It had been two weeks since I said goodbye to Miss Adams. During those two weeks, not a weekday went by that I didn’t put in at least four hours of studying. That very first Monday, I had gotten up, stretched and smiled as I began eating my breakfast lazily. Then when that was done I grabbed my hat and went to the barn for my fishing pole. “What are you doing, Mark?” Pa had asked from behind me.
I had turned around to look at Pa. “Goin’ fishing’,” I answered. He should have known what my plans were already!
But he just folded his arms, cocked his head to one side, and leaned against the door. “Not this morning you aren’t,” he stated sternly.
I had turned and looked at him, promising I would do my chores when I came home. But Pa shook his head, grabbed my fishing pole, and hung it back up on it’s hook. Then he jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. “You will do your chores this morning, boy. After that I need your help with the stock. Then you will spend time in your books.”
“Doing what?” I asked.
“History, Reading, Arithmetic, Spelling, English Grammar, Bible, Science…” Pa’s voice drifted off.
I argued, explaining that none of the other kids were going to be doing that, but Pa took me back into the house and showed me some papers he was so nice to save for me – they were old history tests, arithmetic tests, and English Grammar tests. I swallowed as I looked at the grade on each one. “These are what you’ll be working on the next two weeks.”
So that’s what I did – every day for about four hours a day. Then and only then could I go fishing or swimming with the boys. Then on Saturday, two weeks after Miss Adams left, Pa made the announcement at supper. He sat down his coffee cup as I popped the last piece of pie in my mouth. “Well,” he said as he folded his arms and looked at me. “The new teacher arrived yesterday.”
I sat down my fork a little too loudly. Pa raised his eyebrow at me. “Have you met him?”
Pa shook his head. “I expect I’ll meet him Monday morning when I take you to school.”
“Take me to-“ I stopped and sat back in my chair. “I can manage on my own.”
“mm Hm,” Pa agreed. “You are twelve years old, and that’s plenty old enough for sure. But…well, you have this um…tendency to-to slowly make your way to school. I would like your new teacher to think I’ve tried to raise you right.”
“Oh.” I sighed. He was right. The first day of school was always a hard one for me, as well as for everyone else, to show up on time.
The next day Pa and I went to church. Immediately following church, Pa stopped to talk to Micah outside the church and I ran over to Billy. “Hey Mark, ya wanta go fishin’?” he asked.
“Yeah!” I declared. I immediately began taking off my Sunday jacket and tie.
“Mark, what are you doing?” Pa asked.
“Goin’ fishin’,” I answered. Pa raised his eyebrows. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Uh…Pa? Is it okay if I go fishing?”
“Sure,” Pa nodded, grabbing my jacket and tie. I started to race away, but Pa caught me by the back of my neck. “Hold on there, young cow poke!” He suddenly declared. “What about lunch?”
“Oh, I’m not that hungry – not after all those flapjacks you fixed me this morning,” I answered hopefully.
Miss Millie was standing right beside Pa. “Now Lucas, you aren’t going to let him go without eating?”
Now, Millie hadn’t been in North Fork that long, but I knew her well enough to know that tone of voice. What she didn’t say was very clear – Pa was not going to send me off without food unless he wanted a good tongue lashing from her! Pa cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows at Millie. He didn’t normally allow me to miss a meal anyhow, and now he surely wouldn’t!
“Of course not,” Pa answered…well, more like grunted. Then he wrapped the tie around my neck and began tying it.
“Oh Pa, I don’t have to-“ I started.
Pa raised his eyebrows and looked at me sternly. I removed my hands from my shirt to let him finish his fatherly task. “Everyone will be dressed in their Sunday best son,” Pa stated as he smoothed my tie. He handed me my jacket. “I’m sorry, son.”
I groaned as I put my jacket back on. “Yeah.”
I sat at the table politely as I ate. When I sat down my fork, I cleared my throat and looked at Pa, but he shook his head telling me I wasn’t to move. Micah and Pa were talking about Pa getting some more cattle. Millie joined in every once in a while. The waiter came to ask us if we wanted dessert. I shook my head and looked at Pa. “Can I go now?”
Pa nodded and picked up his hat. After we were outside, I happily undid my tie and took off my jacket. “Be home by supper time, son!” he ordered as I jumped on my horse and hurried down the street.
I sure was happy when I sat on the bank beside Billy dangling my bare feet in the water and watching a fish nibble at my hook. “You ready for school tomorrow, Mark?” Billy asked.
I suddenly groaned. “Billy, I was just beginning to relax! Why’d you have to bring that up/”
“So you ain’t ready for school?”
I sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe. When I don’t have school, Pa makes me go back over lessons he don’t think I learned the first time around. Having Pa for a teacher is worse then having a teacher for a teacher! It may be easier on me to go back to school and just have Pa help me with my homework.”
“I saw our new teacher yesterday,” Billy stated calmly.
My head suddenly jerked around and I stared at him. “You-“ I started. “You really truly saw him?”
Billy nodded. “At the General Store. Ma sent me in to pick up some supplies. He was in there buying some ink and paper.”
“Did you…talk to him?” I asked as I swallowed.
Billy shook his head rapidly. “Heck no!” he declared. “But Mark, he looks real mean! My Ma and Pa helped him get the classroom ready yesterday, and you ain’t never gonna believe what he has!”
“What?” I had stopped paying attention to the water and listened only to him.
Billy looked around as if someone would come up to listen. “A switch.”
“A what?” I suddenly asked.
“You mean, he plans on using it on us for…for punishment?” I asked.
“Of course! My folks said that’s part of a teacher’s job. Pa said that he got many a lickin’ with a switch – men teachers, they don’t mess around with that choppin’ wood an’ standing in a corner bit. They just switch ya!”
I can’t count how many times I’d been kept after school or given sentences to write…or stood in a corner…I was going to have to change my ways to keep out of trouble.
I guess the switch thing really scared me, because I made sure I was home by five o’clock on the dot. Then without Pa’s even telling me to, I immediately got started on my chores. I even offered to do the cooking, but Pa wrinkled his nose at the prospect and told me I could just do the cleaning up after. I knew Pa didn’t care much for my cooking, and it didn’t bother me much. My Pa was a great cook!
As we sat eating supper that night, Pa told me he wanted me to wash up really good after supper and get to bed. He didn’t want no boy of his being a sleepy head at school tomorrow. I rolled my eyes. “Oh Pa, when are you gonna stop treating me like a kid?”
Pa was about to put a bite of food in his mouth but stopped. Lowering his fork, He gave me a mock glare. “When are you gonna stop treating me like a Pa?”
That was a fair question! I knew Pa would always TRY to boss me and treat me like a kid. He said that was all part of being a parent. Suddenly, I asked, “Pa, did you ever get a whippin’ in school?”
Pa sat down his coffee cup, turned his head to one side and studied me. “I did,” he answered. “Then I got another one at home. My brothers always made sure to tell my Pa when I got a whipping.”
“Well, Billy told me that the new teacher…Mr…Mr. Griswald?” Pa nodded. “Mr. Griswald has a switch. His folks helped him get settled in the school yesterday.”
Pa nodded. “That doesn’t surprise me, son. Part of a teacher’s job is to discipline the student. There’s not much anyone can do about it as long as he doesn’t abuse his privilege.”
I started pushing the food back and forth on my plate. “Well,” I started as I looked at Pa. “Suppose that he tries to use it on me.”
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “You planning on doing something to cause it?”
“No sir!” I answered immediately. Then I shrugged. “But you know…stuff happens.”
Pa nodded. Then he leaned back in his chair and scratched his chin with his hand as he thought. “Well, if you get switched at school, you can count on getting in big trouble here at home.”
“You mean, you’d let him switch me?” I asked as my eyes grew big.
“I can’t stop him, Mark. The school board has its rules of conduct, and there’s nothing wrong with whippings. I’ve just chosen not to take that route with you.” I stared down at my plate. Pa leaned forward. “Mark, just stay out of trouble and you won’t have anything to worry about.”
I nodded. Staying out of trouble, though, could be hard for me sometimes!
I had to go to bed early that night. Pa woke me up bright and early the next morning. He gave me a good, hearty breakfast. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but I went along with him. We left early so Pa would have time to pick up kids on the way. As you probably know by now, Pa had his wagon plum full of kids by the time we got there. He even had a little boy sitting on his lap. I even teased Pa that the little boy looked a lot like him!
It sure didn’t take long for me to meet the new teacher! He was standing inside the door when we pulled up. Billy had told me yesterday that he looked like he ate persimmons, and I wholeheartedly agreed with him alright. “Now boys,” Pa warned.
I didn’t even get down from the wagon before I realized that Billy and I – along with many of the other kids – were in for some deep, deep trouble! The first thing he did was announce to my Pa that we were exactly 12 minutes late for school. Pa gently tried to explain the reason to him, but Mr. Griswald didn’t want any excuses. He was going to make darn sure we learned to get there in time. I was late quite a bit, so I was sure I’d find out what the consequences were soon enough.
