The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

The Vision Episode 66
Mark’s story

My mother was only with me for six short years, and her memory would stick in my brain forever. My father always did the best he could to make up for my lacking a mother, but there were just some things that he couldn’t do for her. When I walked into one of my friend’s houses and smelled fresh baked cookies baking, or when one of the mothers smiled at me as she held out the platter, I knew I was missing out on something special.

I don’t know why her memory all the sudden swept over me. I had had a bad day at school, and wished I could come home and sit down to a big tall glass of milk and fresh-baked cookies like my friends did. I sat on the front porch, picked one of the marigolds and lifted it to my nose. I closed my eyes and smelled it.

My heart sank. It smelled so much like my Ma, yet she wasn’t here! I longed for her to wrap her arms around me and kiss me, telling me everything was alright.

Suddenly, Pa rode into the yard. He scooted off his horse and came to set on the step beside me. I lifted the marigold back to my nose and sniffed it again.

“I heard you had a bad day at school today,” Pa stated, getting right to the heart of the matter.

“I guess so,” I laid my head against the post as I remembered the boys all talking about their mothers and how wonderful they were. It was an essay the teacher had assigned. I had refused to do it, and she sent for my father. At recess today, I punched Jeff because I was just so mad at hearing them talking about their mothers. “Did she tell you what the essay was about?”

Pa sighed. “No. She only told me you refused to write one.” Pa studied my face as I sat there silently. “Want to tell me about it?” Pa asked with a stern voice.

“No sir,” I answered. I really didn’t want to talk about it.

Pa let out another sigh. “Then I think you should go to your room until you’re ready to talk, son.”

I turned and looked at him. His eyes held disappointment. I nodded. “Yes sir,” I said quietly. Then I stood up and went inside.

I thought back to earlier in the week when Miss Adams had given us this assignment. “I want each of you to write a three page essay on your mother.” I could feel three pairs of eyes on me as she said this. I looked down at my desk.

As I walked into town that afternoon, all the boys were bragging about how great their mothers were. She could do this and she could do that. Finally, Jeff turned and told me it must be awful not having a mother. I punched him for that. Micah saw it and asked me to explain but I refused. That was Monday.

Today was Thursday and our essays had been due. Again, Jeff mouthed off something about if only I had a mother, she would have seen to my studies. He made me mad. That time Pa had seen it as he walked into the schoolyard to talk to Miss Adams. He sent me home. And now I was in my bedroom.

Pa came in later and asked me if I was ready to talk. “No,” I answered.

Pa just stood in the door. I could feel his eyes staring at my back, but I didn’t turn from where I was sitting. I figured he’d close the door and go away, but he didn’t. He came up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Son, talk to me. Tell me what’s bothering you.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” I answered.

“Why did you punch Jeff?” Pa asked.

“Because I felt like it,” I answered.

Suddenly, Pa grabbed my by the arm and pulled me to my feet. “What did you say?” His voice held shock, and I was suddenly sorry that I had said it.

“I-I’m sorry, Pa. I’m just…thinking about stuff.”

“Like what?” Pa asked. His voice held so much concern, and his face was so intense.

I sighed. “My mother,” I stated. “The essay was supposed to be on my mother.”

“So?” Pa asked. “Why didn’t you write it?”

“Pa, I really, really don’t want to talk about this! Okay?” I begged.

Pa studied my face for a few moments. Then he let go of my arm. He walked to the door and I could tell he was very hurt. “I-I’m sorry.”

Pa stood in the doorway without saying a word for several moments. Finally, he spoke. But his voice was strained. “Get some firewood and peel the vegetables for supper.” Then he walked out.

At supper, Pa informed me I would be going with him on Saturday to pick up the bull. I suddenly looked up at him. I had been planning on spending the night with Freddie. When I reminded Pa of that in an irritated voice, Pa shook his head. “Under the circumstances, I don’t think you should be spending the night with anyone right now. Look Mark, I know you are going through something right now; and I won’t sit here and pretend that it doesn’t hurt me that you feel you can’t talk to me about it. But what you did today at school – refusing to do your homework and punching Jeff – was uncalled for. You will go with me on Saturday. Now, finish your supper so you can wash the dishes.”

Pa left for the barn. He was very upset.

The next day Pa rode me into school. Jeff was in the schoolyard waiting for me. I jumped off the wagon and started to walk inside, but Jeff stopped me. “I want an apology,” he insisted. I turned and looked at Pa. He was waiting for the apology – that’s why he rode me into school today.

I turned and looked at Jeff. “I-I’m sorry,” I said quietly. Then I walked inside and sat down.

