excitement as a person can get!”

I turned over on my stomach and studied the grass. The sun was going down and the night bugs were coming out. “I bet a wagon train scout doesn’t have to worry about doing math. All he has to do is scout up ahead for any danger!”

“By the way, you got your math done?”

I nodded with a sigh. “Pa made me do it in Micah’s office. I think he’s onto me.”

Bobby sighed. “Well, I reckon I oughta tell ya, you being my friend and all.”

I suddenly sat up. “Tell me what?”

“Well, I got a big talking to yesterday. Pa waited till then to tell me about what happened Saturday. I reckon you being in more trouble then me, it’s just taking your Pa longer to whip you.”

“Whip me for what?”

“When your Pa came into town on Saturday, he came over to talk to my Pa. I was over at the club house and your Pa had a couple of you’re A+ math papers with him. Anyhow, he showed them to my Pa who looked at some of my papers. Pa said they know you’ve been copying off of me.”

I closed my eyes. I knew Pa was onto me! He’s waiting to punish me to see how long it would take for me to confess. “Anyhow, my Pa showed up at the club house and asked me about it. I had to confess, Mark. Pa got this really mean look on his face. Your Pa looked awful mad too. I figured that would be the end of it, but then when we got home from church yesterday, Pa really gave it to me.”

I figured I was in for the same. “You told me it’s not cheating, Bobby!”

“Yeah, well our Pa’s don’t think that way. I-“ Suddenly, the door opened. Pa announced it was time for us to get home.

After stopping by Micah’s, we went home. I was awful quiet as I thought on how Pa had found me out. I couldn’t figure why he was waiting so long to talk to me about it. I knew now what happened to my math homework Sunday. Pa had destroyed it because he knew the truth.”

Pa said it was time for me to get ready for bed. He stood on the porch to our house smoking his cigar when I came outside. He turned to look at me. “I thought you were getting ready for bed, son.”

“Pa, I know you know,” I blurted out.

Pa pulled the cigar out of his mouth and slowly blew smoke into the air “Oh.” Pa looked down at the floor “Bobby told you?” I nodded. Pa sat down on the step. “Sit down here, boy.”

I sat down. There was a quiet silence in the air as I waited for Pa to speak. “You know it would have been better for you if you had confessed on your own. I thought I’d raised you better.”

“Yes sir,” I answered. “I figured you knew this weekend, and I was trying my best to find a way to confess that.” I sighed. “You angry?”

“I was Saturday. That’s one reason I chose to wait to talk to you. Now I’m just…disappointed.”

I stomped my foot. “I do my best, Pa!”

Pa toyed with the cigar in his hand. “Now, you don’t really expect me to believe that.” He looked up into my eyes. “Do you?”

“Well, I…I know that I go fishing and swimming when I oughta be here doing math. But…but Pa, what does it matter if I know it or not?”

“It matters to me because I know that ranching now days takes knowledge – book learning. If it wasn’t important, they wouldn’t be teaching it to you in school.”

“I know, but-“ I sighed.

Pa put an arm around me. “Son, your mother wasn’t very good with math, but she suffered through it and made decent grades in school. Before you came along – when she was carrying you inside her – we had a lot of dreams. One of her dreams was that you finish school and gain all the knowledge you could have. You see, we no longer live in a country where teachers are sparing. Schools are now springing up all over the west. In fact,” Pa sighed. “That’s one reason we settled here – because you would have a school. I never told you, but that was one of my requirements. It was fulfilling yet another dream your mother had for you.”

I shook my head. Seems everything Pa does was because it’s what Ma wanted. I told him that. Then I asked, “But what do you want, Pa?”

Pa smiled. “When your mother was alive, we were a family. What I wanted she wanted. And what she wanted I wanted. That’s what I want for you. It would break your mother’s heart to see you cheating.”

“I didn’t…cheat…exactly.”

“Mark.” Pa turned toward me. “You don’t believe that.”

“Well, Bobby said that it would help me learn.”

“Did it?” Pa asked.

