I can still remember the day my pa and I rode onto our ranch for the first time. I was only ten years old and had been wondering the countryside for a place to call home for four years. Even after four years, it was still hard for me to accept the fact that my ma was dead – things were so different without her there. My pa was finally in New Mexico territory – the place he had talked about setting for so long! My ma wouldn’t be here to watch my pa fulfill his dream.
There are times a ten year old really needed a mother, and I couldn’t help but to reflect on my times back in Oklahoma with her by our side. Nor could I not stop thinking about the things that had happened in our recent past, and those we were leaving behind. As we stopped to look over the land, my pa stated that it was “new and mighty fine country.” I understood where he was coming from, but so was what we were leaving behind.
I turned to look over my shoulder. Pa gently reminded me that we had agreed not to look back. “We’ve come too far,” he stated with the gentle smile of his that always made me feel safe.
I knew he was right. “I wasn’t looking back,” I tried to explain. “Just remembering.” My father did understand me. He understood I would never be able to erase those memories, nor did I want to. So he allowed me to reflect just a moment, then we both agreed to start forward from here on out.
I remember the first time we rode into that ranch-house yard and how things smelled. I saw some cattle in the yard, and suddenly had the desire to chase them out as I remembered doing that with my pa. My pa looked around a bit to see what he thought of the land. I had already decided I was tired of traveling. I was ready to settle down, and if it was good enough for my pa, it was good enough for me! I knew how much he needed to fulfill his dream.
I’ll never forget how we always rode side by side. Over the years, we’d take that path from the ranch into town side-by-side hundreds of time. Those memories are etched in my mind even today.
When we got into town, the first thing I noticed was that there was a turkey shoot the next day. Now, I’ve always known that my father’s favorite sport was his rifle. Sometimes he had to use it on men, but that’s not the way he wanted to use it. When I saw the sign for the contest, I asked pa if he was going to enter. I guess I was hoping he would so he could show off his great talent! He always made me proud.
I grabbed my things from my horse and followed my pa into the hotel. My pa got us registered and everything, then he told me to go order our food in the restaurant. Being a ten-year old boy, I was always hungry, so I gladly agreed to do so.
I still remember him. There was something…missing in him. I saw it as soon as he walked into the room. I’ve always loved people, and he looked lonely so I invited him to sit down at my table. His name was Vernon. He was a really nice man and we became friends very soon. He didn’t have a ma or pa, and I could tell it made him sad to be alone in the world. He had an uncle, but I could tell immediately that his uncle didn’t fill that empty place inside him. I felt lucky. My pa was doing a real good job at filling my mother’s empty place.
I won’t go into a lot of detail about Vernon. I know my father filled you in on our conversation already. But another thing that stuck in my mind all these years about sitting here talking to Vernon was when his uncle came in. He yelled at him horribly, telling him he was running off the mouth with strangers. I couldn’t believe his uncle would yell at him like that! It made me feel even more blessed.
After he left, these big, mean men came into the dining room and started asking my pa all sorts of questions about how good he can shoot and all. I could tell they weren’t very nice men – most of them at least. My pa didn’t much care about talking to them, so he told me to come on. That’s when one of the men tried to stop him. I saw my pa punch him. It looked like he punched him really hard. I was afraid for my pa – I wanted him to have his dream. He’d come so far and he deserved it.
To be honest, I was ready to settle down too.
So my pa then put his protective arm around me and led me outside. He did that a lot – even before my ma died. As he went to the horses, I commented that he had hit that man awful hard. My pa always had a good answer waiting for me! “Well, he was pretty big, son,” he responded with a smile.
The rest of the day we spent together as we explored the town and took another ride out of town to see what the area was like. I’ll never forget seeing the deep, warm smile on my father’s face. He was filled with excitement as he pointed different things out to me and jabbered off things he planned to do and how I would help him.
We ate at the hotel again that night, but the bad men from earlier hadn’t shown their faces. I was happy as my pa and I talked quietly as we ate. I listened to him softly explain why those men from earlier may be the way they were.
Then pa sent me off to bed. He said he’d be up in a while, but I was fast asleep when he finally came up. I had tried to stay awake, but sleep gave in. It had been a long day, and sleeping in a bed again felt really great! I would grow to love those hotel beds over the years! My pa came up sometime later and crawled into bed next to me. I remembered when I woke up the next morning that he was already up getting dressed. He made the comment of “Good morning, sleepy head,” to me. Then he told me to hurry so we could get down for breakfast.