“Mark, you have something for me?” I stood and nodded. Pa had made me write an essay last night on the importance of doing homework. She had required three pages, but as an added punishment, Pa had doubled my assignment. She took the papers from me and smiled. “Why didn’t you want to write the essay about your mother?”

I stood in front of her desk and lowered my head. “I don’t have a mother.”

Miss Adams came to stand in front of me. She lowered herself down to my level and looked lovingly into my eyes. “Mark, you do have a mother. She’s in Heaven now, but you had her for six years.” I said nothing. I didn’t know why I was having such a problem with this, but I was. No one could understand. “Mark, your father’s very worried about you.” She nodded behind me.

The look on Pa’s face was torture. He had heard what I said. He opened his mouth to say something, but turned and walked out instead. My words had hurt him, and for that I was incredibly sorry, but this was something I’d have to get through on my own.

I hurried out the door and down the steps. But Pa was already turning the corner. I stood there knowing he was hurting deeply. Miss Adams came up behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. “Ring the bell, Mark,” she said quietly.

I didn’t even feel like playing that day. By the end of the day I was angry. Angry at myself for hurting my Pa, angry at Pa for not being more understanding, and angry at my mother for dying. Right now, I didn’t know how to make it right.

After school, I ignored the boys’ calling me to stay and talk. I walked quickly into town and to the General Store where I was to meet my Pa. Pa turned from the counter and smiled at me. But his smile was tight and harsh. I didn’t know what to say…how I could make things right again.

I walked up to the counter. “Oh Mark, your saddle came in.”

Pa suddenly turned and looked puzzled at both of us. “What…saddle?” he asked. It was that type of voice that held warning in it that there better be a good explanation.

“Well, a few months ago, he-“ Hattie stopped. “Oh, I should have checked with you first, Luke.”

“It’s alright, Hattie. Mark should have known better,” Pa answered as he gave me a hard, cold stare. Then he picked up the bag of flour and walked quickly out the door.

I picked up a box of supplies to help. “Mark, what’s going on with you two?” She came from behind the counter and put her arm around me.

I turned and looked into her concerned eyes. Even her kind gesture made my heart hurt. I was a twelve year old boy, and I wanted to cry at the top of my voice that I wanted my Ma! How childish was I acting. I groaned and hurried out the door.

The ride started out silent. I finally decided to break the silence. “Pa?” Pa turned and looked at me. “I’m sorry for this morning.”

“I wish you’d talk to me,” Pa stated.

“Pa, this is just something I have to figure out for myself. I just feel so…” My voice drifted off.

Pa stopped the wagon and turned toward me. “Son, why did you say what you said this morning?”

I looked away from him and fiddled with my books. “I…Sometimes, it just feels so…” My voice drifted off again. I suddenly had the urge to change the subject. I just didn’t want to talk to Pa about this! “Pa, why can’t I have the saddle?” I suddenly asked in a bitter voice.

Pa’s eyes suddenly turned from deep concern to impatience. He turned from me, called to the horses, and started the wagon back down the road. “I spent all the money we had on the bull.”

That was the last thing said. That night, things at home were pretty tense. Neither of us knew what to say, and there was nothing I wanted to hear at the moment.

The next morning, Pa came into the bedroom, demanding me to get up because he had to get an early start. I quickly made my bed and waved off breakfast. But Pa sternly told me to sit down and eat. Then he made me finish the laundry I hadn’t gotten done the day before. As I washed the clothes, Pa finished getting the horses ready for travel. “Pa, I really do need a new saddle.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the one you have now, Mark,” Pa said in that impatient voice again.

“But Pa, Hattie’s had that saddle on order ever since I seen it in the catalog last winter!” I groaned.

“Mark, I told you we can’t afford it right now. It took every cent we got to buy the bull we’re gonna pick up,” Pa stated sternly. I knew that was the end of that subject. I wasn’t picking up the bull – he was! I just had to come along as punishment! “When you finish that washing, make sure your bunk’s made before we pull out, huh?”

“It’s already made,” I stated in an irritated voice. Pa asked me what was wrong again. He couldn’t see any reason for me acting the way I was acting. I figured he wouldn’t be able to see it. No one could. “You wouldn’t understand!” I stated again for the hundredth time. I was getting so tired of feeling this way – of talking like this.

In anger, I dumped the soapy water out on the flowers. Pa yelled at me. "Mark! Look what you've done to your mother's flowers!”

My mother’s flowers. “Just hurrying,” I stated. “Besides they’re not hers any how. You planted them.”

I longed to know why I was feeling this – what was this far, loathsome feeling deep inside me? My heart physically ached for my mother, and I deeply wished it didn’t! Pa reminded me that my mother liked Marigolds along the porch. I was so tried of talking about this whole thing! I was tired of feeling this loss! And I was angry! "What's the sense of remembering somebody that's left ya'?"

