The last thing my Pa said to me this morning before I rode off to school was to make sure I did the laundry when I got home. It’s one of those chores I normally put off as long as possible, and this time was no different. But, I had my orders, and if I knew what was good for me, I’d follow them. Usually, Pa and I worked on this chore together, like on a Saturday afternoon or something. But Pa’s been so busy with the cattle and such that he hadn’t had enough time to set aside. So, lately, I’d been left with most of the household chores.
So, that’s what I was doing this afternoon when that man walked up. I wasn’t surprised that a man came up to the ranch, because that happens from time to time. But it was how the man looked that surprised me, and even scared me a bit. He was so…ugly! His clothes were really dirty, and his hair was messed up. But the worst thing of all was that he had one arm in his sleeve, but the other one was stuck inside his shirt. I saw his hand moved as he tried to scratch himself. My nose winkled up, but I didn’t say anything.
The stranger asked me for a drink of water, but he wanted to pay for it. I had never heard of a person paying for water before, and I told him, "You can have all the water you want for free. Pa and me couldn't get the name of chargin' for drinking water."
But when I went inside and primed the pump he yelled for me to turn it off because I was wasting water. I had no idea where this man came from or where he was going, but I sure was hoping he would keep on moving!
Another thing I noticed about the man is that he was really dirty and he smelled really bad! I told him that he could take a shower bath if he wanted. Pa always told me that I should treat our guests respectfully, no matter what my personal feelings were toward them. I didn’t particularly like this man, but I wasn’t going to be rude to him; and besides, he really could use a bath. So I politely explained to him that he could just stand under and pull the rope. We even had soap and a scrub brush, which I’m sure he would use a lot of.
But my polite offer for a bath was misinterpreted. All of a sudden, he got real mad. "You stand there telling me to my face that I smell like I don't belong with human company," he came and shouted in my face. He came toward me as he continued yelling, which scared me pretty bad! But no matter, he kept yelling at me! “Why, you squeaking little Yankee, I don’t let nobody-don’t go sticking your head off to one side now…”
I sure was happy that my Pa showed up at that time! I didn’t want to be alone with this man anymore, and I knew my Pa would send him on his way. In fact, when he saw the man yelling at me, he whipped out his gun and started to get on to him for yelling at me like that. But then Pa stopped and got a look of pity on his face. The old man was really rude, and I didn’t much care for him. But Pa invited him inside and fixed him something to eat while I just watched.
Before he left, the man asked my Pa for a job. I couldn’t imagine having him around the house for a few more hours, much less a few more days! And I was really happy when Pa said no! I was even more happy, though, when the man finally left our house and started on down the road. Whew, now maybe things could get back to normal around here! “Gosh, I sure am glad you didn't take him on, pa," I thankfully stated.
Suddenly, I heard Pa’s voice. He sounded mad or something. “Why?” he asked.
"He makes me shiver, he's so ugly and, that arm of his!" Ew, just thinking about it made me shiver! I watched as Pa stood up and started out the door. “Where are you going?” I asked suddenly.
"To try and hire the both of us a clear conscious," he stated.
I didn’t like that answer. We had just gotten rid of the old man, and he was on his way out of here. But now Pa was going to invite him right back into our home? “Oh no, Pa. Please!” I begged. “Well, I can’t even stand to look at him!”
“Neither can I, son, which means we’re both in worse shape then he is!” My Pa was always one to treat people with the utmost respect, and I knew this time wasn’t going to be any different. I didn’t like thinking that this man would be here for a few days, but my Pa had spoken!
I decided that as long as he was around, I would just keep my distance from him. But later that evening, Pa told me to help him with bringing in the pieces to an old, broken bed that Blanden could fix up. I looked at him and wrinkled up my nose telling him I had homework to do. “On a Friday night?” Pa raised an eyebrow at me. Then he nodded his head in the direction of the barn, telling me to come with him. “I want you to show the same respect to him that you would show to anyone else.” I didn’t say anything. “You hear me, boy?” Pa asked in a stern voice.
“Yes sir,” I stated as we walked into the barn.
I set the pieces of the bed down. Blanden was still complaining and feeling sorry for himself. I wanted out of there fast! “Let’s go, Pa!” I suddenly stated as they were talking.