When Billy jumped down, he knocked Pa’s gun off the wagon. I bent over to pick it up, but that mean ol’ grump told me not to touch the rifle – and my Pa was standing right there! Boy, I tell you what…that man had a lot of nerve!
As Billy and I walked in, we looked up to the front. Billy pointed toward the switch. “See? I told ya.”
I swallowed as I realized it was true. I had expected Pa to get all upset about it, but the thought of my being hit by another human being didn’t seem to bother him any.
As soon a Mr. Griswald got inside, he started talking to us about his “rules and expectations.” He wanted our learning to be just as good as that at some special school in Boston – that’s where he was from…Then he, and Eastern dude, tried to tell us kids who grew up in the West how to live! Of all things, he told those kids who carried their shoes, or didn’t come in shoes at all, that they must wear shoes. He didn’t understand our ways! And then when I tried to explain them to him, he told me there would be no excuses and told me he didn’t want to have any more interruptions from me!
It seemed like every single lesson we had had an assignment added to the end of it. As soon as school let out, I went out and hopped up on the wagon with Pa. “How was school today?” Pa asked. I just groaned. “That good, huh?” Then he released the break, clucked to his horses, and we started for home.
“Got homework?” Pa asked when we got home.
“Oh yeah,” I answered. “He wasted no time!”
“Okay,” Pa smiled sympathetically at me. “I’ll work on the chores. You go ahead with your homework. I did as Pa said, stopping long enough to eat supper and wash dishes. Then I went right back to my homework. I wasn’t going to give this teacher any excuse to punish me with that switch! But I was very tired and could hardly keep my eyes open.
The next thing I knew, Pa was putting a hand on my shoulder, telling me to go to bed. I complained about my homework, which you know about. I complained that I didn’t even have time for my chores. Pa even told me that Mr. Griswald was right – my schooling was more important then my chores!
Then I asked Pa about a Greek, thinking that was a clear waste of my time. When he sat down, I knew I was in for a lecture. Pa then proceeded to tell me about a time when knowing that story from long ago saved his life. If you want to hear all about it, check out his story about our new teacher. You can hear all the details…
Then when Pa was finished telling me the story, he left to go bed down the stock. I went back to my books, but was just too plain tired to finish my lessons. I laid my head down and went back to sleep. The next thing I knew, Pa was lifting me out of the chair by the arm. “Come on, son. Let’s get to bed.”
“But-“ I started.
“I’m sure Mr. Griswald will understand. My orders are for you to go to sleep.” He stayed in the bedroom to make sure I undressed before getting in bed – I was that tired! Then he tucked me in and patted my shoulder.
The next morning, Pa threatened me bodily harm if I didn’t get out of bed immediately. I groaned by crawled out of bed and began dressing. “Make sure you wash up!” I heard Pa holler. Again I groaned, but did as he said.
I was awful tired this morning! As I climbed up onto my horse, Pa eyed me and told me I’d be going to bed early tonight. I told him that would depend on how much homework I had. He just shook his head and muttered something about too much homework not being healthy for a growing boy.
History came too early in the day. Sally recited what she read perfectly well, but I knew that I would fail miserably since I fell asleep half way through it. As I sat at my desk trying to stay awake, Billy got my attention and offered me a piece of candy; and being one who never passed up an opportunity for candy, I started to take a piece. But suddenly, Mr. Griswald was calling me to stand up and pick up where Sally left off.
I knew I was in trouble right there! I hadn’t gotten nearly that far in my history homework last night, and I had no idea what to say. I started naming some of the gods and goddesses, but stopped when I realized that I had no dignified way out of this. All I could do was to face up to it and confess that I hadn’t done my homework.
My announcement had the effect that I thought it would have. He grew angry. “Why not?” he questioned me angrily. “Everyone else is prepared!”
Then I made another mistake. I told him I had fallen asleep after talking to my father. I’ll tell you – this man was something else! Miss Adams would have understood that – she had in the past. If there was a problem or something at home, she understood why I may not have gotten all my homework done. But then, she would have never given us that much homework in the first place!
“You will remain after school for an hour,” he stated sternly.
I closed my eyes. I had been prepared for punishment, but this type of punishment meant I would get more at home later. But I had to grin and bare it. “Yes sir,” I answered.
“Every day.” I stared at him. I couldn’t believe what he was saying! My Pa would never go for that – it would disrupt my chores. And not only that, but I’d never get to go swimming or fishing or –
“Since your father considers talking more important then studying, it becomes my duty to see that your lessons are completed here!"
