I can still remember the last time I saw Miss Hattie before she…I mean we…all three of us…went away. I saw her the day before Pa and I left on that two week long hunting trip.
I can still remember how my Pa walked outside the front door every morning and rubbed a finger under his nose as he sipped his coffee deep in thought. He watched the sky and listened to the wind.
I studied his actions with much interest, wondering what he was doing. Finally, one day I approached him and sat down beside him. He was looking up at the sky with a grim expression on his face. I sat beside him and looked up at the sky where he was looking. Pa let out a deep sigh, then I let out a deep sigh. “Pa?” I finally spoke out loud.
“Hm?” Pa grunted as he continued starting up into the sky.
“What are we looking at?” I asked.
“The sky,” Pa answered. Then he looked down at his coffee cup and took another sip. “I’m not just looking, son. I’m smelling and listening.”
“To what?” I asked.
“Well,” Pa rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m afraid that winter’s coming early, son.”
I was still looking up at the sky, but then I turned to him. “How can you tell?”
“Oh,” Pa shrugged as he stretched his legs out in front of him. “I suppose it’s the way the air smells – kinda a brisk, wintery smell you know? Then the way the wind feels – there’s a chill in it that usually doesn’t come quite this early. I can hear the winter wind late at night. Then look at those trees,” he pointed to a tree and I noticed for the first time that the leaves were indeed changing colors. “You see, son, God give us all types of signs.”
I nodded. “Yes, I see that.” I wrapped my arms around my knees and shook my head. “You sure know a lot of things!”
Pa bent his head down and looked at me with a grin. “You will too someday. I promise.” Pa suddenly grabbed my by the back of my neck – gently, but firmly. “And I do know that you need to get yourself ready for school, boy! Go on, son. Get your face washed and your teeth brushed!”
As I finished getting ready, Pa began clearing the dishes off the table. “I think I’ll do our hunting early this year,” Pa declared. “I want to get back before the weather hits.”
“Does that mean I have to stay with Miss Hattie and Micah?” I asked then. I didn’t like being separated from my Pa, but our next break had just ended last week.
“We’ll be gone for a couple weeks. I can’t leave you behind for that long.” Pa finished off his coffee and started slapping jam on a piece of bread for my lunch. “No, you’ll be going with me this time.”
I suddenly dropped my comb and ran over to him. “Really?” I asked. “You mean I can really go, Pa?”
Pa stopped spreading the jam on the bread and turned to me with a raised eyebrow. He smiled at me as his eyes widened. “You can really go!” Pa put the sandwich in the box, then started to put a tomato in there, but I grabbed the box from him and grabbed the apple to stuff in there instead.
“When?” I asked.
“We’ll leave tomorrow,” Pa answered.
“Oh boy! No school or homework for two whole-“ I started.
But Pa held up a hand. “Wait a minute, son. I’ll be paying a visit to your teacher this afternoon to get your assignments for the next two weeks. We’ll do your lessons on the trail.”
I knew that was too good to be true! Pa handed me my books then gave me a firm smack on the backside. “Now, out that door, boy!”
But I couldn’t concentrate all day long! Miss Adams got onto me several times, and before the day was out I found myself having to write sentences on the blackboard at recess. It was about 1:30, and I was writing the sentences, when Pa came in. “Well,” he said as he folded his arms and leaned against the back wall with his head cocked to one side. “What have we here?”
“Sorry, Pa,” I said as I hung my head.
Miss Adams stood and walked towards my Pa. “I’m afraid that Mark has had a bit of a problem obeying the rules today. He was talking and day dreaming almost the entire day.”
“Well, I think it’s because we’re going on our winter hunting trip tomorrow and he can’t wait.” Miss Adams nodded as she smiled at Pa. “I apologize for his disobedience.”
Miss Adams turned to me and smiled. “Well, I suppose that can be forgiven. Mark, you may go outside and play while your father and I discuss your assignments.”
I started to run out, but then I turned. “You know, if you don’t have any assignments to tell Pa about, I’ll understand.”
“Out!” They both said this at the same time. I hurried out the door.
That afternoon, while I was sitting there waiting to be dismissed, I suddenly had a craving for candy. I hurried out the door and into town.
I saw the wagon in front of the General Store, but no sign of Pa. I hurried into the store and ran up to the counter. “Hi, Miss Hattie!”
