The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"

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

Legacy Episode 51
Mark’s story

Matt Simmons. Hm. Now there’s a name that brings back precious memories. Even after all these years I can still picture that dear, old sweet, sorrowful face. Oh, he had his faults it’s true; but I always saw past those straight into his heart. He was a kind old man.

I still remember the first day I saw him. I was down on my knees crawling around in the dirt just outside of town. Pa had sent me to town for some coffee, and he gave me the silver dollar, ordering me sternly to bring the change back. I had forgotten that one of my pockets had a hole in it, and dab blame if that Silver Dollar just fell right out! As I crawled around looking in the dirt, I remembered the last time I lost Pa’s money – that was only a quarter and I didn’t think I was ever going to work off those extra chores! I couldn’t even imagine what Pa would do to me with a whole dollar missing!

“Loose something, Sonny?” I heard a voice.

I looked up and saw this man who looked like he could hardly walk a straight line. I slowly stood and stared at him. I could smell the liquor seeping through his skin. “Well I…” I stopped. Then I saw something on his face. It was a look of loss, but of a caring heart. His eyes showed me that he wanted to help. I smiled. “Well, I lost my Pa’s Silver dollar.”

“Oh,” he smiled. Then he looked around and suddenly bent down in the dirt. When he lifted up, he held his hand in front of my face. “Would this be it?”

“Oh mister, you just saved my skin! You sure did, and I sure thank you!” I was happy! The images of what Pa would look like when I arrived home with the bad news weren’t pleasing! “I’m Mark McCain, by the way.”

The old man smiled. He held out his hand to me. “Matt. Matt Simmons.”

I invited him to supper that night. He didn’t have a horse, but Nels was kind enough to let him borrow one from the Livery. I laughed as I listened to his stories about working in his earlier days. He said he never had more than two pennies to rub together, but he was pretty happy. “Too bad you never had a boy of your own!” I exclaimed.

I suddenly felt that I had said something wrong; because Mr. Simmons got that sad, far away look in his eye. I immediately apologized. “My Pa’s always said I talk too much,” I added lamely.

We were walking our horses at this point, just walking slowly. Suddenly, I saw something shining in the dirt. I jumped down and picked it up. It was a Silver Dollar. I stared at Mr. Simmons. “Why, that wasn’t-“ I started.

Mr. Simmons just stared at me. “Mr. Simmons, you were just saying that you don’t have two pennies to rub together and-“

Mr. Simmons shook his head and smiled. “Money means nothing to a man like me. My days are numbered, son. I didn’t want you to get a whipping just for doing what all boys do.”

I handed him the dollar. My respect for this man had suddenly soared. He had given me his last dollar just to keep me from getting into trouble. He had nothing to his name – no wife, no kids, no land, no home, and not even a horse. All he had to carry around with him was a heart full of sorrow – a sorrow he kept hidden deep inside him and covered with joy and love for others. But I saw that sorrow. He may have taken it off his face, and out of his voice, but it was still there in his eyes.

I handed him the silver dollar back. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you.” He pocketed the silver dollar and I helped him mount his horse. We galloped away for home.

That was the beginning of a wonderful friendship for the next several months. I invited him over for supper that very night. I remember us sitting around the table laughing and carrying on. Mr. Simmons told stories so funny that my sides hurt from laughing. I remember the story he told me about this old dog he use to have that liked to chase skunks. He said that was the stupidest dog he ever met – never did learn his lesson!

Of course there were rumors going around in town that Pop had a son, but I tried to ignore them. I just liked to go visit him in the room he had at the boarding house. I would sit cross legged on his bed while he laid down for a rest and told me story after story. That’s when he wasn’t drunk. When he was drunk, I would talk to him until he fell asleep.

Pa didn’t mind my hanging around with him, but he didn’t like me being around when he was drunk. I never did get so many lectures about drinking as I did during those months I knew Mr. Simmons. It wasn’t just Pa delivering the lectures. Pop lectured me on the subject too. Usually when he was really drunk, he would say, “Don’t ever take to the bottle, Sonny! Once you start, you can’t stop.” I told him Pa was trying to pound that message into my brain, and Pop smiled that approving smile.