“Well…” I sighed. “I reckon not. I’m sorry, Pa.”

“Well now, I aim to make sure of that, son.” Pa stood up. “The punishment will have to be pretty stiff this time. Cheating is a pretty big crime in my book. So you won’t be doing any swimming or fishing for three weeks. For three weeks, you’ll be restricted to the ranch. And that includes…no candy.”

“Yes sir,” I answered. I’d be lying if I said his punishment didn’t seem really harsh to me. “Pa?”

Pa was walking toward the barn, but suddenly stopped and turned around. “Did you…ever cheat?”

Pa walked back over to me. “It doesn’t matter rather I did or not, son. That doesn’t justify your cheating. I oughta tan your britches is what I oughta do. But I reckon three weeks of thinking on it will have a more…memorable effect.” Pa folded his arms. “Oh, and confessing your crime to Mr. Griswald!”

“No!” I cried. “Pa, he’ll fail me for all last week!”

Pa nodded. “I expect he will, son.” Pa turned to leave. “In the morning, son. You must confess in the morning.”

I guess you would be surprised if I got a decent night’s sleep. I must admit that my heart was beating pretty hard when I walked into school early the next morning and slowly made my way up front where Mr. Griswald was working at his desk. Mr. Griswald looked up from his book and asked me what I needed.

Now, Mr. Griswald had tamed a bit since he first came, but I was still plenty scared to confess my crime to him. I quickly blurted out what I had done wrong. Then I bowed my head and waited for my punishment. Mr. Griswald stood from his desk and walked around it. He told me to take a seat. Then he cleared his throat. “Would it surprise you, Mr. McCain, if I were to tell you that I already knew?”

“You…you did?” I asked. “Did Bobby tell you?”

“Mark, when a student of mine goes from D’s to A’s overnight, I suspect something’s amiss. Not only that, but you and Bobby had matching papers.”

“You didn’t say anything.”

“Will it surprise you to know that you are one of my favorite students?” Mr. Griswald laid a gentle hand on my shoulders. My head popped up. I was too surprised to say anything. “You remind me so much of myself when I was your age.”

I swallowed hard, trying to get the question out, but all that escaped my throat was “Huh?”

“I hated math with a passion, Mark. I refused to study it and did quite poorly. I too cheated.” Mr. Griswald smiled. “My father was a very wise man. He was a doctor in fact, and he told me that when you are studying math, you should apply it to your own life. You plan to be a rancher when you grow up, I assume.”

“Looks that way,” I answered.

“Fine then.” Mr. Griswald picked up his book. “On your ranch you have 1/3 of the cattle on the north pastor and 2/4 of the cattle on the south pastor. How many cattle are missing?” Mr. Griswald walked up to the board and did this:

1/3 + 2/4 = ?
4/12 + 6/12=10/12

I gasped. “5/6!”

“How many cattle do you have now, Mark?”

“Well, we’ve been building back up –so probably about 50 at last count.”

Mr. Griswald held out the chalk to me. “So, how many are missing?”

“Well, four or five,” I finally figured. He smiled. “Do you know that was one of your math problems? He pointed to the answer I came up with. “Four or five would be correct.” He sat down the chalk. “You just added, converted, multiplied, and divided to find that answer – all…in fractions.”

“Wow!” I breathed in amazement. “Well, if you put it that way…” I declared. Mr. Griswald started for the back to tell everyone to come in. “Um…sir, are you going to change my grade?”

Mr. Griswald turned around and smiled. “No, Mark. But I want you to re-do all the math work from last week…all except the B, which I’m assuming you did on your own. That’s the grade I’ll mark you with.” Mr. Griswald pointed to the board. “Now that you are in on the secret, you’ll do just fine.” He turned to ring the bell. But then he turned back to me. “Mark, there’s nothing wrong with a B or C…as long as it’s doing your best. Remember that.”

I smiled as I took my seat. This guy wasn’t half bad!

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

The Score is Even

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
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Short Rope for a Tall Man

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