I suppose I’m like all kids. I get into trouble once in a while, take punishments, and sometimes learn lessons the hard way. This was no different. Of course, I took my first taste of whisky when I was only about 8 or 9 years old because I was so curious to know what the big deal was about it. Well, I surely found out when I got really sick. My Pa never found out though, that is until I told him at the supper table after we had settled in North Fork. I laughed it off and because he was preoccupied with more important matters, I got off without getting into trouble.
But I did learn a lesson – there’s nothing fun about drinking whisky, at least as a young boy.
Then one day – I reckon I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time – I became curious about tobacco…you know, cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. I saw my Pa smoking them often enough. At times, I often thought that maybe it was part of being an adult, but when I asked him about it he told me it was a nasty habit. “What do you mean?” I asked one night as we sat on the porch. I propped my arms on his bent up leg and looked into his face as he spoke softly.
“Well son,” he said as he leaned his head back against the post to think on how to put his thoughts into words. “Every boy thinks there are certain things that come with manhood such as smoking and courting a beautiful girl. But those aren’t what makes him a man. In fact, smoking’s a nasty habit and not one I want you to pick up.”
I thought on those words for a moment. “Well, I don’t care much about courtin’,” I started.
“That’s a relief!” Pa suddenly exclaimed. I gave him a dirty look as he grinned at me.
“But if smoking’s such a nasty habit, why do you do it?” I asked.
“Because I started it a long time ago and I guess my body’s just gotten so used too it like…well, like yours is used to getting up at 5 o’clock every morning to do the chores,” Pa suddenly noticed the sour look on my face. “Okay, bad choice to use for an example.” He took another puff off of his cigarette. “What happens if you don’t go to bed at 9:00 every night?”
I shook my head knowing what happened. “I get in trouble.” Pa looked at me and shook his head. “Oh, I have trouble getting up early the next morning.”
“Well, if I don’t smoke this thing everyday, my body is affected. I don’t suppose there’s any hope of quitting now.” He shook his cigar at me. “I don’t want you to ever start, ya hear?” I nodded, hearing him. But I was still curious.
A few days later while Pa was out in the barn I went over to his cigar box and picked one up. I rubbed it under my nose and gave it a great big sniff. “Mark!” Pa suddenly scolded from the doorway. He came over to me. “You know better then to mess with those!”
So that was the end of that. Well, then there was the corn silk incident. You see, it was lunch recess and one of the older boys was calling some of us others over to the side of the schoolhouse – kinda away from everyone else. After we all gathered around, he took out a pile of what looked like cigarettes they had made up. “Wanta smoke?” Tom asked.
I took a step back, knowing that Pa would skin me for sure if I ever did that. “It’s not tobacco! It’s corn silk,” Tom assured me. “It won’t do nothin’ to ya!”
I still wasn’t so sure it was a good idea. Tom had a knack at getting us younger boys into trouble. “I-I don’t know.”
Suddenly, Freddie turned to me. “Ah, are you really that scared, Mark?”
“Of course not,” I stated. “But if my Pa caught me, I’d-“
“He is scared!” Howie suddenly decleard.
“No I’m not!” I grabbed one of the corn silk cigarettes from Tom. He smiled and struck a match, lighting it. I slowly raised it to my mouth and puffed it. It really was no big deal! It didn’t make me feel any better and the smoke going down our throats sure did make some of us cough! We took a few more puffs off before Miss Adams caught us.
“Boys,” she folded her arms and pointed toward the schoolhouse. “I want every one of you boys inside at my desk this instant!”
We slowly dropped the cigarettes and went inside. At the desk, Miss Adams was busy writing. We all gathered around the desk, looking at each other. She folded up a piece of paper and handed the note to Howie. “I want your father to sign that and return it to me Monday. You will not be allowed to come back to school until you do so.”
Some of the boys started complaining as she handed out more notes. Some of them would get a trip to the woodshed when they showed that note. As I took mine, I just wondered what my Pa would do.
After she finished the last note, she sat back in her chair and folded her hands together across her middle. “Now boys, how your fathers choose to punish you is up to them, but I have a few things to say. First of all,” she started as she moved her head around to look each of us in the eye. “Every one of you boys know that you are not allowed to use matches at school – or even bring them to school for that matter. Second of all, I know that boys are curious, but smoking corn silk at school is not appropriate! And I seriously doubt that your folks want you smoking corn silk or anything else anyway.” She sighed. “Now, I want to know who brought those to school.”
Of course, no one volunteered that information. I sure wasn’t about to tell on a boy that could whip me good! After a few moments of silence, she said, “Very well, boys. I expect each of you to write an essay this weekend on why it’s a bad idea for any boy to smoke anything. Get to your desks.”
We all looked at each other. I don’t think it would take Miss Adams too long to figure out who brought the corn silk-wrapped cigarettes since no one would even look at Tom, and after school he had to walk home alone.
I grabbed Blue Boy’s reins and slowly walked into town. Pa had said he had a few things to pick up in town, so he’d meet me there. My heart started pumping really fast and hard as I turned around the church and started down Main Street. I saw Pa’s horse outside Micah’s office. Knowing I had no choice, I slowly tied my horse and stepped into Micah’s office.
Pa and Micah had been talking, but the minute I walked in, Pa smiled at me and greeted me. Then his smile slowly disappeared. I never could hide anything from him very well. Pa told me once that I should never play poker because I didn’t have the face for it, and he said that proudly! “What?” Pa suddenly asked in that “uh-oh” voice.
“Hi Pa,” I greeted with a little worry sound in my voice. Actually, I was sort of glad Micah was here because Pa might not yell so much with him being there.
“Mark,” Pa sighed. “Go ahead and tell me what happened.”
I slowly walked over and stood directly in front of my Pa. I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out. “Well, out with it, boy!” Pa demanded. I reached into my pocket and slowly pulled out a note. Then I handed it to him and stood there, waiting for his explosion.
It never came. Pa read the note, and didn’t even change a mussel on his stern-looking face. He handed the note to let Micah read and Micah began chuckling over it. Of course, Pa sent him a disapproving look and Micah cleared his throat. “No harm done, Lucas Boy. Just boys being boys.”
I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t keep a small grin from sneaking up on my face. But when Pa lifted his face and gave the “the look” – and you know which one I’m talking about – I quickly cleared my throat and forced the smile to disappear. Then Pa turned back to Micah and gave him the same look. “Go wait outside by the horses, Mark. And don’t you move from that spot.”
“Yes sir,” I quickly said.
Pa soon came up. He folded his arms and looked at me. He opened his mouth to say something then clamped it shut and shook his head. I wasn’t sure exactly if he was angry or not, and I wasn’t about to ask him! The last time I asked him that question, he began yelling at me. I figured it was better to leave it alone for now.
We rode home in silence. Pa would turn his head and look at me every once in a while but say nothing. He’d shake his head at me and sigh. When we got home, we unsaddled the horses in the barn, working side by side. As we walked inside, Pa asked,” Miss Adams punishing you for this infraction?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. Pa stopped and looked at me, folding his arms. “Well, I have to write an essay this weekend on why it’s wrong for me to smoke anything – including corn silk.”
Pa nodded his approval to that. “Instead of going to the town picnic tomorrow, you’ll stay home and work on that. When I get home I expect it done.” Pa looked at me with that stern look that told me I’d be sorry if it wasn’t.
Then Pa started toward the house, telling me to get started on my chores. “Pa?” I suddenly stopped him. Pa turned and looked at me. “You gonna tell me why it’s wrong?”
“Nope,” Pa answered. Then he turned and walked into the house. I just stood there for a moment watching the door close. I knew my punishment had been handed down and that was all that would be said about the incident – unless, of course, Pa didn’t think my essay showed that I had learned a lesson.
To tell the truth, I didn’t rightly know why what I did was wrong. I just knew it was because parents said it was.
But then came what I’ll just call the “cigar incident.” It happened on a Saturday. Pa actually let me drive the team into town that morning, but then when Miss. Crandell came galloping by, I couldn’t help but look at her instead of at the road. She was not your average girl – she was her own thinker! And boy did she like to give you a piece of her mind! There was something truly exciting about her, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Anyhow, when I turned to watch her gallop by, I lost site of the horses and they started to run off the road.
Pa, of course, immediately grabbed the reins from me. I reckon I was a little embarrassed and stated that I could have held the reins. Pa understood my embarrassment and my turning to stare at Miss. Crandell.
I know my Pa told you all about Marge Crandell and how….um…spirited she was, so I won’t go into that. I want to tell you about what happened when I got into town.
First of all, Miss Crandell asked me to take her horse down to the livery and get her bridle fixed. I sure was happy to do that for her! While I was down there, Howie stopped by. It had been about a week since the infamous corn silk incident, but he couldn’t help but tease me about it some more. Somehow, he got out of any punishment what so ever, but then that was Howie! He got people into trouble – but he avoided it himself. As we started walking back towards the blacksmith’s, Howie announced that he had something to show me. Pa came out of the Blacksmith shop about that time and saw me talking to Howie. “Get the wagon unloaded, Mark!” Pa ordered in that impatient voice of his.
“Well, Howie needs to talk to me,” I started to explain. But when Pa swung around to look at me, I immediately turned to Howie. “Wait here. I got some chores to do for Pa first.” Pa just raised an eyebrow at me and shook his head.
But when the last wheel was inside, I asked Pa if I could go talk to Howie. He told me to run along. As soon as I saw Howie, I knew he was up to something. We walked in back of the Blacksmith’s. Then he looked around to make sure no one was watching. Then he turned and slowly took something out of his shirt.
I stared at what was in his hand. It was a cigar. He had found it after some salesman had dropped it. “You gonna smoke it?” I asked then.
“Me?” I asked. I knew that if my Pa caught me, I’d be in even more trouble! This wasn’t corn silk, after all, and I had already been punished for that!
But then Howie started on that “Are you scared” bit, and I had to show him that I wasn’t scared – but in a way I was: scared of getting caught!
Well, to make a long story short, we smoked it. He took a puff, then I would take a puff. I must admit though that it didn’t take very many puffs before I started feeling very, very ill! But I couldn’t let Howie know it was having this effect on me. I knew that he wouldn’t hesitate to tell the others at school, then I’d never hear the end of it.
It was almost gone when we finally heard someone laughing. I didn’t want anyone catching me with a cigar in my hand! Howie immediately panicked and handed me the cigar – then he took off. I finally dropped it and walked off.
But I didn’t walk very far when I suddenly started feeling really ill! I didn’t want anyone to see me because then I’d have to explain why I was feeling this way. I know my Pa and how he feels about sickness. Sometimes, if I just have a sniffle, he rushes right to Dr. Burrage. Of course, Dr. Burrage understands. After all, Pa lost his wife and may panic at the thought of loosing me. Once in a while, it turns out I do actually need Dr. Burrage.
But not today! I sat down behind Hattie’s store and began groaning as I held my stomach. I had already emptied it on the way over here, and I knew that it wasn’t over yet. I just didn’t want to move from this spot – ever! My head hurt as well, and my throat! I just felt awfully crummy! At that point, I was really wishing I had listened to my Pa!
Soon, Mr. Prentice came by. He hurried over to me and told me Pa was looking for me. “Something wrong?” he asked. I shook my head and groaned. He immediately grabbed my arm. “We best get you to the docs!” he declared.
“No,” I groaned. “Go away! Just go away!” I begged him. The last thing I wanted was for Pa to find out what I’d been doing.
But soon after Mr. Prentice left, Pa came rushing up. He was really worried, as usual. “Mark,” Pa came rushing up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “What’s the matter, boy?”