Those talks with Pop were something else! Sometimes they were hard lessons he learned too late, sometimes they were funny stories from long ago. Sometimes it was words for making me feel better after getting in trouble at home or hearing about something tragic that had happened.

I remember one day when I was riding home through town about an hour after school let out. My teacher had kept me after for pulling the prissy girl’s hair in front of me. But I wasn’t sorry! She deserved it. That still wasn’t going to keep me from getting into trouble when I got home. I could tell myself Pa wouldn’t find out, but somehow he always did…he had this way of looking right at you and getting the answers he wanted.

I saw him. He was stumbling out of the saloon, having a lot of trouble walking. I jumped off my horse and raced over to him. “Take it easy, Pop!” I said as I grabbed him and tried to steady him. “Come on, I’ll help you home.”

“Now, I don’t need your help,” Pop tried to tell me. “Whatcha doin’ in town this late anyhow?”

I got into trouble in school. I told Pop what I had done. He laughed. “Well well well, ain’t I glad to hear that!”

“Huh?” I suddenly stated. I wish that was my Pa’s attitude!

“Let me tell ya, Mark.” Mr. Simmons slumped down in a chair outside the Marshal’s office. “When I was in school, there was this girl named…Lucille. Now this woman could yell at you meaner and louder then any boy in that whole school! She yelled at me about everything – I was walking too slow, too fast. My eyes were wondering. My feet were kicking too hard. Well, one day she decided to tell my teacher that I, Matt Simmons…That I was copying off of her paper! I got so mad that I-“ He suddenly stopped and chuckled, shaking his head as he did.

“You what?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t know if I should tell you this, Mark. Your Pa may not like my filling your head with ideas!”

I leaned forward in my chair. “Oh, you won’t fill my head with ideas! You might be surprised on some of the things I’ve tried. And I can’t say that I’ve gotten away with any of them…okay, maybe a few but somehow I think my Pa knows, or will find out eventually. He always does!” Pop just shook his head and chuckled. “Please!”

“Alright,” he held up a hand. “Well, I got licked good for that, so I stuck both of her puney little braids in my ink well. Then I tied those braids together in the back and gave them a hard yank.”

I shook my head laughing. I must admit that sticking prissy little Susie’s hair in an ink well was an image that crossed my mind, but I thought better of it after imagining Pa’s words later. “Then what happened?” I asked.

“Well, she stood up, knocking her ink well over and spilling ink all over her books and her dress. Then she cried out as she stuck her hand on the back of her braids and realized what I had done. I was laughing so hard that I didn’t realize she was crying!

I shook my head. “Girls! They’re always crying!” That was the truth too!

“You are gonna be crying too if you don’t get home and do your chores!” Micah stated as he walked up to us.

“My Pa wouldn’t lick me, Micah! You know that!” I turned back to talk to Pop.

Micah grabbed my arm and lifted me from the chair. “I wouldn’t be testing that belief if I were you, boy. Your Pa is down yonder looking for you.”

“I got kept after and-“ I started.

“Mark!” I suddenly heard from behind me.

I turned around. “Pa! I got kept after.”

Pa stood in front of me and raised both of his eyebrows at me. Then he crossed his arms. “Well, we’ll discuss that later at home. Right now, I want to ask you another question. Do you have any idea what time it is young man?”

I suddenly looked up at the sky and let out a little gasp. “It’s almost 6 o’clock!” Pa declared. “How long did your teacher keep you after?”

“An hour as usual,” I answered, suddenly looking down into the dirt. Dawdling was another one of my faults.

Suddenly, Pop stood up on shaky legs. I reached out and grabbed a hold of him to steady him. “It’s my fault, Lucas. I wanted the boy to talk with me for awhile.” I opened my mouth to protest. Pa had always taught me that telling the whole truth was the only way to keep yourself out of trouble. But Pop looked straight at me. “And that’s the truth.”

