If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times; I love my Pa more then anything else in this world! There is nothing I wouldn’t do for him – no place I wouldn’t go for him – and no other person on this earth could take his place. I never, every wanted to wonder how terrible life was if Pa was no longer alive. But for a few days one summer, I did!
I remember one day in the middle of the summer when we were getting a two week break in the hottest part of the year. I could hardly believe I had two whole weeks to spend out on the ranch working right along side my Pa! I knew, though, that it would go fast. Time spent with Pa usually did go fast.
The morning hadn’t gone all that great. You see, I loved my Pa, but sometimes I didn’t always do the things Pa expected of me. Well, this morning was one of those times – and Pa yelled at me. I hadn’t gotten all my homework done the night before and he started in on me about learning responsibility and all – so my fishing plans were overridden by Pa’s plans to put me to work doing extra chores that weekend.
It had been a hard day. When Pa and I are at odds, I don’t reckon my day ever seems to go just right – and the same with Pa. He said that when he has to get on to me first thing in the morning, his day doesn’t seem to go just right. I suppose that’s why I hurried into town. I knew that if I just saw Pa and talked to him just right, things would be okay once again.
I jumped off Blue Boy and raced into Micah’s office. “-It shouldn’t be more then a week, Micah. You can put him to work if you’ve a mind to. I do expect him to get the chores done at the ranch while I’m gone.”
“Gone?” I ran up to Pa. “Where you going?”
“I’m buying a seed bull, son. It’s all the way in Mexico. You’ll stay here with Micah. Milly’s going out of town again, so she can’t keep you this time.”
I didn’t even start on the argument of having a baby sitter – I didn’t have to because I was going to see that I went with Pa this time! “Why can’t I go?”
Pa rested a hand on my shoulder and heaved a sigh. “Well son, it’s a long way across a desert. You wouldn’t enjoy it – the sun beating down on you every day and-“
“I don’t care, Pa! I want to be with you!” I looked towards Micah who only grinned at us. I turned back to Pa. “You said just the other day that you hate the times we spend apart. So why do we have to be apart? Nobody needs to take care of me but you, Pa! I’ll be good – honest I will!” I grabbed Pa by the arm and looked him squarely in the eye. “Please, Pa! Please, oh please!”
“Mark, I-“ Pa stopped as he stared into my pleading eyes. “Son, I-“ He sighed and shook his head. “You know, the older you get, the harder it is to say no to you because I’m running out of excuses.” He looked up at Micah. “I guess I won’t be needing that favor after all. Looks like I have a partner for keeps,” he stated proudly.
“You mean it, Pa? I can go?” You should have seen the look on my face! I was practically jumping up and down. Pa laughed, stating that he hadn’t seen me this excited since I got to ride my first horse by myself! “I have been wanting to see Mexico, Pa! For a long time!”
So that’s how we ended up 150 miles from the Rio Grande into Mexico. I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t really notice any change from the deserts around New Mexico to the deserts around Mexico! It seemed like the trip took us forever, and I began to wonder why Pa came so far out for a seed bull. He told me that it was one of the best seed bulls, and since he had a bit extra this month to spend on cattle, he was taking the effort to pick it up – it saved on cost to have someone bring it anyways.
As I laid down and cuddled up in my bedroll one evening, Pa came to sit beside me. He always liked to see me to bed – no matter how old I got. “Sorry you came?”
I looked up at him as he bent over me and smiled. “Of course not, Pa. I love spending time with ya!”
Pa smiled. “Well, we should be there before long. Then we can turn around and go home.” I nodded.
The next morning, we got up and started out before the sun got to high in the sky. But still, by mid-morning we were walking our horses. That’s when Pa told me we had come about 150 miles – that’s a lot of miles, I’ll tell you! My feet and legs felt every single one of those miles too. I still thought that was a long way just for a seed bull. Pa made the comment that he thought I wanted to see Mexico. “I do…when it stops looking like New Mexico,” I answered.
That’s where things went bad. Because suddenly, there was a Mexican man standing in front of us. He just gave us a friendly greeting at first, but it wasn’t long before he started asking us for money to cross this land. Pa had his rifle out in a flash, reminding the man that it was free Mexican land – nobody owned it. Pa said they were bandits.