Now he had gone too far! He was saying that my own Pa didn’t care about my studies? He didn’t know that my father, even as a grieving widower, had made sure I kept up with my studies. He didn’t know that anytime we were traveling or all those months we were on the trail moving from Oklahoma to Texas to Wyoming and then to New Mexico that my Pa was keeping up with my studies every day - that sometimes he had to clean a person’s chicken coop or dig a person’s well so he could earn enough money to buy my next set of books and keep up with my studies. He didn’t know that Pa insisted on seeing every test and every homework assignment I ever did, and if there was an unsatisfactory grade on it, he would keep it and make me re-study that material. He didn’t know that during the last two weeks after Miss Adams had left that I had been forced by my father to study four hours a day every, Monday through Friday, and he lectured me and sat beside me showing me how to work a math problem. He didn’t know that my father was standing up for him last night, defending his reasons for teaching me history about a bunch of people that died thousands of years ago – and educating me about more practical things such as the Civil War? He didn’t even ask me…
That’s why I suddenly grew very, very angry at him. I was angry that my Pa had sacrificed so much so I could get a good education, only to be accused of not caring! “You got no cause to talk that way about my Pa!” I glared at him. He told me to sit down. “You got no cause to say anythin’ about my Pa!” Again, he told me to sit down.
“No!” I screamed at him, suddenly angry. “No, I won’t sit down! I won’t!” I shouted at him. Then I ran out of the room, embarrasses, ashamed, and very angry.
Hot tears burned my cheeks as I jumped on my horse and raced for home. I kicked Blue Boy into a gallop and raced down the road toward home. Tears continued running swiftly down my cheeks, but I ignored them.
Until I got home. Then I quickly wiped my tears away and went inside. I wanted to throw things, to scream. So instead I picked up the broom and began taking my frustrations out on the rug as I thought about the horrible, horrible thing he had said about my father!
As I was sweeping I heard Pa walk in. I mentally braced myself for the conversation that was about to come, and prayed silently that Pa would see my side of this story. “You kids get out of school early today?” Pa asked as I continued sweeping. From the way he said it, I could tell he knew something was wrong and we indeed hadn’t gotten out of school early.
So I didn’t bother turning around. I had a feeling I would be able to stand looking at him as I spoke my next words. “No, I just came home.”
“Some kind of trouble son?” I could already hear it in Pa’s voice, but at this point he was still concerned.
“Mr. Griswald got all riled because I didn’t finish my homework.” I continued furiously sweeping that rug. I was about to sweep a hole in that thing!
“He sent you home?” He didn’t say it, but what Pa actually meant was that he BETTER have sent me home…but again, I think he somehow already knew that’s not what happened. He just wanted to hear the truth from me.
I told Pa what happened, and it didn’t make any difference. He ordered me to go back to school. Now, I admit that my saying “I hate him” was probably not the most convincing way to get Pa on my side. I was disappointed, nonetheless, that Pa hadn’t sided with me and didn’t see my reason for leaving as a good reason.
He sent me back, even though I argued. I knew I had no other choice but to go back. Pa had given me an order and it had to be obeyed.
But he didn’t tell me how fast I had to go back. I slowly rode Blue Boy into the school yard. Mr. Griswald saw me and lifted his head to watch me jump off my horse. I slowly made my way over him and apologized. He didn’t tell me to, but I knew my Pa would ask me if I had.
Then I walked over to Billy who was just as mad at him for the way he treated me as I was. I was also disappointed in my Pa. I couldn’t believe he allowed Mr. Griswald to say such things, and then make me go back to take more of his abuse! Billy and I went inside, and he decided he’d fix Mr. Griswald. I watched in horror as he smashed some of his candy in Mr. Griswald’s book!
“Don’t do that!” I demanded as I ran up to the desk. Billy walked to his desk as I opened the book and stared. Mr. Griswald picked that moment to walk in. I immediately shut his book and sat down as he ordered. Then I watched as he sat down at his desk and opened the book. “Jujubes!” he exclaimed.
Then he accused me of doing it. As Pa told you, he began lecturing to me about how every book had a soul. I had destroyed that book’s soul. It all was weird to me, but I hollered out, “No, I didn’t! I didn’t!”
Then I looked at Billy. “Please, Mark?” he begged.
For the life of me, I don’t know why I chose to cover for my friend. He deserved the licking – not me – but I soon found myself turning around in front of the classroom as everyone in the class watched me get the first whipping of my life! I cried out in pain and tears burned my eyes. When it was over, I slowly made my way back to my seat, but I didn’t want to sit down – it hurt too much!
As I went back to my desk, Billy tried to look at me, but I turned my head away – he was the last one I wanted to talk to at the moment! All afternoon I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat – it wasn’t just soreness from the whipping, but it was embarrassment from getting whipped in front of all the other kids that bothered me.