I smiled. Pa rubbed his fingers under his nose. It was a habit he did when he wasn’t sure what to think of me. I gave him a genuine smile. “Well, I’ll get on home now and do my chores.” I saw the stern look on my father’s face. I could tell he still wasn’t completely convinced that I was innocent of dawdling. “Sir,” I added with a wider grin.

Pa suddenly laughed and shook his head. “Go on!”

I started to mount my horse, but turned and looked at Pop. He gave me a wink and a nod. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I saw him that happy. It pleased me to know that I was so special to him and brought him such joy. It also pleased me to know that such an old man respected me.

It was a Saturday morning when it happened. He was coming out of the saloon after an early drink. I knew from the way he was acting that he had spent the last few coins he had earned from his latest odd job on liquor. The minute he walked into the street, two older boys came and started hassling him. Such stuff made Pa angry, but as usual, Pop waved it off and stated that it was just being boys.

We started to leave to get started on our chores when Pop was suddenly on his knees holding his chest. I ran over with Pa to help him. Fear gripped my very being. What was wrong? But before I could say anything, Pa ordered me to go get the doc. I did. I raced as fast as my legs would carry me. I screamed for the doctor all the way to his office. It wasn’t long before he was running behind me with his bag. Pa grabbed the doc’s arm and raced him toward the boarding house. I ran behind, feeling forgotten and very confused.

My heart was full of fear and I just stood away from the bed, afraid and alone. The doctor took his time in examining Pop. I couldn’t stand this. I went out to get some fresh air. Then I came back onto the steps and saw Pop talking. I felt relief flood over me. He looked a lot better. I asked him how he was feeling, and he said better. By the way he was talking, I’d say that he was doing a whole lot better! I felt so relieved.

But then Pop wanted to talk to my Pa. I left upon Pa’s orders and waited patiently in the wagon. What ever their talk was, it was taking him awhile to talk about. In fact, it was dark when we finally got ready to leave. I asked Pa if Mr. Simmons was going to get better. “No he won’t, son.” Pa said matter of factly.

Fear again gripped my heart. “You mean he’s gonna die?” I asked. I couldn’t believe it! He was so alive and happy just a few days before.

Pa just brushed it off like it was no big deal. I couldn’t believe this! We rode home in complete silence. That is, I rode home in complete silence. Pa tried to engage me in conversation, but I wouldn’t have it. I didn’t like how he just suddenly changed the subject like Pop’s dying was no big deal.

We got home and Pa went to fix supper. “Pa, I’m going to bed.”

Pa turned from lighting the stove. “What’s wrong, Mark?”

I pushed the tears back from my eyes. “I…I just don’t feel well.” I tried to keep my voice from breaking up, but it didn’t work.

Pa raced over to me and bent in front of me. He grabbed my shoulders with his hands. “What’s wrong son?”

I just shook my head. “Not tonight, Pa. Just let me go to bed.” Pa nodded.

I woke up early the next morning and went out to the barn. I sat in the hayloft and reflected on Pop. He had been so wonderful to me over the last few months. I didn’t want that to stop now. I wanted to give back to him what he gave to me. I wanted…to thank him and to make sure I said good-bye.

Tears popped in my eyes as I thought on this. No matter how many times I saw it or who it was, death never got easier. I heard the barn door open. “Mark, are you in here?”

I couldn’t speak for a moment. “Mark?” Pa called again.

I stayed silent. Then I heard the barn door open. “Pa,” I said softly with tears in my voice. “I’m up here.”

Pa climbed up the ladder and came over to sit beside me. “Are you ready to talk about it?”

I shook my head at first. I didn’t want to cry like a baby. I could tell yesterday that Pa expected me to take the news like a man. But my heart was still too sensitive – too full of love for this man. “Mark.” I suddenly looked at Pa. The way he said my name was like when I was a little boy and had lost my Ma, or when my horse, Duster had died. His voice was saying I’m here to hold you if you need me to. Those moments didn’t come as much as they used to. His eyes were full of concern.

