I came outside and sat down next to Freddie as I opened my bag to see what Pa had put in my lunch. “Ew, he knows I don’t like tomatoes!” I complained as I once again handed it to Freddie. “He keeps giving it to me because he says it’s good for me. I’d rather have an apple!”
Freddie took a bite of the tomato. It just grossed me out watching him eat it! “You have any boiled eggs for me today?”
Freddie shook his head. “Your on your own!” He stated. Then he took another bite of the tomato. “Guess what I got for my birthday Saturday.” I shrugged. “A rifle!”
“For your tenth birthday?” I asked.
Freddie nodded. “And my Pa taught me how to shoot it already. He said that we can go hunting together this fall!”
“Wow. Gee wiz!” I exclaimed.
“I bet you’ve never even shot a rifle!” Freddie suddenly exclaimed. “I bet your Pa wouldn’t even let you have one!”
“He’d let me if I asked him!” I stated matter-of-factly. “I just never asked him.”
Freddie rolled his eyes at me. “Yeah, right. Your Pa treats you like a baby. He won’t give you no gun!”
Suddenly, I stood up and threw down my sandwich. “You take that back, Freddy Toomey!” I demanded as I clinched my fists to my side. “You take back what you said right now!”
“No! I won’t take it back cause it’s true!” Freddie yelled back. “Your Pa treats you like a baby.” Freddie stood up and looked right at me.
I gave him a hard shove. “My Pa don’t treat me like a baby! And he would so give me a rifle if I asked!”
Freddie shoved me back. I was just getting ready to give him a good poke when Miss Adams came out and rang the bell. Freddie and I stood and looked at each other for a minute until Miss Adams told us to get moving.
After school, Freddie asked me if I wanted to go fishing. “Sure!” I said.
“Well, at least your Pa let’s you use a fishing pole!” Freddie suddenly declared as we started walking toward the brook.
That was it! I threw my schoolbooks down and turned to face him. I put my fists up in front of me. “If your looking for a fight, you got one!” I shouted at him.
“Mark!” Suddenly Pa was there. “I had to come in and make our payment at the bank.” Pa slid off his horse and folded his arms. “Want to tell me what’s gotten you so riled?”
Freddie and I just looked at each other, neither one of us answered. “Well, boys?” We continued to stay silent.
“Well, get your horse, son.” Pa bent over and picked up my books. “Come on.”
“Pa, we were going to go fishing!” I started.
“Not today your not, get your horse. Come on!”
Freddie left after giving me one more hard stare. After I mounted Blue Boy and rode over to where Pa was waiting, Pa again asked me what Freddie and I were about to fight over. “Freddie said you wouldn’t let me have a rifle, and I told him you would if I asked.” Pa didn’t say anything, but did that scratching his nose thing. “Pa,” I started as we rode into town. “Can I…have a rifle?”
“No,” he answered sternly.
“Please, Pa!” I begged. I didn’t think it was fair that Freddy could have one and not me.
“I said no,” Pa answered again.
“Why not?” I suddenly burst out. “Freddie’s father got one for him.”
“I’m not Freddie’s father. I don’t want to hear anymore about it. You can’t have a rifle!” Pa stated firmly.
But I picked that particular day to pout about it, which kinda pushed Pa to his limits. “Why?” I asked as Pa got off his horse in front of the bank.
“Mark,” Pa warned me.
“But why?” I didn’t think it was too unreasonable to know why.
“Because I said so. Now stop it!” Pa stated.
I knew I was pushing it. So I decided to change my angle. “Just a .22!” I stated.
Pa looked at me for a second. Then he answered me again. “Son, a .22 can be just as deadly as a bigger gun.”
I just wanted a rifle. I wanted to show the boys at school that I wasn’t a baby. “I wouldn’t have to shoot it,” I suddenly said.
Pa gave a short laugh, then he handed me the money to make the payment. I knew that was his answer. If I said more, I’d be sorry. So I sadly slid off my horse and went into the bank to make the payment.
