You’ve heard the expression “in like a lion and out like a lamb?” Well, that was sort of the way Pa saw Miss Milly…or maybe it was me. She certainly did make her presence known, but pretty soon she was like a good friend to us both, and though she couldn’t replace the grandmotherly type love that Miss Hattie had, she still filled some empty spot in me. It was an empty spot not just left by my mother’s death, but then when Miss Hattie left. It was the spot that only a woman could fill.
The very Sunday after I had met Miss Milly, she showed up at church. In fact, she was at church before Pa and me were. We would have been there earlier, but I misplaced my tie. Pa tried to tell me it was on purpose, but I made a point to let him know I had hung it back on the peg the moment I came home from church last Sunday. The problem was he didn’t believe me – especially since it ended up being found under my bed, behind some boxes.
Anyhow, Pa and I walked in Sunday morning just as the doors were closing. Billy and Freddie motioned for me to come sit by them, but Pa firmly grabbed my arm and led me to an empty bench, which just so happened to be right beside Miss Milly! Pa had that silly grin on his face again and he quickly pulled me down next to him. “Pa, can I please sit by Freddie and Billy?” I asked.
Pa grabbed my hat and pulled it off my head. “No,” he answered. I started to ask him why, but he shot me a really stern look. It was the look that told me one more peep and he’d take me outside. And trust me, when a boy is taken out during church, it can get really ugly! It had only happened to me twice when I was younger, and I never ever forgot it!
After church, Pa and I walked outside. Milly smiled at us and turned to go. “Milly,” Pa suddenly called. Miss Milly turned around. “Um…would you like to join us for lunch at the hotel?” Pa motioned to Micah as he walked up to us. “We – that is the three of us – always have Sunday dinner together. We’d love for you to join us each Sunday.”
Miss Milly smiled really big and nodded. As we ate, Milly asked me questions. She wanted to know about school, what chores I do, and even what my favorite candy was. “He’s such a good boy, Lucas.” Milly stated with a smile. I rolled my eyes, but Pa suddenly jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow. He knew I hated being called a “good boy.”
Milly smiled at me again. “Is it hard for you? I mean running a ranch and raising a boy all by yourself?”
Pa took a bite of his food as he thought on how to answer that. He turned and looked at me. “Sometimes.” He answered. “It’s hard being both a mother and a father to a growing boy like Mark.” He winked at me. “But he’s a hard worker.”
“I’ve…heard that you have to go out of town sometimes to help Micah or for other reasons. What happens to Mark during those times? You leave him home alone?”
“He could!” I answered.
“Uh-“ Pa jabbed me in the ribs again and sent me a warning look. “No. I’m pretty protective of him. I used to send him to Hattie’s or Micah’s. We had a standing agreement that they would watch him when I had to go.”
“Oh.” Milly sat down her fork and wiped her mouth. “Well Lucas, I’ll make the same agreement with you. If you ever have to leave town, just send him to me. I’ll take care of him.”
“I’m twelve years old. I don’t need-“ I started.
“Uh Mark…” Pa wiped his mouth. “Are you done?”
“I just need dessert,” I answered as I looked for the waitress.
“You’re done,” Pa answered. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, letting me know I needed to run along.
“I’m embarrassing you?” I asked with a teasing gleam in my eye. Pa only nodded.
I went outside and sat in the chair outside the hotel. I knew that Pa wouldn’t appreciate my playing in the street with my church clothes on. He sure was happy to see me sitting when they all walked out later.
So that’s how it came to be that Milly would be my “babysitter” when Pa needed one. As we rode home, I told Pa that I thought I was old enough to take care of myself. Pa told me that it wasn’t a question of my age, it was a question of his not wanting to worry while he was gone.
I hoped that a time wouldn’t come when Pa would have to take Miss Milly up on her offer, but it happened too soon – just a few days later, in fact. I was finishing up the dishes while Pa was working on the books. Somehow it just worked out that way. I made a comment just after supper when Pa told me to do the dishes. I told him that I didn’t think it was fair for me to do them myself. Before I knew it, he told me I’d be doing them myself every night for the next five nights! So much for freedom of speech!
Well, while I was working on the dishes that particular night, I had to complain just a little bit “Pa?”
“Hm?” He asked as he continued working on his books.
"What do you think about dish washing?" I knew what I thought of it! I hated it.
Pa just smiled at me. “Never gave it much thought, son. Why?”
“Well, it just seems to me that dishwashing is always getting in the way of eatin’,” I stated. I had been thinking about it some lately.
