“Hey Mark, you wanna go fishing?” Freddie asked me as he rushed out the door after school.
“Okay,” I answered excitedly.
But the minute we stepped out the door, I saw Pa waiting for me. “Pa, can I go fishing?” I asked him.
Pa shook his head and told me today wasn’t a good day. “Get your horse, son. Come on.”
I mounted my house and rode up beside Pa. As we slowly started toward town, I asked him what was going on. “There’s a couple getting married at the Justice of the Peace, son. I can’t explain it to you, but I just want to be there and make sure there’s no trouble.”
“But why do I have to be here with you?” I asked. “Why can’t I go fishing?”
“Because I want you here with me,” Pa answered. I knew I didn’t always get an explanation I’d understand, so I dropped it.
As we stood outside the justice of the peace, I heard people yelling and laughing. “Pa, is that what your and Ma’s wedding was like?”
Pa shook his head. “Ours was in a church, son. We had a two-ring wedding and your mother wore a beautiful, white wedding dress.”
“Well, why’s these two getting hitched up like this?” I asked.
“Married, Mark,” Pa corrected me sternly. Then he sighed. “It’s really hard to explain, son. But sometimes certain circumstances cause these things to happen.” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “You’ll understand it better when you get older.”
When I get older! I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that!
The doors to the Justice of the Peace opened and the man and woman that had just gotten married walked out. They didn’t look happy like the newly married couples I’ve seen before. In fact, they acted really sad. Pa told me they had come in on a wagon train and had stopped to get married.
As people began shouting at them, they started talking about something called a shivaree. I could tell the talk of it upset the newlywed couple, as well as my Pa. So I asked him what it was. From the look on his face, I could tell it was one of those words that adults used, and kids don’t need to know about. Pa told me he’d tell me later – I knew he needed time to think of how to explain it to me!
I watched the man and woman for a minute. They looked lost – like they didn’t have a friend in the world! I felt awful sorry for them. So when Pa walked back over to me, I stated, “Pa, those two newlyweds…what’s the matter with ‘em? They just stand there like they haven’t got a place to go!”
“Well, son?” Pa asked. I could tell he already knew what I was going to ask.
“I wouldn’t mind bunking up with you, pa. I won’t even mind if you snore!” I stated. I knew those two needed a place to stay, and I thought we should help them.
Pa smiled at me. I was glad to see him take my advice and ask them to come with us for a spell. I watched Pa talk to them for a few moments, then he nodded at me to mount up as we started for home. Pa stayed beside the Newlyweds, but he told me to ride on ahead and get started on supper. I groaned. I had forgotten this was my night to cook!
Now, I must admit that my cooking isn’t nearly as good as my Pa.s For a man, my Pa cooked really good! There were few things I knew how to cook, but I did my best with them. Tonight, I was fixing fried potatoes and green beans. I warmed up some beef roast left over from the night before. Pa raised an eyebrow when I sat it on the table, but said nothing. He cleared his throat as the couple sat down at the table. I immediately started to reach for the fried potatoes to dip them, but Pa reached out and moved them out of my reach with a stern look. With that look, no words were needed.
“Let’s say the blessing, Mark.” Pa nodded to me. I closed my eyes and asked God to bring happiness to the Newlyweds that were sitting at our table. Then we started eating. I tried making some small talk, but Pa finally kicked me under the table and shook his head as he drew his eyes to the couple. I sighed, knowing I needed to be quiet.
When we were almost done eating, Mrs. Hanaway stated that she didn’t feel too elegant dressed like a man. Pa cocked his head to one side and looked at her. Then he told her to come with him. “You are the same size my wife was when we got married,” he stated as he lifted the lid to the trunk and began moving stuff around to get to something at the bottom. He carefully removed a beautiful white dress from the trunk and held it up to her. Mr. Hanaway smiled and nodded his head. “Go try it on,” Pa suggested.
She touched it, but shook her head. “It was your wife’s!” she declared.
Pa looked at me and smiled. “If you knew my wife, you wouldn’t think twice to put it on. She was a very elegant person, as you can tell by the dress she married me in. If my wife were here, she would have offered it to you. She was the most giving person I knew!” Pa held the dress back up against her and smiled. “Besides, she told me that something this beautiful shouldn’t be hidden away!”