As I made the payment, there were some men in the bank talking. Pa asked them what the problem was, and they said one of the ranchers had sold his ranch. Then a man who was strangely dressed came into the bank. Mr. Palmer wasn’t too happy about it and called him a Pepper Gut. I turned around to listen to them complain about this strange man buying the ranch, and he called the stranger a Pepper Gut again. Pa didn’t like what they were saying, so he told me to wait for him outside.
I went outside. Some of the kids were out there I saw another strangely dressed man sitting on a horse. “What are you all dressed up for?” I asked. Though he had a cowboy hat on, his clothes didn’t look like regular cowboy clothing.
A woman sitting in a carriage answered “Gaucho.” I didn’t understand what she was saying, so she repeated it. I tried to say it, but Bobby, the boy standing next to me, said “No, Gooch.” That sounded pretty funny to me, so we all started saying funny things in it’s place. Then, wanting to join in on the fun, I repeated the word I had just heard in the bank. “Peppergut!” I said, laughing.
But I had chosen the wrong time to join in on the fun. Because just then, my Pa walked out of the bank. “Mark!” I suddenly heard his sharp voice. I was instantly sorry I had said it and knew I was in trouble. “Mark,” Pa started again. But he couldn’t say anything more. I know he was embarrassed at my actions. He walked up to the gaucho and apologized to him.
The gaucho looked down at me. “He is just a boy,” he said.
But my Pa didn’t accept that as an excuse. “He’s a boy who knows better!” he stated as he gave me a firm push in the direction of our horses. I went to stay by the horses, knowing I was in trouble.
Pa came a few minutes later. He only looked hard at me, but didn’t say a word. He climbed up on his horse. “Let’s go home,” he said in a quiet voice. I knew that I shouldn’t talk to him. When he got this way, I was expected to be quiet until I was given permission to talk.
It was a quiet ride home. When we got there, Pa climbed down from the horse. I sat on my horse waiting…hoping he would say something. When he did finally say something, it wasn’t what I had expected. “Tend to your chores. Then go to your room.” By the tone of voice, I could tell he wasn’t ready to talk to me yet.
I sat in my room for a long time, but Pa never came in. I finally heard his firm footsteps walk across the living room and stop at the door. I watched as the doorknob turned. I guessed that this was it – I would receive my punishment, as if sitting in my room to think about what I did wasn’t enough. “Come eat, son.”
I came to the table and started to grab the food. But Pa sat in his chair and folded his hands to pray. I bowed my head and listened. Then I began eating. I couldn’t stand the silence anymore. “Pa,” I said a little louder then a whisper. But it sounded loud to me after it being silent for so long.
Pa shot his head up and shook his head slightly. I knew that meant he wasn’t ready to talk yet. Without a word being said, I knew I had to do the dishes and do my homework. It was when I sat down to do my homework that I knew I couldn’t stand another second of the silence. It had allowed me a lot of time to think about the word I said, and I guess since I had opened my mouth and spoke when I shouldn’t have, the silent treatment was a fair punishment.
Pa was on the porch cleaning his gun. I needed help with my homework, but I knew I couldn’t speak until he told me I could. So, I looked up at him as he worked. I was so sad that I had disappointed him like this. I didn’t know what exactly was wrong about what I said, but Pa’s silence told me it was indeed wrong. I looked back down at my book, trying to concentrate, but not before Pa had turned and looked at me.
It was then that Pa came in and put his rifle back in it’s holder. Then he walked over to the table, propped his foot up on a chair and bent over, rag still in his hand. “Mark, what’s a gooch?” Pa asked me.
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly, knowing my Pa was still very disappointed in me.
“Well, you thought it was pretty funny in town today,” he stated.
“Well, it’s what that lady said when I asked about-“ I stopped. The truth was I had no idea what it was, even though I was saying it and laughing about it today. I was suddenly sorry he spoke at all.
“About what?” Pa asked. I knew I had to answer him.
“About why that man was dressed so funny.” Suddenly, none of it seemed too funny anymore.
“No that’s not what she said, son,” Pa corrected me. “She said ‘Gaucho.’ That’s what they call a cowboy in Argentina.”