For the second time in a little over 24 hours, I had said the wrong thing. The pain in my father’s eyes again broke my heart. I suddenly wished I could take those words back. I loved my Ma. I love my Pa, but right now I was so confused! But this time, he kept his voice controlled and gently reminded me of the truth. "Now hold on son. Your mother didn't leave you. She died God rest her. You’re not letting yourself forget that are you?"

“I know she died,” I stated sadly. Doesn’t he know that’s part of my problem? “But that’s not what I mean! It's just that…sometimes it's as though I never had a mother.”

Those words did hurt him and angered him so much that he walked into the house. I felt such regret in saying that, but I couldn’t hold in all these feelings. Pa rushed back out holding my Ma’s picture. I didn’t want to look at it. “It’s just a picture!” I tried to explain. “Well…I…I knew you wouldn’t understand!”

Didn’t he know that it was her arms that I missed? I missed her laughter when I did something right, her eyes as she said goodnight to me, her voice as she and Pa talked quietly on the porch at night when they thought I was in bed asleep. “Forgetting the mother you’ve talked about and loved all your life? No, I can’t understand that at all!”

I knew he wouldn’t, but hearing him say it made me angry. The thought of being with Pa on this trip made me even more angry. I needed some time away from him. And that made me angry too. This was probably the first time in my life that I found myself not wanting to be with my Pa! It was a terrible feeling! I suddenly asked him if I had to go with him on the trip. He angrily answered he couldn’t leave me alone.

“Well, I sure wish I didn’t have to go!” I pouted.

“The way you’re acting, so do I!”

It had never been like this before! And I was suddenly very afraid.

We rode for a long while in silence, neither of us really knowing what to say to the other. I looked over at my Pa every once in a while, and I could feel him look over at me. Once, our eyes met, and I saw such hopelessness in Pa’s eyes. I knew he was worried about what was wrong. But I had just tried to explain things to him and he didn’t even listen. It was no use going into it again.

I really didn’t want to be here, and when we had arrived at where we would pick up the bull, my mood suddenly soured again. I didn’t want to be here – I’d rather be home by myself where I could think! But Pa thought I was still too little to stay by myself. “Why couldn’t I stay in town with Micah or Hattie?” I suddenly snapped at him.

We had just ridden into camp and Pa froze beside his horse. I watched him close his eyes to regain control of himself before he spoke. “Because I want you here. Now stop it, Mark!”

I started angrily untying things from my horse. Pa suddenly walked over and put his hand on top of mine. “Why don’t you gather some firewood for the fire?” His voice was so soft, almost like he was forcing himself to be nice.

There was still the thick wall of tension between us and I just didn’t know what to do. We ate in silence. As we wiped the dishes, Pa announced he was going to go get the bull. He ordered me to stay in camp and not go over by the wagon train. But I was so mad at him…at the whole situation…that I just couldn’t …

I threw the plate I was drying down and suddenly stood up. I heard a lady singing. Looking over my shoulder to make sure Pa had left, I started over to the wagon train. The lady there…she was so pretty and nice. She paid attention to me. She fed me, sang to me…did things for me that only a mother could do! I suddenly found myself engrossed in her, taken in by her beautiful smile and attention.

But as I listened to her song, I suddenly heard Pa’s voice. “Mark.”

The spell was broken. I suddenly looked at my Pa, knowing I was in for it. He had an angry look on his face. “Get down out of there!” he suddenly ordered.

Here we go again! I was just beginning to relax a little and Pa comes and gets me all upset again. “But Pa, she’s singing!” I explained. Didn’t he understand that I missed stuff like this? I missed listening to my Ma sing and talk lovingly to me. I missed just looking at a pretty lady as she smiled at me, like my Ma used to smile at me.

But no matter, Pa was mad. He came up to me and told me this was no place for me. I didn’t understand what the problem was! I do know he and the lady had some words, and that made Pa mad. Then when I did stand up, I reached out and shook her hand, and that made him even angrier. He grabbed me by the shoulders, turned me around and marched me out of there.

When we were away from the group, Pa looked over at the man holding the bull. “You deliberately disobeyed me!” He shouted angrily. He turned away from me, but then quickly turned back. “Get back to camp. We’ll talk about this in a few minutes.”

I saw anger in his eyes and immediately turned and ran back to camp. Pa came back and immediately began stroking the fire. I stood by the tree looking at the people on the wagon train, wishing I could have stayed over there longer. “Don’t ever let me catch you in that kind of company again, Mark!” Pa was angry.

I didn’t see what the problem was. “Pa, she was nice to me!” I longed for him to understand me…to know how it all felt.