“Well, it’s young McCain!” She came up to me and gave me a loose hug. “What’s this I hear about you and your Pa going away?”
“For a couple weeks. We’ll be back,” I stated as I grabbed two sour balls from the jar and stuffed them in my mouth. “We gotta get our Winter’s Meat!” I started to open the jar that had licorice in it.
Pa took that opportunity to walk inside. “Uh uh uh,” he called. “Those two sour balls in your mouth is your allotment, boy.”
“Pa?” Pa turned back around to me. “We’re gonna be gone for two weeks. Shouldn’t we add candy to the list?”
“I can’t afford to supply you a two-week’s supply of candy, son.” Pa pointed to the bags on the floor. “Grab those so we can load them in the wagon. I want the house and barn well-stocked for Donnel while he stays at the ranch.”
After we got the wagon loaded, Pa got up into the seat and told me to come on. Hattie came to stand on the porch and had her arm wrapped around my shoulders. Her other hand snuck something in my pocket and she gave me a quick wink. “Now Mark, you make sure you keep your washing up everyday. Just because you’re out in the wilderness don’t mean you can’t stay clean!”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered.
“And you mind your Pa. Don’t go traipsing off somewhere and get lost, and don’t get yourself hurt or killed.” She said this as she wagged a finger at me.
“Yes ma’am,” I answered.
“Don’t give me no cause to worry.” She hugged me and softly kissed my cheek. Then she laid her hands on my cheeks. “Don’t do no growing up for the next two weeks neither!”
I patted her shoulder as I waved at her. Then I climbed up into the wagon seat as Pa clucked the horses and we rode away. I turned in the wagon seat and waved. She waved back, but she had tears in her eyes.
The next morning, Pa and I left on our hunting trip. Pa woke me up at five o’clock that morning and ordered me to get my ready on. We spent the next two hours packing the wagon with supplies we’d be needing. Pa would drive the wagon while I rode my horse. He was taking razor with him as well. We certainly had a lot to do!
At breakfast, Pa told Don all that he wanted done while we were gone. He had just increased our herd considerably, and he wanted Don to keep a close eye on them, as well as work on some repairs. Don told Pa that he had nothing to worry about. I smiled. I knew we had nothing to worry about – he was a natural born cowboy!
Don stated that he would wash up the dishes for us so we could get going. “Mount up, son,” Pa said as we left the house.
I suddenly gasped. “Oh, I forgot something!” Then I ran back into the house. I’m sure Pa was shaking his head at me. I soon came back out with the bag of candy Miss Hattie had given me yesterday while she was saying goodbye. I hadn’t shown it to Pa. Pa opened his mouth to say something then closed it and made a motion for me to mount up.
As we started out of the yard, Pa said, “Remember your school books?”
I cringed, hoping he hadn’t remembered that. I slowed Blue Boy down to where I was riding right beside Pa, where he sat in the wagon. “Pa, I’ve been thinking,” I started.
Pa stopped the horses. “That’s good, but did you remember your books, Mark?”
That tone of voice told me my thinking wasn’t going to pan out this time, but I gave it a shot anyhow. “Well, I’ve been thinking that I’m older now, and maybe I’m getting too old to bring my books along and study. I think I can catch up on everything pretty easily when I get back.”
But then I looked at Pa’s face. He had both eyebrows raised. His lips were stretched across his face in a thin line, and he had a clinching in the jaw. “Mark, are you still in school?” This was asked very quietly, yet very sternly.
“Y-yes sir,” I answered. Pa’s eyes widened and narrowed a few times as he continued staring at me. “Oh, I-I think I’ll run back and get my books, s-sir,” I stated. Pa nodded his head and started the wagon up again.
The next two weeks went by so fast! We got lots of meat to store up for the winter. Pa said we’d be able to butcher some of cattle and pigs too. Plus there was always plenty of prairie chickens. So even though our crops hadn’t done too well, Pa said we wouldn’t starve. He just told me not to plan on eating much more then that – it was going to be a rough winter.
I couldn’t help, as we rode out one day for our daily hunt, to remember a day just a month ago. Pa had been worrying and fretting over the crops. I had missed several days of school working beside him to water them and take care of them. We had managed to harvest lots of the vegetables from our gardens before the bad part of the drought came, and Miss Hattie had done lots of canning for us. But the raccoons were really bad and we lost most of our corn.