Pa smiled again. “How do you mean son?” Pa asked as he continued working on his books.
I walked right over to Pa and leaned on the table as I poured him one last cup of coffee before dumping the coffee. Even though I wasn’t allowed to drink it, I was still expected to make it and make sure his coffee cup was filled when he had on setting out. “Well, ya sit down to enjoy a nice big plateful of hot ham and beans, then…well, then you think ahead knowing that same plate is gonna have to be washed.” As I spoke, Pa looked up from his books and took a sip from the freshly-poured coffee as he looked at me. “Just takes all the flavor away from the vittles.”
Since Pa hardly ever had to do the dishes, he didn’t really see my problem “Well, you sure got a problem there, son. Any idea what we can do about it?”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe-“ I suddenly got a great idea and hurried over to Pa to tell him all about it. “Maybe we could put it all together on one big slice of bred and then…well…jus…well, forget about the plate!” Boy, that was actually pretty good! I was quite pleased with myself.
But somehow, my innovative ideas always seemed to get shot down! "That might work but, what would you do with a hot bowl of soup?" Pa looked at me knowing he had gotten me. I knew that idea was too good to be true!
Suddenly, we heard a noise. I wondered what it could be as Pa went to open the door. When he opened it, Micah practically fell inside. “Micah!” Pa exclaimed suddenly. He ordered me to get him some water. I did as fast as I could. Then he told me to spread out a bedroll for him so we’d make it an easy ride. When I got it ready, Pa told me to pack my things. I was going to stay with Milly.
He was going to go after the man that did this.
That worried me some, and I thought on it as pa and me worked together to get Micah in the back of the wagon. Pa handed me a wet cloth and a bucket of water. “Just keep washing him off, son. It may make him a little more comfortable. I saw the worry in Pa’s eyes. He couldn’t even tell me if Micah was going to be okay.
Micah groaned every time Pa went over a big bump. I talked softly to him telling him it would be okay, but I wasn’t even sure if he heard me. Then when we got into town, Pa had a couple men help him carry Micah into doc’s office. I was worried as I came in after them. Doc was already unbuttoning Micah’s shirt. He examined him and shook his head.
Slowly, the doc walked a ways away from Micah. “Well?” Pa demanded.
“I don’t know,” Doc stated.
“He can’t die!” I cried suddenly. “He can’t die!”
Pa put a gentle hand on me. “Mark, wait outside.”
“No!” I cried. “I want to stay!”
“Mark,” Pa bent down and looked into my eyes. “Wait outside, son. I’ll be out in a minute.” I could see it in Pa’s eyes. He was very worried.
I had no choice but to go outside and wait. I waited and waited. Miss Milly rushed up just then. “Mark, I just heard that Micah’s hurt.” She looked at me and saw my tears. She grabbed me and pulled me in an embrace. “Is he going to be okay?”
“I-I don’t know.” I turned and looked at the doc’s office. “I don’t know.” I threw my arms around her, afraid he was going to die.
Miss Milly held me close for a whiled, then gently pushed me away. “Mark, you stay right here. I’ll be right back.” So again I found myself alone. But she wasn’t gone for long, and when she came back she had a grim expression on her face. “Let’s go, Mark. You’re father will come to the store when he has any news”
“How is he now?” I asked as I swallowed back the lump in my throat.
“It’s bad, Mark. It’s really bad.”
I slowly walked to the store. Milly offered me some candy but I only shook my head as I paced up and down the store. Every time I got near the window I looked out, but never saw a sign of Pa. Milly finally came over to me. “Let’s go into my living quarters, Mark.”
“I want to stay here,” I stated. I ran to the store window and looked toward Doc’s office, but there was no sign of Pa.
Milly walked up to me. She put an arm around my shoulders. “Come on, Mark. Let’s go.” I turned and saw she had tears in her own eyes.
She sat me down in a chair then picked up the Bible. She opened it up to Psalms and began reading. She read for quite awhile. “Just like Ma!” I said.
Milly smiled. “Do you want me to read more?”
I laid back in the chair and nodded. “Please.”
She read until I was asleep. The next thing I knew, Pa was carrying me. I opened my eyes as Pa gently laid me down on a cot. I was in the storeroom and Pa started unbuttoning my shirt as he helped me change into my night shirt. “How’s Micah?” I asked.
“Now, you just lay down here,” Pa tried to smile at me. But in the darkness I could see the worry on his face.
“How’s Micah?” I asked again.
Pa bit his lip. Then he rested an arm on my shoulder. “He’s not good, son. Doc said he…” Pa’s voice broke. He hung his head. I could hear the tears in Pa’s throat and nose.