Then recess came. Mr. Griswald ordered me to stay in my seat, then he brought over the history book and ordered me to begin copying the assignment from the night before. He sat at his desk and watched me as if I was going to bolt. But running out of school for the second time was sure not going to help my case in with Pa, so I sat there.
I was happy when Mr. Griswald finally dismissed class for the day. I had had about as much of him as I could take. I got up to leave, but Mr. Griswald called me to the desk. Billy stood right in front of me and I pushed passed him without even giving him a look. I walked up to Mr. Griswald’s desk and stood there patiently as he gathered up his books. “I will drive you home.”
“I have my horse,” I answered.
“We’ll tie him to the back of my carriage. I wish to speak to your father about your behavior.”
I slowly followed him out of the classroom. Not a word was spoken all the way to the ranch, and I was happy with that because I really had nothing left to say. I hated what he had done to me, and I vowed to never speak to him again.
As we pulled into the yard, Pa came up to the carriage. He was looking at me strangely. Mr. Griswald carefully climbed from the wagon as I untied my horse. “Mr. McCain, your son has been a trouble maker today. Not only did he show up this morning unprepared, but this afternoon he destroyed school property by putting candy in my book and smashing it.
Pa cleared his throat and I slowly lifted my head. He crossed his arms. I swallowed hard as I saw the look on his face – I’d never seen him so angry. I could suddenly feel my heart beating. Pa closed his eyes and took a deep sigh. “Go to your room, Mark.” He said it very quietly and through clinched teeth.
“Pa,” I started.
“I said go to your room!” he yelled.
I turned and ran inside. I went to the window and watched as Pa and Mr. Griswald talked. Pa didn’t seem to be yelling at him for whipping me, and that angered me even more. I saw Pa look toward the house, then he turned and watched Mr. Griswald ride down the path. I went and sat back on my bed.
The door opened. Pa walked inside and shut the door behind him. “What do you have to say for yourself boy?”
I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. Pa crossed his arms as he leaned against the door. “You will be punished. Mr. Griswald said he gave you a whipping today, but let me tell you that’s nothing compared to what I’m going to give you.”
I suddenly turned and looked at Pa. Every inch of his face was etched in anger. My eyes suddenly filled with tears. I was angry at myself for crying in the light of punishment. Pa came over and sat on the bed. He put a hand on my back. “I punish you because I love you, son,” he said quietly.
“Pa, ain’t ya mad? I mean, he hit me!” I declared.
“He used a switch on you, Mark. It’s standard practice in the school. I told him I didn’t agree that was the most effective punishment, but there’s not much I can do about it. When I allow you to go to that school, I allow him to punish you the way he sees fit.”
I hung my head. I understood what Pa was saying, but it didn’t make me any happier. “Now, what do you have to say for your actions?”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I hung my head.
“Sorry?” Pa asked suddenly. “For what?” I heard the anger on his voice. I said nothing.
“You will stay in your room for the remainder of the night. I believe Mr. Griswald has given you plenty of homework to keep you busy. Then you will go straight to bed. For the next two weeks, when you aren’t doing chores or eating, you will be here in your room thinking on what you did wrong.”
“That’s not fair!” I suddenly declared.
“Mark!” Pa warned sharply. “Don’t you talk to me about fair, boy!”
I suddenly threw myself down onto my bed and began crying hard. The harder I cried, the angrier I got – at Pa, at Mr. Griswald, at Billy and at myself for giving in to such a childless act.
“You think it’s just yourself you embarrassed today? Do you think I enjoy hearing that my son did such a childish prank as to ruin a teacher’s book with CANDY? Well, do ya?” Pa’s voice boomed.
“I didn’t!” I suddenly cried into my pillow. “I didn’t! Don’t you understand I didn’t?”
Pa continued sitting on the end of my bed. “Mr. Griswald said you were standing at the desk opening the book when he came in.”
I was angry – how dare he accuse me of such a terrible act! I hated Mr. Griswald in that moment. I hated everything about that school in that moment. “I’ll never go back to that school! Not as long as I live! Not while he’s there!” I screamed at Pa.
But Pa just continued to lecture me, getting angrier each second. “Books are valuable, expensive and hard to freight! The school needs every one it has. Destruction’s not like you, Mark!”
That was it! I didn’t care who knew the truth anymore! I suddenly turned and admitted the truth. “Billy did it, not me!”
