I did a might bit of growing up that weekend. I remember all the times, when I was younger, and Pa said, “You’ll understand better when you grow up and have children of your own”, yet this time, it didn’t take me growing up in years to understand. All my emotions and my understanding, culminated in the essay I had written and then read at school.
I remember the look of pride I saw on my Pa’s face, how he nodded and smiled to me when I returned to my seat, after I read my essay. I remember the look of surprise on Mr. Griswald’s face at my unique perspective on our assignment, I guess you can say his face held the same look of surprise that my face had when I sat down, turned around and saw my Pa had left.
I stayed at school and listened to the other students read their assignments. I saw the smiles on the faces of the other parents, but their looks weren’t quite the same as Pa’s, guess that’s because they weren’t my Pa. I happily loped Blue Boy home that day, anxious to get home and show Pa the A- and wonderful comments Mr. Griswald had written on my essay.
When I arrived, I saw that Pa had finished my wood chopping chore, which to say really surprised me. All the wood had been chopped and stacked and even the wood box outside was overfull. I saw the busted corral fence post, that Pa said we were going to fix together, over the weekend, had already been fixed. I’m sure it took some doing to get the busted end out of the ground, but there it was, a new fence post and railing.
After tying Blue Boy to the hitching rail out front, I jumped up on the porch and walked into the house, expecting to hear my Pa welcome me home and smile at me. Yet, the only thing that greeted me was a note from Pa, telling me to start on my chores and that he was out on the western pasture and would be home when he was done. Now I remembered, the only thing out on the western pasture that needed any attention was that dang old tree that had come down a few weeks back.
I decided to ride out to help Pa. As I neared Pa, I was amazed at how much of the tree he had chopped up. He sure had worked up a sweat, but then I realized that it wasn’t just sweat, he was crying. That’s when I did another bit of growing up again. I thought of all the memories my Pa had unburied, in trying to help me to understand old Honest Abe and then listening to my essay, I realized he was trying to put all his memories back away.
I quietly rode home and never told Pa what I had seen. Pa had been there for me, answering all my questions and helping me to understand my confusions. His words had put everything in perspective, so that my thirteen year old brain could better understand. How much hurt he had felt at reliving those memories -- I knew hard labor was the best way to come to terms and lock one’s tormentors back to the deepest recesses of the brain. I knew this was no time for me to think that I, as a thirteen year old child, could help him.
I finished all my chores and had supper warming on the stove when Pa finally came home. I welcomed him, “Evening Pa, if you’ll get washed up, I’ll fix you a plate of stew.”
Pa smiled at me as he walked out back to wash up.
The rest of the week flew by and each day I saw my Pa return to being more of his old self. I never asked any questions about it, I pretended nothing was different. I was glad to put this bit of growing up behind me and looked forward to just being me. Little did I know that more growing up was just around the corner. See, we were about to find out that Woody Fogarty and his Grandpa were relocating to live in North Fork.
I spent the morning, cleaning the chicken coop and weeding the garden. I had just finished when Pa rode up on Razor. I sat back on my heels and wiped the back of my hand across my forehead, forgetting how dirty my hands were.
“Come on home, boy. Time for lunch,” he said.
Pa laughed as he smacked my backside and we went up to the house to wash up for lunch.
“And remember to wash…”
Before he could finish his sentence, I stated, “I know, behind my ears,” and sort of rolled my eyes.
“No, that’s not what I was going to say,” as he held the mirror in front of my face and I saw all the dirt.
As we ate, someone knocked on the door. I started to jump up to answer the knock, but Pa grabbed my arm firmly and pointed to my seat. “Stay seated and finish your lunch, son. We have a lot of work to do this afternoon.”
I turned back to eat the rest of my sandwich when I suddenly heard, “Why Woody! Good to see you!”
I jumped up and hurried over to stand beside Pa. Woody Fogarty and his grandfather were standing in front of us. “We’re getting that shack a ways down the road – you know, the old Baskin place? Anyhow, I thought I’d stop by and say hello.”
“I’m certainly glad you did!” Pa said. Then he turned and looked at me. “Get back to your lunch, son, so you can get started on rounding up the cattle.”
I looked toward woody. “Woody, you want a sandwich?”
Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “That’s up to his grandfather son.” We looked at Grandpa who studied Woody, then me. He saw that I was genuine, and not looking to give Woody a hand out. Grandpa nodded his approval and I quickly made it for him.
“How you been, Mark?” Woody asked. They had been living in Bantry, a town a ways from us.
When Pa and I went through there, we’d always stop to say hello.
“I’m great! Pa’s working me to death, but I’m still alive and kicking!”
Pa walked by and took his seat at the table. He tapped me on the head. “I’m just a regular ol’ slave worker, ain’t I son?”
“Well as a matter of fact-“ I stopped when I saw the challenge in Pa’s eyes. I sat down my sandwich and waved my hands back and forth. “Oh no you don’t, Pa! That’s just another way for you to get more work out of me!”
