“Class dismissed. Have a good break!” Miss Adams smiled.
Kevin, me, Steve and Freddie all ran out of the school yelling loudly
No more homework!
No more books!
No more teachers
We laughed as we jumped into the schoolyard. “Now boys,” Miss Adams said. We turned around to find Miss Adams standing in the door way with her arms crossed. “It would be terrible to give you an essay assignment over the four-week spring planting break!”
We all looked at each other. “Yes, Miss Adams,” we all said in unison. “Um, have a good trip!” Then we hurried out of the school yard.
“Hey, let’s go fishing!” Freddie announced.
“Yeah!” I declared. “Every day!”
“Hey, and we could form our club again like we did during the harvest break last year! We could see if that old abandoned house is still good to use!” Kevin stated.
Kevin’s brother, Steve, laughed. “Hey yeah! And we could put up our ‘No Girls Allowed’ sign!”
“Oh yeah!” We ran into town. “Let’s go out to that old oak tree and shoot your Slingshot, Kevin!” I exclaimed. “I just gotta go tell Pa where I’m going!”
We ran into the General store, all of us hungry for candy. “Hi Miss Hattie!” We all called.
Miss Hattie turned, throwing a hand to her chest. “Boy, you boys startled me!”
But we were already digging in the candy jar. “Hey, she got some new sourballs in,” Kevin said.
“Let me see!” I suddenly cried as I started looking in the jar.
“Or there’s some good sucker sticks here. She has all the flavors,” Freddie announced.
Suddenly, I felt a hand on the back of my neck pulling me away from the candy. “You may not have any, boy!” Pa exclaimed.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because, son, if you remember, we just made a trip to the docs yesterday. You had a bad stomach ache from eating too much candy. We’ll see in a few days.”
The other boys put their money on the counter and thanked Hattie. “Let’s go, Mark!”
“Okay!” I turned to Pa. “Pa, we’re all going to the old oak tree to shoot Kevin’s slingshot then we’re going fishing! See ya'!” I turned to leave.
“Mark Warren McCain!”
I froze in my spot at the sound of Pa’s voice. Anytime he said my full name meant bad news. I didn’t even turn around. I could tell Pa was upset by the look on the boys’ faces. “Um, we’ll see you later Mark!”
I watched them leave, then I slowly turned around. “Yes sir?”
“Outside, now!” Pa demanded.
I walked outside and Pa grabbed my arm and took me around to the side so we wouldn’t have an audience. “What’s gotten into you boy? You come storming in with the boys and start going through the candy like wild animals, then you start TELLING me where you are going and what you are doing?” Pa folded his arms and looked at me through a very stern expression.
I sighed. “I’m sorry, Pa. I guess we just got a little excited about our break.”
Pa nodded, but didn’t smile. “Why do you think you get that month off every spring?”
“Well,” I shrugged. “We can’t go to school all year round! We have to have some breaks!”
Pa nodded. “This is a farming and ranching community, son. That spring and fall break is so the children can help with the planting and harvesting.”
“Well, sure but-“ I started.
“But nothing.” Pa sighed and pushed his hat back on his head. “Now, you will go in there and apologize to Hattie for your rude behavior. Then you will help me load the supplies in the wagon. We have to drop that supplies off at home and come back to pick up more supplies at the hardware store tonight. We’re starting our new project tomorrow.”
“New project?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “We’re planting a wheat field along with our other crops this year.”
“A wheat field? Why?” I asked.
“Well, because you are growing bigger and becoming more expensive…you know, more food, more clothes, more…anyways, so I need more income!” Pa declared.
“Why don’t we just get more cattle?” I asked. “We are ranchers after all.”
Pa nodded. “Well, because wheat is cheaper to plant then cattle is to buy. Now let’s go!”
I saw the boys come through on their way out of town. I turned and looked at Pa who only shook his head. “Will I have time to join the club this time?” I asked.
“I’m afraid not, son. You’re gonna be pretty busy!” Pa stated. I sighed. I really had my heart set on playing. “Mark, if it makes you feel any better, I know that Kevin and Steve’s Pa has projects for them. They won’t have much time to play either.”
I nodded as we started loading the wagon.
I was sure glad to get in bed that night! I felt like we had just hauled enough supplies to last us a whole year! Pa said he wasn’t planning on going into town for several days so we could get the wheat planted. I still thought we should just buy more cattle. “We’re growing our herd up, son, but these things take time and money. That’s another reason I’m planting the wheat field – so I can buy a few extra head next year.”