I came home from school that day and saw Pa sitting over his books with a big frown on his face. Quietly, I had sat my books on the table and walked over to him. “Pa?”
Pa rubbed his forehead as a big sigh escaped him. “What Mark?” he asked as he looked up at me.
“Well, I was just…wondering if…Are you okay?” It worried me that he was this worried over the books.
“Wheat field’s gone, son.”
Pa hadn’t told me how bad it was, and I hadn’t asked. I didn’t rightly want to know to be honest with you. But I had slowly sunk down into a chair as I rested my hand on Pa’s arm. “It’s…gone?” I had swallowed. “That was for our winter supply, Pa.”
Pa had banged his fist down on the table. The sound had echoed loudly in the quiet house. Pa suddenly stood up and hurried to the door. He put his hand on the door jam and looked out over the range. “I put my blood and sweat in the land and it gives me nothing in return. Sometimes I don’t even know how I can provide for my own family!”
Pa suddenly turned to me at the sound of my gasp. He closed his eyes and breathed regretfully. I was upset at the sound in Pa’s voice. Everything was so…mixed up. I had never seen my Pa so upset about anything. “I’m…sorry son. I shouldn’t have…” Pa’s voice died as he hurried over to me and bent down in front of me.
I had hung my head low as I allowed his words – all his words – to sink in. “Pa? Are we gonna…” I couldn’t finish the question. I didn’t even want to think about it.
“We’ll be okay, son. I’ll have to sell some of the herd to make ends meet this winter though.” I looked into Pa’s sad eyes. He had worked so hard. Some days he had blisters on his hands and his feet were so sore that he had to soak them that night. He was out working until the sun went down and already put in a couple hours before waking me up to do my chores every morning.
There had been several days I hadn’t even been able to help because of school and homework. I hung my head, suddenly feeling guilt rush through my very being. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.
Pa’s head shot up at me and he put a hand under my chin and lifted my face to look at him. His eyebrows were scrunched together and his whole face was wrinkled up as he stared at me. “Sorry?” he asked.
“I should have been out there with you working as hard with you. Instead I was sleeping in or doing homework or going to school…fishing…” My voice broke and I tried to look away.
But Pa wouldn’t allow it to happen. He held my chin so I had to continue looking into his eyes. His eyes were locked with mine, and he slowly shook his head. “No, Mark.”
“But Pa, a lot of the other boys in my class didn’t even come most of the summer cause they were helping their Pa’s save the crops. They were working just as hard as their Pa’s.” I remembered.
Pa shook his head and gently laid an a hand on my arm. “Mark,” Pa swallowed hard. “Son, I lost part of my childhood working the fields alongside my Pa. I promised myself that my children would have their childhood and wouldn’t grow old before they were even old enough to shave. This is a rough country, and I have had to pull you out of school some to help me, but son…” Pa swallowed again. “Mark, it’s very important to me that you have these growing up years. I want you to be a boy when you are a boy. This life is hard, Mark…rough…I want you prepared for it, but I want you to have these years to remember.”
I smiled into Pa’s eyes. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard these words spoken to me. Pa slapped a hand on my shoulder. “It’s important to me, son.” I nodded in understanding.
But I had to say something. “You want so badly to be a rancher, Pa. Not a farmer! You worked so hard at building up the herd and now…” my voice died again.
Pa nodded. “It’ll happen son. It may not happen until you are a man and we’re working along beside each other – both of us men – both of us putting in a man’s day. But it’ll come.” Pa sighed. “I…I’m sorry I lost my temper while ago, son. A parent gets frustrated when he see’s his child having to go through hard times. But we’ll be okay.”
I smiled. “Of course we will be, Pa. We’re McCain’s!” I declared.
We laughed together.
I smiled now as I remembered that. I suddenly looked over at my Pa. He was so strong and brave. He never let things get him down for long. He told me it was me – I gave him his strength to go on. Micah told me that if I wasn’t there, there were probably times my Pa wouldn’t have fought so long – like after Ma died or when our crops failed. But Pa had me to care for and love, and I was what kept one foot in front of the other some days.
Pa suddenly looked over at me. He shifted slightly on the saddle and raised his eyebrows. “What?” he asked.
I just shook my head and smiled. “I’m just…so proud of you, Pa.”
Suddenly, there was a big buck just ahead of us. What Pa was going to say suddenly died as he put a finger to his lips and we quietly jumped off the horses. Pa hid behind a rock as we watched the buck. “Let’s see you take him down, Pa!” I said.