Pa and Grandpa laughed. “You know son,” Grandpa said as he sipped the coffee Pa sat in front of him. “Hard work keeps you out of trouble! Why in my day, a boy half your age would never expect to go fishing and swimming when he lived on a farm!”
“Really Grandpa?” Woody asked.
“That’s the truth!” Grandpa declared. “And you won’t be doing much fishing and swimming either young man!” Grandpa turned his attention back to Pa. “We’re planning on fixing up that old shack and starting us a farm there.”
Pa shook his head. “You got your work cut out for you, that’s for sure!”
“Idle hands make trouble, Luke, you oughta know that!” Grandpa declared. “I’ll have my boy here to help me!”
Pa turned his head and looked at me as he grinned. “Then I’d say you can accomplish anything!”
I smiled as my heart swelled. Suddenly, I didn’t mind being his slave…er…partner.
Grandpa stood up and started for the door. “Well, we just wanted to stop by and let you know we were living here now.”
“Glad you did!” Pa declared. “Oh, while you’re here, I’m needing someone to make me a rieta! You figure you could do that for me? I know you’re good at braiding. I’m trying to get my boy here to pick up the trade, but he’s not too interested…yet.”
“Well, you just keep working on him, Luke!” Grandpa nodded. “I’ll be happy to do that for you.”
“Stop by in a couple days for it?” Pa asked. Grandpa nodded, stating that he’d be happy to get it ready for him.
So it was a couple days later when Pa announced that we’d be stopping by the Fogarty’s new shack before heading off to town. I couldn’t help but grin at the way my Pa put it. “New…shack?” I asked.
Pa looked down at me and grinned – you know the way he looks at me sometimes. “Yeah,” he said as he rolled his eyes. I mounted my horse and we rode.
I can’t tell you how many times Pa and I have ridden side-by-side as our horses keep pace with each other. Over the last three years or so, they’ve really learned how to compliment each other. The remained nose to nose, no matter how fast we pushed them. Today, I looked up at Pa and smiled. “What?” Pa asked.
I just shook my head. “Nothing,” I answered. I didn’t want to get all misty eyed over something that sounded so silly – that I felt best when I was right beside my Pa. Most of the time, anyhow.
As we stopped our horses in the Fogarty front yard, I couldn’t help but shake my head. “Oh wow,” I breathed. “They sure got their work cut out for them!” Pa turned and grinned at me as we started toward the house.
“Hello!” Pa called. I think he was almost scared to go any further – no telling what hazards awaited us! “Hello in the house!”
Now, I didn’t mean any harm by it – honest – but I declared that maybe they were still asleep. Pa looked at me, then we started forward. I let Pa go first – if there were any dangers, it’s best for Pa to find them.
Sure enough, the moment he stepped up onto the front step, Pa’s boot split it right in half. I wondered how the two Fogarty’s could step on it and not break it, yet my Pa managed without much trouble. I started to ask, but figured maybe it was better I didn’t. Pa and I just looked at each other and laughed.
“Somebody home?” Pa called. But there was no answer. Pa went to the door and opened it. He turned and looked at me, nodding his head. Someone was in there talking. Pa knocked but no one heard him. Pa turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders. He opened the door ever so slightly, but suddenly it was pushed shut.
I couldn’t help but smile. Pa opened the door again as I stood beside him. Again, the door was pushed shut. Pa turned and looked at me. He shrugged his shoulders this time and I smiled. Again, Pa opened the door. But this time, he opened it further and stuck his head in. Grandpa was at the stove while Woody sat at the table reading a book.
And what to my wondering eyes was standing right beside him, but a pig! I’m not talking about a baby pig – I’m talking about a full-grown pig! I looked up at Pa and smiled. It wasn’t every day that one see’s a pig in the kitchen, after all!
Pa knocked loudly on the door. Grandpa Fogarty finally realized we were there and invited us in. He didn’t have Pa’s lasso ready for him yet, but he sure did have some of his tall tales ready! I couldn’t help but smile as I listened.
We didn’t stay too long. As we were leaving, I question Pa on the story he told about General Freemont. What Grandpa said didn’t match up with what my history book said. Pa reminded me that he’d done a lot of good things he probably didn’t tell.
“Suppose that’s how come they keep moving around so much?” I asked. I remember talking to Woody a couple months ago when we stopped by their old place. He told me that he and his grandpa always moved around a lot. I figured it was because they didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford to stay in one place. When Woody told me that his grandpa didn’t really have a farm, I figured he was getting old and couldn’t do much, so in order to stay alive, they moved from town to town…
I told Pa “Well, Woody said they hardly live in a place more then a few months…” I started.
But Pa stopped me right there. I guess he knew where my thoughts were going. He immediately held up a hand and gave me one of his stern looks. “Mark, we get along just find minding our own business! Let’s keep it that way, huh?” That was the end of it.
I wanted to go straight into town, but Pa said we had some work to do. When we got back to the ranch, we found a cow wondering around our yard – apparently, she had broken through the fence. I jumped off and hurriedly drove her back into the field. Pa went to study the fence and shook his head. “Isn’t that the break you fixed two days ago, son?” Pa asked.