“Mark.” Pa’s voice held a warning in there, so I stood quietly as they continued talking. I knew I was to stay put until Pa motioned for me to go.
Finally, Pa started to leave. And I couldn’t help but to cringe when I heard him say, “Glad you’re here!”
The next day, I asked Pa if I could ride into town and do some errands for him. He just looked at me sternly and stated that neither one of us was leaving. We had plenty of work to do around here and I would continue to show respect. That morning at the table, I didn’t say much as Blanden sat at the table and rattled off his mouth some more about how bad he had it. I just couldn’t stand to listen! At one point, Pa shot me a look that told me I should change my attitude. When I finished eating, I started to stand up and clear the dishes, but one look at Pa made me sit back down. I knew I had to sit there until they were finished eating.
Thankfully, I was able to do most of my morning chores away form that man. And at lunch, Pa fixed sandwiches and told me to bring Blanden his sandwich. I did. After lunch, Blanden started work on plowing the field. I had been out there earlier and saw a nest of yellow jackets, so I decided that I wasn’t going to go anywhere near there. I guess this man didn’t know much about the land, because he didn’t even notice it as he started plowing.
I sat on Blue Boy, whom I had been allowed to take on a short ride on, and watched him plow the field. Pa soon walked up to me and asked me why I wasn’t helping him. I figured he would eventually ask me that because Pa couldn’t stand watching a person sit around while others were working. “Not me,” I stated bravely. "There's a nest of yellow jackets right by where he’s working."
Pa suddenly shot his head around at me. I know he was surprised at my attitude. He scolded me, asking me why I didn’t warn him. “I don’t like to go near him, pa!” I stated. He just scared me so much!
Suddenly, Blanden started screaming as the yellow jackets got to him. Pa ran out to help him. Pa knew they were in his shirt and had to take it off. I stared in shock as he started to take Blanden’s shirt off. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing what was hiding under there, yet I couldn’t look away. What I saw when Pa took his shirt off was horrible! He had a huge unhealed gash on his shoulder, which explained why he was crippled. That look scared me so bad that I couldn’t stand it. I raced off to sit under the tree and reflect on this new discovery.
As I sat down, I suddenly realized that I shouldn’t have been so rude to him I should have been feeling sorry for him. After all, it probably hurt him a lot. I didn’t understand why such a thing had to happen to a man, and I sat there under that tree and tried to make sense of it all.
Pa knew that I had come to the realization of the truth. Something about my pa – he was always there when I needed him, and he always talked me through any pain I felt. And I did feel a lot of pain. I was sorry for how I had been acting since this poor man arrived. No only that, but I was sorry that he had to suffer. I knew it had to be awful for him.
"Sorry son, but sooner or later you had to find out," he said as he bent down behind me and placed his arm around me. That’s something about my Pa. He knew his touch always helped me!
I was crying. The vision I had just seen was too much for me. "Why did I? I didn't want to! Pa, his shoulder wasn’t healed!” I felt so sorry for him. I was no longer scared, but sorry.
But Pa had a big lesson to teach me. "Not only poor Blanden's shoulder, but I mean all the ugly, useless suffering in the world. In time you'll learn to accept it and bring it into balance with the good things."
I didn’t understand how. I couldn’t figure out a good reason why such things should happen to people – people like Blanden being hurt and other stuff Pa said I’d discover along the way. All I knew is it hurt to see such stupid stuff happen. “I’ll never be able to, Pa!” I cried even harder.
Pa suddenly softly laid his cheek on my forehead. He knew I was trying to come to terms with this, but it was just too hard to understand. "You will son because you have to. It's the price you pay on staying alive and in your right senses, it's manhood. And I can promise that when you come to the far end of it, you’ll raise your old hands to bless this wonderful life you’ve been given, taken all together with the roast beef, and the moon rises, and a boy and his father riding out in the morning, after you’re grown up to be a father yourself.”
He stood me up and began brushing me off. I still didn’t understand it, but I knew Pa was telling me that this was life; and rather I understood it or not, I just had to accept it.