“He’ll die?” I asked. “Is he going to die?”
“I don’t know, son,” Pa cried. “Doc said there’s a good chance he won’t live. It’s pretty bad.”
“Oh Pa!” I cried as I threw my arms around him. “I’ve already lost Hattie! I can’t loose Micah too!” I sobbed into Pa’s shoulder.
After a while, Pa laid me down on my pillow. “I have to get back there. I’ll be leaving at first light, so I’ll see you when I get back.”
I suddenly sat up again. “Pa, I don’t want you to go,” I stated quickly and earnestly.
Pa had stood up and was half-way to the door. But he suddenly turned around and looked at me. “What?”
“Look at what he did to Micah, Pa! He may do the same thing to you!” I cried.
Pa was back at my side in one big stride. He suddenly sat down on the floor next to my cot and took my face in his hands. “Nothing’s gonna happen to me, son. I won’t let it.” Pa looked toward the door. Then he turned back around. “You want me to sit here with you until you go back to sleep?”
I nodded, ashamed that I did need that. “It’s alright, son. I know how you feel.”
“I still don’t want you to go, Pa.” I stated.
“I know.” Then it got quiet and I fell asleep at the comfort of my Pa’s hand rubbing my back like he used to do when I was little.
The next morning I woke up and ran to the window. The sun was just rising and I quickly dressed and rushed outside. I ran to Doc’s office hoping to find Pa there. “He left an hour ago, Mark,” Doc stated.
“How’s Micah?” I asked then.
“Still holding his own.”
“Doc, can I sit with him awhile?” I asked. “He’s like a grandfather to me.”
“I know,” Doc Burrage stated. “Go ahead.”
I walked inside and saw his still form lying on the bed. Gently, I took his hand in both of mine. “Micah, I remember the first time we went fishing together. It wasn’t long after you came here. Remember how mad you got when I kept catching ‘em, and you couldn’t catch one single fish?” I sighed. “You know how I feel about you and…well…I don’t like all that mooshy talk, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re like a grandpa to me.” Again, I watched his face, but his eyes didn’t even move. “I can’t loose you too, Micah. Please wake up! Please!” I begged.
Then I felt a soft hand on my shoulder. “Mark, it’s time for breakfast.”
I turned and saw Milly. I turned back to look at Micah. “I’m not hungry. I-I have to stay here.” I wiped at my tears.
“Come on, Mark.” She cried.
“I…I hafta stay with my grandpa.” I stated. I took a wet cloth and wiped at his face. “He needs me.”
“You have school today, Mark. You’re Pa wants you to go.” She squeezed my shoulder.
“Pa’s gone now. Someone must stay with my grandpa!” I cried again. I turned and looked at Milly. “Don’t you understand that I have to stay here with my grandpa?”
Milly looked at me then quickly lowered her eyes. “Alright,” she said in a loud whisper. “I’ll bring your food over here.”
She did as promised. After breakfast I continued talking to Micah. “You remember all those times you were there when Pa was about to really give it to me? You would put your arms around my shoulders and tell Pa to go easy on me. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, but you always tried!” I stared at him. He still hadn’t moved. “Micah, you have to wake up! You just have to!”
I lowered my head onto his chest, continuing to cling to his hand. Then I sobbed onto the blanket…and prayed. I don’t know how long I laid there before I suddenly felt a weak hand on my head. Slowly, I lifted my head.
“Micah!” I cried. “You’re awake!”
“Yes…Yes…” Micah stroked my hair softly. “love….Mark…love…you…”
“Grandpa!” Tears were streaming down my face now. “Oh, grandpa! I’m so happy you’re awake!” Then I turned my head. “Doc! Come quick!”
Doc hurried in and checked Micah over. He nodded to me. “He’s going to be okay, son.”
“Oh, Micah!” I hugged him really tight. “You’re gonna be okay!”
“Eat…eat…” Micah mumbled.
“I’ll go get you some soup!” I started to hurry out. But then I turned and ran back to the bed. I hugged him hard and he groaned. “I’m sorry, but you’re gonna be alright!”
I ran into the General Store as fast as I could. “Miss Milly! Miss Milly!” I called as I ran inside. She was helping a customer and drew a finger to her lips. But I couldn’t keep shut up about this! “He’s awake, Miss Milly! He’s going to be okay!” She smiled at me. “Oh, I need soup!” I ran to the back of the store and found the soup stock Milly kept – just like Hattie used to.