I smiled as Mrs. Hanaway took the dress into the bedroom. When we were finished eating, she walked out to show us the dress. I smiled and looked at Pa who was beaming from ear to ear. She twirled around for all of us. Mr. Hanaway just sat there and stared. “It is elegant!” she declared. Then as if realizing I was in the room for the first time, she turned to me and told me I was an elegant cook!
Pa talked to them for a few minutes as they explained why she was made to look like a man. I must admit that I didn’t understand what was being said, but I did know this wasn’t a normal marriage. Suddenly, Pa turned to me and said, “Mark, aren’t you kind of fallin’ down on the job, boy?” I looked at him, trying to figure out what I was supposed to have been doing. Then he suggested for me to go get more firewood.
More firewood? Was he crazy? Pa motioned me to move with his eyes, and I knew he just simply wanted me out of the house. After closing the door, I walked over to the woodpile, then looked back at the door. I folded my arms as I shook my head at him. I couldn’t help but to wonder what he had to say to them that couldn’t have been said in front of me. Oh well, I guess it was one of those things I’d understand when I grew up!
After waiting a couple minutes, I picked up a small piece of firewood and went back inside. “I’m awful disappointed in you, Pa!” I declared as I came back in. Of course, Pa had to act like he didn’t know what I was talking about. Then I admitted that I knew he wanted to get rid of me. I guess he didn’t realize I had just filled up the wood box!
I started clearing the table. Pa soon came over with a stack of dishes and started rolling up his sleeves. “Go do your homework, boy. If you get done soon enough, we’ll play some checkers.”
“Did the Newlyweds go to bed already?” I asked as I looked around.
Pa just nodded as he got the dishwater ready. “Why’d they go to bed so early? Were they tired?”
Pa turned from the sink and gave me a hard look. “Didn’t I just tell you to do your homework?”
“Yes sir,” I groaned. As I turned to get my books, I saw Pa shake his head at me. More adult stuff, I guess!
I only had a little math and got that done by the time Pa finished washing up the dishes. Pa got out the checker board and set it up. I could tell he was distracted about something. “Does it have something to do with those people in town and what they were talking about earlier?” I asked.
Pa looked at me strangely. “What, Mark?”
“You’re deep in thought. Whatcha thinkin’ about?” I asked.
Pa looked down at the checkerboard. “The shivaree,” he stated as he moved one of his checkers.
We played for a minute or so before he went into deep thought again. I jumped him. Frustrated that he wasn’t paying attention, I asked, “What’s a shivaree, Pa?”
From the look on his face, I could tell Pa didn’t really want to answer at first. But then he explained it to me. He told me it was a practical joke people would play on a couple on their wedding night – they would try to keep the couple up. I thought that was downright mean!
We played for a little while longer, but it was obvious that Pa wasn’t even trying to play. I double jumped him and got frustrated again. “You’re not letting me win, are you Pa?” I asked. I could tell something was really bothering him, but he wouldn’t talk about it. Pa finally stood up from the table. I knew the game was over so I started putting it away.
Suddenly, Mr. Hanaway came out of the bedroom and said he needed to talk to Pa. From the look on his and Pa’s face, I knew it was more adult stuff, so I left the house again. As I stood outside, Micah rode up. “Your Pa inside, son?” he asked.
I nodded. “But they’re talking about adult stuff.”
Micah nodded. “Come on, boy. You best get inside now.”
When we got inside, Micah announced that the shivaree was coming. Pa made me go into the bedroom with the couple. We stood in the doorway of the bedroom. Mr. Hanaway put an arm around my shoulders as we watched Pa walk outside to get rid of the men. We stared at each other as the men got louder and louder. They were being downright mean, and I was afraid a gunfight my start! Mr. Hanaway told us to go on inside the bedroom so he could close the door.
We sat quietly on the beds as we heard the arguing outside. My Pa was trying to tell them to leave, but they were insisting in seeing the Hanaways.
Suddenly, the door to the bedroom opened and some mean men came inside. Mr. Hanaway told them to get out, but I stared in horror as one of them men grabbed Mr. Hanaway, and the other grabbed Mrs. Hanaway! I ran out to try to stop him, but one of the bad guys grabbed me and shoved me back into the bedroom. Then he closed it and blocked it so I couldn’t open it. I started pounding on the door and screaming for Pa as loud as I could, but the noise was too loud. Finally, I heard all the voices fading as they apparently rode off back to North Fork. “Pa!” I screamed again as I banged on the door.
It seemed like minutes before Pa finally came in and let me out of the bedroom. He stooped down and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Did they hurt you, son?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Just scared me. Pa, what are they going to do?”
Pa looked over my shoulder and shook his head. “I don’t know, son!” he declared. “Listen Mark, I have to go to town. You stay here!”
“No Pa, I don’t want to stay here by myself! Let me come with you!”
Pa shook his head. “It’s too dangerous in town to have you there. You’ll be safer here.”
I didn’t want him to go. I was afraid they would use their guns. I didn’t want anything to happen to my Pa! I wanted to say something, but Pa started talking before I could. “I want you to get the cots ready. Can you do that?”
I nodded my head. “Then I want you to go to bed.”
“But Pa!” I protested.
Pa reached for his bullets. He turned around and pointed at me. “I don’t have time to argue, son. I promise you’ll be safer here. Do as I say.”
I raced to the door and watched him jump on Razor and ride off towards North Fork.
I did as Pa told me. I got the cots ready and got ready for bed. But I couldn’t lay down and go to sleep. I stood on the porch and looked out across the lonely prairie, but there was no movement as far as I could see. Every minute that passed without a sign made me more scared. Where could they be? What was happening?
I went back into the house and drank another glass of milk. Then I stood in the doorway and leaned my head against the side. I was worried about what was happening in town. My eyes were getting heavy, so I sat down at the table and laid my head down. I couldn’t sleep when Pa wasn’t here. It was impossible. I wouldn’t go to sleep until-
Suddenly, I felt arms lifting me and carrying me. I sleepily opened my eyes and saw my Pa. He smiled down at me. “You’re back!” I stated.
“And you should be in bed,” he whispered.
He laid me down and tucked the covers around me. Then he blew out the lantern. “Pa?” I called sleepily in the darkness. Pa came over and sat on the side of my cot as he started taking his boots off. “The Newlyweds? Are they-“
Pa put a finger to his lips. “She’s in the bedroom. They’ve had a rough night, son. Now go to sleep.” I closed my eyes. I was just drifting off to sleep when I felt my Pa kiss my forehead.
The next morning, I heard dishes rattling and woke up. Mrs. Hanaway was in the kitchen scrambling eggs in a bowl. I rubbed my eyes as I sat up. “Good morning,” she gave me a tired smile. I just nodded. “Where’s my Pa?”
“Oh, he and Derek are out doing the morning chores.”
I got up and looked out the window as I stretched. “Well, I reckon I should get dressed and see if they need help.”
“Your father said for me to wake you up for school in a few minutes. He knew you didn’t go to sleep until late so wanted to let you sleep for a little while. So you best scoot on in there and get dressed.”
“Yes ma’am.” I started for the bedroom, then turned around. “He’s not gonna pay you to boss me, is he?” I asked.
She laughed. “No, but I did tell him that as long as we’re staying here, he can expect me to do the women’s work around here.”
I quickly got ready to go and went out to the barn. The first thing I noticed was a cot. “Pa, who slept out here last night?” I asked Pa, who was giving the animals fresh hay.”
“Derek did, son,” Pa answered.
“I thought he was going to-“ I started.
“Mark,” Pa cleared his throat. Then he shook his head and gave me a look that told me this was an adult matter. I sighed again, but said nothing.
Looking around the barn, I suddenly got an idea. “Pa, you know, this place sure is a mess! I reckon I’ll stay home today and help you out!”
“Oh, that’ a mighty nice offer, son.” Pa said without looking up from his task. Then I saw a small grin played at the corners of his mouth. “You best get the cow milked and get it into Lisabeth. Then hurry and eat so you can get to school.”
“Oh, but Pa!”
