We had one of those winters that year. You know, the one’s that are dreadfully cold and it doesn’t ever seem to stop snowing? At the beginning of the winter, it was kind of fun getting the ol’ sled out and sliding down the hills on a Saturday morning. But after the third snowfall, it started getting kind of tiring. If the snow was deep, we didn’t travel much. Pa felt that until we had a clear path for the horses to travel, the long trip into town would be too hard on the horses. Now granted, I enjoyed not having to go to school, but Pa made me work on my lessons at home just as hard as I did at school, and Pa wasn’t nearly as patient about my learning as Miss Smith was.
But the snow was finally gone and the weather was getting warm! After breakfast one morning as I stepped outside, Pa followed close behind me. It was still a bit chilly, but it sure was nice to see the sun shining and no snow on the ground! As Pa and I stood together out on the porch admiring the nice weather, we discussed the weather. Pa said we had a favoring wind, and to show him that I actually knew what he was talking about, I stuck my finger in the air. “Due East,” I commented. Pa was proud of me. He said I had a good wind finger! I smiled and told him that it meant a spring rain was coming on.
I suddenly looked at my Pa. During the cold winter months, we had a lot of time to talk. It was these cold, wintery times when we were stuck in the small house together that drew us closer together. When the snowstorms hit us and the blizzard winds blew, we had a lot of time to sit by the fire as Pa told me stories from his boyhood, or sitting at the table doing my lessons. There were weeks that I wasn’t able to get to school because of how far out we lived, so Pa made me do my studies at home. Though I didn’t exactly like doing my lessons anymore then I liked being cooped up in that cabin, listening to Pa as he told me what he knew about history was amazing! He had been to so many places and seen so many things happen!
And during those rough blizzards when Pa had a rope as a lifeline from the house to the barn and he would come in with his feet almost frozen as I helped him rub the warmth back into them, we grew ever closer. I wasn’t allowed outside, and any outdoor chores had to be done by Pa as I sat inside the cabin and worried about him.
But now today, we stand together on this porch smiling. It felt like a release from prison after being cooped up in that house for so long! I told Pa that he knew a lot about a lot of things.
As we stood there talking, a man we had met just a few weeks ago came riding up. Dave Stafford had rode into North Fork just a few weeks ago announcing he was looking for a ranch to buy. He was a really nice guy and knew a lot about the railroad! There was talk of a railroad spur coming to either Center City or North Fork. Our town council was just about to elect someone to represent North Fork and convince those rail road people to bring the spur here! And I just knew that my Pa would be the one!
Pa invited Mr. Stafford inside for a cup of coffee. Then he sat down with Mr. Stafford at the table. I knew what that meant, and I didn’t miss a beat serving the coffee to the two of them. It’s funny that I wasn’t allowed to drink it, but I had to serve it!
Anyways, Pa and Mr. Stafford both were excited about the railroad spur. It would mean being able to ship the cattle by train. As they talked, I knew that when Pa got you Yuma, he’d convince those railroad people the railroad spur should come here! “Best for North Fork and worst for Center City!” I declared. My words made the men laugh.
After I poured the coffee, Pa scooted me on off to school. The meeting was going to start at 3pm that day, so I had to rush over there right after school. I asked Pa if I could sit with him to see what they decided, and he told me that if I was late to make sure I came in quietly and not announce to everyone that I was there.
At about 2:30, I quietly raised my hand while Miss Adams showed us where we went wrong on our math problems. . I could tell she wasn’t too happy with the interruption and nodded to the back door thinking I wanted permission to go out back. “Oh, no ma’am! I was wondering could I be excused a little early today? My Pa wants me in town before the 3 o’clock meeting starts.”
“You didn’t bring a note,” she answered. Then she shook her head. “Very well, you may go.”
I grabbed my books, jumped up and ran out. I saw Pa coming out of the Marshal’s office. As I ran up to him, Pa put his arm around my shoulders. “Well, you kids got out early today?”
“No sir, just me.”
I kept walking as I felt Pa’s eyes watching me. “Well, I just told her you wanted me here in time to go to the meeting.”
“Oh?” Pa folded his arms and shook his head at me. “Let’s go.”
I sat and listened to the meeting. It was obvious from the start that there was only one person the town was interested in. There had been talk about sending Mr. Stafford, but it was announced that Pa would be the one to go. I think I was happier about it then Pa as I suddenly shouted, “You’re going to Yuma, Pa!”
As everyone left, I sat beside Pa as he started looking at the surveying maps. I was so excited, because I would get to go with Pa when he shipped his cattle by train! I commented that I hadn’t been on a train since I was a kid! I was excited about the train coming, and I guess to a little boy it seemed like it would happen tomorrow. But Pa announced that it would be a long time before it was here.
Suddenly, Micah came up and invited Pa for a cup of coffee. I sure was happy he didn’t forget about me and my sarsaparilla!
Later, Pa and I went home. “Can I go with you when you go to Yuma, Pa?” I asked as I looked up from my history book.
Pa was at the table reading his Bible. “Just pay attention to your studies, son.”
But I just continued looking at him. “But can I?”
“Well Mark, I’m afraid this is an important meeting and you won’t be able to stay with me. You would be bored with nothing to do-“
But I suddenly stood up and rushed over to him. “Oh, but Pa I wouldn’t be board! Why, there’s a whole town to explore in Yuma! I could-“
Pa held up his hand. “Well first of all, I don’t want to be worrying about you while in these meetings, and-“ I started to interrupted him to explain that I wasn’t a little kid anymore and could care for myself. But he quickly held up his hand to hush me. “And second of all, Yuma isn’t as safe as North Fork. There’s a prison there and just some places young boys don’t need to be going.”
I sighed and looked disappointingly into his eyes. “Besides, you have school.”
“School,” I moaned.
“Yes, school!” Pa declared. “So you just get your backside back to that chair and start working on that homework!” Pa gave me a firm, playful smack on the backside.
The next day I was eating my lunch when Jeff suddenly came running up to me. He had been in town and was running back into the school yard. “Mark, you aren’t going to believe what the talk is about in town!”
“Pa don’t like me to listen to gossip!” I stated, trying to keep from listening to what Jeff had to say.
“This ain’t gossip! I heard Freddie’s Pa talking to the Marshal!” Jeff announced.
“What?” I asked, suddenly curious how it concerns me.
“Wade Joyner died and left your Pa $500!”
“Wade Joyner?” I asked, the name not sounding familiar.
“You don’t know who Wade Joyner is? You should since he’s giving you $500.00!”
I stood up and poked a finger right in Jeff’s face. “Well, I don’t!” I declared.
“The talk is that your Pa helped him on a job,” Jeff gave me a wicked smile.
“You take that back!” I demanded. I didn’t like people saying those things about Pa and he wasn’t going to get away with it!
“I won’t take it back!” Jeff stated. So I gave him a hard push and then jumped on my horse and raced home. I found Pa out by the barn. Pa of course wanted to know why I was home early, so I told him what the talk was in town.
“Wade Joyner? I don’t know any Wade Joyner,” Pa stated.
I had stopped by Micah’s on the way home and asked him about it. He had simply nodded his head and suggested I come home and get Pa. Pa had the buckboard hitched up already, so I rode into town with him. All the way into town, I tried to get Pa to remember who Wade Joyner was, but Pa stated he didn’t know. Well no matter, we sure could use the $500! But when I told Pa that, he got a stern look on his face. You know, the look that said, I’m about to give you another little lesson. His lesson this time was that money meant nothing but paper and green ink. What gives it value is how it’s earned and an outlaw’s money is never earned.
Boy, was I going to be awful disappointed if Pa didn’t take that money! And I must admit that it was awful exciting to think about an outlaw giving my Pa money!
I went to get Micah, but as we were walking down the street, we heard some commotion going on. Apparently my Pa had gotten into a fight! Gee, I can’t leave him alone for two minutes! I was concerned and ran up to Pa, asking him if he was okay.
Well, what happened next was quite disappointing. I know my Pa told you all about what happened in the bank – that those dumb men decided not to send my Pa after all. Boy, did my Pa ever get mad! I was kind of mad too because I knew my Pa, and I knew he would never have done something bad to earn that money. There just had to be another explanation! There just had to be!
But that lawyer mentioned that Wade knew who I was. That got me to thinking even harder. As my Pa angrily stormed out of the bank, I thought on this some more. Pa didn’t say a word to me but just quickly made his way to the wagon. I stopped in front of the General Store and looked inside at Miss Hattie. She smiled and waved at me. But I guess Pa was paying attention, because I suddenly heard him call, “Come on, Mark!”
I climbed up onto the wagon seat as it started raining, “Oh, for crying out loud!” Pa muttered. “I knew this was coming. That’s why I didn’t want to come to town today!”
I sat quietly on the seat. Then Pa helped me down and started toward the hotel. “Well, we might as well get something to eat. Maybe by the time we’re done, the rain will let up some.”
I followed Pa in silence, wishing I could just go back and stay in the General Store with Miss Hattie. When my Pa was in a foul mood like this, it was best to leave him alone. I quickly sat down and pulled off my hat before Pa could say anything. The waiter came and started to hand us a menu. I reached out to grab it, but Pa just muttered, “Bring us beef stew and milk for the boy.”
“And um…apple pie for dessert!” I declared with a smile.
Pa suddenly turned and looked at me. He smiled in spite of himself. “I’m sorry for you, Pa,” I suddenly felt safe to talk to him.
Pa sighed. “I’m sorry for them. How could they think-“ Then he ran a hand through his hair and laid his hand on top of mine. “I declare, Mark. I don’t know how you put up with me!”
I laughed. “Well, I give you a share of trouble…too.” I added the too as an afterthought. Pa just narrowed his eyes and looked at me. I shot him a big smile and he laughed.
The rain hadn’t let up. Pa quickly ran to the blacksmith to see if he had a canvas for the wagon. He did. Then he told me to get in the back. He didn’t want me catching my death of cold. Pa managed to stay pretty dry through it all. But when we got out of town, a cowboy came up to us and told us that the road was washed out up ahead.”
“Great!” I declared. “That means we’re stuck in town for the night!”
Pa shot me an annoyed look as he turned the wagon around. We went back into town and Pa dropped me off at the hotel. He handed me some money and told me to get a room. There was suddenly another loud clap of thunder and I jumped out of my skin. Mr. Halstead chuckled at me as he handed me the change. “Got any more apple pie? I asked hopefully.”
“As a matter of fact, we do!” Mr. Halstead answered. “Go on into the dining room and see if they’ll give you a piece.
I walked into the dining room and saw Mr. Stafford in there. He was surprised to see us still in town, and I told him the road had been washed out. While we were sitting there talking, Pa came in and sat down. The waitress came up to the table then and I informed her that I wanted a piece of apple pie. But Pa suddenly said, “Uh…just bring me a coffee and the boy a glass of milk.”
I looked at Pa and started to argue, but after I saw the look on his face, I decided not to press the matter. “I tell you, Dave, that as much sweets as this boy eats, I’m surprised his teeth aren’t falling out!” Pa declared.
“One piece of pie wouldn’t have made that much of a difference,” I retorted. Pa and Mr. Stafford laughed at me as I began drinking my milk.
Pa and I soon went up to our room. I went to the window and looked outside. “It’s a bad one, ain’t it, Pa?”
Pa nodded as he came to stand behind me. “Storms are powerful things. You never know what’s going to be coming with them.”
“You think we could get a tornado?” I suddenly asked. I was remembering a storm we had had when we first settled here. That storm had brought a tornado. It was a horrible experience, and not one I cared to live through again. I remembered Pa telling me that he had lived through his share of tornadoes in Oklahoman and Kansas, and his boyhood home had even been destroyed by one. But since tornados were a common occurrence in Oklahoma, his family had simply cleaned out the damage and began rebuilding another house.
Pa put a hand on each of my shoulders and said softly, “Don’t fret, Mark. I think we’re pretty safe tonight.” I knew he was saying that just to keep me calm. “Get ready for bed.”
I did, but I just sat on the bed and thought about Wade Joyner. “Just imagine, Pa…A real live outlaw knew me and wanted to leave us $500!”
“An outlaw leaving me money isn’t exactly something I’m proud of,” Pa declared as he continued staring out the window.
“I wonder what he did,” I tried to imagine who he was like. Was he like Jesse James, holding up banks, or maybe he was a gunfighter who killed just one too many. Or maybe-
“Micah said he held up trains. He stole a lot of money,” Pa declared.
I grew quiet then. The way Pa said it, I knew he didn’t want me thinking on it any longer. He continued looking out the window, telling me to get to sleep. But I didn’t want to go to sleep. I wanted to stay up and talk to him. But Pa told me it was way passed my bedtime and I should be asleep by now. He came to tuck the covers around me, a sign that there was to be no more arguing.
But then I got to thinking on Wade Joyner some more. I told Pa that he said he knew me, but I didn’t know him. Pa pointed out that I could have been too little to remember, but Pa had always been an adult since I’ve been around and he didn’t even remember. Suddenly, Pa said that maybe the man came in as someone else. That’s the last thing I remembered as I drifted off to sleep.
The storm woke me a few times in the night, but Pa just tucked the covers back on me that I restlessly kicked off and told me everything would be okay. I woke up once in the middle of the night when a loud clap of thunder sounded. Pa was lying asleep next to me and I got up and went to the window. My movements woke Pa up and he told me to lay back down. What if a tornado comes?” I asked.
Pa tucked the covers around me and wrapped an arm securely around my middle. “The worst of the storm is over, son. Just go back to sleep.” I cozied down next to him and fell back to sleep.
“Mark, Mark…Wake up Mark.” I opened my eyes. Pa had his clothes on and was getting his boots on. “Hurry up and get dressed, son.”
“What the matter?” I yawned as I started getting dressed.
“We need to hurry and get downstairs to eat breakfast. Then we’re going to try to dig our way back to the ranch.” We did, though it took us most of the morning. By the time we got back to the ranch we were covered in mud. Pa had me strip my clothes off outside and he did the same thing. Then he declared that I was to jump in our shower bath and wash myself off. “And while you’re in there, you might as well use soap!” Pa declared. Boy, he sure did know me!
We quickly ate a quick lunch then took care of the animals who hadn’t gotten their feeding the night before. It was a long, hard day and I was sure happy to go to bed early that night!
The next morning, Pa sent me off to school. I thought there was still a lot of cleaning up around the ranch to do, but Pa told me he could handle it as he scooted me out the door. The warm sun from yesterday had pretty much dried up all the rain, and there were only a few puddles to let Blue Boy splash in on my way to school.
At lunch, I went to check the mail at Miss Hattie’s while I munched on my sandwich Pa had quickly thrown together that morning. I had an apple in my pocket for later. I popped the last bite of sandwich in my mouth as I walked into Miss Hattie’s store. “Hi, Miss Hattie! I’ve come to check the mail!”
Miss Hattie smiled. “Your Pa got something yesterday. She grabbed the envelope and handed it to me. I stared at it. The writing was professional and I instantly knew who it was from.. I stared at it for a minute, tempted to open it. But once when I had opened something with Pa’s name on it, I had gotten into trouble because the letter had been addressed to only him! I sure did wish Mr. Joyner had included my name on that envelope!
“Want some candy, Mark?” Miss Hattie asked then.
“Oh, no ma’am! I gotta go!” I suddenly rushed out the door and climbed on Blue Boy. I raced home just as fast as I could. When I got there, Pa was standing on the porch. He wasted no time in pointing out to me that it was only noon and I should be in school. But I was here on an important mission and told him so as I handed him the envelope. “It’s gotta be the money!” I declared excitedly.
Pa still didn’t think that was a reason for me to ditch school and ordered me to go back immediately. But there were times to obey, and there were times to argue. This was definitely an arguing time. I had ridden on this way, not opening the envelope as tempting as it was, and I thought I deserved a just award! So I begged Pa to let him have a quick look.
He flashed the $500 at me then motioned for me to leave. I turned away and rushed off, but as soon as I was out of sight, I slowed down and took my time getting back into town. I took my apple out and began munching on it. I wondered to myself what Pa was going to do with that money!
I slowly got off my horse and made my way into the school. Miss Adams was discussing our history lesson and stopped when I walked inside. I suddenly stopped and lowered my head. “Well, Mr. McCain has decided to join us this afternoon after all!” She declared.
“I…I’m sorry, Miss Adams. But I had an important errand to do for my father.” I stayed standing, not looking at her.
“Oh, well then I’m sure your father sent a note back explaining why you are late.” Miss Adams held out her hand, indicating she was expecting a note.”
I looked at her and swallowed again. “N-no ma’am. You…you see, I…uh…brought him an important letter but he didn’t rightly appreciate me doing so.” I started toward my seat. “So, I seriously doubt he would have written me an excuse.”
“Oh,” Miss Adams nodded. “Well, then I suppose you won’t mind too much lending me a hand with a few chores around here after class.” I opened my mouth to protest, but quickly closed it when she pointed at my seat.
Sure enough, after she dismissed the others, she asked me to clean the chalkboard. She didn’t just want it erased either! I had to get soap and water and give it a cleaning! I did that without complaining. Then she declared that the floor needed a good sweeping and mopping. “Oh but-“ I started.
“Well, well, well.” I suddenly heard from the doorway. I turned to see Pa leaning against the wall with his arms folded. His feet were crossed at the ankles and he had his head cocked to one side. “I see she’s got you busy with chores!”
I suddenly was hopeful. “You-you need me to come home, huh Pa?” I asked.
“Actually, I was in town waiting for you to come through. I figured you would with it being Friday and you wanting to stock up on the candy. But when you didn’t come through, I came over to see if you were still here.”
“You didn’t write a note explaining why I was late getting back,” I accused.
Pa only smiled. “I didn’t give you permission to come home,” he stated. “Although, I’m sort of glad you did because it sure resolved a big problem!”
“What?” I asked.
“Well, I’ll be at Micah’s. When you get the floors done, you just make your way over there.”
I stared at Pa. I couldn’t believe this injustice I was receiving! I was just doing a good deed after all, and I told Pa as much, adding that I hadn’t opened the letter as much as I wanted to. Pa continued grinning at me and stated, “Yes. Well, you didn’t…uh…rush right back to school either, did you?”
Okay, Pa knew me way too well! I suddenly sighed, knowing I was defeated. “No sir,” I answered. “I’ll get the broom.”
When I was finally done, I hurried to Micah’s office. The door to the cell room was open and when I glanced up, I saw Mr. Stafford behind bars. I must admit that I was very, very surprised to see him there! He was such a nice man and everyone liked him. I couldn’t imagine what he could have done.
“Well, finally done with all your extra chores, huh?” Pa grinned at me. I just gave him a glare as I started to ask about Mr. Stafford. “You know, I think our floors need a good scrubbing too!”
“Oh, don’t start with me!” I suddenly shot back at Pa. “Pa, why’s Mr. Stafford in jail?”
“Oh, he tried to kill me,” Pa answered.
I stared at Pa, shocked.
Pa stood up and grabbed his rifle. “I’ll tell you on the way home, son. Tie Blue Boy to the back of the wagon.”
As we started for home, Pa told me all about how Mr. Stafford had actually been paid good money to come and make believe he was everyone’s best friend, then get elected to go to Yuma and make a lousy sale for North Fork so that Center City would get the railroad spur.
“Wow!” I shook my head. “Seems I always miss the really exciting stuff because of school.”
“Oh, I felt the same way when I was your age,” Pa stated. “But when you grow up and become a responsible adult, you’ll have your own set of adventure.”
“Yeah, but things like this are more fun when you’re a kid,” I stated, knowing Pa didn’t see these things as exciting.
We rode in silence for awhile. Then I broached the subject about the money. Pa shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well now, I’m thinking long and hard on this, Mark.”
“On what?” I was confused, not understanding exactly what the problem is.
“There’s no proof that money was honestly earned, son.” Pa stated as he reminded me that he was an outlaw and had held up trains and stolen a lot of money.
“You don’t know that it wasn’t honestly earned, Pa.” I pointed out.
That was all that was said at that time as we headed for home.
Well, I think that’s about all I’m going to say about this story. I’m not going to tell you what happened to the money. But I will ask you this: What do you think my Pa did in the end, knowing my Pa the way you know him?
*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