Suddenly, we were surrounded by Miguel’s friends. Miguel took my Pa’s rifle. I just stood there unable to speak as Pa continued gently arguing for them. I stared as they took our horses and my Pa’s seed bull money. I hoped they would leave us alone.
But suddenly, Miguel took Pa’s rifle and hit Pa in the throat really, really hard. Pa fell to the ground with a moan. Fear gripped my heart and I fell down beside him crying his name. I wished he would say something so I knew he was okay. But he couldn’t speak – he was too hurt!
Miguel suddenly grabbed me and lifted me up. He dragged me away from Pa, but I had to protect him! We were partners! I kicked and screamed, begging for him to let us go. But then Miguel warned me that he’d kill Pa right now if I didn’t stop.
I stared at Pa still on the ground in front of me. What was I going to do? Before I was even able to think on that, Miguel shoved me toward one of his friends – Lazaro – and told him to take me to camp. I fought on this! I didn’t want to leave my Pa alone with these bandits! Pa had told me about Mexican bandits robbing and killing people, and I didn’t want that to happen to him.
I kicked and fought as we got on the horses and went back to camp. Lazaro kept a gun trained on me and demanded me to keep going forward. Tears sprang to my eyes and my heart felt like it was tied in knots. I looked behind, but couldn’t tell what was happening.
We traveled a long time. “What are they going to do with my Pa?” I asked suddenly. But Lazaro just shook his head and laughed. “Are they gonna kill him? Please tell me!” Lazaro said nothing though – he just kept riding his horse and laughing.
I stopped at one point and told him I wouldn’t go further. I wanted my Pa, and I couldn’t stand to be separated from him. Lazaro whipped out a knife and held it under my throat. He told me to hurry on. I felt the knife against my bare throat and started back up.
Tears sprang to my eyes. I wished I could see Pa coming behind us, but I didn’t. Lazaro demanded I start building a fire. He didn’t demand in so many English words, but his order was clear. I began gathering firewood for the fire. Where was he? Where were they? What was going on? Lazaro suddenly ordered me to sit down. “Let I tell a story!” I sat down because I had to, but I tuned him out. I didn’t figure he was telling me anything Pa wanted me to hear anyhow. I stared into the fire, not wanting to think or feel anything at the moment.
I heard horses and jumped up. I ran over to Miguel. Pa wasn’t with them. They had all come back – all but Pa. He was in the desert by himself. I begged Miguel to tell me where my Pa was, but he didn’t answer. Fear gripped my heart. My Pa was out there by himself without his rifle.
Suddenly, the men behind me started talking. I turned. They had my father’s shirt! I screamed for them to give it to me, but they wouldn’t. My father no longer had his shirt! They also had his boots and hat.
I felt part of my heart die then. Pa’s words echoed inside my head. I remembered him telling me about bandits who killed after taking everything the person had. They kept possessions as trophies – proud they had pulled off the killing. Hot tears burned my eyes as the realization began to set in. “You killed him! You killed him!” I cried angrily. Miguel told me to calm down.
Calm down? How could I when my very heart had just been ripped from me and shredded into a million pieces all over the hot desert sand? I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even speak anymore. Everything in my world was suddenly gone.
And through all that – I was told to fix the fire. How could I do that when my heart was crushed? I felt dead inside as I kneeled down to fix the fire. The men spoke in Spanish around me laughing and cracking up. They didn’t even seem bothered by the fact that my father…my very own father…was dead!
What was I going to do? I sobbed.
Suddenly, Miguel was there. He kneeled beside me and grabbed the back of my hair. He pulled my head back. “An order is an order,” he stated as he gave me an ugly, evil stare. “You will follow my order or end up with your Pa. You don’t want to do that.” I cried in pain as he pulled on my hair. Tears burned my eyes. “No crying!”
I allowed myself to get through the remainder of the evening somehow. When it was dark, Miguel ordered me to lay down. It was cold and he tossed me a dirty blanket with holes in it. I sat by the fire and listened for the men to go to sleep. But one stayed up to guard me. I finally laid down on my cold dirty blanket, closed my eyes, and allowed my tears to flow as I thought about my Pa.