Pa put a finger to his lips. Then he got behind me and aimed the rifle. “Here, son. Put your hands on the rifle.” He positioned my one hand on the butt of the gun, then positioned my other over the trigger. He put his hand over mine. “Okay, let’s slowly aim.” I closed my eye just like I’d seen Pa do and got the deer in my sights. Pa’s mouth was really close to my ear as he whispered. “Now, when I count to three, you pull the trigger. One….two…three!”
Pow! I dropped the rifle and stood up. “We got it!” I declared. We got it!” I jumped into Pa’s arms and we hugged in a tight embrace.
When we parted, I saw tears in Pa’s eyes. “What’s wrong/” I suddenly asked.
“Nothing, Mark.” Pa rested a hand on my cheek. “You’re growing up, son.” I smiled at the look of pride on Pa’s face.
The next day we had to pack up all our gear into the wagon and get ready to head home. Pa told me that he’d always remember this hunting trip because he had spent 14 solid days with his boy. That made me proud, but he said that every time we went somewhere. If he remembers every trip we ever took…well, that’s an awful lot of memories!
The trip back was a long, rough trip. We both rode the wagon as our two horses walked behind us. On the way back, Pa quizzed me on the stuff I was supposed to be reading in my history book, and I reckon I did okay. Pa only shook his head at me twice.
Then when we got home, I jumped off the wagon and declared, “The first thing I’m doing is taking a bath! I feel so awfully dirty!” Pa shook his head at me and commented on my not having studied my grammar while we were away.
We walked inside and stripped off our dirty, smelly shirts. Then we went to wash some of the dirt off before filling up the tub to take a bath. But Pa groaned as he realized that the pump was broken.
But the part I want to tell you about was the sad news we got – sad, sad news…Hattie was gone. She just up and left us without a word. As Pa talked to our neighbor, I tried to take that news in, but it was hard. Pa suggested we ride into town to meet the new owner of the store, but personally I wanted nothing to do with her.
I walked back into the house and went to my room. I slumped down on my bed and just stared at the ceiling. Pa came in and saw me there. “Mark, get off the bed, son. You’re filthy.”
“Yes sir,” I answered with a sigh.
“Mark, go fetch some water to fill the tub up. We’ll take baths before we go into town.” Pa went to get the tub, but I was deep in thought in the middle of the bedroom floor. “Mark?” Pa called.
As I sat in the bathtub, I thought about Hattie. She was something special to me. The first time I saw her when we rode into North Fork, I knew she was special. She had taken me under a wing and gave me mothering when I needed it. I can’t count how many times I slept at her house while Pa was out of town. She always sent fresh bread home with us and even gave my Pa some parenting advice from time to time.
I let out a loud sigh. And now she’s gone.
“Mark, you need to hurry, son.” Pa had taken a shower bath out back, but he wanted me in the tub. Pa suddenly sensed that something was wrong. He bent down beside the tub. “What is it, Mark?”
“I want to stay here and get things cleaned up.” I didn’t look at Pa when I said that. “I’ll unpack the wagon and-“
“You have to go into town and meet the new owner of the store,” Pa stated with raised eyebrows.
“I don’t want to meet her!” I suddenly snapped at Pa.. When I turned to look at him again, his eyes held a mixture of anger and sadness. I turned away from him.
But Pa put a firm hand on my shoulder and turned me back towards him. “Mark, Hattie loved you…and me…so much. If she hadn’t absolutely had to go, she would have stayed.” I suddenly felt ashamed for thinking anything bad about her. “We must accept the fact that she’s gone and move on.” I lowered my eyes, suddenly wondering how I could do that. When I walked into that store and saw that Hattie wasn’t there… “Mark, life is full of disappointments and losses. Part of being a man is accepting this stuff – like that sometimes people have to leave you. I don’t like it, but that’s the way it is.”
Pa held the towel up for me and I ran to the room to get dressed. “Make sure you put on clean clothes!” Pa shouted from the other room. I looked down at the shirt I had picked up and groaned as I threw it in the heap on the floor.
Pa was sitting at the table looking at his books. I sat down at the table while I worked on putting my boots on. “Pa, do I have to go into town with you? Can’t I stay here?”
“No, Mark. This is for your own good, son. You have to accept that Hattie’s gone.”
