I don’t know how long I sat there over her body and cried. I felt a great loss in my heart for this woman – not because she was had died necessarily. As I laid there and cried, I thought about the lies that had given her this false hope for her son – how her son had died so senselessly and she never even knew it. I cried because she wasn’t leaving anything behind. It was all dead.
I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder as I laid there and cried, but I didn’t want to move. “Mark?” Pa’s voice was soft as he spoke. I heard the tears in his throat. Slowly, I lifted my head from her chest and turned to Pa. “There’s some things we have to take care of.”
I turned back and looked at the body of my third grandmother I had lost. I touched her cheek with the back of my hand. “It’s unfair, Pa. It’s so unfair!”
Pa bent down to my level. “Dying is a part of life, son. It leaves us feeling a loss, but we have to go on.”
“I…I’m not talking about the dying, Pa. I’m talking about the…” I suddenly turned and looked at Pa through my tears. “Pa, she didn’t even know who her son was! All those lies and-“ I swallowed. “She has no one left to bury her.”
“We’ll give her a proper burial, son.” Pa stood up and lifted me to my feet. He laid a gentle hand on my shoulder and told me to get cleaned up. I walked over to the basin as I heard shuffling. I knew Pa was picking her lifeless body up and I couldn’t stand to watch. I hurried outside to wash up in the back.
But as I walked out onto the porch, I suddenly remembered that day – the day she had ridden into my life. I could almost picture the wagon pulling up as Billy St. John, an outlaw, climbed down from the seat and introduced her to his friend, Louis and his son. His son was me. My name for the weekend was Peter. Peter Havercourt.
I know it’s confusing, but let me try to explain. You see, Billy St. John was an outlaw – a bank robber. But naturally he didn’t want his mother to know the truth so he never told her who he really was. Instead, he had lied to her – telling her he had a wife and a son. His wife had died, so he told his mother. But he kept the son because he wanted his mother to be proud.
I stared down at the step where she had stood that day. She had asked me to give her a kiss but I was afraid. A tear slipped down my cheek as I looked toward the barn where I had fled, suddenly wanting to – no, needing to get away from this situation. I wasn't running from her. I was running from the lies that surrounded me on that day.
And my Pa was right in the middle of them! Pa found me sitting outside the barn. He told me he was going to play along with Billy – to pretend that I was Billy’s son and not his. I didn’t want to do it, and I must admit that I was quite disappointed that Pa would allow such a lie to go on. “Only because of his mother.”
I had been so bothered by his words. I told Pa that I’d never had to play along with a lie like this before. Oh, there’s been a few times where I had been forced to play along with an untruth, but that was times when the truth would have only hurt others. But this…allowing an outlaw to lie to his own mother about who he was…I had seen the pleading in Pa’s eyes. I had decided to give it a chance.
I jumped when I felt Pa’s hands on my shoulders. Pa gave a short laugh and apologized for startling me. Pa held his hat in his hand. “I have the bodies in the wagon – all five of them. I’m…taking them to Potter’s Field.”
I looked toward the wagon and saw the tarp over the pile of bodies. “Five bodies,” I whispered. I suddenly turned back to Pa. “What about-“ I swallowed. “Grandma?”
“She’s still in the house. I covered her with a sheet. She deserves more respect then to be thrown in the back of the wagon with a bunch of outlaws.”
I looked toward the house and swallowed. “Can…can we bury her here? On our land?”
Pa’s eyes held surprise in them for only a second. “You loved her didn’t you?”
I sighed as I leaned my head against the post. She was so awfully nice. There was something so…sweet about her! She told me about her life as a little girl.” I suddenly turned and looked at Pa. “Did you know that? Did you know that Billy – he was named after her brother that died. His own Pa died when he was only two.” I turned away from Pa then and looked out across the range. “I can’t help but think that…”
Pa sighed and drew his arm around my shoulders. He pulled me into a tight embrace and I closed my eyes as I listened to his heart beating. Then he pulled me away and smiled. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I turned and stared at the house. “Pa, I-“ I started.
Pa just shook his head. “Why don’t you go check for stray cattle until I get back? Decide where you want to bury her.”
But then I thought about something we had talked about last night while we did the dishes together. She was talking about Billy when he was younger – back before he had left home. He had done things wrong even then, causing her much worry and frustration. I listened with great interest, beginning to understand why Billy was the way he was.
I had turned toward the table and saw him sitting there cleaning his gun. “But you loved him anyhow, didn’t you?”
She had smiled that lovely smile I had come to love just in the short time I had known her. “Oh yes, my child. I loved your father as if he were the most perfect man in the whole world! I don’t suppose there’s anything a child can do to loose his mother’s love. When a mother brings a child into this world…” She stopped as she turned and looked at Billy. I wasn’t sure, but I thought at the time that maybe she knew more about him then she let on. “Well, you’ll understand someday, Peter. When you have a child of your own, you’ll understand. You just love them.”
Those words had stuck with me. I suddenly turned to Pa as he was climbing up on the wagon seat. “Pa?”
Pa turned and walked back over to me. I’m sure the tone in my voice had fretted him. I swallowed. “Pa, she told me something last night – Grandma. She told me that she loved her son because he was her son.”
Pa saw the question in my eyes. He put a hand behind my neck and nodded. “Go ahead.”
“Well, I…” I swallowed. “Pa, now I know he doesn’t deserve this, his being an outlaw and all but…do you think that…Well, I mean…” I suddenly looked straight into his eyes and said it. “I think he should be buried with his mother.”
We just looked at each other for a long time. Neither of us spoke. “Is it really important to you?” Pa finally asked.
“Yes sir.” But then I had to add the rest of my thought. “But it’s not because it’s important to me, Pa. It was important to her. She would have loved her son no matter who he was and he never realized that.”
Pa laid a hand on my cheek and let out a long sigh. “You are growing up so fast, son. That’s a pretty grown up thought for a twelve year old.” Pa turned and looked towards the wagon. “Alright, you go on and get started on the cattle. I’ll take care of it.”
I did as he said. As I checked the cattle, I found the perfect place to bury them. There were two trees close together on the corner of our ranch. One tree is beautiful and strong. It was so old, the next storm would probably knock it down, but there was something solid about it.
But the other tree was weak. It had trouble producing leaves or even fruit. The tree was doomed from the start, and today was struggling to stay alive.
That’s where I stood when Pa rode out to me. He climbed off Razor and put a hand on my shoulder. “Toomey’s bringing out the coffins tonight, son.”
“What were they like?” I suddenly whispered.
Pa put his other hand on my other shoulder as he stood behind me. “Who?”
I didn’t hear Pa say a word for a long time as he rested his hands on my shoulders. I knew he was thinking back to those times. “My mother was so loving. She enjoyed life very much, but it was a rough life. She died while I was away fighting for our country. Coming back was hard…so hard. Your grandfather…he died only months after she did from loneliness. I suppose it was just too hard for him to go on alone after so many years.”
Pa’s voice cracked. I turned to look at him. “I’m sorry,” I said softly as I suddenly laid a hand on his arm and looked into his sad eyes.
Pa shook his head as he kneeled in front of me. “Your Ma’s mother. Well, she was old when you were a small child. She had your mother later and life and was more of a grandmother when she was growing up I suppose. She had to stay with us the last few months she was alive because she could no longer care for herself.” Pa again rested a hand on my shoulder as he looked into my eyes. “She was a lot like Mrs. Havercourt. She was sweet and giving. She loved her children no matter what they did. Your mother was easy to love, but a couple of the others were…challenges.” Pa’s voice suddenly drifted off as he remembered her.
“And my grandpa?” I asked. But as usual, Pa avoided the subject. He suddenly stood and grabbed the shovel he had brought alone. “We best get started on these graves.”
I suddenly reached out and put my hand on the shovel, stopping him from beginning the work. “Pa?” Pa looked up into my eyes. A tear slid down my cheek but I quickly wiped it away. “Can…Can I do it?”
Pa let go of the shovel and gave me a short nod. “I’ll go see about getting them ready for burying.”
I watched Pa mount Razor and gallop off towards the house. I swallowed and couldn’t help but smile as I remembered my grandma again. She had looked around the house and declared that some of the things were disorderly. I couldn’t help but smile even now as I remembered the initial look of surprise on my father’s face when she made that announcement just after lunch the day before. Pa and Mr. Havercourt had to do some quick rearrangement to her satisfaction. I couldn’t stand to stay inside and see it, so I quickly went outside.
I turned back to the hole. Another tear had slid from my eye but I paid it no mind. I slammed the shovel into the ground and filled it with dirt, then I threw the dirt to the side and went for another shovel-full. As the hole grew deeper, I grew more exhausted and wasn’t sure how much more I could do. My cheeks were wet from tears as I again remembered the day before.
I walked back inside later that afternoon and sat the bucket on the counter of the sink. Grandma was sitting at the table reading her Bible. “Peter, come sit with your grandma.”
I had looked toward Pa where he was working and he gave me a slight nod. I walked to the table and sat down beside her. She gently laid a hand on mine and smiled. I suddenly found myself staring into her eyes. They were so soft and kind. There was so much love in them. “Peter, are you happy here?”
I smiled into her eyes. “Oh, yes ma’am. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else! Why, the moment Pa and me saw this place, we knew it was for us.”
She smiled. “You speak very lovingly about your father. You love him a great deal.” She then smiled as she patted my hand. “Oh, I remember my own father! He was a lovely man too. My father was a banker, but he would always be home for supper. He’d pick me up and hug me really tight, asking how my day was spent and if I had made good marks on all my lessons.” She looked down at me and put a hand against my cheek. “Does your father do that, Peter?”
I looked over my shoulder to my father and smiled. “Oh yes ma’am. My Pa works hard, but he always has time for me, and does ask me about school and such every day.”
The smile that lit up my face suddenly made me want to talk to her more. As I sat there and listened to her that afternoon, I fell in love with her. She was beautiful, sweet, and very loving as she spoke and we got to know each other.
I stopped digging and wiped the tears from my face again. As I closed my eyes to take a moment to rest, I pictured grandma’s smile in my mind. She died believing she had a grandson to carry on the Havercourt name. I couldn’t carry on the name, but I certainly could carry on her memory – and I would! As far as I was concerned, she did have a grandson who loved her very, very much.
I went back to the hole. It wasn’t very deep yet and I gasped at how long it took to dig it. I was exhausted but shook my head and started to slam the shovel into the dirt again when a hand suddenly stopped me. Pa took the shovel from me and shook his head. “You’ve done enough, son. It’ll be easier to cover the hole. I’ll let you do that.”
I took the canteen from Pa’s hand and sat down under the tree to watch him dig the hole. I allowed one final memory to enter my mind. It was a memory from earlier this morning. She was getting ready to leave and as she kissed me goodbye I realized that I didn’t want her to go. I wanted her to stay there so we could take care of her. I couldn’t believe her son was shipping her off as if she were a sack of corn going to market.
My heart leapt when she suggested staying on for a few more days. And I found it a little hard to believe when her son discouraged her from doing so. I knew he was only thinking of himself! Didn’t he know that she wanted to stay here with her family more then anything else in the world? Couldn’t he see the desire in her eyes like I did? He was saying goodbye to her – shipping her off to get her out of his life.
Then as she turned to say goodbye to me, I could tell it was hard. I wanted to reach out and tell her not to say goodbye, to tell her she could stay here with us for the rest of her days. But I couldn’t and I knew that. All I could do was watch her say goodbye to me, knowing she knew she’d never see me again. This was breaking her heart!
I went for the doctor as fast as the wagon would allow me to go. I was worried and wanted to get back to her as fast as I could. I hurried the doctor, begging him to grab his bag and come on. The trip back to the ranch was long. I didn’t think I’d ever get back!
It was Pa who rushed out to grab the doctor by the arm and rush him inside. Billy just stood there on the porch looking mad. “Just hurry her up, doc! She’s gotta be on the train today.”
Pa turned and gave him a hard stare from the doorway. I sat on the wagon and allowed tears to slide down my eyes. I was so very, very sad for her. She deserved a son who would mourn her sickness – a son who was worried for her and stayed at her bedside every second.
I then turned and glared at Mr. Havercourt. “What’s wrong with you?” I choked out. “Don’t you see who she is?”
“She’s my mother, boy. I know that.”
“She’s a mother that loves you so very much!” I cried out. “She’s sick…so sick…and you can’t even find it in your heart to worry!”
Mr. Havercourt turned around and stared at me. “Oh, but I am worried!”
“Your worried about getting her on that train! You can’t wait to get rid of your own mother!” My heart was breaking for her. “I’d do anything to get my mother back and to love and hold on to her everyday for the rest of my life, but you can’t wait to get rid of you. You are the most important thing in her life, and you have no respect for her!” My voice was getting louder and my throat was filling with tears.
Pa suddenly hurried out. “Mark!” He turned and glared at Billy who quickly walked inside. Then Pa hurried over to me. He lifted me from the buckboard and held me in his arms while I cried. I cried so hard that my body shook. Pa’s arms tightened around me as he sat down on the porch and held me tighter.
I finally felt spent and allowed the tears to leave my body. I sat up and shook my head as I looked into Pa’s eyes. “I don’t understand, Pa. I just don’t understand!” I lowered my head again and sniffed. Then I looked back into Pa’s eyes. “We have to take care of her, Pa. She deserves that. Please, say she can stay here and we can take care of her.”
Pa turned and looked toward the house. Then he turned back around. “She can stay. We’ll take care of her.” I hugged Pa again as relief settled in me. Pa lifted me and looked sternly into my eyes. “She may not have long to live, son. She looks really sick.”
I suddenly stood up from the shadow of the tree and walked over to where Pa was almost finished with the first hole. “Thank you for letting us take care of her, Pa.” I smiled.
Pa turned and looked at me then. “I promised you, didn’t I.”
“You did.” I looked towards the house. “You want I should go check to see if Toomey’s here yet?” Pa nodded. “Billy’s in the barn, son. So you just stay in the yard and wait for him. Okay?”
I started for my horse, but suddenly turned and looked at Pa again. “Pa, if she had lived…I mean…” The words died in my throat.
“She would have made you a fine grandma, and she would have been welcome to live with us until her dying day.” Pa smiled. “She deserved that.”
I smiled. “Thanks Pa!”
It was a couple hours later – sunset – that Pa, me, and Toomey stood beside the coffins where they sat in their respected holes. Pa held the Bible in his hand and slowly opened it to the 23rd Psalm. He read the scripture with so much reverence. I allowed the last of my grieving tears to flow as he suddenly put a hand on my shoulder. “Shall we pray,” he said as he closed the Bible. We bowed our heads as Pa prayed over the bodies, asking God to please accept them into his kingdom. I hoped that at some point in Billy’s life he had come to terms with his salvation and allowed Jesus to give him that free gift of eternal life. I couldn’t think of anything else.
“The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.” I looked up at Pa then and he gave me a nod. I threw the dirt on her casket. Then I bent down beside her casket and laid a hand on it. “Rest in peace, Grandma. I love you.”
We all worked together covering up the two graves. Pa finished up the top of the graves so animals wouldn’t try to dig them up. It was dark now, but the moon was full. I stood over the grave as I heard the night sounds all around me. Pa laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Come on, son. It’s time to go.”
I turned as we slowly walked toward the horses. “I think Ma would want me to plant Marigolds on grandma’s grave.” I looked up at Pa in the shadows. “Don’t you?”
Pa smiled down at me and smoothed my hair. “I think that would be a wonderful thing to do next spring, son.”
I still go to that grave after all these years and check the flowers on it. The patch has grown. I planted them on her grave, but somehow they spread over both graves. And not only that, but do you remember those two trees? The big tree has only grown stronger and really blossomed out. The other tree began baring fruit that very next year. It had the tastiest peaches you have ever tasted!
I asked Pa about it a few years back, and he said it was a mother’s love.
*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
Sins of the Father
around The McCain Ranch