“We’re partners, aren’t we?” I could hear Pa’s voice plain as day.
“Did you miss me?” I remembered asking Pa after I came home from running away.
“Did I miss you? I love you more then anything else in the whole world.”
I sobbed harder into my blanket. I felt a hard, sharp pain in my heart as another part of it died.
“We make a good team, son.” I could hear Pa saying now. “We’re gonna last a long time, as long as we look out for each other.”
“Oh Pa,” I cried softly so the bandits wouldn’t hear me. “What do I do now? What do I do now?”
"Pa, if anything would ever happen to you-“ I remember starting that conversation with Pa once after a good friend of mine had been murdered.
That time, Pa had sternly shook his head. “It won’t, son. It won’t.” His eyes were sincere then.
We had come through so many struggles together. There were so many times I feared Pa would die – but he always made it. I wanted to keep hope that he was alive but…I couldn’t. My heart told me to keep hope, but my brain told me he was dead.
I fell asleep.
The next morning, I woke up when someone gave me a hard kick. I grunted and sat up in surprise. “Go on, boy. Fix breakfast!” I gasped when I realized where I was and what was happening. Was this the end? Was this the way the rest of my life would be?
I stood and looked behind me over the desert, but no one was there. Not a soul. “I’m afraid he’s dead,” I heard a voice behind me. I heard the cock of a gun. “Now get to cooking, gringo kid!”
Tears popped in my eyes again as I worked at fixing yet another fire. It hadn’t even been twenty-four hours yet, but I didn’t notice. It had already felt like a lifetime without my Pa. How could I go on without him? What would happen now?
I fixed breakfast. I hardly remember what it even was because as soon as they started eating, I left and went to sit down. A canteen suddenly hit me in the head. I shot a hand up and winced. “Fill ‘em!” I was ordered. “If you don’t eat, you work!”
I picked up the canteen and reached for the others. I stopped as I touched the one that belong to my Pa. I turned and looked at them, then I took the lid off and put my lips to the spout and closed my eyes. This…this was Pa’s water – it was the only thing of him I could touch at the moment.
I heard Razor winey and I walked over to him, giving him a pat. “I know, boy. Me too,” I cried. “I miss him too.” I put my face to his nose. “Is he alive out there, Razor? You should know.” Razor sneezed.
I hurried to fill the canteens. I wanted so badly to run away, but I didn’t know where I’d go. I was miles from anywhere, and I wouldn’t even know where to start looking for Pa.
“Saddle the horses!” I suddenly heard. I closed my eyes and shook my head as I once again was overcome with sobs. I only allowed myself to cry for a few minutes before I hurried back to the camp.
We traveled that day. Most of the men were drunk and didn’t even know where they were going. I was forced to walk – they wanted to make me hungry enough to eat. That night, we ended up back in the same camp. I shook my head, not quite believing these men! I was again forced to gather firewood and cook the meal while they again sat around the fire and joked.
That night as I laid down to sleep, I put my arms around me and closed my eyes, trying to imagine they were Pa’s. But I couldn’t. I again cried, wondering if I’d ever feel my father’s arms around me again. Would I ever hear my Pa say my name in that irritated voice of his? Would I ever be told I had to come home and do extra chores? Would I ever hear my father’s laugh or sit on the front porch of our ranch house together? Would I smell the scent of his cigar or feel him tuck the blankets in around me at night?
I remembered my Pa after Ma died. No matter how rough things got, he stayed strong, trying not to cry around me. He’d wait until he put me to bed that night and then allowed himself to sob. I heard him when he thought I was asleep.
I remembered all the times Pa had put an arm around my shoulders or hugged me or simply looked at me. There hadn’t been a day in my 13 years on this earth when we were together that he didn’t reach out and touch me. I knew that I wouldn’t last long without that touch.
The next morning came and the next. But it was all the same – empty…so…empty…My heart grew numb as I did all the work for the bandits. I no longer allowed myself to feel anything until at night, then I allowed all the fears and worries to come out. My heart was heavy. I wouldn’t talk to the bandits who had taken my father from me unless I had to. I didn’t eat their food and only drank enough water to stay alive.
I knew I wouldn’t live much longer without food, and that was okay with me. If my Pa was dead, that’s what I wanted to be too. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life as a slave to these nasty, evil men. I wanted to die – to escape from them.
Then one evening, Miguel told me we were going into town. When we got there, I realized it wasn’t a town – just some small village with a saloon. Miguel told me to stay outside. I didn’t care – I was too numb to care.
I sat down outside the building and waited. I figured they’d be in there all night, and that was okay with me. I was too tired and weak to care about anything else. I didn’t allow myself to think about my Pa because there was no place for me to go – no where to hide within myself and cry. If I was caught mourning for the “gringo,” I would again be treated roughly. They’d be drunk. So I just sat there sadly not thinking about anything.
I stone hit me, but I paid it no mind. Then another. That time I looked up to see what it was. A shadow stood in the doorway of a nearby house. My eyes focused on the shadow and it looked like my…
I stopped and stared. I looked toward the saloon where those men were, then back at the shadow. “Pa,” I mouthed, my heart not quite believing it. But suddenly hope spread all over me. My heart suddenly came alive again.
It was Pa! It was my Pa right in front of me! My heart sprang to life now. Pa put a finger to his lips and motioned for me to come to him. He didn’t have to tell me twice! I was crying tears of joy as I ran to him. I grabbed him and he grabbed me. “Pa,” I cried in disbelief. But then he hugged me and my heart melted. It was my Pa – my wonderful, loving Pa!
And his arms were around me tight! Nothing could hurt me now! Nothing! “Oh Pa,” I cried softly. I allowed the tears to flow down my cheeks. “I thought you were…I thought…” I tightened my embrace and he tightened his. “I can’t believe it!”
“Mark, my son,” Pa whispered and kissed me on one cheek then the other. I stared into his tear-filled eyes. “My son…Oh, my son!” He kissed me on the lips then. “My boy!” He touched my cheeks, then threw his arms back around me.
“Pa, I-“ I started, but Pa suddenly pulled himself out of the embrace and put a finger to his lips. “Do they have my rifle?” I nodded. “I have to get rid of them, son!”
“No Pa!” I shook my head. “They’re bad! They’re all bad! Let’s just leave!”
“No, son,” Pa shook his head. “They are bad and must be gotten rid of…all of them!” Pa looked outside. “I don’t know how long they’ll stay, so we have to work fast.”
But I clung to him and shook my head. “I just got you back! I can’t-“
“No son, we must think of others first.” Pa put a hand on each of my cheeks. “Later will be our time, and they’ll be lots of it. Nothing will happen to me, son. I promise.”
I nodded and swallowed. Pa bent down and put a hand on my shoulders. It felt so good to feel his touch again…just to feel his touch! “I need your help.” Pa sighed. “What I ask you is going to require you to be a man, son. Can you do it?”
“What is it?” I asked suddenly.
“I…I need you to go over there and-“
Fear shot through me! “No!” I shook my head violently. “No!”
Pa put a hand to my mouth and told me to quit yelling. “You have to son. It’s an order. I want you to go over there and tell them that one of their horses is lame. Whoever has a sidearm and would be easiest to lure out. Then I want you to look around – casually – to see where my rifle is. It’s loaded?”
I nodded. “I saw Miguel load it just this morning.”
Pa nodded. “Okay, get going.”
I started toward the door. My heart pounded. I had just gotten my father back and now he was asking me to do the one thing I didn’t want to do – go back to those monsters! I turned and stared at Pa, but he didn’t smile. He only sternly pointed for me to go. I nodded and swallowed the lump in my throat.
When I walked inside, my heart was pounding, but somehow I was able to convince them that Angelo’s horse was lame. I got Angelo out there and it wasn’t long before he was out – Pa had bashed him on the head and he was bleeding!
I told Pa where his gun was then waited nervously. My hands shook as I looked for a big stick. I figured he was dead – how hard Pa had hit him – but I wasn’t going to take any chances! “Please God, protect him,” I cried as tears of fear again overtook my eyes and seeped down my cheeks.
