I opened only one eye and saw Pa’s annoyed expression as he shook me back and fourth. I groaned and rolled over. But then I heard that…that sound that escaped my Pa whenever he was tempted to use more then words on me. It was always in the way he said my name. “Mark!”
I groaned and sat up in bed. As I opened my eyes, my father’s annoyed expression suddenly showed me that I should leap out of my bed right that second, which I did. Pa shook his head and went to the other room as I washed up and got my clothes on. I really considered skipping the washing up part, but somehow Pa was always able to tell when I hadn’t washed and sent me back in to do the job properly.
I immediately ran out to the table as I buttoned up my shirt. Pa glanced at me with an annoyed expression on his face. I immediately sat down and nodded at Pa. “Morning,” I said with a short nod.
Pa sat down his coffee cup and shook his head. “Your hair looks a fright!” he stated. I raised my eyebrows and looked at his. I started to tell him he didn’t look like he just came from a barber shop either, but with him already a bit annoyed with me, I thought better of it.
I looked down at my breakfast and wrinkled up my nose. “Mush!” I declared.
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “Eat it,” he demanded. “We have to leave early this morning. I’ll bring you in on the wagon since we have to meet the stage.”
“The stage?” I asked.
Pa sat down his coffee and leaned his head over to one side. “Yes, son. The stage! Don’t you remember that today’s the day Ann Dodd comes into town?”
“Oh.” I looked down at my mush. I stuck my spoon in it and lifted a big scoop out. Then I bent my spoon, allowing it to fall back into the bowl. I wrinkled up my nose. “Pa, can’t I have some sugar on it at least?”
Pa looked at me again. “Okay, I’ll eat it!” I stated. Pa pointed at my bowl and opened his mouth to say something. But I didn’t want to hear his griping. “And I won’t play with it anymore!” Pa sighed then took another bite of his own mush.
After the last bite was in my mouth, I guzzled down my milk – that is until I heard Pa clearing his throat. I sat the glass down. “What about fishing?” I suddenly asked.
“What about it? We’ll be visiting with Mrs. Dodd tonight.” That was my answer.
Pa stood and took my bowl as I went to finish getting ready. I soon heard Pa hollering for me to hurry up. I was thinking on the fishing day and the conversation we had just a few days ago. This was Tuesday, and since we didn’t have school tomorrow because of Founder’s Day, Pa said we could go fishing after school today. There’s just some things a boy can’t stay quiet about, and fishing is one of those things! I obeyed Pa and came out of the bedroom. “You said we’d go fishing today!” I declared.
“Did I? Well, we can do that anytime,” Pa stated as he combed his hair. He seemed to be spending a lot more time then usual primping himself this morning!
“Yeah, but the big one’s aren’t foolish enough to bite just any old time,” I stated, perhaps I was being a bit whiney…Then I looked at Pa’s hair. “Say, your hair looks good combed!” I had to say it! He told me my hair looked a mess, after all!
Pa looked at me, not too impressed with my comment but I guess I got away with it alright. “Thank you,” he simply said. “Now let’s see what you can do with your hair.” He handed me the comb. I started combing my hair. ““We want to make a good impression on Mrs. Dodd, don’t we?”
I didn’t really know who Mrs. Dodd was. It had been so long ago – and hanging on to my mother’s memory was hard enough without having to remember a dozen other people I was supposed to remember! Pa told me she was best friends with my Ma, and that she even took care of her when she was sick.
I wondered where she was going to stay – our house was pretty small, and we usually set up a cot for our guests. Pa told me she was going to stay in town.
In town! I found that awfully rude of my father to make her pay for some hotel when we had a big house right here! Pa simply said “That wouldn’t do.” What did that mean? She was my mother’s best friend and was traveling a long way – the least we could do was put her up. When my best friend came into North Fork he stayed with us – no questions asked! When I argued with Pa on that, you know what he said?
“Mark, it…it’s a little different with grown ups.” I hate it when he says stuff like that – that’s another way for him to tell me he didn’t want to give me the reason why because then he’d have to tell me some other things he didn’t want to talk about!
But instead of asking him a bunch of questions, I simply mumbled, “Yeah…yeah, most things are different.” He gave me a dirty look, but again I got away with it. He must really be distracted today!
Pa told me that Mrs. Dodd was the prettiest girl in town. “Prettier then Ma?” I asked.
Pa got this strange far away look on his face. It was the sort of look that told me he was thinking about Ma, and perhaps wishing for those days again. Mark, your mother had more than looks. There was something special that came from deep inside her." I could see the deep love Pa had for Ma in his eyes and heard it in his voice as he spoke.