“Yes sir.” That’s all I said. Anymore would have been useless. I went to the barn to get the tools I’d need, then went to fix it, again. After I got all my Saturday chores done, we mounted our horses and again rode out of the yard, this time towards town. Oh, by the way, I had been out of school for the past couple of weeks. We get breaks every now and then – and I looked forward to every one of them! But school was just about to start back up on Monday.
Pa looked towards me as we rode. “While we’re here, son, I’d like you to get your hair cut. Oh, and we’ll pick you out a couple pairs of pants for school and some new socks. I don’t know what you do in your socks, but I’m tired of sewing the blasted things up!”
“Oh, but Pa! I like them – they’re comfortable!” I declared.
Pa shifted in his saddle and looked straight at me. “Mark, I don’t want folks to think I can’t afford to buy you new socks, boy! If you’re going to wear socks with holes in them, you might as well not even wear socks!”
“Really?” I smiled.
“That was a…” Pa raised an eyebrow at me and I laughed.
“Oh Pa, and about the haircut, I figure I can wait a-“ Pa raised both his eyebrows, higher, and looked at me again. “Actually, now that I think on it a little more, I reckon getting my hair cut today would be an excellent idea!”
We tied our horses up behind the store and went inside. Woody and his Grandpa were already inside and Pa asked Woody if he was getting a new pair of pants for school.
For some reason, Pa’s question got Grandpa all riled. "Mr. McCain! I mind my own business, expect my neighbors to do the same!”
Wow, I couldn’t believe how he was talking to my Pa. My Pa shook it off, "Simmer down Mr. Fogarty, school is everybody's business."
Grandpa was finishing up his business with Miss Milly and she politely offered to put it on an account for him. Guess what, he gruffly told Miss Milly off! "You don't derail me of no charge account. If I can't pay for it I don't buy it! I mind my own business, go as I please, and expect my neighbors to do the same." He gathered up the pants and Woody and left.
After they left, Pa made some comments about how proud Grandpa Fogarty was and of course Milly just laughed and smiled at my Pa. Now was she laughing and smiling because of my Pa’s comment or for some other reason? I reckon I shouldn’t think on that too much. Thoughts like that have a tendency of getting me into a lot of trouble!
Now, Mrs. Dalrymple, was North Fork’s leading busybody, and was appalled at having witnessed Grandpa’s treatment of Pa and Miss Milly, and I guess she felt that was how he probably treated Woody, too. When Grandpa left, she walked over to us, shaking her head. "Just imagine! That poor little fellow never knowing a mother's hand to tuck him in at night, seeing to his prayers…" She patted me on my shoulder.
At first I was starting to take her comments personally - not that I’d never known my mother’s hand to tuck me in at night, but it sure had been a long seven years since I had. Now don’t get me wrong, my Pa - he never left me feeling unloved. He always tucked me in at night and told me he loved me. I know there were times, where my childish mind got mad at my Pa and I pushed his love away; but down deep, I knew he loved me and once I fell asleep he made sure I was properly tucked in.
Then my thoughts were brought back to the present as Mrs. Nosey-body continued to talk to me, "I hope you know how fortunate you are Mark to have a proper education."
"Yes ma'am,” I answered. There were times when I didn’t think this should be considered “lucky.” I can’t count how many times I had – and will – made excuses to get out of going to school. But since she was being an ol’ busy-body (something my Pa didn’t care for in the least, as he expressed earlier) – I didn’t think now would be the proper time to mention these facts. That would just add more fuel to her already out of control fire!
"Poor little Woody, completely ignorant of the finer things in life," Mrs. Dalrymple shook her head. Uh…I hadn’t exactly been eating off of golden plates and drinking from silver goblets either! Why, I can remember times when all we had to eat was flapjacks with no syrup. But again. And by about this time, even I was pretty fed up with the things she was saying. I suppose that’s why I suddenly shot off my mouth and said something that would get me in trouble later. Well, I reckon in a way it did…
"But he sure can read," I announced. I felt someone needed to stand up for Woody. "Why you should have heard him read to his pig in the kitchen this morning!"
You should have seen the look on her face! Of course, I didn’t pay much mind to it at the moment. The expression was still there though, and it wouldn’t be until later that I realized what this would mean. "His pig? In the kitchen?"
Guess if I had seen Pa’s face I would have stopped and not dug Woody into a deeper hole than I already had.
"Yes ma'am, she's smart, that pig!” I declared.
"A pig in the house?" she said again. Again, if I hadn’t been so set in putting in my little mouthful, I would have realized the damage I was causing, but I didn’t!
"Yeah," I said. It was then that I saw the look on her face and realized what I had said. Oh boy!, I should have just kept my mouth shut. But then I felt I needed to say something to help the situation. ”Woody's real smart for his age though."
"As the twig is bent, so grows the tree," Mrs. Dalrymple stated with a firm nod of her head.
It was then that I realized how much damage I’d done. I told Pa I was going to go check the mail, then I ran out of the General Store and headed for Blue Boy. I needed to think. Little did I know of the discussion that continued once I left.