I suddenly threw my arms around his shoulders and cried. He lifted me up and sat me on his lap, gently rocking me back and forth. “Sh, Mark. It’s okay.” It was that voice from when I was a little boy.

Finally, I sat up, still on his lap. I wiped my eyes and blew my nose on Pa’s kerchief. “I’m sorry, Pa. I tried to keep from crying.”

“Why?” Pa asked.

“Well, I know a man’s not supposed to cry. And last night, I could tell you wanted me to just brush it off…” I started.

“Wait a minute, son. Have I ever told you a man’s not supposed to cry?” Pa looked sternly into my eyes. I shook my head. “Haven’t you seen me cry?” I nodded. I could remember watching Pa cry many times. But that was a deep emotion, like when he lost ma, or when I was going through something rough. That’s was a father’s tears.

I told Pa as much. “There’s a lot of things that can make a man cry, son. And there’s no shame in that. It’s best to let those feelings out then to keep them bottled up inside you. You understand?”

I nodded. Then Pa drew his cheek down next to mine. “I want you to understand something, son. I may sound a little…hard or uncaring, but everyone deals with death in their own way. I’m sad he’s going to die to. But I talk that way because I want you to understand that he’s an old man and this is just a natural part of living. Everything living on this earth has to die. Remember that.”

He wiped my face with the kerchief. “He’s become such a good friend to me. He’s really special, Pa.”

“I know,” Pa nodded.

“Pa, you think that…” I hung my head, not sure how to ask. “I mean, I need to…to talk to him.”

Pa smiled and laid a hand on my cheek. “I would never stop you from doing that, son. I tell you what, let’s do. We’ll go inside and eat flapjacks, then ride into town. I think maybe Mr. Simmons wouldn’t mind you reading to him from the Good Book for a while.”

“What about church?” I asked.

“Son, you can get close to God anywhere. I think that this morning, God may want you to spend some time with an old friend.” Pa stood me up and brushed the hay off of me. “Now, while I’m cooking, you get yourself cleaned up. You can still make yourself look like Sunday Morning.”

I did go into town with Pa. He asked Mr. Simmons if I could stay and read to him, and he smiled at me. “I’d like that.”

Pa handed me the Bible, and patted my shoulder. “Stay strong, son.”

I nodded. Pa had restored my strength, and I knew that spending the last few days or weeks with my dear friend would make his passing easier somehow. I sat down on his bed. “What would you like to hear?”

Mr. Simmons just looked at me with a smile. “Your Pa…told you, didn’t he?”

I nodded as I thumbed through the Bible. “Will you…I mean, you think that maybe we could have our talks after school everyday? That is at least until my son gets here in a couple weeks?”

I nodded. “I’d like that.” Then he asked me to read a Psalm. I did. I read one and another and another. Then I closed the Bible. He was asleep.

I just sat there and watched him sleep. A tear trickled down my cheek. I didn’t even hear the door open at the top of the stairs, but I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw Pa smiling down at me. He nodded toward the door. I paused on the stairs, that single tear still lying on my cheek as I watched him sleep. Pa nudged me on up the stairs.

He softly closed the door then turned to me and wiped the tear off my cheek. He smiled that warm smile at me. His eyes crinkled up. I saw the unspoken words in his face – I love you. I smiled up at him and he silently gave me a pat on my shoulder, letting me know I was indeed staying strong for my friend.

While we sat with Micah in the hotel restaurant, I asked Pa my question. “Pop asked me if I could come visit with him after school everyday until his son gets here.”

Pa looked at Micah. He raised his eyebrows at his friend in question. I looked at Micah who slightly nodded. “Okay, son. But I want you to understand that he will die. Soon. I don’t want you to dwell on that, but-“

I held up my hand. “I think this will help, Pa. I can’t explain it, but I think it will help.” Pa nodded. Somehow, I think he did understand that.

True to my words, I rushed over to the Boarding House right after school the next day. Every day that week I was over there. We didn’t talk about his illness or the sad times in his life. He wanted to dwell on the good times. He told me story after story until he fell asleep. At that point, I would quietly get up and leave.

Sometimes Pa would be there waiting for me. When he was, he’d come to me and put a comforting arm around my shoulder and give me that smile of confidence and pride that I was being so grown up about this. On days Pa wasn’t there, he’d rush out to greet me before I even got off Blue Boy with that smile of confidence. I can’t express how much those smiles helped me!

The next Sunday, Pa allowed me to again read the Bible to Pop. He was getting worse. He tried not to show it and I tried not to notice, but I could tell. He was in a lot of pain and he was suffering. Somehow, I began thinking about how his death would bring him that peace. He would no longer be suffering…no longer be in pain. He would be with Jesus, whom he had been thinking on a lot lately.

I closed my Bible. I thought he was asleep, but he suddenly opened his eyes. “Can we sing some hymns?” I smiled and nodded. “Can we sing ‘When We all Get To Heaven?’”

I cleared my throat.

“Sing the wondrous…” I started, but the words were suddenly caught up in my throat. Pop gently laid his hand on mine and smiled a tired, painful smile. That gave me the strength I needed.

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and blessèd
He’ll prepare for us a place.

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

There was a look of satisfaction on the old man’s face. A peaceful, relaxed smile was on his face. I sat quietly, trying to hold back my emotions. “Talk to me, Mark.”

I shook my head. I knew what he was doing, and I didn’t like it. “My son will be here tomorrow…sooner then I expected. Then I’ll be ready.”

“You want to go there, don’t you?” I asked.

He nodded. “I…I’m only holding on long enough to see my son. Then I’ll be ready.” He was saying goodbye. Tears filled my eyes. I could no longer hold them back. “I’ll see you again. You are a godly man like your father son. You’ll be there in Heaven with me someday.”

I nodded. There were already too many people waiting for me there. “Still…it’s…”

“It’s hard. I know, son.” I heard the door open. Pa was standing on the stairs. “Son, I want you to read a Bible Verse for me Miss Adams showed me the other night.”

I nodded. I opened my bible to John 14:2 at his request and read it silently. A tear trickled down my cheek. I looked up at Pa. He could tell I needed him. He slowly walked over and placed his hand on my shoulder. That gave me the strength I needed. I cleared my throat. “In my Father’s…” I stopped. I looked at Pop. He smiled and winked at me.

“Read it, son,” Pa said softly.

“In my Father’s House are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

Pa’s hand was still on my shoulder. I looked up at Pop. He closed his eyes. A peaceful smile was on his face. “I’ll see you there…Pop…” I said in a soft, sad voice. I squeezed my Bible to my chest and slowly walked up the stairs. Pa’s hand never left my shoulder.

“You okay?” Pa asked when we were on the street.

I shook my head. “But I will be.” There was an awkward silence in the air. “Pa, he said goodbye to me today.”

Pa nodded. “I know. I’m glad his son will be here tomorrow.”

The next day, Pa met me at school. I saw the look on his face and knew what he was there to tell me. Pop was now with Jesus. Pa stood there, bent in front of me waiting to see what I would do. “I’ve done my mourning, Pa. I cried myself to sleep last night.”

“I know.” Pa’s eyes were full of concern.

“I’m okay, Pa. He’s where he wants to be. But-“ I stopped. “I’m guessing he’ll be buried tomorrow.” Pa nodded. “When?”

“3:00,” Pa answered.

“Oh,” I looked into his eyes. My eyes were full of an unspoken question.

Pa shook his head. “Son, you shouldn’t even have to ask that. Of course you can be there. In fact, I was wondering if you’d sing ‘When We All Get to Heaven.’ at the funeral?”

I nodded as I put my arm around Pa and started walking toward my horse. I softly hummed the song to myself as we started for home. My heart was heavy, but my eyes were dry. I knew in my heart that God would affix another bandage over the hole in my heart like he had done so many times before.

“In my Father’s House are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you. John 14:2.”

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

The Baby Sitter

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