We were soon on our way into town. Pa was kinda quiet and distracted, so I didn’t say much. But at one point I asked as nicely as possible, “Pa, could I maybe…go fishing after school?” Pa suddenly turned and looked at me. “I can catch a whole mess of fish – enough for all three of us to eat!” Pa merely shook his head. I opened my mouth to argue, but he continued shaking his head. I knew saying more would be a mistake.
We were just about to ride into town. “I’ll pick you up after school, son. Now Mark, I want you on your best behavior! I want you to remember your manners and use them properly when you meet Mrs. Dodd, you hear?” Pa stopped the wagon and looked at me. He had a very stern look on his face and his eyebrows were raised.
“Yes sir,” I answered. “I’ll be a gentleman for a minute.” Pa raised his eyebrows. “Well, I mean I do have to go to school right after, right?”
Pa nodded. “But you could be a gentleman at school too, you know.”
I laughed. “Oh Pa, the kids would laugh at me!”
“Oh,” Pa nodded and smiled. “We wouldn’t want that by all means!”
But then he looked at me. I swallowed. “Oh Pa, I’m always a gentleman!” He narrowed his eyes at me. I sighed. “I’ll do my best, sir,” I answered with a smile.
“Let’s go meet the stage, son!” Pa stated as he jumped down and shook his head at me.
I did meet Mrs. Dodd, and Pa was right. She was very pretty! I smiled at her and bowed like Pa had taught me a gentleman should do. I wanted to make sure I was a perfect gentleman, after all. Shortly after that, Pa sent me off to school.
Everyone at school was talking about Founder’s Day. I knew my Pa was entering the Sharp shooting contest they were having, and I knew we were going to do the three-legged race together. Some of the boys in my class talked about a horse-race contest. I had asked Pa about it, but he told me no. At the time, I didn’t press him too much since I wanted to plead with him to let me enter the fishing derby. All I got from that was an “I’ll think about it.”
When school let out I looked around the schoolyard but saw no sigh of Pa. I walked into town and saw Micah sitting outside his office. “No outlaws today, Micah?” I asked as I came up to him and sat down.
Micah looked at me funny. “You think that’s all I do? Fight outlaws?”
“Well, it seems to be the most exciting thing!” I declared.
Micah shook his head at me. “As a matter of fact, young one, I’ve been riding in the saddle all day looking for a missing cow! Mr. Pritchard came in crying that someone had rustled it. Well, I rode from about 10 o’clock this morning until about 3 o’clock this afternoon. It turns out that his son had her in the barn.”
I laughed, but Micah looked at me in a way that told me it wasn’t too funny. “Well, maybe there’ll be some saloon trouble or something tonight to keep you busy, Micah!”
Micah suddenly shook his head at me. “Is there a reason you’re in town, boy? Or did you just come to banter me?”
“Oh,” I suddenly remembered why I had come into town. “Have you seen my Pa?”
“Not since he took Mrs. Dodd to the ranch this morning,” Micah answered. “You were supposed to meet him here?”
“At the school, but he wasn’t there. I waited for a few minutes…” I stated.
“Well, from the way they were acting this morning, I’d say they probably just got to talking and lost track of time.” Micah stood up and put his arm around me. “I’m sure if you start walking towards home you’ll meet him on the road.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. We lived five miles outside town. I didn’t really relish walking that far, but it could’ve been worse, I suppose. I flipped my books over my shoulder and made my way for the General Store. I was just about to go inside when I heard Pa call my name.
Pa motioned for me to get in the wagon. “I’m sorry, son. I lost track of time. I got here as fast as I could.”
“Oh, well I was just keeping Micah company,” I answered. “I was going inside to buy some candy.”
“With what?” Pa asked.
“Oh, well…” I gave him a big smile. “I didn’t think you would mind my charging it. After all, I needed something to chew on while I was walking home.”
“It’s no to the candy son. Now come on!” Pa declared.
We started for home. Pa told me that Mrs. Dodd was there working on a big supper for us. I was excited. When we got there, Pa sent me to do my chores. After they were done, I made my way into the house. I looked around but didn’t find Pa. Mrs. Dodd turned from the stove and smiled at me. “Hello Mark, are you finished with your chores?”
“Yes ma’am.” I smiled. She had a really sweet smile. I suddenly had this desire to talk to her. “Uh…is there anything that – I mean do you need my…uh, that is can - may I help you with supper?”
She laughed and shook her head. “But you could keep me company.”
“Where’s Pa?” I suddenly felt bashful being alone with her.