The next morning, Pa got me out of bed before it was even light outside. I groaned my way through dressing and when we sat down at the breakfast table, Pa announced we would start putting up our fence for the wheat field today. We worked all day long on that project. I was digging fence posts holes while Pa worked on stringing the wire.
By midmorning I was feeling tired. I took a long drink of water and Pa shook his head at me. “You should be nice and tough by the end of the break, son!”
“Break?” I asked disgustingly. “What break?”
Pa just shook his head and laughed at me again as he helped me dig some fence post holes. By the time it was time for supper I was exhausted! I walked inside and sat down in a chair while Pa started supper. “You can rest for a little while, son, then start on your evening chores.”
While we ate supper, I decided to ask Pa about something. “How much would you pay a ranch hand for this?” I asked.
Pa took a drink of his coffee. “Oh, about $5 a week. Why?”
“Well, does that mean I get $5 a week?” I asked.
Pa laughed. “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way, son. I don’t get paid for working on my own ranch. This ranch is as much yours as it is mine, and it is to raise money to support your growing appetite and uh…growing up!”
“Oh.” I knew that would be too easy. By the end of supper I was falling asleep. Pa smiled. “Son, maybe you should go to bed.”
“Oh, no!” I stated. “I…I still have chores to do and-“ But I suddenly closed my eyes again.
“Mark?” I jerked awake again. Pa stood up and lifted me from the chair. “Come on, son. Let’s get you to bed!”
To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember going to bed.
The next morning Pa had a nice breakfast cooking. I figured we’d be out working by this time, but Pa reminded me that it was Sunday and we would read from the Good Book as usual.
But after lunch, Pa announced that we were breaking his rule about resting on Sundays. He was anxious to get the wheat field finished so we could get started on the other crops. We were already running behind, he said.
Then on Monday morning Pa announced I was to work on trimming fence posts. “I’ve got to go into town to get more fencing wire,” he stated.
I groaned and Pa quickly turned and looked at me. “Pa, why can’t I go into town with ya? I’ve been working hard!” I complained.
Pa called me over to the table and I sat down. He put a hand on my shoulder. “Son, I need you here working. We can’t afford to put any of this work off for long. This has to be done.”
“Yes sir,” I stated with a big sigh.
“Mark, you are twelve years old, and that is old enough for you to pull your own weight around this farm. When you’re in school, I give you plenty of time to play with your friends, go fishing, and do kids stuff don’t I?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
“I am a parent who loves his child. And as a loving father, I have to teach you a sense of responsibility. Right now, your responsibility is to help with the crops and ranching. That’s the way it is living on a ranch.” Pa said this very sternly, and I knew there was no room for arguing. Pa stood up. “Now,” he said as he grabbed his rifle. “Get these dishes washed up so you can get started on the fence posts, huh? I want to see some progress when I get back.
I worked on them all morning. When Pa returned, I was sitting at the table eating lunch. He brought a man in and introduced him as Farley Weaver. He was married to Bessie Steele from the café, and they had been married for ten years. I was a little surprised, but Pa ignored my obvious surprised and announced that he was going to help us out on the ranch. I smiled and ran to shake his hand. “Boy, am I glad you’re here!” I stated. Maybe now I’d have more time to play!
But Pa shot that idea down before I even said anything. “They’ll be plenty of work for all three of us, son. Don’t get any ideas.”
“Oh,” I groaned. Pa raised his eyebrow at me. I stood up. “Gee, I think I’ll go check for stray cattle?” I said with a question to Pa.
Pa nodded. “That’s a good idea, son. Only don’t get sidetracked, ya' hear?”
“Oh, yes sir.” I nodded at them both then left.
I rode over the range all afternoon checking the cattle. Besides a couple found in a neighboring field, there was really nothing out of the ordinary I had to handle. So I rode back to the ranch and started working on the daunting task of trimming more fence posts. I wasn’t as tired that night as we sat down to eat supper. In fact, I was even able to talk with Mr. Weaver.
“If Bessie’s been working in that restaurant for two or three years and she’s your wife, how come you never come to see her before?” I asked as we were finishing up supper.
I had done it again – spoke when I shouldn’t have. I could tell by the way Pa looked at me. Then he said, “Well, I guess Farley had good reason, Mark. Besides, it’s not polite to pry into a person’s personal life.”
I got the hint. Pa wanted me to keep my moth shut. Mr. Weaver told me he’d tell me all about it someday. Then Pa told me to go get Mr. Weaver settled in the barn.
The next morning, Tuesday, the three of us were working hard again. Pa had gotten me up before sunrise again and though I groaned a little about getting up so early, I knew that the more I groaned, the harder Pa would make me work – I learned that lesson Saturday, suddenly realizing that every time I had complained, Pa had added to my work. So I politely sat through breakfast and even “offered” to wash the breakfast dishes. Then we all three went out to the new wheat field to work. Pa said that he was hoping to get the fence done by tomorrow, then we would be able to start plowing the wheat field. He said that as soon as he got the wheat field plowed, Mr. Weaver and I would work on the planting, then Pa would move on to the other crops.
I sure did miss ranching though. I told Pa that I felt more like a farmer now. He gave me a sad smile and told me that someday we’d have more cattle then we knew what to deal with. I knew we would too!
On Wednesday, the three of us worked out there again. I was working on the fence posts while Pa and Mr. Weaver worked on putting up the barbed wire. I wanted to help with the wire, but Pa said he’d rather I worked on the fence posts. But as I worked, I suddenly saw Mr. Weaver climb up on the wagon and leave. I threw down my hoe and ran forward. “Where’s he going, Pa?” I suddenly asked.
“Into town for more wire.” There it was again! Town! If I had gone, I could have gotten some candy and seen some of the other people. I wasn’t used to staying at home this many days in a row!
“Why couldn’t I go?” I suddenly asked. I figured Mr. Weaver could have stayed here and worked with Pa while I went.
But Pa suddenly looked at me sternly. “Because I need to here to help me,” he answered sternly. That was the end of that! “Now grab that hammer and a handful of those staples, huh?” Pa ordered.
I watched our wagon drive out of sight, wishing I was on it going into town. “Mark!” Pa called. I had no choice but to get back to work.
As it turns out, Pa and me were finished long before Mr. Weaver got back. When the last of the barbed wire was out, he announced that we might as well sit down and take a break while we waited for Mr. Weaver to come back with the wire. We waited for quite a while as we sat side by side under a tree. “Pa,” I said as we sat there.
Pa turned and looked at me. “Will it always be like this?”
“Like what, son?” Pa asked.
“Well, like…you know, you and me working together – I mean cattle, not farming.” I suddenly added.
Pa smiled. “Well son,” he said as he put an arm around me. “Someday you’ll want to get married and-“
“Oh no, Pa. I’m never leaving here! I’ll stay here with you forever! We’re partners, remember? But,” I held up my hand. “We’ll be raising cattle – not wheat!”
Pa laughed. “Someday when you have to raise enough money to make ends meet, you’ll understand better why I have to do the things I do.”
I nodded, figuring as much. But right now, I wasn’t sure I understood. It got quiet again as we waited. Pa suddenly commented that he hated wasting all this time sitting around for just a little fencing wire. “I guess I should’ve gone with him,” I stated. I was still wishing I would have been able to go.
“Alright now, Mark! Hattie’s candy jar’s not gonna run away,” Pa smiled. I wasn’t so sure. It had been a whole week since I had any candy!
I popped the cap back on the canteen. “With licorice?” I asked.
Pa just looked at me and smiled. I knew what he was thinking! Suddenly we heard the wagon. Mr. Weaver was driving the horses really hard. “What’s he trying to do to those horses?” Pa wondered.
“I told you you should have let me go with him,” I stated again.
“Alright Mark, that’s enough of that.” I’m guessing that was my final warning. But I really wanted to go to town!
Suddenly, Pa stopped the horses and Mr. Weaver was upset. As I held the horses, he told Pa that Mr. Manse had been murdered!
Pa suddenly looked at me and motioned for me to hop in the back of the wagon. “We better get to town and straighten this out!” Pa stated.
I was quiet all the way into town as Mr. Weaver told Pa that he knew he’d be blamed for the murder since he had done time. I hadn’t known anything about that, but it sure explained why he hadn’t been around for some time.
When we got into town, Pa motioned for me to go inside with him. I sat quiet as a mouse in the chair as Pa and Micah questioned Mr. Weaver. Micah had to place him under arrest since he was at the scene of the murder. I felt sorry for him. He seemed like an awful nice man. I left with Pa to go talk to his wife.
Pa told me to stand outside and wait for him while he went into the café alone. I watched through the window and saw her suddenly grab Pa’s arms and lay her head on his chest as she began weeping. Pa patted her back and pointed toward the door. He started back across the street with her.
“Pa,” I said quietly.
Pa stopped and turned to look at me. “Can I…I mean, may I…go to the store?”
Pa grabbed my arm as we went back into the Marshal’s office. I again sat quietly as the adults talked. Pa said he wanted me to stay by his side because there was someone out there who had killed an old man – and he was probably scared. Pa knew Mr. Weaver was innocent.
You’ve already heard Pa’s accounting of the story, so I won’t tell you all about it. But basically, they figured that Mr. Weaver hadn’t had much time to get to the Manse ranch and kill him. I didn’t know what his reason would have been anyhow. Pa left to go talk to his son, Eli. The hardware store owner left soon after that. “Micah,” I asked quietly as I came to stand beside him. “Can I go see if Hattie’s store is still open?”
Micah looked at me and shook his head. He pointed to my seat. I knew I was to sit back down. We waited a long time. Pa came back in to announce that he had a plan, but I didn’t hear what it was because he took Micah aside to tell him about it. “Pa?” I called before he went to walk out the door.
“No mark,” Pa answered as he walked out the door.
It seemed like forever sitting in Micah’s office. Micah tried to keep us all entertained with stories of past arrests of long ago, but Mr. Weaver wasn’t in any mood to hear his stories. Mrs. Steele was trying to humor Micah, but I was totally interested and actually forgot all about my need for candy for the moment. Mrs. Steele walked away to talk to her husband. “Micah, where’d Pa go?” I asked, beginning to worry about him.
Micah started to say something when Pa walked in the door with Eli. I stood up and stared. “Eli?” I asked suddenly.
“I’m afraid so. He hit him over the head, Micah. It was an accident I think – but then he went in the cash box and took his money.
I stared at Eli. My eyes were wide. I couldn’t believe he had done that!
Mrs. Steele and Mr. Weaver soon left – or was it Mr. and Mrs. Weaver…anyway, after they left, I asked Pa the question that had been pressing on me ever since he came back with Eli. "Say Pa, why do you think Eli killed Mr. Manse?"
Pa’s answer really got me to thinking about my actions during the last week. "Well it's hard to say son. Probably because he never really grew up. It's not easy for a boy to grow up without love."
It was hard for a boy to grow up without love? That was something I would know nothing about. Pa always showed his love for me no matter what we were doing. And the other day, he told me that he was teaching me responsibility because he loved me. That really shook me up. For the last week I had been complaining that I had to do all this work for my Pa when I should have been feeling blessed to just have a loving father who wanted to teach me right.
Pa announced we needed to get home because we had a lot of work to do tomorrow. As we walked out, I suddenly looked up at my Pa. I put my arm around his waist. “I’m sorry, Pa,” I stated.
Pa put his arm around me. “Sorry?” he asked as he sat his rifle down in the back of the wagon and picked me up to sit me on the seat.
“Yeah. I…” I hung my head. “I realize now that I was wrong in…well, in complaining so much the last few days. I realize how blessed I am to have a wonderful father like you. I know you’re trying to make me into a responsible man.”
Pa nodded as he patted my leg. But he continued studying me. “Well, it’s like Eli – his Pa never loved him.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. He just never made him work or taught him how to be a man,” Pa stated. He looked into my eyes. “Son, learning to be a man is very important. And learning responsibility comes with that.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Pa, we haven’t eaten yet, and I’m awful hungry.”
“And…uh…you want to stop by the hotel for a late supper, is that it?” Pa asked.
I shrugged. Pa turned around. “Hop on!” he declared. I smiled as I hopped on his back and we started toward the hotel. “I tell you what, Mark. If you go without complaining and do a good job on helping me this week with the planting and such, maybe by the middle of next week or so we’ll be caught up enough that I’ll give you a few extra chores to do with the cattle and let Mr. Weaver stay on to help with the fields.”
“You mean it, Pa?” I asked excitedly as we continued toward the hotel. “You really mean it?”
“I really mean it!” Pa declared.
“Then that means that I can have some play time?”
Pa laughed. “You can have some play time.” Pa stated. “After all, you are a boy!”
“Yahoo!” I cried as we started into the restaurant.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Meeting at Midnight
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch