I don’t reckon there’s a kid on this earth who enjoys getting into trouble, and I am no exception! Sometimes, it seemed I was always in trouble for something. Sometimes I would complain when my father punished me. Two things would happen. First of all, I would get into even more trouble for complaining; and second of all I would learn in the end that Pa punished me to teach me a lesson. Those lessons were hard to learn!
I remember one time Pa sending me to my room one Sunday afternoon. Me and Jeff had been caught making these hand gesture during church about going fishing later. The Preacher was in the middle of his sermon when he stopped and called us by name. Then he made us sit up on the very front seat side-by-side for the remainder of the sermon. When church was over, I didn’t move; but my Pa came up and grabbed me by the ear.
If Pa had looked down and seen me doing that, I wouldn’t have gotten into nearly as much trouble; but because I had gotten caught by the preacher and Pa got all embarrassed in front of the whole town, Pa was hopping mad! He sputtered and yelled all the way home, then sent me to my room for the remainder of the day with a strict order that I was just to sit on my bed without anything – no drawing, no reading, no playing…just sit on my bed. Now imagine doing that for about six hours straight!
Pa came in that night and told me to get ready for bed. He had brought me in a sandwich to eat earlier. But then he folded his arms, cocked his head to one side, and widened his eyes. With his lips pressed firmly together, he said, “I don’t understand, Mark, why you have to go about learning your lessons the hard way!” Then he asked, “Did you learn a lesson?”
I had just nodded my head. “What lesson did you learn, son?”
I looked him squarely in the face and said, “If I’m going to act up in church, it’s better that you catch me then the preacher!”
Pa stood and stared at me for a minute. Then he turned to walk away. “Go to bed, Mark.” He used that voice that told me he was trying to figure out rather I was joking or not. Then he turned and opened his mouth to say something at the door. I simply smiled at him. He shook his head at me and smiled. “Goodnight, son.”
I had learned a lesson then. But the lesson I was to learn in this story would go a bit further in my growing up. My problems actually started as soon as I got up that morning. As usual, I was running a little late for school. Pa was hollering at me about getting his money’s worth out of my education and my running an errand for him before school. I quickly ran around the house looking for my pencil, and when I found it I turned to see Pa standing right behind me with his arms crossed and a very firm look on his face.
I swallowed hard as Pa stared at me. “Uh…I think I better get to school, Pa!” I stated in a shaky voice. “I-I’ll see you after school.”
Pa stayed in my comfort zone as I back up to the door. He put his hand on the door jam as I turned and raced to my already saddled horse. Suddenly I stopped and turned around. “What about my lunch?” I asked.
“Already in you saddlebag,” Pa answered. “And so is my axe blade.” He raised his eyebrows at me.
“Oh!” I had forgotten I was supposed to bring in his axe blade to Nels.
“And make sure you bring it home with you right after school, boy! I have wood to chop.”
“Yes sir!” I jumped on my horse and raced into town. I was almost there when Billy rode up next to me. We chatted all the way to school. Then we went inside. My Pa’s axe blade still sat in my saddlebag outside.
I remembered the axe blade in the middle of history lesson later that morning. I suddenly gasped as Billy was reciting part of the Constitution. He stopped and looked down at me, and I immediately clapped a hand over my mouth. “Mr. McCain!” Miss Adams suddenly declared. I swallowed hard. “You may stay in at recess.”
When recess came, I hurried up to Mrs. Adams desk. Before she could say anything, I blurted out, “Miss Adams, I’m sorry I gasped like that earlier, but I just remembered that I have to get Pa’s axe blade to the blacksmith’s. If I don’t he’ll…he’ll…Well, I’ll be in lots of trouble! Please, Miss Adams!” I begged.
She folded her arms and shook her head. “You may do your errand at lunch. Until then, I want you to copy the section of the Constitution that Billy was reading when you interrupted him.”
“What section was that?” I asked.
Miss Adams had turned to write math problems on the board. But she immediately turned back around and crossed hear arms. “Never mind,” I stated. “I’ll figure it out!”
At lunch, I jumped on my horse and raced into town. I was sure shocked to see Pa’s horse outside Micah’s office. I slowly rode by, hoping Pa wasn’t around to see me. He was supposed to be at home with the cattle – not having coffee with Micah! I jumped off my horse and ran the axe blade into Nels. “I was supposed to drop this off this morning! Can you still get it done before school’s out?”