But he didn’t, and my stating that she was nice only seemed to anger him more. He stood up, rushed over to me and grabbed me by the arm so hard that I flinched from the pain. He turned me to face him. "I don’t care how nice she was. I told you to stay here,” he yelled.

In that instance, I saw something in his eyes. I’d never seen that look before! It scared me something awful. “Pa, what’s wrong with you?” I suddenly asked.

Pa apologized, stating it was himself that he was yelling at. Then he told me to go to bed.

As I lay down, he ordered me not to drink the water from the barrel.

But when I woke up in the middle of the night, I was thirsty. I checked the canteens and they were empty. I remembered Pa’s words, but after the last three days, I reckon maybe I was just a little defiant. I hurried to the barrel to get a drink. I guess in a way I was trying to punish Pa by drinking that water.

But I ended up punishing myself!

As soon as I tasted the water, I knew it wasn’t any good. I spit it out. It was certainly tainted – poison. I laid back down on my bedroll, but it took me a long time to go to sleep. I was worried about that water.

The next morning, I was still worried about that water. As we were packing up our gear, I suddenly asked Pa a question. “Pa, you said that water in the barrel could be poison. What if it is and someone drank from it? Would they die?”

Pa didn’t even look up from his work. “It depends, Mark. Tainted water could be very deadly within hours of drinking it. Or you could come down with diseases like typhoid or some other fever that will slowly kill ya.”

I thought on that as we rode for home. I was so very quiet, and Pa was suddenly worried about me all over again. When we rode into the yard, Pa went to put the bull up and I told him quietly that I would put the horses up. After I did so, I just sat in the barn and watched the horses eat. “Mark?”

I turned and licked my lips, knowing I had to tell Pa the truth. I looked desperately into his eyes as I began gasping. “Pa, I drank that water.”

“What?” Pa asked, confused.

“At the camp last night. I drank some. It tasted awful!” I confessed with a shaky voice.

Pa hurried over to me. He bent down in front of me and took my head in his hands. “Son, are you sick?” His voice held fear.

“Sick inside,” I answered. “Not from the water, but from guilt and worry and…” I looked up at Pa. The tears suddenly came. I threw my arms around him and just cried out all my frustrations from the last few days. I suddenly wanted my Pa more then anything else in the world. I wanted him to hold me and whisper to me that everything was going to be alright.

Pa held me tight and patted my back as I cried. He didn’t say anything but just held me. I didn’t realize I had so much anger and worry inside me until that moment. After my tears were spent, I just sat there quietly as he held me. I finally pushed away and wiped my eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m acting like a baby.”

Pa looked into my eyes. “You want me to start supper or do you want to talk?” Pa asked hopefully.

“I want to talk,” I answered. “But after supper.” Pa nodded and smiled at me. He stood up and reached out for my hand. I suddenly found myself smiling as I grabbed his hand and we walked inside together. Our arms were securely around each other as we enjoyed just being close.

Then we worked side by side on supper. There were no hurtful expressions or words between us for the first time since this whole thing started. I suddenly realized that was why I was so angry – because I had allowed myself to break Pa’s number one rule not to keep anything from each other and to always speak out what we felt.

As we ate supper, I was quiet. Pa allowed me to stay quiet, but looked at me with a deep concern every once in a while. We washed dishes together. Pa popped the dishtowel down on the counter and declared with a sigh, “Well, that’s done!”

I stared into the sink as if there was something really interesting in the water. “Pa, you want to know what’s been bothering me?” I asked.

Pa plopped his elbows down on the counter and nodded as he bent his head to look into my eyes. “You know I do, Mark.” He studied me for a minute, then picked up the dishpan and started outside. “Come on, the porch is always a good place to talk.”

I walked outside and sat down on the porch. I looked up at the stars. Pa sat down beside me after throwing the water in the yard. I felt his concerned eyes on me. I turned my head and looked at him. “Miss Adams asked us to write an essay on our mothers. I should have talked to her right then about doing mine on something else.”

Pa put his arm around me. “Why wouldn’t you want to write and essay on your mother?” That question hit me wrong. I suddenly felt all the emotions boiling up inside me again. I turned a look of anger on my face and opened my mouth to speak. Pa quickly held up his hand. “It’s an innocent question, Mark. Just explain it to me.”

I lowered my head and closed my eyes. “Some of the boys stared at me and gave me this sorrowful look. After class, they were talking about their mothers and how great they were. I said something about my mother being great too and then…one of the boys told me my mother was dead.” I sighed. “I guess I got to thinking about how they all have mothers to bake cookies for them and hug and kiss them when they need it.” I hung my head at that. “I’m twelve years old, so I guess I shouldn’t have thoughts like that anymore.”