I wasn’t outside very long when a frustrated Pa found me and told me he and Micah had an errand to run. He didn’t sound too happy about it either. He seemed a little miffed at me, and in a gruff voice said, “I’ll be back later. After you get your haircut, you head on over to Milly’s and help her in the store. She has a big shipment coming in later and I don’t want her taking care of it herself.” From the look in Pa’s eye, I knew those words were an order – not a request.
I was still helping Milly with the stocking when Pa came back to get me and head home. He seemed burdened with something as we walked toward our horses. He was so quiet all the way home. I thought about asking him what was wrong, but decided, maybe I should just give him some quiet time to sort out his troubles. Then I noticed as we started to ride that Pa would look at me funny every now and then. He’d turn and look me up and down, raise an eyebrow or two, then turn back and look in front of him. “Pa, are you upset?” I finally managed to ask.
Pa shook his head. “I’m just thinking, son. I’m not upset.”
“Did I…do something wrong?” I asked then.
Pa turned and looked at me. Then he slowly shook his head. “No son, not on what I’m thinking about now,” Pa answered. I looked at him strangely, but kept silent.
When we got home, we unsaddled our horses and turned them loose in the corral. I carried my saddle to put it away, but Pa suddenly held up a hand and silently motioned for me to place it on the stand outside. I did so as I studied him. “Climb on up there, boy,” Pa said gruffly. Then I gasped as he grabbed my boot and pulled my leg down. He shook his head when he saw just how short my stirrups were and that was as long as they could go.
“These stirrups are just not long enough for you anymore.” he stated with a hint of annoyance. Now I understood. It was my growing up that was bothering him. I reckon every father and mother feels the same way. “I guess I’ll have to make you some new ones.”
“I like them!” I declared. It seemed the minute I got used to something, Pa would snatch it away, telling me it was too little for me! My hair would just get comfortable from the last cutting when I had to get it cut again. My clothes and boots would just start to fit good on me when Pa made me get new ones! Now, he was taking these nice pair of stirrups from me!
“Well, it’s not good holding onto things you can’t use, son,” Pa answered. I knew that’s what Pa would say. That’s how Pa always felt about such matters. No one could call my Pa a pack rat – that is, unless you counted all the pictures I colored in school as a little boy, or all the books I got from school or - That got me to thinking. I had a pile of old school books sitting in a box under my bed that I had no use for anymore. I had mentioned getting rid of them a few times and a loathsome expression would come over Pa’s face. I figured he didn’t mind getting rid of things unless they had some sort of special feeling for him. And I reckon those school books DID have a special feeling when you think of all the hours Pa and me spent in them – sometimes smiling, but many times my complaining and Pa’s threatening punishment if I didn’t get the work done. I guess I was beginning to realize those were indeed special times! But I now found myself asking him if I could give them to Woody. I thought he should have a chance to study, after all!
Pa smiled and said, “That’s a good idea, son.” I think the smile was one of defeat because there was no sane reason to accept my generous offer. But then that was followed with, “You know, Woody may be living in a new home in town, soon.”
I knew they moved around a lot, but this was soon – even for them! “Well, he’s already got a home,” I stated and then asked, “Are they moving again?”
I saw the look in Pa’s eyes soften as he said, “No Mark. You see, Mrs. Dalrymple is looking for him a place to stay while Grandpa’s fixing up their place.”
Without even hesitating, I rolled my eyes and declared, “Oh, that nosey ol’ Mrs. Dalrymple!”
I was beginning to understand why Pa had been so quiet. It wasn’t just because I was growing up, but he must have been dealing with this latest problem! I wanted to say a couple things about that nosey old woman, but Pa would skin my hide for sure if I said what was on my mind! I relaxed a little bit, knowing what the problem was. Pa explainedthat she was only thinking of what was best for Woody. “You’ve seen the conditions. It’s not like they can’t see each other anymore.”
Usually, Pa and I agreed on our thoughts, but no matter what Pa said, there was no way I’d agree that taking Woody from his grandfather was a good thing! I’ve seen them together and listened to Pa talk enough to know that there’s nothing more important then being with the one you loved! I admit that I understood what Pa was saying, but boy, I just had to make him see the truth!
“But Pa, they got it better then you think!” I declared. I had seen the smiles they passed each other. I’d heard Woody brag on his grandpa and vice versa. I’d felt the love the two had for each other! They reminded me a lot of…well…of Pa and me! Pa and me didn’t have much – granted, we had more than Grandpa and Woody, but we still didn’t have as much as other ranchers, yet we were able to survive. I began to think that Pa had been bewitched by that mean ol’ woman in town! I was just going to have to change that! “They get along real well, laughing, and working together. And they figured out plans for fixin’ up their place.”
But Pa wasn’t listening to me, he was in his ‘protective father/practical thinking role’. He asked me what if something were to happen, a gun goes off or a fire breaks out? What if Woody got hurt? He said that Grandpa can’t see real well.
Again, I just had to try to get Pa to see it my way. After all, I remembered a time when Pa was blind yet I stayed with him. I remembered the time following my mother’s death and how broken he was inside. I even remember my aunt offering to take “the boy” in. It doesn’t matter how old I get or how many years pass by, I’ll never forget that day!