That quieted Pa down. My words were surprised and he asked me why I didn’t tell Mr. Griswald that. I told Pa the truth – Billy asked me not to tell. I expected Pa to understand, to tell me that Mr. Griswald was indeed wrong to punish me.
But Pa suddenly stood up and walked away from the bed. “I don’t know what to say,” he stated. But then he suddenly turned and sternly told me, “But if you choose to stand up and take the blame for someone, you gotta do just that. Not run away.”
“I don’t mind the punishment,” I stated in a calmer voice. “I just can’t take anymore of him.”
If I had expected Pa to side with me, I was terribly disappointed. You’re not the one who passes on teachers. You’ve got no choice but to go back to school.”
I couldn’t believe him! After what I had told him – I was punished, even though I was innocent – he was still siding with that…that…monster! “I won’t!” I yelled defiantly.
“If Mr. Griswald’s not the right teacher for us, it’ll be taken up by the town council. In the meanwhile, you’ll go back!” His anger had returned.
I couldn’t stand the thought of going back to that…that…monster! I wouldn’t – couldn’t…”No!” I screamed. “No please, Pa! Please!”
“Mark, don’t disobey me, too,” he stated. Then he walked to the door. He turned and gave me another hard stare. He was still obviously angry with me. Then he walked out, firmly closing the door behind him.
“I can’t, Pa!” I said softly after he left. “Not even for you!”
I cried into my pillow for a long time. Pa came back and opened the door an hour later. I looked at him, but I wish I hadn’t. His face was full of disappointment and anger. I didn’t understand why I was being punished – why he was still angry even though he knew the truth. I hadn’t done the crime, yet I was still being punished.
“Haven’t started on your homework?” Pa asked in a gruff voice.
I turned my head from him. Pa cleared his throat. “You have exactly two minutes to get started on it before I start dishing out more punishment.” I continued staring at the wall. “Mark!” Pa yelled.
“Ye-yes sir,” I answered. I picked up my math book and started studying.
He brought me in a bowl of soup later. I ate it quietly and alone. He allowed me to come out of my room when I was done with my homework. I didn’t want to, but he told me to anyhow. He was outside smoking his cigar. I came to the doorway. Pa slightly turned his head. “Come sit here, son,” Pa patted the porch step beside him.
I silently came to sit by him, but not too closely. I was still angry. “Mark,” Pa started with a heavy sigh. “Parenting is one of the hardest jobs you will ever have. It breaks my heart to punish you, but it also breaks my heart to see you do wrong.”
I rolled my eyes in the darkness. I hadn’t done wrong, and he should have known that. But I was in no mood to talk. There was a bitter silence in the air. I listened to Pa take puffs from his cigar and blow the smoke out in the darkness. “Son, someday when you have a son of your own, you’ll understand this day better.”
I still said nothing. Pa sighed. I knew he didn’t like my silence, but I was too angry to talk right now. “Well, if you don’t want to talk then you better get to bed. Goodnight, son.”
I stood up to leave. “Mark!” Pa called to me before I stepped off the porch. I turned and looked at him. “I said goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Pa,” I answered shortly.
“Son, I love you. Never forget that. I love you.”
I went to bed, but I wasn’t able to get those words out of my head. They ate at me all night. I didn’t sleep well.
The next morning, I got ready for school as usual. When I came out to the table, I didn’t even look up at Pa. I didn’t want to see the look of disappointment on his face. He sat my oatmeal in front of me, then sat down beside me. “Good morning,” he greeted me.
I looked up and saw him smiling at me. “Morning,” I answered gruffly.
“Still angry with me?” Pa asked.
I sighed as I began eating. “I’m angry at everybody.”
“At yourself?” I shrugged. “Do you know why I’m punishing you?”
I stuffed another spoonful of oatmeal in my mouth. “Pa, I gotta hurry. I can’t be late for school.”
“Mark, we need to talk about this. I didn’t talk to you about it last night because I was still too angry and-“
“I’m still too angry, Pa!” I stood up and put my bowl in the sink.
I hurried to the door. “Mark-“ Pa started.
I looked up at him. I saw the agony on his face. “We’ll talk tonight. As soon as I get home. Okay?”
Then I left. As I rode my horse down the road, I tried to figure out where I was going. I saw Billy up ahead. He sent his sisters on ahead then ran back to me. I stared straight ahead, ignoring him as I rode. “Going to school Mark?”
“No,” I answered.
“I’ll play hooky with ya!” Billy declared.
I suddenly jumped off my horse and stood in front of him. “I don’t want you to play with me at all, Billy Davis!” I declared. “I want you to go away! You’re the one that got me in all this trouble!”
I turned to walk away. “Mark, I’m sorry! I know I should have gotten the switch instead of you!”