Pa tightened his arm around me and drew his face down against my cheek. “There’s nothing wrong with that, son. I wish my mother were still here to give me hugs and kisses too. I wish my father was here to hug me. We never get to old to feel that way.”

“Well, the more I thought about it, the more jealous I started feeling. I guess I allowed my thoughts to run away with me and I was so confused! I was mad at myself because you did so much for me. You love me so much and care about me, and there I was not appreciating it. All I wanted was my mother. I felt like a five year old who had just fallen and skinned his knee and was crying for his mama.”

“If you had told me about the skinned knee, maybe I could have helped,” Pa suddenly said quietly. I heard just a bit of hurt in his voice as well.

I suddenly turned to him. My eyes had filled up with tears again. “I know,” I shook my head. “But I was so…I was ashamed for the way I was feeling, Pa.” I hung my head again. “I…didn’t want to hurt you,” I whispered.

“But you did,” Pa stated honestly. “Your silence, your refusing to come to me with this problem, and your hurtful words and attitude – they all hurt me.”

I had lifted my head to look into his eyes again, but I immediately lowered my head in shame. “I’m sorry,” I said softly.

Pa lifted my head and looked into my eyes. “Mark, if you don’t think I miss feeling your mother’s arms around me or seeing her lovely smile, you are wrong. I do. Sometimes I miss her so much it hurts inside.” Pa took my hands in his. “I talk to Micah about it a lot. He helps me. We all need someone to talk to.”

“You don’t talk to me about it?” I asked.

Pa shook his head. “Mark, a man…has certain feelings that only a man understands. I tell you how I feel about your Ma sometimes, but sometimes, adult feelings are…” Pa sighed and shrugged, not quite knowing how to put it into words.

I suddenly nodded. Somehow, I understood what he was saying. There were some feeling a kid had that I could only talk to my friends about, and they understood. “I’m sorry, Pa. I should have come to you that first night.” Pa nodded. “I understood now more then ever why you have the rule about not ever holding back from each other.”

“I know.”

“I just don’t understand why I…got so angry with you.” I shuddered just thinking about it now. “Pa, for the first time in my life, I found myself not wanting to be with you. I wanted to be as far away from you as possible. That hurt me more then ever – it scared me.”

“It wasn’t me you were running from, son. It was the truth. The truth that you were wrong, and that the only way you were going to ever be right again was by talking to me. You were angry at me for something out of both of our hands.”

I nodded. “Ma didn’t want to leave us. I know she wanted to stay. She was so brave.” But I looked at Pa then. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted her with me so badly right now.”

Pa smiled and nodded. “So do I, son. So do I!”

“What about the water I drank? It was tainted,” I suddenly said.

Pa’s face looked worried. “Only time will tell son. I pray to God you’ll be okay.”

Before I stood up and went to bed, Pa kissed me softly on the cheek. “I love you, son.”

I smiled into his eyes. “I love you too, Pa.”

Things were better after that. I knew it would take some time to get our relationship back to where it was. Pa told me that my words couldn’t be taken back, and many times, the wounds caused by the tongue heal much slower then the wounds caused by a fist. I still felt this empty spot inside me for my mother, and Pa told me that in time that too would heal.

Two weeks passed. I didn’t get sick and Pa and I relaxed. But then one day I began feeling ill. I was just a little dizzy at first, so I went on to school. But by mid-afternoon I was feeling ill. The world seemed to be spinning as I rode home that day. When I got home, Pa was busy with Nels, so I started on my chores. I became so weak I could no longer even carry a bucket of water.

As I sat at the table, the voices suddenly became echoes, like they were talking in a canyon. I was becoming confused, not being able to separate what was real and not real. The food on my plate suddenly looked like something crawling around, and when more suddenly appeared on my plate, I stood up, wanting as far from it as I could get.

Pa grabbed me and said something, but I wasn’t sure what he said. I remember him asking me if I’d been in the sun again without my shirt on. “Me?” I asked, but I wasn’t sure what I was asking.

Things were quickly becoming confusing – unreal. I opened my mouth to tell Pa I didn’t feel good. I’m not sure exactly what he said. But he suddenly picked me up and carried me. He carried me somewhere…somewhere soft and inviting…somewhere…

Suddenly, I was in that canyon. I heard voices echoing and I feared my Pa was going to fall. Confusion lit my brain.

After that, it was as if I had fallen into a deep sleep. I don’t remember much from those days of sickness. The only thing I remember was being with my mother. She was there with me during those days. I had touched her and talked to her. I hugged her and begged her to let me stay with her. But she helped me see the truth. I really didn’t want to stay with her. I really did need my Pa, and he needed me.