Seems to me like we were sitting at the kitchen table when my aunt asked the question. My heart had cried and I looked at my Pa. His eyes grew angry and…held emotions that I could never describe! I heard his low, controlled voice say, “Go outside, Mark.” When Pa came out to get me, he had swept me up into his arms and held me close as tears streamed down his face. “I’m sorry you had to see that, son. There’s nothing that will EVER separate us, you hear? We got each other and we’ll stick up for each other no matter what. It’s just the two of us now, son. We’re partners.”
As I remembered that now, I spoke in a determine voice: “But Pa, there are other things just as important. Woody’s got a Grandpa and they stick up for each other. The two of them together.” I knew I had to try a different tactic. “Like… you and me.”
I saw the look on Pa’s face change as I continued I think he was remembering to the same time I was remembering. “And Pa, you wouldn’t let anyone separate us if things weren’t going right, would you?” I knew using that was a low blow. It possibly stirred up feeling inside him that shouldn’t have been shaken. But I had to make him see the truth – through my eyes.
As I looked into Pa’s eyes, I could see understanding settle in. I knew I’d finally broken through the adult senses and let him see things through a child’s eyes. Pa hesitated before he spoke, “No Mark, I wouldn’t. I guess sometimes we grown ups can’t see the forest through the trees. I’m gonna see what I can do to let Woody stay with Grandpa.”
Well let me tell you, I felt a smile growing in my heart. I wanted to say more, to apologize to him for the feelings I had stirred up, yet to thank him for the decision he had just made. “Mr. McCain!” I suddenly heard.
We turned to see Woody running into the yard. He was crying Pa’s name in a way that made my heart stop. I immediately started thinking on Grandpa. I jumped off my saddle and looked up at Pa. Pa didn’t hesitate. He ran up toward Woody and I followed close behind. Woody was crying as I stood and watched.
Woody continued to call “Oh Mr. McCain! Mr. McCain!” We saw he was crying. I became even more concerned.
Pa knelt down in front of Woody. I saw the expression on his face. It was gentle and loving – full of concern. It was very similar to the expression he held on his face so long ago when he told me we’d always be together. Emotion swelled up in my heart. I watched quietly as Pa asked the questions. “Woody, what is it? Where’s your Grandpa?”
I listened to the tone of voice Pa used with Woody. How many times had he used that tone to comfort me, when I was growing up?
Woody couldn’t answer Pa – he was too upset.
So naturally, I jumped in. “What’s wrong? He sick?” I asked.
That seemed to agitate Woody even more. In a gentle voice Pa told Woody to take his time and tell it the way he wanted to.
I was shocked to hear what Woody had to say. “He said that I was no good to him. I made a pair of stilts. And he told me to get out and find another place.”
“Well,” Pa said. “That doesn’t sound like your Grandpa. You sure you haven’t forgotten something?” Pa continued to give Woody the gentle, loving look he gave me when I was a small boy. I couldn’t help but to feel the warmth in my heart as I watched how caring Pa was. Because the voice he used was the same tone he used when he tried to get me to tell him what was wrong when I thought I was going to die from anthrax. I remembered not wanting to tell him because I didn’t want to worry my him. But then he used the same voice and look as he was using now. It was a look that made a child’s heart melt because he knew that Pa would make everything right again! No child could resist telling the truth when Pa used that voice.
But Woody assured Pa, “No sir, that’s the way it was.” He thought for a moment, “But I was thinking… Maybe the heat was affecting him or it was that man that come.”
I reflected on that for a moment. He was a true father’s son - or in Woody’s case, a true Grandfather’s son. He knew there was some other reason his grandpa had sent him off. I knew that if I was in Woody’s shoes, I’d think the same thing – that something was terribly wrong. I think Pa was thinking the same thing as well, because when Pa looked at me, I saw the truth in his eyes.
Woody was talking again. “Grandpa’s a real old man, you know. Maybe there’s something wrong. Him and me… we don’t dump on each other.” I watched with a heavy heart as Woody suddenly threw his arms around my Pa and cried. Woody allowed Pa to hug him for only a moment before he declared he wasn’t really crying. “I just don’t know what I’m gonna do!”
Then my Pa, he answered, “Of course you’re not really crying. Because you’re here with us and there’s really nothing to cry about. It’s getting late, I bet you’re hungry.”
Pa asked me to take Woody inside and fix him some scrambled eggs, he’ be back soon. He had an errand to run. I led Woody up the steps and told him I’d make him some scrambled eggs with strawberry jelly on it. That brought a smile to Woody’s face.
I heard Pa ride out of the yard. I tried to keep my mind focused on Woody so that he wouldn’t worry about his Grandpa. But as Pa said a few weeks ago, ‘Boys will be boys”, but this time I knew it meant we both would be worrying.
Woody and I ate our scrambled eggs and jelly, and then washed and dried the dishes. The sun was setting outside. Woody stood by the window staring out. I heard him sigh as I finished putting the dishes away. “Your Grandpa will be fine, Woody,” I promised him as I walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.
Woody turned and looked at me. He had tears shining in his eyes. “I can’t help but worry. Your Pa’s been gone an awful long time!” Woody went to the door. “Maybe I should go-“ he started. His voice broke.
I ran over to him and bent down in front of him. “My Pa wouldn’t like it. He told you to stay here, and Pa expects obedience. Just like your grandpa.” I raised an eyebrow at him so he’d know I meant business. He bit a lip as he fought back the tears. I looked down at the floor, thinking on rather I should say it or not. I decided I should. “Woody, you know I cry sometimes.”
“You do?” Woody asked.
I nodded. “When I’m sad or when I’m scared…” I looked him straight in the eye. “You know, God gave us tears for a reason. They don’t stop coming when we get to a certain age. Even my Pa cries sometimes.” I thought back to the last time I’d seen him cry just a week or so ago as he buried some hurt back deep in his heart after helping me through a difficult manhood lesson.
“Really?” Woody asked. I nodded. Woody bit his lip. “That’s good cause…” That’s all he could say as he buried his head in my shoulder and cried. When his tears were spent, I led him to the chair and went to light the lanterns. I lit everyone of them in the house, ‘cause to be honest I was a bit spooked being alone here when I didn’t know what was going on. I lit the one on the wall, the one on the table, the one by the door, and the one outside.
When I came back inside, to check on Woody and found him curled up and fast asleep in Pa’s chair. I walked to our bedroom and pulled a blanket out from the closet and then covered Woody with it.
I knew I still had chores to do, so I headed to the barn to feed and bed down the stock for the night. I was just getting ready to head to the house when I heard riders approaching. I carefully looked out the open door and saw it was Pa and Woody’s Grandpa. He looked mighty upset, but it wasn’t a mad upset, it was a scared upset.
I hurried up to Pa and threw my arms around him, relieved he was okay. I figured he was, but hugging Pa when he came back from a mission was a habit of mine. After I broke the brief embrace, he asked me where Woody was. I told him and Pa opened the door for Grandpa. I heard him plaintively say, “Woody?”
I stopped in the doorway and watched as Woody woke up and saw his Grandpa kneeling in front of him. “Woody, please forgive me? I’m so sorry, but I wanted to keep you away from that man and I didn’t know how else to get you away. Do you forgive me?” he asked.
Woody didn’t say anything, he just jumped up and threw his arms around his Grandpa’s neck and held him. I watched until I felt tears streaming down my face. I stepped back to the porch and soon felt Pa’s hand on my shoulder as he gave it a gentle squeeze.
I smiled as I watched the two reunite. The scene was so loving. I turned and looked at Pa who motioned for me to follow him to the barn. I turned and looked back at the happy duo in the living room. “I’ll go get the cots, grandpa. You two will stay here tonight.” Pa said. It wasn’t a request, I knew.
We stepped off the porch and started out toward the barn. “They really love each other, Pa,” I stated.
Pa looked down at me and smiled as his hand once again touched the back of my neck. “They sure do, son.” Pa stopped. “They love each other like…well, like father and son. Grandpa loves Woody like I love you.”
I nodded with a grin. I loved him too. Pa sighed. “Listen Mark, I was…wrong…while ago. I shouldn’t have ever done what I did.” We slowly started walking again. Again, Pa stopped and turned to me. “Son, it’s not your Aunt Jeanie’s fault. She loved you very much and thought she knew what was best.”
I looked at Pa. We’d never talked of the incident before. After tonight, I hoped we’d never talk about it again. But for now, we were. “I still remember that night, Pa. You were full of grief trying to come to terms with Ma’s….” I swallowed as tears filled my eyes. “With her…death.” It had only been three days before that I had seen her smile. “But when she said those words, something came over you like…I don’t know what!”
Pa’s eyes suddenly closed and he turned from me. He pushed his hands against the door and breathed in deep breaths. “I have,” he stated in a broken voice. “Except this time, it was another man – and I was the one that caused that look.”
I stood in my place silently as I watched Pa go into the barn. I walked inside and saw the pained expression on his face. I was sorry for him, but knew I shouldn’t say anything. I grabbed one of the cots from him. “Pa, I think we should give the Fogarty’s our beds. We can sleep on these cots.”
Pa face held a dark expression, but when I said these words, his face lit up and a slow smile began descending over his face. He smiled and nodded his head. That’s all I needed. “Then I’ll go get some fresh sheets on those bed,” I said with a smile.
It had been a pretty rough day, so after we got the beds ready, I asked Grandpa and Pa if they wanted some stew. They both shook their heads. Even though it was only eight o’clock, we all four went to bed. I laid down on the cot just thinking about the day. In the stillness of the cabin, I was able to put my thoughts together – at least I was able to try. I laid there for probably two hours though, but could not get it all sorted out.
I sat up in bed and looked towards Pa. He was fast asleep. I sighed as I threw back my covers. I was really hoping to sort this out with him, but I guess this was something I was going to have to figure out for myself. I stood and quietly walked to the front door. As I opened it, I saw the deep, wide, empty darkness in front of me. As far as the eye could see, it was just dark.
I slowly walked out onto the porch. I felt the lonesomeness all around me. Everything was quiet tonight – not even the bugs were making noise.
I walked outside and sat down as I looked up at the dark sky. I saw little specks of light peaking out of the heavens. It did help a little bit. I suddenly felt a shudder escape the recesses of my soul. “New moon tonight,” I heard behind me. I didn’t turn, but just nodded. “What’s on your mind, son?”
Pa knew me so well! I turned to see him sit down beside me. His arm immediately found it’s normal place around my shoulders. His eyes were open wide as he waited for me to speak.
“I guess there’s just….” I sighed and lowered my head. “There’s just too much going on up here.” I pointed to my head.
“Let’s talk about it?” That’s the way my Pa was. He expected me to speak my mind. Pa raised his eyebrows at me as he looked into my eyes. I knew he’d find the truth there if he searched hard enough.
I thought for a few minutes, trying to get my thoughts organized. “So much happened today.” I finally said. It had been quiet for several moments and my voice suddenly sounded loud. I was still looking at Pa as I spoke these words he only nodded. “Well…” I sighed as I turned my head to look out over the range. “Pa, it…well, it seems everyone had Woody’s best interest in mind, but no one thought of his feelings.”
“Go on,” Pa said with a nod.
I shook my head as I felt frustration settle over me. “Well, I was real proud to tell Miss Milly of how well Woody was doing at home with his reading and all. I mean, after Ma died and we were looking for a place to call home, you made sure I kept up on all my lessons. I didn’t go to school for almost a whole year. So, thinking on you and how you always took care of my education, I figured, it didn’t matter if he went to school as long as Grandpa was keeping Woody up on his reading.”
I shook my head as I stood and walked down the step. I…Guess I stuck my foot in my mouth when I told Mrs. Dalrymple about Woody reading to their pig.”
“I’ll agree with you there, son.” Pa answered. I turned and stared at him. I knew I had been wrong, but I hadn’t expected Pa to agree with me on it out loud!
“Then that ol’-“ I stopped when I heard Pa suck in his breath. “I mean…Mrs. Darlrymple…well, she started Woody not having a mother’s hand to tuck him in bed at night and all and… Guess for a moment I got remorseful in thinking of my own loss…but only for a minute!” I shook my head as I remembered it now. My voice grew angry. “But then for her to be all high and mighty, declaring that Grandpa wasn’t good enough for Woody, talking about the twig and the tree…That made me so mad! Why, if she were a boy I would have just gone up to her and-“ I stopped when I turned and saw the look on Pa’s face. I didn’t figure I oughta finish that sentence. In fact, I figured it would be safest to just put that whole thought right out of my head! “Well, I was angry, Pa!”
But then I got to what was really bothering me. My words were hot and I felt hot tears form in my eyes as I said the next words. “Pa, even you were going to go along with her and take Woody away from his Grandpa. How could you even think on such a thing?”
As I looked at Pa, I saw understanding enter his eyes. He lowered his head for only a moment. When he lifted it, his face held a knowing look. He stood and came up to me as I once again turned to look over the range. Pa put one hand on my shoulder, then the other on my other shoulder as he stood behind me. I allowed myself to lean back against him. The words he spoke were soft and true. “I’m a man same as you, son. I make mistakes…same as you.” He allowed a minute for those words to sink in. Then he turned me around and looked straight into my eyes again. “Listen, Mark…at the time, I was between a rock and a hard place. I was standing between Miss Milly and Mrs. Dalrymple, alone. Two very out-spoken women who know their own mind…” A smile played at the corners of his mouth. “And uh…I seem to remember someone turning coward and running to leave me here all by myself.”
His smile grew. “Oh, about that…I’m…Sorry, Pa.”
“Mm Hm,” Pa nodded. “I’d say you’re about as sorry as my best friend. Only he IS sorry because he didn’t get away with it!” I smiled. Pa put an arm around my shoulders as we walked back up the steps. “You see, son…maybe if you would have stayed, you could have helped me with this problem. Maybe you could have told them what you told me.”
I nodded. “But then I would have had to reveal more of myself then I was willing to.”
“How do you mean, Mark?” Pa asked.
I shrugged. “How did I finally convince you?” I asked. “I had to remind you of your words to me that day after someone threatened to take me away from you. Pa, you have no idea how scared I was that day! I had lost my mother and suddenly I felt I was losing you too.”
“I suppose at the age of six, it’s easy for a boy’s thoughts to go that way,” Pa nodded.
“No Pa.” I stopped and looked at him. “Any boy at any age. But then you made that promise…You know the one…Every boy needs to feel stable – have a rock to hold on to.”
Pa sat back down at the steps and pulled me down beside him. “Is that what I am, son? A rock?”
I nodded. Then I turned back to him. “Pa…It’s just that…Well, Woody…he’s lost both his Ma and his Pa at such a young age. He had nobody! And then Grandpa came along and took him under his wing. He suddenly felt he had someone – someone – to love again. Something to hold on to. He needs to feel that in order to grow into a man. I know.”
Pa cocked his head to one side as he watched me. “Every time you put your life in danger by going up against another man, I feel this incredible fear. I start thinking that maybe…this time…you won’t come back. You’re all I have in the world, Pa. If something happened to you and I…I had to go live with someone I didn’t know, well…well, it would be…” I couldn’t finish the sentence.
Pa’s expression showed understanding. He patted my shoulders but couldn’t speak. Finally, he said, “Thanks, son.”
There was one more thing I needed to know. “Pa, what I don’t get is why Grandpa sent Woody away like he did? I mean there were times, where you sent me away, but you were never mean about it. You explained why or just told me that I had to do it, because you were my Pa and I had to obey you.”
Pa knew that was the heart of my troubled thinking. “Mark, Woody’s Grandpa had to think quick. He didn’t have time to explain what was happening.” Pa shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe he’s not as fast a smooth-talker as I am. There were times I had to get rid of you quickly, but I used different tactics.” I started to ask him what they were but he only shook his head. “Grandpa just reacted. He wanted to get Woody away from that man. Guess deep down he knew that Woody would come here and I would understand what was happening. I ended up killing that man tonight; he tried pulling a gun on us.”
“Pa, I’m sorry.” I knew how hard it was on Pa every time he had to shoot a man, much more so when he killed the man. “I think I understand everything better now. Even when we have our best intentions in mind, we can still get hurt – especially those that matters. But I guess we just have to remember that we do things – right or wrong – because we love them.”
Pa yawned. “Well, I don’t know about you, son, but I’m ready to go back to bed.” The way Pa looked at me made me think that he DID know about me and that I DID want to go back to bed. I smiled and stood up beside him. Pa turned to open the door. “Pa?” He turned and looked at me. “I guess this was part of my growing up to? Another lesson learned? I wonder if I’ll ever stop growing up!”
“Oh, I hope not, son.” Pa smiled when he saw the look on my face. “You see Mark, learning and growing up go hand in hand. Each day I learn something new about my boy. So, I’m still growing up, I’m right there with you.”
We stood and Pa gave me a good swat on my back side as we walked into the house.
It was a couple of days later that we decided to visit the Fogarty’s to see if Grandpa had finished Pa’s riata and to check and see how they were getting along.
Micah even joined us. He said he needed to make an inspection so’s he could “Shut Mrs. Dalrymple up.” He pointed his finger at me and said, “Don’t you dare repeat what you just heard, else I’ll throw you in jail and throw away the key.” The look on Pa’s face told me it wasn’t an idle threat and that he too would hand out his own brand of justice.
As we arrived at their shack, uh, home. Boy, were we surprised. Why the front yard was all cleaned up and we saw a flume bringing water almost to the house. The water slowly ran down the flume and was over filling a water barrel. Woody’s pet pig was happily wallowing in the mud hole.
Pa and Micah were standing with Woody’s Grandpa in front of their house admiring everything that the Fogarty’s had accomplished. From the tone of Grandpa’s voice, I could tell he was complaining about something, but couldn’t hear what.
Woody and I spent some time playing and he made me a pair of stilts. We were walking from their barn to towards the house when I asked Pa if he wanted to try out the stilts.
“No thanks Son, but take one big step for me.” Well no sooner had Pa got those words out, than I lost my balance and fell flat on my face into that mud whole.
I couldn’t believe it! After the last incident with the pig and the mud puddle at home, I had vowed to avoid mud puddles at all cost. And here I was, again!
I heard Pa, Micah, and Grandpa laughing at me. I started to get riled, but then Woody came up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder. He was laughing too. Guess I did look the sight and I gave in. I think I ended up laughing harder than anyone else!
After the laughter subsided, Pa walked over and held out a hand to help me up. I started to take it, but Pa held his hand up. “Now boy, don’t you try anything funny, ya hear?”
“Me, Pa?” I could hardly believe my own father would think I’d even consider it! Of course I wasn’t!”
Grandpa handed Pa a towel. Pa took it, but when he saw how filthy I was, he shook his head. “Let’s get you down to the creek to get cleaned up, boy.”
I started to tell Pa that I was old enough to take myself, but then I got to thinking on it and I WANTED him to come! Pa stood by the bank as I started to take my boots off. He wasn’t on guard though. I saw how relaxed he was as he stood there, looking across the water, waiting for me to undress.
A small grin suddenly played on my face. I thought long and hard on the consequences of pulling such a stunt. If I didn’t do it, there’d be no payback for being laughed at and I’d gain – or loose – nothing. If I DID do it, I would get a feeling of satisfaction and amusement, but I would later get punished. Hey, I might have been thirteen, but I was still growing up!
Finally, out loud I said, “Oh, what the heck! You only live once!” Then I suddenly turned and gave Pa a hard push. He yelled out in surprise as he landed in the creek.
Boy oh boy, but you should have seen the look on Pa’s face!
Now I’m beginning to wonder if it was really worth it after all…
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Shattered Idol
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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