Nels rubbed the back of his neck as he thought. “I don’t know, Mark. But I’ll do my best.” He took the axe blade from me.
I turned to leave, but then turned back to him. “Oh, and you don’t have to tell my Pa that I forgot to drop it off this morning…unless he asks, right?”
“He already knows,” Nels answered as he pointed behind me.
I slowly turned around. Pa was standing in the doorway. Boy, did he ever look mad! He had his feet a few inches a part and had his arms crossed. He just stared at me without saying a word. I suddenly gulped. “Uh…” I started, but the words were stuck in my throat. “I’ll…I mean…Bye, Pa!”
I ran passed him and jumped on my horse. I saw Pa walk out slowly and stare at me as I started to ride away. Boy, was I ever in trouble!
The afternoon went pretty normal. As soon as school let out, Billy asked me if I wanted to go fishing. “Sure!” I stated. It had only been a few hours since lunch, and even at afternoon recess I had talked to Freddie about having to come straight home with the axe blade. I don’t know what happened the last hour to make me forget!
Anyhow, we went fishing down at the Valley Lake. The fish were biting so well that I lost all track of time. Billy and I were laughing as we fished, telling stories and such. Then I looked up at the sky and dropped my fishing pole in the lake with a gasp. “Oh no! It’s nearly five o’clock already! I better get!” I pulled my fish out and hurried off. I'll see you later!”
One thing I had going for me was that it was Friday, so I didn’t have to do my homework until Sunday afternoon. As I raced home, my heart started beating a little faster. The closer I got to the ranch, the more nervous I got. I knew Pa was going to be awful sore at me. The rule was that I could go fishing or playing after school, but I had to be home by four o’clock so I could work on my chores and homework before supper. Besides that, Pa got nervous when he didn’t know exactly where I was.
But as I rode up to the ranch, I noticed there was a stranger visiting with Pa, so I felt a little better. At least Pa wouldn’t yell too much, what with a stranger there. But the minute I rode into the yard, I could tell Pa was upset…no, more like mad! He motioned for me to put my horse by the fence. Then I quickly walked over to him carrying my fish. Politely, I said hello to the stranger before I turned to Pa.
Pa had his hands on his hips and was glaring at me already, so I jumped in with my apology before he could even say a word! "I'm sorry Pa, but when the fish started biting, well.....I forgot all about the time. But they'll be good for supper though."
But my words didn’t lighten his expression. The fact that he was yelling at me in front of a complete stranger let me know he was REALLY mad! Pa usually waited until we were alone to yell. I could only imagine what he would have done if that stranger hadn’t been there. I had been late before, and the reason for his anger still hadn’t dawned on me. "Mark, you were suppose to be home hours ago! And on the way home you were suppose to bring my axe blade from the blacksmiths, where is it?"
Oh no! After all the trouble I’d done today, this was the icing on the cake – though I didn’t know who’s cake!!! I suddenly gasped and my eyes grew wide as I realized what I had forgotten to do after school. Pa sure was mad!
Then the stranger started advising Pa to give me a whipping. That’s something my Pa never did – and I sure did hope I wasn’t being bad enough now to cause him to do it! As the man rode away, I asked Pa who he was. He just told me he was a stranger asking for directions. That part of the conversation didn’t last nearly long enough! I was hoping Pa would be calmed down a bit before he punished me!
But Pa suddenly grabbed my arm and spun me around to face him. “Mark, what am I gonna do with you?” he suddenly asked. I told Pa I’d take whatever punishment he’d give me. I figured I was already in enough trouble, and fighting it would only cause more punishment.
Pa handed out my punishment right then and there. I had to come home straight after school all next week, and he’d give me extra chores to do. “But right now, get back on that horse, go back into town and get my axe blade! And don’t dawdle!” Pa ordered.
I shook my head respectfully. “Yes sir!” Then I handed him the fish to clean and raced off.
Boy, I was actually kind of relieved to be going into town. Maybe by the time I got home, Pa would be nice and calm and I wouldn’t have to listen to anymore yelling. That was a big maybe though – especially since I had caused him to put a hold on his wood-chopping chore.
I was half-way to town when I suddenly came to a realization. Tomorrow was Saturday, and that would be a good day to put me on the wood-chopping chore. Chopping wood was still really hard for me, and Pa knew it. He also knew that made a really good punishment! I could just see it now…I cringed and my heart sank as I thought about the long weekend ahead.
When I got to town, I went straight to the blacksmith’s shop. Nels was still there, thankfully. “Nels! The axe blade – I completely forgot it after school!” I held out my hand to take it from him.
“It’s not done, Mark. I’ll work on it right now,” Nels answered.
“Not done?” I asked in horror. “What do you mean it’s not done?”
“Well, you didn’t bring it to me until lunch. I do have other things to do besides trying to keep you out of the woodshed,” Nels stated.
“Oh don’t worry,” I stated as I folded my arms. “I’m already there and will be there for the next week!” I began pacing. He told me to be patient. But patience wasn’t an option when it came to obeying my Pa.
When Pa said not to dawdle after a swift punishment, that meant not to dawdle! Nels threw me some money and told me to get some candy. It was a whole nickel's worth too! I raced off for the General Store.
“Hi, Miss Milly!” I called happily.
Miss Milly came from behind the counter and greeted me. “Where’s your Pa?”
“Oh, Pa’s at the ranch.” I bent down to look at the candy. “I had to come back into town to get his axe blade.”
:”Oh,” Missy Milly said. She folded her arms and looked at me. “Your Pa was pretty upset this afternoon. He had to come into town to get some nails and-“
I stood up slowly and stared at her. “He came all the way into town to get nails?” She nodded.
He had just gotten a whole keg of nails last Saturday. A smile suddenly broke out on my face. “Why Pa, you little devil!” I muttered to myself.
“What?” Miss Milly asked.
“Uh…” I swallowed. “Nothing.” Then I raced out of the store. Well, at least now I know why Pa had been in town earlier. He came to see Milly.
As I hurried back to the Blacksmith’s shop, I saw that man that told my Pa to whip me. "Well son, I didn't expect to see you up and around so soon," he said.
I ignored that statement. I told him that I was just picking up some things for my Pa and had to get back home. But he wanted to know the way to Willow Springs. I’d been there with my Pa lots of times, so I could draw him the way in the dirt. I wasn’t even able to finish my map before he suddenly jumped to something else.
“You know, last July, a man was killed in this town. In a gunfight. The name of Lon Perry." How could I forget him? He was one of the detectives that was trying to take me away from my Pa! Do you know that they actually got a poor man to believing that I was his son so they could get lots of money from him? Whew, Pa sure was mad that they were threatening to take his boy away from him! Pa sure did let them have it.
I stood up, suddenly realizing that this man wanted to know who killed the man. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, but he stopped me. I hesitated, but then he suddenly told me that he wanted to thank the man who killed him because he’d been looking for that man for some time.
Well, that was different! He wasn’t mad at my Pa at all! He was happy! That made me excited to tell him, but I told him gently. "Looks like you've come to the right person," I stated. Then I told him my Pa had shot him. “This Perry, he challenged him and Pa tried to avoid a fight but, he had no choice." I said it with regret, but I was also proud of my Pa!
I was sort of surprised when he suddenly stood up and walked away. He didn’t seem to pleased when I told him, but I didn’t think too much about it.
I walked back into the blacksmith’s to see if Nels was done with the axe blade yet. But Pa suddenly rode up. He looked really mean, and I was certainly happy Nels was there. Pa hurried up to me and looked like he was just about to wallop me for sure! But Nels suddenly held the blade up and told Pa it wasn’t ready.
Whew, but that was a close one – too close!!! Boy, oh boy I made it out of that scrape by the skin of my teeth! Pa still didn’t look too pleased, but he told me get the axe blade and come on.
But then something else happened. Pa was already in a bad enough mood, but the stranger I had been talking to suddenly tried to hit my Pa! You know what I found out? This man had tricked me into telling him who killed his SON! I was so shocked – no, I was mortified! I just stood there and stared, hardly believing that this man would be so low as to trick me like that. And I am the reason why my Pa was having to fight this man right now!