We rode into town, and by the time we got there some of my shock had worn off. As we rode, Pa said, “Mark, don’t mention this to Micah.”
“Mention what?” I asked. “That Hattie’s gone?”
Pa nodded. “He doesn’t need to be reminded of it anymore then you want to be.”
When we got into town, the first thing we saw was sort of surprising. Micah was wearing an apron as he worked outside the store. He just looked at us and walked back inside.
Now, I know my Pa’s done told you all about his meeting with Miss Scott. She was mean and feisty. She actually stood up to my Pa and fought him! They were both mad, yelling at each other and arguing! I shook my head in disbelief. There weren’t many grown men who would stand up to my Pa and argue with him like that, yet this lady wasn’t afraid to at all! And you know something, if there had been a gun fight, I think she would’ve won!
Pa finally got so mad at her that he told me to come on and we started to leave. But Micah followed Pa out the door and tried to calm him down – you know Micah! I don’t think I was even brave enough to calm Pa down when he was so riled. In my twelve years of experience, there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure – when Pa’s riled, leave him be and let him calm down his own way. Trust me, I’ve learned that from personal experience!
Anyhow, when Micah announced that she had been a school teacher before she came here, I just about killed over! “A school teacher!” I declared as Pa and Micah kept talking. I stood there and tried to imagine her being a school teacher. Boy oh boy, but I think I would be ending up in the corner every single day. And I’d probably never get recess and have to stay after every day! I can only imagine my Pa’s coming in and talking to her about being so rough on me…either that, or Pa punishing me for getting into so much trouble. Either way, the prospect didn’t please me in the least! I’ll tell you that!
Micah took us over to the café and bought me a piece of apple pie. As I sat there and ate, I watched Pa and Micah talk about our hunting trip. Then things got quiet at the table. “Hattie didn’t want to leave, Lucas. You know that. But her sister suddenly got ill and she had to take care of her. She had no choice.” Then Micah bent his head down and began studying his coffee.
I started trying to figure out what was going on. But Pa cleared his throat. “Um…Mark, would you go on outside and play while I talk to Micah?”
“Well, can’t I stay?” I asked.
“No,” Pa answered as he looked back at Micah. I could tell he wanted to be alone with Micah to talk to him. Micah did look awful upset.
I got up to leave, but Micah suddenly stopped me. “Um…Mark?” I turned back toward him. “If you look in my desk, there’s a letter from Hattie with your name on it.”
I didn’t like the way Micah was looking. He looked really sad. I looked at Pa who only nodded his head slightly, telling me to go on. I did as he told me to.
I found the letter and took it out onto the porch. Then I sat down on the step and slowly opened the letter. As I read, tears popped into my eyes.
My Dear Mark,
My heart is breaking today as I write this letter. Leaving North Fork is the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a long time because I’m leaving so much behind. I love the town and it’s my home. There are so many loved one’s I’m leaving behind.
But my sister needs me. Please don’t be sad for me, my precious little boy. I’m where God wants me to be – with my family, and I know I would expect nothing more of you but to be with yours when you are needed.
I have your face etched into my memory. I can still remember the day you walked into the General Store and spoke to me so politely as I gave you that first piece of candy. I will always remember all those days and nights you stayed with me as we laughed about your younger days and I helped you cope with your father’s being gone. I’ll never forget the fear that gripped me every time you got sick, and I promise you that taking care of you during those times was a blessing – never a chore.
I want with all my heart to promise you that I will be back to see you again, but I’m afraid I can’t do that. But just know, Mark, that my heart is breaking for you and your father today. I never ever wanted to leave you; and I never wanted to leave without saying good-bye. But we will be together again, if not on this earth then in Heaven where we’ll have eternity together.
Remember me for the happy times we had. Don’t cry for me, Mark.
I love you
I just sat on those steps reading her words over and over. Pa came to sit beside me and put his arm around me. “I’m sorry, son,” he said softly.
“She was like my grandma, wasn’t she Pa?” I asked.
“Yes. She was.” I heard the gentleness in Pa’s voice. I suddenly lifted my head and looked at him. His face held a smile that suddenly made me feel better. I wiped the tears from my cheeks and folded the letter. “I’ll never forget her.” I said softly.
Pa nodded and patted me on the back. Then we stood up. “Now, about Miss Scott,” I started.
Pa groaned. “Mark, let’s not talk about her! Let’s get home so we can eat supper.”