The turnkey shoot wasn’t until 1pm that afternoon, so again my pa was restless. He cleaned his gun as he sat outside the hotel. I asked him if I could go explore a bit, and he allowed me to but told me not to go too far. My explorations that morning brought me some good discoveries as well as some not so good discoveries. I saw that there were some really good fishing holes just outside of town that I’d be able to use should I be in town.
I also saw that the General Store had a really nice lady there. Her name was Hattie and she offered me a piece of candy to welcome me to the town. Now, I know my pa always taught me not to take things from strangers, and he would not approve of me taking the piece of candy offered to me, but I really liked this lady, so I smiled and took it. I knew I would be begging my father a plenty over the next few years to visit this store – and not just because of the candy, but because this was a real nice lady! Her smile made my worries about us settling here relax. She came around the counter and laid a soft hand on my shoulders as I picked out my piece of candy. Then she smiled again when I tipped my hat to her and thanked her. She said she’d love to meet my folks, cause they were raising up a real gentleman. That’s when I sadly told her my ma had died.
She suddenly got the sorrowful look on her face – almost as if she had known my ma personally. Then she again laid a hand on my shoulder, gave me a reassuring smile, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “Well, if that pa of yours ever gets rough and you need a mother’s touch, you just come find me!”
I smiled, staring at her as I walked out of the store backwards. “Oh, I will, ma’am!” I declared. “I certainly will!”
I had run back to tell my pa about that nice lady. He said he couldn’t wait to meet her, but not that day. It was almost time for lunch. While we sat eating, pa asked me if I had made a lot of good discoveries along the way. I excitedly started telling him about the fishing holes. “Did you happen to see anything else of importance?” my pa asked me with a crooked smile.
I rolled my eyes at him. You remember me saying I discovered some not-so-pleasant surprises along the way? Well, one of those surprises just happened to be a school! “Yes, I saw it,” I stated. “But that doesn’t mean I have to go!”
Pa had been keeping me up on my studies ever since we left Claypool. When we were in the camp, he would make me get out my school books that he kept updated and learn from them. When we were traveling, he’d grill me on math problems and history stuff. He taught me a lot on those rides. As I was remembering all those times, my pa simply stated, “You do have to go. Not right away, but after we get settled.”
We got ready for the Turkey Shoot. I sat next to my pa as we waited for his turn to shoot. I was nervous – not because I didn’t think my pa could do it, but…just because it was such a big deal for him to earn that money. At one point, the Sheriff had come up to talk to him. Pa had simply told me to stay there as he went to talk to him. Then they called his name. I came to stand behind him. I wanted him to know I was there to support him, and I’d be proud no matter what. He shot a perfect score – all shots were in the center! There would be a runoff between my pa and my friend, Vernon.
I watched him shoot the runoff, and something happened to him. He seemed really nervous for some reason, and I couldn’t help but to think it was because of that man who stood behind me. He had said something to my pa before and it changed him somehow. Pa was no longer confident like he had been before. “Well, you gotta miss at least once,” I stated. “Even when your that close!” I wanted my pa to know I was proud of him no matter what.
Then pa bent down and picked me up. I knew something was wrong. He was being very protective of me and wanted to hold me really close. He only did that when something was wrong or he had felt threatened. The men came up and started talking mean-like to him. I didn’t understand what was going on, but my pa was visually upset. The excitement for the ranch had left his eyes. He was…sad.
After we entered the hotel, pa asked for his key. I suddenly started fearing for our ranch. He hadn’t lost the shoot and he was no longer excited. That’s why I voiced my question. “What about our ranch, pa?”
The judge, who was going to sell pa the ranch, stated harshly, “The ranch is not for sell.”
I didn’t understand what was going on and begged him to tell me, but he simply walked past me and walked up the stairs without explaining it. He was upset, and that worried me. But I knew when he was in that kind of mood not to go after him, so I stayed there, knowing that’s what I was supposed to do.
As I waited, my friend Vernon walked in. He wondered where pa was. When I told him he was upstairs, he started saying something about my pa throwing the match. I told him it wasn’t true. I knew my pa wouldn’t do anything like that! Vernon simply stated he’d have to ask my pa himself.
Pa soon came down the stairs. Vernon stated he wanted to ask him a question, but Pa walked right past him. Vernon asked him as Pa went up to the desk to check out. I knew that my Pa never lied, so when he stayed silent, I got worried. The lady behind the desk stated Pa didn’t throw the match, and I stated that he just wasn’t good enough, but my pa never said he didn’t.