Now, there’s something else about me and Pa you need to understand. A lot of times, we are able to finish each other’s thoughts – or at least know what the other is thinking.
“Calvary patrol,” Pa said.
“Look at them,” I started.
“The size of that white-“ Pa said.
“Gosh, ain’t they fine?” I finished.
Now, I know my Pa has already told you all about the cavalry patrol and General Sheridan. I’m not going to tell you the story again, because we were both there and though I may not have understood everything that was said, I can tell you that my Pa did a better job at telling the story then I could. So, I’ll just tell you a few of my thoughts.
First of all, you know how excited I get about new things. Well, these men really excited me! I mean they were from the army. I had heard Pa talk about General Sheridan from when he was in the army. And now this man was on our very own ranch! Later that night, when Pa and me were in the house, Pa was making a large pot of coffee. He said he didn’t like the drinking that was going on and maybe if he took coffee out there, that would keep them all sober.
So, I carried the coffee out there and listened as General Sheridan talked about his adventures. When he noticed me standing there, he asked me if I knew who he was. I couldn’t believe it! This army General who fought so bravely in the Civil War was talking to little ol’ me – Mark McCain! I smiled proudly. “Yes sir! My Pa learned me. I can even say all seven stanzas of Sheridan’s Ride:
‘Up from the South at the break of day,
bringing to Winchester fresh dismay.
The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
Like a herald in haste to a Chieftain’s door.
The terrible grumble, the rumble and roar,
Telling the battle was on once more.
And Sheridan, 20 miles away.’
I did such a good job on saying it. I only had to look at my pa for helped on one word, but the rest I did on my own. I saw my Pa’s smile. He was so very proud of me. I knew I had done good. But then I was a little disappointed when the General stopped me after saying just that little bit. He started complaining that the poem wasn’t even correct.
I know my Pa also told you all about Sheridan and Blanden. I was kinda sad when I learned that General Sheridan himself was the one who shot up Blanden’s arm! But I was really happy when the General and his men said they would fix it up properly! I think I was beginning to understand part of what my Pa was saying! Blanden had something horrible happen to him – he was shot up. But thousands of other boys were killed or maimed. They got a lot worse deal then Blanden did. Not only that, but as bad as Blanden’s wound was, they were going to try to fix it to where he was no longer suffering!
No longer scared or hatful toward Blanden, I proudly watched as the General and his men settled Blanden in our own buckboard. I smiled as I watched Blanden ride off. And I couldn’t help myself when I told him to come back and visit us. Surprisingly, I really wanted him to. I couldn’t help but to be excited to see how his arm did turn out after all.
Pa came up to me then. I know he was surprised at my change of heart. He had to get onto me several times because I wanted to get rid of Blanden as quickly as possible, and now I had told him to come back! Pa asked me if I really meant what I said. I did. Because ever since that day I went and started crying by the tree, the one thing that I couldn’t get out of my head was that it could have been my Pa that had happened to. How would I have wanted a boy to treat my Pa?
I know Pa was proud of me and the lesson I had learned the last couple of days!
Oh yeah, about Blanden. I bet you are wondering if we ever saw him again. Well, about a year later, I was out doing laundry again one day after school. A man came walking into the yard and was coming up to me. I hardly recognized him. He was no longer dirty or smelly. He had on nice pants and a clean shirt, and both of his arms were in the sleeves. And he was pulling a beautiful black stallion behind him. I narrowed my eyes as I tried to figure out who he was. “Would you sell me a nickel's worth of water? My bottle is plum dry!” he stated with a smile.
“Blanden!” I shouted as I came forward. “Oh wow!” I walked all the way around him and shook my head in disbelief. “You look so good, Blanden!”
Blanden smiled. “I feel a lot better too!” Then he grabbed my shoulders and looked my up and down. “Well, I’d say you’ve grown a bit!”
“Yes sir!” I stated. “Pa will be back in a little. You will stay for supper,” I said in a hopeful voice. Blanden nodded. “Blanden, um…” I swallowed. “Listen, it was wrong of me to treat you the way I did.”
But Blanden held up his hand and shook his head. “Now,” he said as he put his arm around me. “Tell me about your Pa!” I started chattering away as we walked into the house.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Retired Gun
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch