Shortly after moving to North Fork, Pa had given me a pig to raise. It was the first pig I had ever been able to call my own. I still remember Pa’s words. “You’re ten years old now, son. That’s plenty old enough to be learning to raise your own food! Of course, as it started out, he suggested that I raise it until it was time to butcher her. But, I named her Harriet and started playing with her as a little piglet.
One day, Pa caught me doing this. He came in and kneeled beside me. “Mark,” he said in that stern, yet my-son’s-so-cute voice of his. “The first thing you need to learn about raising animals for food is that you can’t make them into pets!”
“Why?” I asked, laughing as Harriet rolled over in the mud again. I touched her nose.
Pa scratched his nose as he tried to keep that smile I already saw from sneaking onto his face. “Son, you can’t kill a pet.”
“Kill?” I suddenly gasped.
At that point, Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh.” I sighed. “Yeah, I guess it would be hard to eat her if she’s still alive, huh?”
Pa laughed. “Well, I think we’ll take her into Hattie in a couple weeks to sell. So you start fattening her up, ya hear?”
“Sorry, Pa!” I said.
Pa was still down on my level. He allowed a grin to crawl across his face. Then patted me on the back. “Well, we’ll try again, son.”
Well, the day to sell Harriet quickly approached. Before I knew it, it was the morning of Harriet’s last day in the family. As I walked outside, I saw Pa moving the table onto the porch. “Why you doing that?” I asked.
“It’s a nice spring day, Mark! I want to enjoy the nice air. Now, go get your chores done.”
“Yes sir.” I turned and saw my pig already loaded in the cart. I turned to look at Pa, but he had already disappeared into the house.
On my way back from the barn, I stopped and gave my pig a pat again. “Morning, Harriet,” I greeted her. She responded with a grunt, as if she was saying good-morning to me. I laughed. She was still so cute.
As I started pouring the freshly-squeezed milk into the pitcher, I said, “I’m sure gonna miss Harriet! I bet she knows what’s gonna happen today. I can see it in her eyes.” I felt guilty to be giving away my friend.
I think Pa knew where my thinking was going, because suddenly he said, “Well, a pig’s a pig, son!”
“Yeah, but not Harriet! She’s like part of the family!” I declared. Part of me wanted to beg Pa to let me keep her. But since he knew how I felt, I knew he wouldn’t let me keep her until she died of old age. He wanted me to learn.
“You raised her for sale. Don’t change your mind.”
I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I knew one thing – I sure was hungry! So as I thought about poor Harriet getting a good price for her pork with Miss Hattie, I grabbed a piece of bread, and attempted to grab a piece of bacon. Pa gave me a disapproving look and reminded me that Ma wanted me raised with proper table manners. I was so hungry though that I didn’t want to wait.
Suddenly, we saw a stranger riding up. Pa told me to get another plate and cup. When the stranger rode up and stood in front of us, I couldn’t help staring at him as Pa invited him to eat for breakfast. I moved around to take a seat in my chair, forgetting my manners. This man was dressed all in black. He looked like a real-live gunfighter! “Take your hat off Mark!” Pa ordered. I did as told, but couldn’t take my eyes off this man. I looked him over starting with the feet, and working my way up to the guns he held in the holster. I was so impressed! I wanted to ask him about it, but Pa suddenly told me to eat my breakfast.
I knew he was saying more unspoken. He didn’t want me staring at the stranger, or asking any questions. I suddenly started eating as I listened to the conversation. Pa talked to him about settling down in North Fork. When Pa asked him kind of work he did, the stranger wouldn’t tell him, but rudely hinted that it was none of his business.
I took a few bites, but then I stared at him some more. I couldn’t help it! I was really impressed with the way he was dressed and how he wore double guns!
As he was getting ready to leave, a horse kicked over a bucket and he shot at it. My Pa was really mad and demanded the man pay him a dollar. His shooting even scared me! After he left, I asked Pa why he spooked. That’s when Pa told me I had just had breakfast with a Texas gunfighter!
We rode into town. When we got there, the judge was talking. The bank was opening that day and he was introducing us to the new banker. I couldn’t see over the crowd so Pa picked me up so I could see.
I listened to his speech. I can’t remember what he said, because I was more interested in looking at the safe and around at all the people. But I sure did pay attention to the guard he had hired to protect the safe! It was the man we had eaten breakfast this morning. His name was Floyd, but I want to call him the Texas gunfighter. It sounds more impressive!
I was actually really surprised to see him standing there. I had no idea he was going to be doing such an important job! “Hey pa, that’s-“ I started. But Pa shushed me so he could listen to the rest of the speech.
What the gunfighter did next REALLY impressed me a whole bunch! You see, a man threw some plates in the air…like, real far up. And the gunfighter…he shot everyone of them while they were still high up in the air! I thought that was pretty amazing.
After the speech, Mr. Hamilton invited everyone to come inside and look around. I hurried in and made my way through the thick crowd. I went directly to the food. Anytime there was food to eat, I wasn’t shy about eating it! I watched as the gunfighter climbed some steps into a seat where he would sit when the bank was open so he could keep and eye out for any possible bank robbers.
Before I was even able to finish eating my free food, Pa told me it was time to go sell my pig. I stuck one more bite in my mouth before rushing out the door.
I walked into the store and saw Miss Hattie. “Well, what can I do for you today, Mark?” she asked.
I looked over at Pa who was standing at the door. “I have to sell my pig,” I stated.
Miss Hattie laughed. “Oh, I see. Well, let me take a look at it.”
I saw the candy and looked at Pa. “Well, get a piece while I take Hattie out to see the pig,” he said. I think he was feeling just a little sorry for me having to give up my friend. I had already said goodbye to her and didn’t care to put my eyes on her again. Pa knew this.
Hattie came in and complimented me that the pig was a really nice sow. I chewed on my candy as she asked me how much I was planning on selling her for. I wasn’t sure, so turned to Pa. He was no help though. He told me I was old enough to do my own selling. Pa sure was going to make me go all the way on this job!
I saw a look of pride on my father’s face. I knew he was very proud of me. He and Hattie talked about how smart I was and all before Pa left. I don’t want to talk much about my selling the pig. But I’ll just say that I ended up with $5. For a little boy, that was an awful lot of money, and I felt so proud about selling that pig.
When I met Pa later, I showed him my $5. “Can you believe it?” I asked.
Pa smiled at me. “We need to get home, son,” he commented to me.
Later at home, I couldn’t help but to talk about it some more! I was about to do my chores, but I saw the $5 laying on the table. I picked it up and stared at it in my hand. $5! I thought to myself. How much candy could I buy? I was so excited.
I quickly ran out of the house and up to my Pa who was fixing the barn door. “$5, Pa!” I exclaimed again. Pa smiled at me. I told Pa about an idea I had suddenly gotten. I thought it would be neat to use some of my money to buy another pig and sell it, then buy another pig and sell it. I just knew that before long, I’d have a million dollars. That’s a lot of money! But Pa didn’t think that sounded right. He took a little bit of the wind out of my sail.
Then I got to thinking about something else. It had been pretty easy to get that $5. I was starting to feel kind of sorry that I didn’t ask Miss Denton for more money! I sure bet I could have gotten it! But when I shared my thought with Pa, he told me to never look back on a deal. I make a deal, shake hands on it, then move on. Pa said that was the signature of a man.
But I didn’t want to think about that. I still thought I could have gotten double the money I ended up with if I had asked for it. I guess I’ll do better next time!
Then I thought about something else. I was so excited about this idea. I could put this money in a bank and collect interest on it at 2.5%. That would add more money to my $5 without me doing any extra work! I wanted to do it so bad so I would feel like a real man! I was so happy when Pa said I could. But I wanted to do it this very day! Pa said we had too much to do and it would have to wait until tomorrow.
I wanted to talk about this some more, but the judge showed up to talk to Pa. I didn’t even get to stay and listen to their conversation. I had to go do my chores!
True to his word, the next day, Pa let me take my money to the bank. Pa and I rode into town side-by-side. We stopped in front of the bank. Pa started to get off the horse. I knew he wanted to go inside with me, but I didn’t want him to. I told him to go on and get his saddle fixed. I wasn’t a baby. I was a young man, and I wanted to be treated like a young man! Pa just gave me a strange look. Now that I look back on it, I think he was sort of proud of me, yet sad that I didn’t need him with me at the same time. But he let me go, because he knew it was really important to me.
As I walked in, I suddenly felt small. I looked around at the tall men that were in there. I felt a bit timid, but I held my head up high and walked straight up to the gate. I was going to do this like a real man! Mr. Hamilton himself helped me open the account. I thanked him and walked out, proud for what I had done.
Then I turned around and looked through the window of the bank. What met my eyes scared me! I saw the bank being robbed! Everyone had their hands up, and the gunfighter was just standing at the top of those steps, watching the whole thing happen! Then as they were fixing to leave, the gunfighter shot all the robbers dead. It was exciting to watch!
But then, the gunfighter pointed his gun at Mr. Hamilton. I stared for only a second, not believing what I was seeing. I had to get out of there fast! He was about to come out the doors, and I didn’t want him to hurt me!
I ran as fast as I could down the street and around the corner. But my Pa grabbed me by the arm to stop me. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him that the gunfighter had my $5. “What are you saying, son?” he suddenly asked.
I was sort of afraid to tell him, because I knew what he would do. So I stayed silent. “Are you saying Mr. Doniger held up the bank?” Pa asked. But I still stayed silent. I didn’t want Pa getting hurt.
Pa put on his gloves and stared walking out to the street with his rifle in his hand. My heart started racing. I had watched him kill the other bank robbers already. I didn’t want my Pa to die too. “Pleas don’t go, Pa! I don’t care about my five dollars!” I cried.
But Pa didn’t listen to me. He just told me to stay back behind the building. I continued begging! This was a Texas gunfighter, and I had seen him in action! I loved my Pa and didn’t want him to die. I stood back there and watched my Pa walk out onto the street. Pa stopped the gunfighter and told him he had my $5. The gunfighter threw some money down, thinking my Pa would be satisfied with that. But he wasn’t.
I lifted my hand to my mouth and stared. I knew Pa wouldn’t leave it alone until justice was done. He held his gun up. I kept my eyes trained on Pa. My heart was beating hard and fast, and I was shaking. Suddenly, Pa shot. I closed my eyes at the sound of gunfire. When I opened them, I saw my father still standing. The gunfighter was dead, his foot caught in the stirrup and being dragged down the street.
When I knew it was over, I ran out and threw my arms around my Pa. Pa picked me up and hugged me. He gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Everything’s all right now, son.” He stated.
“Pa, I was watching in the window.” I swallowed hard. “I saw him shoot three other men!”
Pa could tell I was really shanken up by what I saw. He smiled at me. “It’s over now, son,” he simply stated. “Why don’t you get that $5 laying in the street? I’ll get the rest of the money and we’ll take it back together.”
Together. I smiled as I put my arm around Pa’s waist. That sounded awfully good! As we picked up the money, we both walked side by side down the street. Both of us together had saved the day, and I got to help return the stolen money to the bank. As we walked toward the bank, I looked up at my Pa and smiled. He looked down at me and smiled. Then he put his arms around my shoulder. “You did good, son,” Pa stated.
A crowd was already gathering outside the bank. We handed Mr. Hamilton the money. He and Judge Hanavan tried to calm the crowd, but it didn’t do much good. Mr. Hamilton promised that as soon as the money was all counted, he’d give those who wanted it their money back.
Now, I had already asked Pa why he hadn’t put his money in. He told me that he had lost it all once when he put it in a bank, so he wasn’t too thrilled about giving his money to a complete stranger to save for him.
So I was surprised when I heard Pa say, “Who said anything about taking money out? I’m here to see about putting mine in!”
I was a little surprised. The judge asked Pa why he changed his mind. I wanted to know the same thing. “Well son,” Pa started as he put an arm around me. “Sometimes there’s a good reason…for a man to change his mind!” We both laughed at that.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.