“Mark!” Milly suddenly stopped me as I hurried to the back. She came over and grabbed the soup from my hand. “Now, you sit yourself down and eat this sandwich! I was just about to send someone to get you. Then you can take Micah his soup.”
“Yes ma’am.” I obeyed, knowing I would end up obeying her. Any woman that could stand up to my Pa, I didn’t have a chance with! Besides, if I didn’t, Pa would give me all kinds of trouble when he got home!
By the time I was done eating, Miss Milly had the soup ready. I hurried over to the doc’s. Micah was still awake and talking better. “I brought your soup,” I announced. The doc helped me prop him up. Then I sat down beside him and slowly fed him.
“Ohhhhh,” Micah said in frustration. “Don’t feed me!”
“I will,” I stated stubbornly. “I will feed you!” And I did. He ate almost the whole bowl. I sat beside him and took care of him all afternoon.
By suppertime, Miss Milly came into the office. She folded her arms. “Well,” she said with a smile in her voice. “It’s nice to see you back among the living, Micah!”
Micah only smiled at her. He had done too much talking and was suddenly weak again. “Come on, Mark. Let’s get you fed and then you can start on your studies.”
“What studies?” I asked.
Miss Milly put an arm around me as we walked out of the Doc’s office. “Oh, I forgot to tell you! Miss Adams came by the store after school. She had heard what happened and I asked her about your assignments. She was happy to give them to me, so tonight we’ll work on them.”
“Oh,” I stated. “I knew we were in trouble when a school teacher bought the General Store!” If she and Pa ever did start courting, they’d make a perfect couple!
But as we ate supper, Pa walked in. I jumped from the table and ran to him, throwing my arms around him. “Pa! I’m so glad you’re back!” I declared.
“Mark!” Miss Milly cried. I turned to see that I had tipped over my milk and it was all over the table.
Pa shook his head and grinned. “Well, I see you’re up to your old tricks again!” We all three worked at cleaning up the mess. “How’s Micah?”
“He’s great, Pa! He’s gonna be just fine – just a badly sprained arm. Doc said Micah’s to ornery to kill!”
“That he is, boy!” Pa sat down as Miss Milly sat a plate in front of him. We all three began eating together.
After supper, Pa thanked Miss Milly for taking care of me. “I didn’t need-“ I started again, but quickly snapped my mouth shut when I saw my Pa’s stern expression. “Did you find the man that hurt Micah?” I suddenly asked.
Pa motioned for me to go on outside. I could tell he wanted a couple minutes alone with Miss Milly. I smirked at them, but quickly started moving when Pa’s hand firmly landed on my backside. It only took a couple minutes before Pa and I were walking toward Doc’s office. After visiting with Micah for awhile, we started for home.
“So, you really got that man, huh?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “In a way,” He answered. “I would have rather brought him back alive though.”
“Pa?” Pa turned and looked at me. “Let’s go home.”
It was a few days later that Pa had Micah out at our ranch. He stayed there while on the mend for a couple days. At supper the last night, Micah stated he would be going into town. I was happy that Micah was still able to Marshal – North Fork would definitely not be the same if he hadn’t. I smiled as I listened to him and Pa talk. Then Pa made me frown when he said, “Mark, get to the dishes.”
“Alright, Pa,” I stated. “You can wash tonight.”
Pa took a cigar out of his pocket. “You do the dishes, son.” He smiled at Micah. “I have company.
As I worked on the dishes, I listened to Pa and Micah talk but didn’t interrupt. Pa told me that sometimes adult conversations were meant for adults only. But then when Micah mentioned something about not being able to do anything, that got me to wondering how he did his chores or…dishes…by himself. I mentioned that to Pa and Micah, and that was a big mistake! Before I knew it, Micah had gained my own father’s permission to borrow me for a couple weeks.
Me and my big mouth! After Micah left the next morning, I stood out on the porch and reflected on all that had happened. “Pa, Micah’s like my grandpa.”
Pa patted my head and looked down at me with a proud smile. “He’s a special man, Mark. He’s special to me too.”
I shook my head. “Well, when do I have to start those chores?”
“What chores?” he asked.
Pa suddenly busted out laughing. He walked inside and put his hat on. “I’m going to go check on the cattle, son,” Pa stated.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
Pa kept laughing. “Mark, the Widow Simmons is taking care of all Micah’s chores while he’s healing!” Pa laughed again. “Now you get to school!”
Yep, things never change around the McCain Ranch!
Pa picked Micah up as carefully as he could. Micah was unconscious, so he couldn’t help any.
*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
around The McCain Ranch