Then I heard them – several rapid shots. Then it was quiet. I hurried into the saloon and saw Pa standing there. He was alive! They were all dead! I raced into Pa’s arms and again began crying. Pa patted me gently. I shook with sobs as Pa held me tight in his arms. He started to ease off a little, but I clung to him. He finally slid down so he was able to hold me better. “It’s okay, Mark. It’s okay, son. It’s all over!”
“I thought you were dead, Pa! Oh, I thought you were dead!” I cried into his neck as I clung to him.
“Oh son, I’ve told you I’d never leave you,” Pa cried. He could hardly speak because of all the tears he cried. Suddenly, he stood and lifted me into his arms. I wrapped my arms around his neck and laid my head on his shoulder as I continued sobbing. Pa hurried me out the door and across the street. He sat me down on a bed. Then he grabbed my hands and forced my arms away from around his neck. “Let me look at you,” Pa said.
I looked into his face. His cheeks were wet with tears. “Let me look at you. Just let me look.” He began feeling all over my body. “Did they hurt you son?” He put a hand on each of my cheeks and stared into my eyes. “They didn’t feed you. You look half starved!” Pa turned to a young woman and she nodded and hurried out of the room.
“No Pa,” I sniffed as he began wiping the tears from my face. “I couldn’t eat. I just wanted to die!”
Pa stared into my eyes as he allowed this realization to sink in. “Die?” I nodded. He suddenly threw his arms around me again and cried. “Didn’t you know I’d come for you? Don’t ever think that way, Mark! Ever!”
The lady, whom Pa introduced as Maria, brought me in some bread. “I think we are to have a feast tonight! What is your son’s favorite food?”
Pa turned and looked at me. “Apple pie!” I declared with a laugh.
Pa chuckled. “Well tonight, son, I’d let you eat an entire pie. But how about if we start with fried chicken first.” He stood up and started toward Maria. “I’ll help you.”
“Oh no…I’ve got it-“ Maria started. Pa grabbed her hand and stared into her eyes.
“Let me. I’m the man,” he smiled. She nodded and told Pa where the chickens were.
I sat in the kitchen with my Pa and Maria as they worked on supper. We didn’t talk about the days we’d been apart and that was fine with me! There were things I didn’t want to remember – and this was something I’d just as soon forget and not talk about.
That evening at the table, Miss Maria told me more about Mexico then I ever wanted to know! “What you and your son doing in Mexico, Lucas?”
Pa turned to me and winked. “We came for a seed bull.”
“A…seed bull?” Maria asked.
“Yes ma’am,” Pa answered. “To impregnate our cows so we can grow our herd.”
Maria laughed then. I smiled. She had such a beautiful laugh. “I…know…what a seed bull is, Lucas. You said you traveled all the way from New Mexico?” Pa nodded. “Just for a seed bull?”
I laughed. “Well, it was a really GOOD seed bull!” I looked at Pa. “Wasn’t it?”
Pa put down his fork and turned to look at me. “You know, son…On second thought, I don’t think we need the seed bull that badly. What do you say about just going home tomorrow?”
I nodded. “I’d love that! Maybe we’ll get home in time for me to go back to school on Monday!”
“Oh?” Pa raised his eyebrow. “You’re that excited about school?” Pa turned and looked at Miss Maria and the old man. “I usually have to threaten great bodily harm to get him to school.” They laughed.
“Well, I got some juicy stories to tell the gang, Pa! I mean after all, it’s not every day that we get kidnapped by bandits in Mexico and a boy’s father get’s hung from a tree and has to walk ten mile of desert to-“
Pa held up his hand and groaned. “Never mind, son.” He shook his head at me, but grinned. “Oh, by the way Maria, since we did the cooking, Mark washes the dishes.”
“Oh, nonsense!” Maria exclaimed.
Pa handed me his plate. “I…insist. I want to see this village now that there’s no one outside wanting to string me up!” I took the plate from him with a groan. “After that son, you can get ready for bed. I’ll make you a pallet on the floor.”
I groaned again. Pa stood and took Maria’s arm as they started outside. “Pa?” Pa turned around and looked at me. “I love you.” I smiled.
Pa walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “I love you too.”
I watched him walk outside as I grinned from ear to ear.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.