Suddenly, one of the mean men came into the hotel to tell Vernon his uncle had just been shot. I didn’t know a lot of what was going on, but I did know this man and the other mean men didn’t like Vernon or my Pa. I also knew they wanted to kill him. The man told Vernon he had to come over to the saloon to get his money. I was scared for Vernon, though. I knew he wasn’t good enough to stand up to these men. I begged him not to go.
Suddenly, my father was in his face telling him to shut-up. He was yelling at him. I was scared as Pa practically admitted to Vernon that he had thrown the match. I knew something horrible must have been said for my Pa to do something like that! Pa then started talking softer. I don’t think he wanted me to hear what he said, but I did. I heard him tell Vernon that he was going over to the saloon. Then I heard him tell Vernon that if he didn’t come back, Vernon had to take care of me.
My heart started beating fast as Pa came over to me. He bent down and told me to get the horses ready. I couldn’t speak as he spoke those words. I didn’t want him to go, but I knew he had to. Pa then bent further down so we were eye-to-eye. His eyes spoke to me. They said, “I love you, son. I love you.”
Then I watched him walk out the door.
As I took the stuff out to load onto the horses, Vernon came out with me. We stood together by the horses, and it wasn’t long before we heard a shot ring out from the saloon. My heart jumped. Vernon looked at me. Then he looked at the saloon. Suddenly, he said, “Stay right there, Mark!”
I called for him to stay, but he just waved his hand at me. I watched him disappear inside the saloon as shots continued to ring out. Finally, it was over. Everything was quiet.
I was terrified. What would I do if Pa never came out? What if Vernon was dead too? Tears streamed down my face as I stood frozen in my spot. I couldn’t go over there because I was too afraid of the scene I would find, but every second that passed put more fear in my heart.
I saw the Marshal and doctor walk inside. Then I saw someone come out – it was my pa. I stared at him, praying I wasn’t dreaming. My pa stood outside the saloon and just stared at me. Suddenly he started toward me, and I rushed forward. I jumped into his arms and we hugged and kissed. His arms held me so tight, and I never wanted them to let go. I had my Pa back!
Suddenly, I remembered Vernon. He hadn’t come out. Fear clinched my heart again. “Where’s Vernon?” I asked.
“He’s going to be okay, son,” my Pa stated with a smile. I was relieved. Then pa asked me if the horses were ready.
I nodded as I slid out of his arms. The sadness was in his eyes again. We had to leave now – to go to a different town where we would be accepted.
But suddenly, a miracle happened. Pa was being asked to stay here and help get rid of the bad guys! My heart leapt with joy. For some reason, my Pa actually thought he had to ask me if I wanted to stay. Of course I wanted to stay – and so did he. My only response was “Yahoo!” as I hugged my Pa again. Then we walked arm-in-arm into the hotel. We looked at each other and smiled. We were finally home.
We signed the papers that very day. As Pa sat across the table from the judge, I watched my pa make the first payment on the ranch. Then I watched my pa as he started to sign for it. “It’s our ranch, right Pa?” I suddenly asked.
My Pa smiled. Tears were shining in his eyes. “It’s our ranch, son.”
I laid my hand on his to keep him from signing. “Then we’re partners?”
Pa suddenly lifted the pen from the paper and looked up at me. “Of course we’re partners,” he grinned. “What are you getting at, Mark?”
“Then we should both sign!” I suddenly declared.
“Mark,” Pa started. I knew he was about to tell me I was a child and I couldn’t sign. But instead he looked at the judge.
“Why don’t you sign your name right under your Pa’s, son?” the judge smiled.
Pa looked at me and winked. Then I watched as he started to sign his name. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Pa whispered.
I nodded. He signed his name then handed the pen to me. My hand shook, I was so nervous and excited. My hand still shaking, I dipped it into the ink well. Then I moved the pen toward the paper. I hesitated as I looked up into my father’s eyes. He smiled at me and laid his arm around my shoulders. “Just take your time, son,” he whispered in my ear.
I signed my name. Then I sat the pen down. Pa and I embraced. “Let’s go home, Pa.”
Pa stood up and lifted me from the chair. As he carried me out, I hugged him. “Let’s go home, son!” he said as we walked toward our horses to ride toward home.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Did you ever wonder what happen to Vernon Tippert? Where did he go, what did he do? Here is a great story based on this episode when Vernon returns to North Fork, it's called Saving Vernon by Michelle Palmer.
What a great story, I know you will really enjoy this!