“Well, we could eat at the hotel,” I suggested softly.
“Son, we haven’t had a home cooked meal in two weeks! Beside that, you know I’m watching our money right now.”
Though Micah had done a good job at calming Pa down, I could tell he was still a little upset with Miss Scott. I didn’t bring the subject up again until after supper. I asked Pa about what happened in town as we washed dishes. Pa explained the reason behind not paying her the money owed good enough, but I still couldn’t help but think that it was a bit of pride that kept him from paying – but you know I would never…ever…mention that to my Pa! He was liable to bite my head off in that case!
Then I asked him about Miss Milly. One thing I didn’t mention about the store while ago is how my Pa first looked at her when he walked in. He had this big silly grin on his face – kinda like the one I had when I saw that big buck on our hunting trip. But I watched as Pa looked her up and down. I had seen him look like that before, and it usually meant that he liked her like he liked my Ma.
But when I asked him about it, he simply admitted that she was pretty. “She’s pretty,” Pa admitted. “Why?”
"Oh, well, I just saw the way you were looking at her."
“Oh? How did I look at her?” Pa asked. I heard the challenge in his voice.
“Well, you know, I-“ But then I stopped. First of all, I wasn’t too comfortable talking to even Pa about something like that; and second I saw the warning on his face.
“Mark, those dishes aren’t gonna dry themselves, you know!” Pa suddenly declared. I couldn’t help but to laugh because Pa knew I was right. He should’ve tried a little harder to hide that face from me; but I know the matter was closed! Someday though, he would have to explain it all to me!
And I know Pa told you all about those men who came to ask him for his money. Micah had done a really good job at calming Pa down to feel sorry for Miss Scott, but after those two men rode off, Pa was upset again! And I suppose I didn’t help myself any by saying what I said to him. “What is it you said, Pa? About Miss Scott winding up being a real good friend? “
Honestly, I was just reminding him of what he told me in at the sink only moments before. But Pa didn’t appreciate what I said as he turned and glared at me then walked back inside. I decided I maybe should just stand out on the porch for awhile until things cooled off inside. But as I started to sit down on the steps to enjoy the nice cool air, I heard Pa’s gruff order from inside. “Mark, get in here and finish these dishes now!”
I shook my head and walked inside. Pa was sitting at the table looking at his books. “Uh, Pa…there’s still dishes to wash,” I stated in a calm voice.
Pa suddenly shot his head up and narrowed his eyes at me. “Yeah? What about it?” he suddenly asked.
I suddenly realized that I would be finishing the washing by myself. I shrugged. “Oh, nothing I guess. I just…think I’ll finish up these dishes and scoot on off to bed.”
Pa nodded. “Yeah. Good idea,” he stated.
I was glad to go to bed! Pa’s mood was better the next morning, but he was still annoyed. I reckon that after two weeks off of school I was a bit slow at getting up the next morning. But Pa simply told me I was to stay at the ranch and work on a whole list of chores he had for me to do. I felt like I was being punished, but I knew better then to say anything to Pa right now – especially with the mood he was in.
So all day I worked on my chores. I chopped and stacked wood, swapped out the barn, cleaned the well, scrubbed the floors, and even worked on the laundry. I was working on the laundry when Pa came riding back up. Pa got off his horse and came over to me. “How’d things go in town, Pa?” I asked.
“That Milly Scott is something else!” Pa stated. “She should have stayed in Santa Fe teaching!”
“Huh?” I asked. I was glad those kids didn’t have her anymore, especially if she was anything like she was now!
Pa started pacing back and fourth as I went back to scrubbing. “I can’t believe that…that…woman! She just wants that money, and she’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants! Oh yes, she’s pretty and smart I’m sure. But she’s so dog gone stubborn and won’t listen to anything I or Micah has to say.” Pa ran an impatient hand through his hair as he continued his pacing. “She think she knows it all! Well, we’ll just see how much she knows when she goes bankrupt because no one wants to use her store anymore. At this rate, she’ll be lynched within the week. Women…I tell you what…sometimes-“ Pa suddenly stopped pacing as he realized I was there.
“Pa, are you sure you aren’t being a bit…rough on her? I mean after all, she is new here and-“ But Pa’s eyes started to narrow. “Pa, can I…go fishing this afternoon?”
“Got your chores done?” Pa suddenly asked as he stared at me.