“Oh, he’s out checking the stock. He’ll be back soon.” She smiled again. I suddenly realized just how much I missed having a woman in the house – a woman like my mother.
I walked to her and looked at her closely, trying to remember her. She suddenly saw me staring and turned to look at me. “Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am, but…I’m trying to remember you from back in Oklahoma.”
She frowned a bit at my mention of Oklahoma. “Oh, Pa told me about your family and…I’m awful sorry.” She nodded. I wanted to see that smile back on her face. “I’m sorry. Pa ‘s always telling me I talk too much.”
“No, it’s okay Mark. It’s just…Well, I’m sure you miss your mother?”
I nodded. “Very much. Pa also told me that you took care of her until she died. I’m grateful for you showing kindness to my Ma.” I suddenly wanted to see my mother again.
She turned to check something in the oven. “Mrs. Dodd?” She turned to look at me. I bowed my head, not sure how to ask. “Could you…” I stared. “I mean, would you…tell me about my Ma?”
Mrs. Dodd reached out and put an arm around my shoulders. She led me over to the table and sat down. “I’ve known your mother for a long time, Mark. We went to school together.”
I was suddenly excited. I didn’t know much about my Ma when she was little. Pa didn’t know her then, and the only other person I had talked to that knew her was Uncle Johnny. “What was she like then?” I asked suddenly.
Mrs. Dodd smiled. “Your mother was…” she started. Then she looked up at the ceiling as she remembered back. “She was something really special! She had a place in her heart for everything – people and animals. Anytime a mean kid started school she made every effort to tame him – or her.” Mrs. Dodd smiled as she remembered back. “Now, I’m not saying your mother was perfect – she wasn’t! She could get herself into trouble like anybody else, but she was…special.”
I smiled. Pa was always telling me that, and I always wondered if it was because he loved her, but it seems everyone who knew my Ma thought she was something special. Mrs. Dodd gently laid her hand on top of mine and looked into my eyes. “Mark, I want you to know that your mother loved you more then anything else in this whole entire world – and your father. I can still remember the day she told me she was going to have a baby. Her whole face lit up. From that day until the day you were born, she had pure excitement.”
I smiled as I looked at Mrs. Dodd. “She loved me a lot, didn’t she?”
“More then I could ever say. I remember when she was sick. She would start crying, telling me she didn’t want to leave you. She fought so hard to get better, Mark. She tried her hardest. She didn’t want to leave you. The last time I saw her she told me to make sure I let you know how very much she wanted to stay.” Mrs. Dodd smiled at me. A tear lay on her cheek. I reached up and gently wiped it away with my finger. Then I smiled.
“What about my ma and pa? Tell me something about them…” I stated suddenly.
Mrs. Dodd smiled. “Your parents were a happy couple, Mark. Your father loved your mother and was totally devoted to her.” She suddenly got a far away look in her eyes. “If you had just known him before he met your ma…you would know. He was so…different. She changed him.” She looked at me and smiled. “For the better. The moment your Ma laid eyes on him she said, ‘Ann-‘ She said, ‘I’m gonna marry that man!’” My heart began pounding as I listen to her. I saw her face shine at the memories. “I thought she was crazy. He was so wild and rough.” She looked at me with a nod. “Like a true bachelor. She was so…gentle and loving. But then when he called on her, she began changing him a little at a time.”
Suddenly, we heard a sigh. I turned and saw Pa standing in the doorway. I stood up. “I’m sorry, Pa!” I suddenly stated. I hadn’t wanted to upset him.
Pa came in shaking his head. He put his hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down in the chair. Then he went and had a seat across from me. “Don’t be sorry, son. I want you to know everything you need to know about your ma. Everything she said is true…” Pa looked at her and grinned really big. “Unless you told him anything really bad about me!”
“Oh no, Lucas,” Mrs. Dodd smiled. “That would take me too long!” I saw the sparkle in her eyes as she teased him.
I smiled. Then I suddenly sniffed the air. “Is supper ready? I’m hungry!” Pa laughed and shook his head stating I was always hungry.
As we had supper, Mrs. Dodd told me more about my mother. Some of those things are so precious – so precious I can’t share them with anyone. I simply buried them in my heart to treasure. Pa insisted I help her with the dishes as he sat sipping his coffee. It all felt so comfortable – almost like Ma was here again and we were a big, happy family!
But then I found out something else out about her. She made her own trout flies. For a twelve year old boy, that was the icing on the cake! I must say that this was a great evening indeed and I didn’t want it to ever end. I suppose that why I suddenly stated that I wished she lived with us. She would certainly make a wonderful mother! And she decided to stay and go with us to Founder’s Day!