When I really, truly needed her, she was there with me. She helped me through one of the darkest ordeals of my life. All that time, I had grieved because I no longer had her. But I had. She was deep inside me in my heart – and no power on earth could ever take that from me! She was here with me to help me anytime I needed her. I had been searching in the wrong places. I’d been searching for her physically instead of looking inside myself.

That’s all I can tell you about the time I was sick. I’ve invited my Pa to give you an idea of what he felt throughout the Vision. Here’s my Pa.

Hello. I want to think Mark for inviting me to share in his memory this time. He asked me later if I ever thought of the water, and the truth was I didn’t. All I knew was that my boy was sick, and what had initially caused that never entered my mind. When I picked him up and carried him into that bed, fear gripped my very being. Ever since I lost my wife, if Mark even have a sniffle it scared me. But I knew this was more then a sniffle. I had a very, very ill little boy.

In that moment of desperation, I reached out for the only thing I knew I had – my rifle. It had gotten me out of many a dangerous situation before, and this was definitely a dangerous situation. But this time it was different. This time, a bullet couldn’t protect my only son.

I would ride all the way around the world to get something to make him better if I had to. I would give my own life for my boy. When Nels told me of the other doctor, I immediately started to go. But then my son called out for me and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t leave him. He needed me.

I know you know parts of the story already from reading my story I’ve already told. But Mark wanted to fill you in on the missing pieces that I didn’t talk about.

When Mark talked about me being locked in the canyon, I knew he was struggling with something in his sickness. He was trying to guard me, to protect me from getting hurt. From what, I didn’t know. I had no idea it was the same struggle he’d already been fighting with.

I sat there on his bed just watching him suffer for a long time. Nels brought me water, but Mark didn’t want to drink. I ordered him to take some. I forced the water down his throat, suddenly knowing he had to have it. I sat down by his side and didn’t move from that spot all day or all night. I held my Bible in my hand and prayed to my Almighty God in Heaven. At one point, I even put my hands on my son, looked up to Heaven, and begged God not to take him.

Later that evening, Nels put a hand on my shoulder and quietly announced that he was going into town to tell everyone. I sat there in the darkness alone as Mark moaned from the pain. Tears laid in my eyes all night as I watched him suffer. The pain was terrible, and I found myself wishing I could take it. I begged God to give me the pain – to let me suffer this sickness for him. “He’s just a boy!” I screamed out to God. “He’s my son! Don’t you understand, He’s my son!”

I suddenly found myself on my knees in a prayerful position as I cried out to God to protect my boy. Mark continued to moan in his sleep. Every once in a while he shouted out something about me in the canyon, but he no longer made sense. None of this made any sense.

Suddenly, there was a hand on my shoulder. I was still on the floor on my knees bent over my boy’s bunk, praying silently. I turned my head and saw Hattie there. She had tears in her eyes. I turned back and touched my son’s face. “He’s so sick, Hattie,” I stated in a broken voice.

Hattie bent down beside me and put her arm around me. “I know,” she cried. “I know.” I suddenly turned and threw my arms around her. She cried and advised me to do the same. I did. In my weakened condition, I found myself crying in her arms.

Hattie lifted from me after my tears were spent. She placed her hands on my cheeks and gave me a weak smile. “He’ll be okay, Luke. You’ve got to believe that. You’ve got to hold onto that.” She nodded to me and I found myself nodding back. “There’s a prayer vigil going on in town. People are in the church around the clock praying for your boy. Prayer in North Fork won’t cease until there’s word sent that he’s out of the woods.”

I smiled at that. There was so much love here in North Fork, and I knew that with constant prayer, God had to listen to them. I sat back in the chair. “I’ll go fix some breakfast. You need your strength.”

Mark was quiet. I sat there in the chair and watched him sleep. Hattie came in to announce breakfast was on the table. I turned to her and shook my head, then I looked back at Mark. “Luke,” Hattie came over to me and grabbed my arm. “He’s sleeping. If he wakes you’ll be right there. I’m going to bathe him if you don’t mind, and give him a woman’s touch.”

I smiled at that and nodded. I turned back to my boy and looked down at him. “Yes,” I nodded. “You bathe him with a woman’s touch,” I answered. “Give him a woman’s touch. That’s what he needs.”

I found myself choking down the food. I went back into the bedroom and watched as Hattie lovingly washing his body with the water. He was sleeping peacefully now and I smiled a bit. Maybe he was finally resting. Maybe he was over the worst. Hattie looked up at me with a worried look on her face. “His fever’s going up,” she stated. “I can feel him getting hotter.”

I went to look out the window as she finished her loving task. “You love him, I know,” I stated.