Pa stopped his work then and turned around. “Son, we’ll leave plenty of work for you for when you get home tonight. I promise!”
I did have to go to school that day, and everyday after that. Derek and Lisabeth (whom I was finally allowed to call on a first name basis) stayed on for a whole month as they earned enough money to travel to Yuma and get married. Though it was a long time ago, I still remember they day they left.
After a month of seeing a woman in your house cleaning and all, it’s kind of sad to see her go. She cooked us one final breakfast that morning – she fixed a western omelet just like my Ma used to fix! I savored every bite of it. We sat around the table laughing and remembering back over our month together. Pa had said a special blessing that morning, praying for their safe happiness and many years together.
I offered to wash the breakfast dishes, but Lisabeth smiled and said this would be our last opportunity to have her doing stuff, so she would do our dishes one last time. After they were done, Derek came in to announce the wagon was all loaded and ready for them to travel.
As we walked out, I stopped at the door and turned around to look at our house that had entertained our guests for the last month. I saw the dishes all neatly put away, the floor cleaner then it ever was with Pa and me keeping house, the cots neatly made, the curtains clean and smelling good, and every piece of dust chased out. I let out a heavy sigh.
Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw Lisabeth looking around the house and smiling. “I don’t have a Ma or Pa, and it’s hard, Mark. I know there’s been times I’ve missed having either parent. Your father is a wonderful man, Mark. Don’t ever take him for granted.”
The softness in her voice brought tears to my eyes. I turned and smiled at her. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate my Pa. It’s just different having a woman’s touch about the house. I’ll sorely miss ya, Lisabeth!”
She wiped my cheek with the back of her hand and hugged me close. “I’ll come back and visit. I promise.” She smiled. “And we’ll write and let you know we’ve settled.”
Just then, Pa called her name. We both turned around as he walked out of the house with something in his arms. Lisabeth and I looked at each other surprised. Pa held ma’s wedding dress in his arms. “I would like it no better if you would get married in this dress.”
Lisabeth turned and looked at me. “It was your mother’s dress, Mark. Don’t you want to keep it?”
I did in a way. But I wanted her to have it. I know she was as pretty as my ma, and Pa said that Ma would want it that way. “No. I want you to have it,” I answered.
I knew we had done the right thing. Tears sprung to her eyes as she reached out for the dress. She slowly walked over to the wagon and sat it in the back. ‘Derek,” I heard her say hoarsely. “I’ll have a real wedding dress to get married in.”
Derek ran a hand through her hair and smiled. No words were said as we watched them. Pa came up behind me then and gently laid his hands on my shoulders. Lisabeth and Derek came to say their goodbyes. Derek shook our hands and went to wait for Lisabeth over by the wagon. Lisabeth still had tear in her eyes as she bent down and hugged me. “Remember my promise. I’ll come back to visit.” I looked into her eyes and knew she would.
Then she stood. “Lucas, you’ve done so much for us!” She bit her lip to keep from crying. Then she suddenly threw her arms around Pa. Pa returned the hug and smiled at her. “You two be happy.”
Pa put his hands on my shoulders once again as we watched them ride off. I felt like a piece of my heart was going with them. “Pa, I really love them!” I stated.
“Me too,” Pa confessed. I turned to look at him, and he held a smile on his face.
“It was hard to give Ma’s wedding dress up.” It wasn’t a question. I knew the answer.
Pa said nothing for a long time. Then he bent down to be eye level with me. “We want to hold on to those things. But the whole time I was selfishly thinking of holding onto it, I heard your mother’s voice. ‘That dress is too pretty to keep in a trunk, Luke. A dress like that needs to be used.’ That’s what your mother would say.”
“But what if you were to get married again someday, Pa?” I asked.
“I couldn’t marry another woman in that dress, son.” I gave him a confused look. “It’s hard to explain, son.” Pa stated.
“Yeah, more adult stuff!” I complained.
Pa smiled at me. “Well, what do you say we go for a quick horseback ride before you go to school?” I turned to look at him. “I think we could both use some time to adjust back to normal. I’ll send a note with you explaining why you’re late.”
“Yes sir!” I shouted as I ran for the barn.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.