“Darn right!” I declared.
“Mark, I was just trying to teach him a lesson!”
I turned and glared at him. My fists were clinched at my sides. “You did that alright!” I answered. “You taught him a really good lesson – that Mark McCain is a rebellious little trouble maker!” I started walking again. I tied Blue Boy to a tree at the edge of the woods then started walking into the woods. Billy followed me. “My own father thinks I’m a trouble maker now! He punished me even more then Mr. Griswald did. I have to do chores every day for the next two weeks – and extra chores are triple worse then regular ones I have to do everyday!”
“You didn’t tell your Pa the truth, did ya Mark?” Billy suddenly asked.
I turned and glared at him again. “I did!”
Billy gasped. “He’ll tell my folks!”
I nodded. “I sure hope he does! And I hope you get the licking of your life!”
“Come on, Mark! You’re my bestest friend! In North Fork!”
I gave a short laugh. “You sure have a funny way of showing it,” I stated as I continued walking deeper into the woods.
“I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but will you?” Billy asked.
“Are you really sorry?” I asked. “If we had it to do all over again, would you do it again?” Billy lowered his head. I didn’t give him time to answer because I already knew the answer. I smiled in spite of myself. “Let’s go swimming.”
We did just that. Then we found an apple tree on the edge of a field and took a few apples to eat for lunch. All afternoon, we sat on the edge of a bank talking. Then when it was time for school to let out, I decided we best get going before someone caught us.
That’s when Billy told me about a cave he had come up on last Saturday. I followed him there. It wasn’t just a cave – it was an old mine cave! I sure was impressed as I looked around. You know me well enough to know that I wanted to explore it – every inch of it! There was even still an old cart there, so I hopped on it and started down the track.
But suddenly, it ran off the track and crashed into the wall. I fell out and I heard a huge boom. I saw all this stuff falling towards me.
The next thing I remember, I lying on the floor. Rocks and dirt were on me. I hollered for Billy, but he was no longer there. I prayed that he had run for help.
But the worst thing was the noise I suddenly heard – it was a creaking, like something was about to give way. Then I looked up and saw what it was. I stared in horror – the whole ceiling was about to cave in, and when it did I’d be dead!
“Oh Pa,” I cried out to the one person who could save me. “What’ll I do now?”
I knew I had gotten myself into this mess. And while I laid there in that dark cave, my leg pinned down and my life hanging in the balance I had a lot to think about.
The first think I thought about was sitting out on the porch with my Pa the night before. We had done it so many times before, but I had never sat away from him where he couldn’t put his arm around me. I’d never snubbed his “I love you’s.”
I began crying in the darkness again, but this time it wasn’t selfish tears – it was tears of remorse as I heard Pa’s words echo in my mind. “Son, I love you. Never forget that. I love you.”
His voice had held something that bothered me, and here in the darkness I realized what it was – sorrow. “I love you…I love you…I love you…” I had turned my back on those words. I hadn’t even spoken to him.
Then this morning, Pa had started to tell me why I was being punished and I had refused to listen.
The ceiling creaked again. I looked up and saw even more dirt and rocks falling. I would die very soon – I would die without telling my Pa I understood – that I loved him too. I would die without ever feeling his comforting arms around me again. I would die with so much between us.
“Oh God!” I suddenly cried out. “Please don’t let this be my father’s memories! Pleas spare me for him!” I began crying again.
Then I began to think about the punishment. I had known it last night, but I hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself. Pa was punishing me because I had taken the coward’s way out – I had stayed silent instead of standing up for myself and telling Mr. Griswald the truth.
I had hated Mr. Griswald for what he had done, but in essence, I had deserved what I got. How could he had known I was innocent? That’s why I was being punished now.
I suddenly smiled through my tears. Pa had said being a parent was a hard job, but as I looked at my reason for being punished, I realized that my father was a loving, caring and devoted parent who wanted to teach me how to live as a man – to stand up for what was right, even if it was painful.
The ceiling squeaked again. In the darkness I heard a familiar voice calling my name. It was my Pa! He was there trying to get to me! I started to call out to him, to tell him I was alive. But the ceiling suddenly squeaked and I became more afraid.
I didn’t want him to find my smashed body under the collapsed ceiling. I wanted to stay alive for my Pa! I called out to him, but I couldn’t keep the fear from my voice. Pa? Pa? Pa, over here!” I called. I sent up more prayers to Heaven that God would help Pa get through in time.
Suddenly, he was climbing through the hole. “Over here Pa!” I rejoiced as I saw him run to me. He grabbed me. Then we looked into each other’s eyes.
He forgave me right there. He forgave me for everything! Then he threw his arms around me and held me tight. “Oh, I knew you’d come, Pa!” I stated proudly. In my heart, I had known. I was no longer afraid because I knew our relationship was once again restored.
Then the ceiling creaked again. Pa realized we were all in danger. He worked painstakingly to get me out of there. And with Mr. Griswald’s help, they were able to use a fulcrum and lever to get me out of there.
Pa sent me out first, then Mr. Griswald. As I climbed out of the hole, Mr. Griswald pushed on me warning me to hurry. Only moments after Pa climbed through did the ceiling cave in. I stared at it before Pa hurried me to the mouth of the cave.
I was shaking from everything that had happened. As I sat down. Pa suddenly put his arms around me. I shook my head, telling him I was okay. Then he began doctoring Mr. Griswald’s arm. “What happened?” I asked.
“It’s nothing,” he answered with a comforting smile. I think that was the first smile I had seen on him. I smiled back, suddenly realizing it wasn’t him I hated.
Then when Mr. Griswald asked Billy for some jujubes, I suspected he knew the truth. We started out and I turned and asked him about it. “Your father told me all about it. I didn’t believe him.” We stopped at Pa’s wagon as Pa put his arm under him to help him into the back of the wagon. Mr. Griswald and I looked into each other’s eyes. “Now I do.” He smiled again.
Pa lifted me into the wagon. He positioned my foot to make it an easy ride for me. I turned and looked at Mr. Griswald as we rode toward the Davis Ranch. “Don’t lick Billy,” I said.
Mr. Griswald turned and looked at Billy. “No,” he answered. “I think the wood pile’s getting awfully low though. And I think he’s ready to tell his folks the truth.”
We turned and looked at Billy. He nodded his head.
Pa dropped Mr. Griswald off at the doc’s. He wanted to get me home and care for me himself, he didn’t figure there was much the doc could do about a twisted ankle and a bloody head.
It was late when we got home. Pa helped me into the chair and propped up my leg. Then he got the medicine box out and began cleaning the cut on my head. I cringed at the sting, but I looked into Pa’s eyes. They were so gentle.
As his hand cleaned my cut, I realize that his hands were so gentle too. I smiled in spite of myself. Pa looked into my eyes before turning his attention back to my cut. “What’s so funny?” he asked as he bandaged my head.
“I love you too, Pa.” My eyes filled up with tears.
Pa’s whole face turned aglow. “I know you do.”
I lowered my head. “I’ve been a pest, huh?”
Pa turned his attention to my leg now. I cringed as he twisted it. “It’s not too bad,” he answered. He looked at me and smiled. “The leg I mean.” He rubbed it gently. “Yes, you have been a…pest.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I sighed. “I know why you punished me. I know what I did was wrong.”
“What did you do wrong?” Pa asked.
“I took the punishment for someone else. I guess I was hurting him as much as myself in doing that.” Pa nodded. “And I…I was being a coward.” Pa nodded again.
“A man stands up for what he believes, son. If you believe you are innocent you have to stand up for that – no one else will.” Pa helped me to my room and stayed in there while I got ready for bed. Then he sat on the edge of my bed. “Now, about today.”
“I disobeyed you.” I knew it would mean more punishment.
“You did. And you got yourself into a lot of trouble because of that disobedience, son. That’s why I have to punish you even more.”
“Isn’t getting trapped in the mine punishment enough?” Pa raised his eyebrows at me. I sighed. “I guess not.”
“Son, being a parent is –“ he stared.
“-the hardest job you’ll ever do!” I finished for him. We laughed. “I know I’m getting two more weeks added on to my punishment.”
Pa nodded. “Some of your extra chores will take place at the school cleaning it.” Pa stated. “I’ve already made arrangements with Mr. Griswald.”
“Great!” I rolled my eyes. I’d really gotten myself into trouble this time.
“Pa?” Pa looked up at me. “I’m truly sorry. I know what I did was wrong and why it was wrong. But…do I have to stay in my room when I’m not doing chores?”
Pa nodded. “I think there’s still a lot you need to think on.” He raised his eyebrows and looked me square in the eye. “Isn’t there?”
I didn’t even answer. I threw my arms around him and smiled. “Good night, Pa.”
I laid down. Pa tucked the covers over me. He stood up from the bed and turned to walk away. But then he turned back around, bent down, and kissed me on the cheek. “You…aren’t getting too old for that are you?”
I just smiled as I watched him walk out. Then I turned over and went fast to sleep!
*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
Dead Cold Cash
around The McCain Ranch