Micah put him in jail. Pa and I left for home. Pa didn’t say much on the way home, and I saw his jaw clinching. I rode silently beside him, trying to keep quiet. When we rode into the yard, Pa tossed Razor’s reins toward me and told me to take care of the horses. Then he grabbed his rifle and headed toward the house.
After I bedded down the horses, I slowly walked into the house. Pa was standing at the sink peeling squash very angrily. I walked up to him and he stopped. “What, Mark?” He asked as he looked at me.
I reached out as if to take the squash from him. “Um…Do you – I mean, I’ll finish that for you if you want.”
“No, son. I want you to get out in that yard and start chopping wood! You can plan on doing that tomorrow morning as well!” I heard the anger in Pa’s voice, and though I knew it wasn’t all for me, I knew a great deal of it had come from my direction.
“Yes sir,” I answered quietly. I worked for an hour. I stopped once to wipe the sweat off my forehead. I sniffed the air and got a hint of what was for supper. I could smell fried fish with a mixture of fried squash and apple pie. I smiled as I thought about the wonderful meal that was just waiting for me! But I knew not to stop my daunting task until Pa called me in.
“Mark, come in and wash up for supper!” Pa suddenly called.
But after Pa blessed the food, I suddenly felt that I could no longer eat. When he prayed, he had asked God to help him understand Captain Perry. I thought on the events from earlier as I pushed the food around on my plate. Pa noticed I wasn’t very hungry and suddenly questioned me in a worried voice.
I had to tell him. Even though I found myself in all kinds of trouble today, I couldn’t keep this horrible truth from my Pa. “Pa? Uh…before you came into town today, well…the Captain stopped me and started asking me a lot of questions about who killed Lon Perry.”
Pa sternly looked me in the eye. “You told him?” I could tell he wasn’t happy with that.
I had to defend myself, to explain that I hadn’t done it on purpose. . “Well, he tricked me! He said he wanted to thank the person who did it because…well, because he’d been looking for him himself.” Speaking it out loud now, I realized just how pathetic that sounded. How could I have fallen for a dumb trick like that?
“Oh son, that didn’t give you any cause to tell him,” Pa stated as he went back to eating.
I think I would have been okay if I had just stopped there. But you know how sometimes I talk too much and have to tell everything? Well, this time was no different! My next words only added to Pa’s anger. “Well, I guess I was kinda proud that you were the one.”
Pa suddenly looked up from his plate and glared at me. Yes, I mean glared! “Proud?” he suddenly shot out in anger. “I've taught you always, there's nothing to be proud in the killing of a man, no matter who he is or what he's done."
I could hear the disappointment in his voice, and I knew there was nothing I could do or say to make it better, so I just apologized. I then asked Pa about Captain Perry and how he was. “Well Mark, sometimes a man trained like the Captain has been…well, he gets to living by the book. You see, in the army there’s a book of rules to study and follow to the letter. A lot of that book has to do with discipline – keeping his men in line and forcing obedience. Well, with Captain Perry, it seems he’s got discipline all mixed up with retubition. In his mind, somebody’s gotta pay for what …well, what he thinks his son did to him. Now his son is dead and…he’s turned to me.”
I wasn’t sure if I understood Pa or not, but I was ready to let the subject drop there. Pa warned me to eat supper or start washing dishes. I didn’t know I had a choice there. Well, come to find out, Pa’s brain was just a little rattled, but it was cleared up enough after supper for him to realize I had to wash dishes. The fact that he had said earlier I had a choice of eating and washing dishes didn’t seem to matter much. And you know, after the trouble I’d gotten myself into today, I wasn’t about to argue with my Pa!
When the dishes were done, I walked out onto the porch where Pa was smoking his cigar. I sat down beside him and smiled as I leaned against him. I lifted my head and looked up into his outlined face. In the little light we had, I could see Pa smiling down at me. I snuggled closer as he wrapped his arm around my middle and we just sat there. I took in a big breath through my nose as I smelled everything around me. Pa’s cigar, the lye soap scent still holding in Pa’s shirt, the leather on his new boots, the mixture of hay and manure always noticeable in the yard, and the smell of night.
I sat there with my eyes closed as I listened to Pa’s steady breathing and his heart beating. I could hear him inhale the smoke from his cigar, the sound of his lips as he released them from his cigar, then the slow exhale of the puff of smoke. His voice suddenly boomed after the long spell of quietness. “What are you thinking son?”
I smiled as I snuggled into his side even deeper. “That I want it to stay like this forever…You and me…” I sighed then. “Pa?”
I raised my head so I can look into his face. “About today…I’m awful sorry for what I said in town.”
“So am I, son.” Pa answered. “I’m sorry that the Captain’s son had to die at all.”
I remembered back to that day and knew there was no other choice. I told Pa as much. “I know, and his Pa knows that I think.”
“And I’m sorry for everything else too.” I sighed. “Most of all, I’m sorry I disappointed you today.”
Pa smiled as he patted my shoulder. “I’m sorry that it’s time for you to go to bed.”
“OH.” I just sat there in the quietness for a moment.
“Mark, that meant-“ Pa started.
I stood up. “I know, I know…That means go to bed right now!” I bent down and kissed Pa on the cheek. “Love ya.”
I hurried to the door then turned around to look. Pa brushed his hand against his cheek. “I love you too, son.”
I laid in bed for awhile thinking on what had just happened on the porch. I always loved those talks on the porch. No matter how old I ever got, I would never forget one single word spoken on that front porch. It was those words – hundreds of conversations – that helped make me the man I am today.
I heard Pa come in and open the bedroom door. He didn’t come in, but just looked from the doorway, then quietly shut it. I turned over and smiled as I drifted off to sleep.
But I didn’t stay asleep very long. I was suddenly wide awake as I heard angry voices coming from the other room. Pa was on his way outside without his rifle, and I asked him what was going on. He ordered me to say right where I was.
But Captain Perry was out in the yard yelling at my Pa and another man, whom I later figured out was his son. Pa didn’t have his rifle. I couldn’t just stand back and watch my Pa get shot up! I slowly made my way to the table and grabbed his rifle. “Pa!” I shouted. But Pa told me to stay there. Captain Perry threatened to kill my Pa, and I had no choice but to disobey Pa.
He was going to take his rifle rather he wanted to or not! I threw it to him and he shot at the horses feet, knocking Captain Perry to the ground. I ran and threw my arms around Pa. He hugged me back and we just stood there looking at each other and smiling. Pa stated that I had disobeyed him out of love, and he was right. I knew he needed me, so I had no choice.
I often wondered about that moment. If I had obeyed my Pa and stayed in my room like he had told me to, would Captain Perry had shot him? Did I do the right thing to go out there and throw him the gun? I even asked Pa about it the next day. You know what he told me? He said, “Mark…” He said, “I think you were thinking with your heart, and in your heart you knew there was only one thing you could do.” I smiled at him then. I knew that I had to help my Pa. “If one member of a family’s in trouble, then the whole family is. I’m proud of you.”
He never did tell me what he thought of what I had done. He told me that only I knew the answer to that.
The next morning I was chopping the wood while Pa worked out in the yard. He turned and looked at me and I stopped and looked at him. We exchanged smiles before he went back to his chores. But I just stood there, suddenly staring at the spot where the Captain had landed. I must have had a strange look on my face, because Pa was suddenly at my side and laid his hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong, son?” he asked.
I looked at Pa. “I was just thinking about Captain Perry and his son again.” Pa raised his eyebrows at me. I sighed and went on. “Well, I mean…Captain Perry raised two sons, but I don’t think they had the love, the hugs and affection like you give me.” I suddenly lowered my head. “You reckon his son knows what a hug feels like?”
Pa suddenly kneeled in front of me and lifted my chin to look into his face. He held a soft, gentle smile on his face. His eyes twinkled. “I doubt it,” he answered, loosing just a little of his soft smile. “But Mark McCain knows what a hug feels like, and so will your children. That’s all we can think on.”
Then I threw my arms around Pa for one more hug. Pa pulled me away at arms length. “Aren’t you getting too old for those?” he asked.
“Never,” I answered as a happy tear slid down my cheek. “Not even when I’m old and grey.”
We just stood there looking at each other for a moment. Then Pa winked at me. “I hope not, cause I’ll certainly never tire of giving them.” Then he stood up and went back to his work.
I picked up that axe and gave the wood a fine chop. I indeed did have the most wonderful father in the whole world!
*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
around The McCain Ranch