I walked up to him and nodded. “The wood’s chopped and stacked, the well is spick and span, I swept and mopped all the floors in the house, and I swapped out the barn – even fixed that squeak in the door.” I cocked my head to one side as I looked at him. “Well?”
Pa suddenly smiled as he allowed his eyes to soften. He patted me on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, son. I was just upset. Go on and go fishing!”
“What about the laundry?” I asked.
Pa looked at the clothesline suddenly aware of how much laundry I had already done. “I’ll finish it for you. Then I’ll be out with the cattle most of the afternoon. You just be back for supper.”
“I’ll do better then that!” I declared. “I’m bringing home supper!”
And I did. We had a whole mess of catfish to eat for supper that night. Pa’s mood was better, but he was still not laughing and joking like he used to. “She’s really gotten you riled,” I observed out loud.
Pa’s head shot up at me. “She’s hurting a lot of people, son.”
“Are you sure it’s her and not those men, Pa?” I asked. Then I popped the last bite of fish in my mouth. As I walked to the sink, I said, “Are you sure you don’t just like her a little too much?”
I was glad my back was turned, because I’m sure Pa gave me a big stare then. I could feel his eyes on me as I started washing the dishes. Pa finally got up and strolled over there. He picked up the dishtowel and started drying. “Mark,” Pa started with a sigh. “You know, boy, I think you are getting too wise for your own good!”
I wasn’t sure what that meant. Pa’s expression didn’t tell me rather he thought my words were wise, or if I was totally off my rocker…I decided to leave it alone. I had said my peace.
After the dishes were done, Pa announced that I had to take a bath tonight. I suddenly turned to him. “Pa, we don’t have to take a bath! Why, I just took one yesterday and-“
Pa pointed a finger at me. “-and you smell like fish! You got church tomorrow, boy, and no boy of mine is walking into God’s house smelling like fish! So you just march on out there and start fetching the water!”
Wow, Pa really was riled! Pa knew he had snapped at me a little too hard, but he said nothing. He just sat down at the table and started reading one of those books that gave him Bible verses to live by or something like that…
I never did get my bath that night. You see, we had to go to town after one of our neighbors rode into our yard very hurt. Those two men that had been at our house the night before had shown up at his house and demanded him to pay his bill. When he didn’t, they shot him. I hurried back into the house and got blankets, then Pa and me rode him into town. The doc said he’d be okay, but he was really in a bad way right now.
When we walked out of the doc’s office, Pa saw Miss Scott talking to the two men who had shown up at our place. I knew Pa was mad and was about to put an end to this right now. Pa told me to wait for him at the hotel. I’m sure he didn’t want me to hear what he had to say to those men, and I didn’t much care for hearing my Pa’s yelling anyhow.
I went into the hotel and told Eddie what was happening. He suggested I go into the restaurant and get a piece of chocolate cake on the house. I couldn’t argue with him there! I was just starting to eat it when I suddenly heard gunshots. I ran outside and started over to the store. Pa was staring at Miss Scott with this big grin on his face. I didn’t walk up to him, but stood at a distance and looked.
Pa suddenly turned and held out an arm to me. I ran over to him. He put an arm around my shoulders and said, “Miss Scott, this is my son Mark. Mark, this is Miss Scott. She’s the newly improved owner of the General Store.”
Miss Scott laughed. “Please, you two call me Milly!” she declared.
“My son will call you Miss Milly,” Pa answered. “But I’ll call you Milly.”
I looked at Pa, then at Miss Milly. I held a finger up and opened my mouth to ask what was going on, but Pa hushed me before I even got started. “It was all just one big misunderstanding, son.” Pa answered. “In fact,” Pa walked up to her. “Let me be the first to welcome you to North Fork. I hope you will be happy here.”
She smiled as she shook Pa’s hand. “Oh, I think I will be!” she stated. “Yes,” she said as she smiled really big at my Pa. “I think I’ll enjoy living in North Fork just fine.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh boy, oh boy!” I declared. I shook my head as I started to walk away. “I’m going back to finish my chocolate cake!”
“Hey, wait just a minute young man!” Pa called from behind me. I turned to see him with his hands on his hips and his head cocked to one side. “You aren’t going anywhere without…” Pa looked over at her and waved for her to follow us. “Milly and me.”
I groaned. Things were sure about to get interesting!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Dead Cold Cash
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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