I heard the tenderness and worry in his voice. “I don’t feel good, Pa,” I suddenly declared. I knew Pa was worried about me and had the right to the truth…no matter what. “It’s my stomach!” Pa grabbed my arm and tried to stand me up so he could take me to see the doc, but that would only make matters worse.
There was deep concern in Pa’s voice and on his face. I didn’t feel good at all, and really didn’t care about getting in trouble. It was getting worse – not better. I suddenly just blurted it out. “I was smoking.”
Pa suddenly sat down and looked at me. I could tell he wanted more of an explanation. “Not corn silk,” I explained. I remembered getting in trouble for that just the week before. “A cigar.”
That really got his attention! I explained where we found it, where we were smoking, and everything. I especially told him I was sorry we smoked as much of it as we did. If I hadn’t been so sick, more might have been said. But Pa just told me to sit here and breathe the fresh air.
Man, but I felt horrible! Smoking a cigar was nothing like smoking corn silk! Pa started to leave, but the way I felt, I wasn’t sure if I was going to live very long. You know what Pa did? He grinned about it and told me he thought I would be okay!
I sat there for a long time. Pa finally came back around to check on me. I was feeling somewhat better and told him as much. “Well, I have to deal with something in Micah’s office. I want you to go lay down in the wagon.”
I thought I would just stay where I am. “Besides I’m feeling better. Can I come with you?” I asked.
“No,” Pa answered quite firmly this time. He pointed toward the wagon. “I want you to go lay down in the wagon.”
As I stood, I felt dizzy so Pa allowed me to take his arm as we walked to the wagon. He shook his head and chuckled the whole time. I must admit that I was quite annoyed with his finding humor in my misery. I shot him a look that told him how his laughing made me feel. He just continued chuckling as he helped me up into the wagon.
I reckon I fell asleep for a little while. But when I woke up, Pa was sitting on the seat fixing to ride for home. “Pa,” I stood up and walked to the front of the wagon. “I feel better now.”
He invited me to come sit in the seat with him. I needed to get on his good side again, so I thought it would be nice to chat on the way home. But when I got in the seat, he shoved one of his cigars under my nose and asked me if I wanted one. Just the mere sight of that ugly thing made me feel sick to my stomach, and I moved away from it!
Now, I’m no dummy! I knew what my Pa was doing – he was testing me to see if I needed further lecturing or punishment. But while I was sitting back there trying to keep my stomach from rolling, I had come to an immediate decision. I was going to take my father’s sound advice and never, ever smoke! Pa was sure satisfied with that answer. He knew my curiosity had been satisfied and he had nothing more to worry about in that area!
I was quiet for a few moments as we rode home. I looked behind me in the wagon, suddenly realizing the wheels weren’t back there. “Pa, didn’t you get the wheels done?”
“No Mark,” Pa answered. He suddenly turned and looked at me. “You see, while you were satisfying your curiosity, a murder was committed in the very spot you committed the crime.” I raised my eyebrows, waiting for Pa to explain. “Marge Crandell was murdered.”
Those words echoed in my head. I stayed quiet for a few moments, trying to allow this news to sink in. I heard the soft clip clop of the horse’s hooves as I thought about that. “Who?” I asked simply.
“That salesman who dropped that cigar you smoked,” Pa answered.
I tried to allow that news to sink in. “How’s her Pa doing?” I knew they were really close, even if they did argue a lot.
“As well as a father can, I reckon,” Pa answered. I was quiet for several moments. “Mark, what do you say about us going fishing when we get home?”
“You mean, I’m not gonna be punished?” I asked.
“Oh, I think God delivered a better punishment on you then I could have ever done!” Pa suddenly declared.
I nodded, knowing just what he was saying. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
Pa winked at me. “Well, it’s not your first offense,” he stated. Then he sighed. “And I’m sure it won’t be your last! That’s what life is all about – it’s part of growing up. I just…hope…you learned a lesson.”
I shook my head at Pa. “Like I said, Pa. I’m never, ever…not ever smoking ANYTHING ever again!”
We laughed as we drove for home.
*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
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