“I love him as if he were my own,” Hattie said in a broken voice. She put the covers back over him and came up to me. “If we loose him, it will be a great loss to me too, Luke.”

I turned and hugged her again. I kissed the top of her head. “We’re not going to loose him, Hattie. He’s a fighter. He’ll come through!”

Hattie nodded and left the room. I sat back down in the chair and watched him sleep. I was so very exhausted and finally laid my head down on the bed and drifted off myself. “Luke? Luke?” I suddenly sat up and turned toward Hattie. “Lunch, Luke.” She came inside as I stood. I turned back to look at Mark. “I’ll sit with him for awhile. You need to rest.”

“Not until my boy’s better,” I said. “I won’t leave his side for long.” I left and ate lunch. Then I came back into the room again. Mark was groaning. I hurried over to the bed and touched his head. I suddenly shot my hand away. He was hot…so hot…He began shaking all over from the heat and I just held onto him. I turned to Hattie and we stared at each other, knowing that wasn’t a good sign.

He finally calmed down around supper time. Micah came by then. Mark was now quieter and I hoped that was a good sign. We didn’t know if it was or not. The doctor was there too. His words didn’t help me any. Typhoid wasn’t an easy disease to survive from. I suddenly knew that he would need a lot of courage and a lot of prayer to survive this disease. Before I walked into Mark’s bedroom, Micah put a hand on my shoulder and said, “I came as soon as I heard, Lucas Boy. I was out of town yesterday.”

The doctor examined Mark and announced that he was very sick. We had no ice at the moment. The doctor was very worried for him. I turned to look at Micah and realized he wasn’t in there.

I went out to help get the cold water and rags ready to bathe Mark. Micah stood at the window. “Thanks for coming,” I said softly. Micah nodded. I put my hand on his shoulder. Micah didn’t turn around.

“I came as soon as I heard,” he stated again. But this time his voice was broken. I knew why he didn’t turn to look at me. “I’m sorry, I can’t go in there to see him this way, Lucas. I just can’t.”

”I understand,” I answered softly.

Micah nodded. “I’ll go do some chores.” He quickly left the house.

We put the wet rags on him for some time, but it wasn’t working. The doctor eventually stopped it, stating he was probably hurting him more then it was helping. What were we going to do? I just didn’t know anymore. I sat back down at my boy’s side and began praying again.

Hattie came in to announce it was supper time. “I’m not hungry,” I said with a broken voice.

Micah stood in the doorway. “Come on, Lucas. Come eat.” I shook my head. I couldn’t leave that spot. “Lucas Boy, please don’t make me come in there and drag you out.” I heard the fear in Micah’s voice. I turned and looked at him. I nodded, knowing he would if I made him.

I turned from the door and looked at him one more time. Then I walked out. I sat down at the table and found that Hattie had made fried chicken with all the trimmings. I hadn’t even smelled it. “Let’s join hands,” Hattie said. We all bowed our heads as she led us in a prayer. We were all crying by the time she was done.

I suddenly looked around and realized that we were a family. Hattie, Micah, me and Mark. He had all the woman’s love he needed right here. He had the love of a grandmother and a grandfather as well. I knew we were blessed, and this wasn’t my battle alone to fight.

After supper, I suddenly stood. “Hattie, you want to sit with him for awhile? Micah and I will wash up the dishes.” When I saw the relieved smile cross her face, I knew I had made the right decision. It was time for me to think of others’ suffering besides my own.

When she had her time alone with him, she came back out feeling better. I made my way into the bedroom where I would stay for the rest of the night. Hattie and Micah made themselves comfortable in the living room to sleep.

The next day was more of the same. I sat with him all day. Hattie allowed me to bathe him this time, and I did with much love and devotion. I didn’t leave his side all day.

Mid-morning, Micah called me from the living room. I patted Mark. “I’ll be right back, son.” Then I made my way into the living room.

“We’re going up into the mountains to get ice,” Micah announced. “The snow.”

I smiled and patted Micah on the back. I knew that’s the way Micah thought he could help the most. I wished I could do more, but my Spirit was broken. I told Micah as much, and he told me I was where I should be – at Mark’s side letting him know I loved him.

I waited all day for the ice. I was frustrated that night and suddenly found myself ordering Mark to stop this. I fought with the only thing I had left – my authority.

Then I broke down…again…and cried. I cried for a long time as I listened to him cry and groan in pain. I paced the floor, suddenly worried that he had kept on for days like this. How much longer was I supposed to hold on! How much longer could his body continue to fight? I was getting worried as I watched him desperately struggling with something…something more then the sickness.

The ice arrived the next day. As we poured the ice on Mark, the doctor announced that the rest was up to him. I knew how he’d been struggling to be with his mother. Would he want to come back to me?

I sat in that chair and read my Bible some more as more ice came and was packed on him. I watched him continue to struggle. He was shaking from the coolness of the snow. I cried some more and prayed constantly.

Finally, the doctor announced he was over the worst. He would be okay. My heart rejoiced. Mark had chosen to come back to me! You know the rest of my story. Now, here’s my beloved son.

Thank you, Pa for explaining your love for me so well. I couldn’t have done it justice. As I opened my eyes, I saw Pa staring down at me. He was sitting right there. I didn’t know where I’d been, but I knew where I wanted to be. I smiled at my Pa as we said hello. I lifted my hand in a light joke and said, “Loose your razor?”

Pa couldn’t speak. He started to say something but was overcome with emotion and drew me up into my arms in a loving embrace. He cried for a long time. “Thank you, God, for bringing my son back!” He cried. He began crying out loud.Then he gently laid me back down on my pillow and smiled at me. I just stared at him with a loving smile. He jumped up. “He’s awake and he’s fine!” Pa shouted.

I watched as a large group of people came inside. I was suddenly surrounded by a whole room of love. “She’s here, Pa. She’s been here the whole time.”

Pa sat back down beside me and smiled. “Who, son?” he asked.

“My mother.” I looked around the crowd and lifted my weak hand, pointing to each of them. “Her spirit lives on inside me, and you all being here shows that I have a lot to be thankful for.”

Miss Hattie was suddenly there. She threw her arms around me and cried tears of thankfulness. Somehow I knew that she had been here the whole time, caring for me as my own mother would were she here. “My mother,” I whispered as I threw my arms around Hattie. “My mother has been here the whole time. I was just too blind to see it!”

Hattie lifted from me and laid a hand on my cheek. “Thank you for coming back to us, Mark. Thank you!” she cried.

Pa and Micah stood right behind her. They both had tearful smiles. I looked around at the others in the room. There were probably fifty people in there! I had no idea so many bodies could fit in here! “She sent me back to you,” I stated. “To you all. She said Pa needed me, but you all needed me.”

They had a party going on outside. Pa said there were all kinds of sweets and games going on. I sat up in bed that afternoon listening to the laughter coming from outside. Pa positioned my bed so I could see outside the window. He brought me soup, but I smelt cooked ham. “You can have solid food tomorrow, son.” Pa promised me. “Today I want you to eat broth.”

Within a few days, I was better. It took weeks for the weakness to go away, but Pa promised me it would eventually go away. I gradually had to work my strength back up and Pa monitored my activities closely, making sure I didn’t do too much too soon. Two weeks later, I returned to school. “I want you to come inside,” I told Pa. He had ridden me in because he didn’t trust me on a horse just yet. He took it slower then needed, but he had me back and wasn’t going to risk my life for anything.

Pa nodded and we walked inside together. Miss Adams turned from the board and everyone gathered around me as I made my way up front. Pa hurried to stand beside me, suddenly feeling that he had to protect me from a mob. I shook him off and told the kids to sit down. I turned to Miss Adams and smiled. “I have an essay to read.” She nodded her approval.

I unfolded the paper and cleared my throat.

My mother was more then someone who could put her arms around me and give me kisses, promising everything was okay. She was more then a cookie baker and a person who cleaned my cuts and scrapes and helped heal my broken bones. My mother was…no, is love.

No matter what I’m doing or where I’m at, my mother is there to take care of my Pa and me. She’s inside us, and she’s there when we need her the most. She was there with me in my sickness and took care of me. She helped me to realize that I had all the love I would ever need right here in North Fork.

But this essay isn’t just about my mother. It’s also about my father, because I can’t separate the two. My mother lives inside my father as strongly now as she did when she was alive. During my recent sickness, I almost died. During that time my father never left the house. He loving prayed for me, cried over me, and took care of me just as tenderly and lovingly as my mother would do.

So when you ask me to write and essay about my mother, I will do so proudly, because I have a lot to say about her. But I cannot write it without also including my father, because my father is both. Most of all, though, my father is my best friend.

I looked up at my father who had tears shining in his eyes and smiled. “Thank you, Pa.”

He suddenly hurried forward and threw his arms around me. We both cried, not caring if the whole world saw it or not. He pulled back from me and looked into my eyes. “I love you, son,” he whispered so only I could hear.

“I love you too, Pa,” I whispered back. We grinned at each other, and then Pa turned and left the school.

He stopped at the door and turned back to me. I was still standing there watching him leave. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place, and we both knew it. I think that’s why he pointed straight at me and said, “Be good, boy!” in that stern voice of his.

We all laughed as he walked out the door.

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

Lariat

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story

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