When Pa mentioned Argentina, I suddenly cheered up. I thought maybe I could break the ice with my next words. “We’ve been reading about Argentina in school,” I stated proudly.
But Pa wasn’t ready for this to be over. “I know,” he stated. Of course he knew. He always tried to keep a close eye on what I was studying so he could give me more learning opportunities along the way. I looked back down at my math, hoping Pa’s questions would end. “What’s a Pepper gut, Mark?”
I couldn’t look at him. I knew he had a look of disappointment on his face, and I couldn’t stand it! “Are you angry at me, Pa?” I suddenly had to know.
“No, I’m not angry.” The way he said it, I knew he was very disappointed in me though.
Everything had been so uncomfortable all night. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly.
“I suppose you are son,” Pa stated as he placed a gentle hand on my head. “But what are you sorry about?” I knew that gentle touch was to let me know we’d be okay.
I knew I couldn’t answer the question. Pa just stood and looked at me for a few moments. Then he sat down and asked me if I needed help with my math. I guess it was over now. After my homework was done, Pa sent me back to my room for the remainder of the night. Somehow, I had a feeling I hadn’t heard the last of this.
The next morning when I got up, Pa greeted me with a warm smile as I sat down for breakfast. I no longer saw the disappointment in his eyes and that made me happy. Pa went out to saddle my horse while I quickly tried to hurry and finish getting ready for school. As I was leaving, Pa pointed straight at me and sternly stated, “I don’t want any fights today, Mark! If Freddie starts up about the rifle, just walk away!”
“Yes sir,” I stated. Freddie didn’t say anything about the rifle. In fact, he didn’t say much of anything except that we should try to go fishing the next day. I was happy about that!
When I got home, I started on my chores. Pa came riding in then and told me he had something to tell me as he started toward the house. “Have a seat, son.”
I sat down at the table. I had been good all day, so I didn’t know what he had to talk to me about. “I talked to Mr. Argentez today.” I looked at him blankly, unsure of who he was talking about. “You know, the Argentina family that just moved here.” I nodded. “Well, I went over to see if you could spend some time with Manolo, his son that you kids made fun of yesterday.”
“I thought that was all settled!” I shot out.
“Well, you thought wrong, son. There’s still a lesson for you to learn, son. You need to learn that just because people are different doesn’t mean they are bad. In fact in a lot of ways, they are better than we are…living in a foreign country after leaving their homeland.”
“I know,” I stated.
“Well, we’re going to make sure you understand that. So I want you to go over to Manolo’s house and spend some time with him.” Pa stood up from the table then, letting me know it was final.
I suddenly stood up. “No!” I complained. That was the last thing I had wanted to do!
Pa turned and shook his finger at me. “Right after school tomorrow by the gate!” he stated, letting me know I wasn’t to use that word again.
“Oh, but Pa!” I followed him over to the door. “Freddie and I were going fishing!”
Pa held a look of victory on his face. I knew that he held the final word, and he would be obeyed. But I had made plans with Freddie already. And I’d much rather hang out with my friend and fish then to ride with some man to learn more about his culture! “You can go fishing with Freddie some other time. Tomorrow, you ride with Manolo,” Pa stated before walking out the door.
That was his final word. I would do it, but that didn’t mean I’d be happy about it!
The next day after school, I rode to the gate just like Pa had told me. He had reminded me that morning in that voice that told me I’d be sorry if I didn’t follow his orders.
When I got to the Argentez gate, Manolo was there waiting for me. We both looked at each other but said nothing. I could tell he didn’t want to be teaching me anymore then I wanted to be taught. We had both been forced into this meeting. I looked down and saw something strange attached to him. It was like two balls on a piece of rope. He grabbed it as he got out onto the range. Then he ran towards the cattle as he swung the ropes with balls over his head. When he let it go, it was wrapped around a calf.
I must admit that I was pretty impressed with this. So forgetting all about my disgust of having to be here, I excitedly took my horse down beside him to investigate this further. I told him that it looked like how a cowboy ropes. Then he told me those were called bolos.
After we introduced ourselves, he began teaching me how to use them. It was so exciting to see how they worked! That evening, I couldn’t stop telling Pa about them! Pa had to finally tell me to do my homework before I talked his ear off. The next morning, I asked Pa if I could go back there again. Pa laughed at me. I knew he used this as a way to teach me a lesson, and it worked!
The next day, as I learned to use the bolos, we agreed with each other that we were friends.
That night as I was getting ready for bed, Pa came in and told me he hadn’t seen Freddie around. We usually spent lots of time together. I just moaned, “Oh, Freddie!” He seemed pretty boring when I compared him to my new friend, Manolo! Pa told me not to ignore the rest of my pals just because I met a new friend. But I was too excited about tomorrow! He was going to show me the heavy bolos, and I couldn’t wait to see them!
Pa just laughed at me. “Goodnight, Gaucho,” he teased me as I got into bed.
The next day, we met downtown. Manolo had the heavy bolos, which he said were powerful enough to kill a man. This stuff excited me and I wanted to see how powerful they were. I watched in amazement as he threw them at a crate and busted it all to pieces! I was quite impressed and wanted to try them myself. But he wouldn’t let me use them anymore then my pa would let me shoot a rifle! He said it wasn’t a playing thing – but a killing thing.
The next day, we were back on the range. I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having watching Manolo and learning a different way to be a cowboy. This day was different, though. Today, my Pa showed up while we were talking. Pa told him a man had been killed in town and Manolo was being accused of it. I just stood and listened to the conversation, not really wanting to believe my friend could do such a thing.
But then, my Pa continued pushing him into coming in with him. I watched in shock as my friend, Manolo, suddenly tried to hurt my Pa with the bolos, stating that he was guilty. Then he pulled a knife and went to stab my Pa. When Pa tried to stop him, Manolo fell and stabbed himself with his own knife.
I just stood and stared for a minute. I had to let the reality sink in. I took a few steps forward and stopped as I stared. My friend, Manolo was dead. I didn’t understand anything. I was so confused! All I knew at the moment is that I wanted away from here – alone so I could think. I jumped on Blue Boy and rode for home as fast as I could, crying all the way there as the reality sat in.
Manolo was dead. He wasn’t a good person – he was bad! How could this have happened if what my Pa said about people who are different was true.
I rode into the barn, tears still running out of my eyes and down my cheeks. As I took the saddle off of my horse, Pa came into the barn and stood there, waiting for me to say something. I was angry, hurt, disappointed, and confused. I didn’t even know where to start. So I started with an accusation. “You said he was good!” I stated. “You said people who are different are good!”
I was too sad to notice the sadness that was in my Pa’s eyes. “If I did, son, I didn’t explain it right,” he confessed. He told me that people who were different were like everyone else – there were some good and some bad. I didn’t really understand. I was still so confused and hurt. I really liked Manolo, but it turned out that he was a killer!
Suddenly Pa was giving me permission to get a rifle. I didn’t hear everything he said, because I was thinking about how right he had been all along about the rifle. He was telling me I could have one, but I couldn’t buy any bullets for it.
I looked at him and knew that my Pa was very sad for me. He saw how hurt and upset I was. I knew I wasn’t old enough for a rifle yet. I knew that my Pa really, truly didn’t want me to have a rifle. We were both too upset and too saddened by what happened to make wise choices. That’s why I turned down his offer.
I knew I needed to wait a little longer and get a little older before I was ready to take on the responsibility. “Anything you say, son,” Pa said in a broken voice. I can’t explain it, but I saw a look in my father’s eyes that told me I had made the right decision.
Without speaking a word, Pa told me with his eyes to come inside with him so we could talk more about what happened. I came forward and placed my arm around him. That was enough for now. I had to face a man’s problem today and make a man’s decision. As Pa securely put his arm around me, I knew we would help each other through our hurts.
That night before I went to bed, I thanked my Pa for allowing me to make a man’s decision. I told him how special it was for me. Then as a tear trickled down my cheek, I bent and kissed him on his. We stopped and looked into each other’s eyes. He didn’t have to say a word. “Goodnight, Pa.” We smiled at each other. Then I went to bed knowing all was right with us once again.
*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
The Young Englishman
around The McCain Ranch