I was indeed excited – too excited to sleep! Pa made me go to bed early. I expect he wanted to spend some more time alone having some “adult” conversation with Mrs. Dodd. I was no dummy, after all!
I got ready for bed but couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed and closed my eyes, but all the things we talked about that night just kept pouring through my brain – overflowing! I turned over on my back and thought some more. Suddenly, I sat up in bed. She made her own trout flies? Her very own- “Pa?” I called. I had forgotten to tell Pa this important news!
Pa walked in to see what I wanted. “She makes her own flies, Pa.”
But Pa didn’t seem excited. If anything he seemed…annoyed! Why would that news annoy him? He suddenly sat down on the side of my bed. “Is that what you called me in here for?” He sounded annoyed for sure!
“Have you ever heard of a woman making her own flies?” I tried again. This was exciting, after all!
“You talk too much! Will you go to sleep?” Pa asked – but he asked in that way that said I couldn’t answer anything but “Yes sir.”
But I was excited over this news and wanted to know just how many women he’d met that could do such a thing! “Well, have you?”
“Mark, goodnight?” Pa simply stated. The look on his face told me that was the last straw. I wanted so badly to say more, but I knew there was only one thing I could say and still have a pleasant night’s sleep.
“Good night,” I answered.
Now, if Pa expected me to roll over and go to sleep, he had something else coming to him! I couldn’t sleep – not with all these thought going on inside my head! I got up and looked out the window. I saw Mrs. Dodd walking slowly around the yard looking up at the sky and talking. Pa came out and took her hand as they continued walking and talking. Then I saw them stand still in the middle of the yard. Pa looked deeply into her eyes. My eyes grew big as I watched.
But suddenly, Pa lifted his head and looked straight at me. I gasped and ran back to my bed, pulling the covers up to my shoulders and turning over. But Pa entered the bedroom. I could feel his eyes on me, and I knew he was only inches from my bed. Ever so slowly, I turned to look at him. I saw the irritated expression his face. His arms were crossed in front of him and his legs were spread just a little bit apart. He raised a finger and shook it in the air as he spoke calmly, bur firmly. “Now Mark, if I have to come in here one more time tonight there will be no Founder’s Day for you tomorrow, mister! You will stay here and do chores all day! Do you understand me?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
Pa sighed and shook his head at me. “Now, I’m going to take Mrs. Dodd back to the hotel. When I get back, you better be asleep! And I can tell rather you’re really asleep or not! Do I make my self clear?”
From the sound of his voice, I knew I’d definitely be asleep when he got back, because if I wasn’t, I sure was afraid that not going to Founder’s Day would be the least of my problems! “Yes sir,” I answered. Then I rolled over and closed my eyes.
Believe it or not, the next morning I was up before my Pa! The moment the sun hit that window I jumped up, got dressed, and went out to start breakfast. Just the thought of having mush made my stomach turn. One day of that stuff was all I could stand! I quickly ran out to the barn and gathered eggs and milked the cow. When I came back inside I started frying up some eggs.
Pa looked pretty tired when he came out. He yawned really big and rubbed his neck. He had pulled his pants on but hadn’t even bothered putting on a shirt yet. “What time did you get back from town, Pa?” I asked with a grin.
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh, I’d say it was about 3 O’clock, son.”
I heard the utensil I was using clang to the floor. I stared at him. “Three O’clock???” I asked. “You kept her up that late?”
Pa just turned to me and gave me that look again! “There was some trouble in town last night, son.”
“Oh, you had to have a shootout?” I asked excitedly. “Who did you shoot?”
“Mark!” Pa warned. “I didn’t shoot anybody. A woman shot and killed her husband.”
“Wow!” I suddenly started thinking on this.
Pa shook his head. “We were all in Mrs. Dodd’s room at the time. He was trying to kill her, and I came in to save her, then his wife walked in to kill me but killed him instead.” I started to ask Pa to explain it, but he just held his hand up and put the coffee on the stove as he yawned. “Never mind, Mark!”
We got a late start to Founder’s Day. Pa didn’t even care that he missed the deadline to sign up for the sharp shooter contest, and I didn’t see him much. As soon as I got there I went off when some of my friends. Pa gave me a nickel and told me that when it was gone I was done spending money for the day and not to ask for anymore. I just had to check in with him every couple of hours.
I spotted him and Mrs. Dodd together a few times. They had big smiles on their faces. Once when they thought they were alone I saw Pa reach down and give her hand a squeeze. Whenever he did that, she would look at him and smile.
By the end of the day, I was very hungry. Pa sent me to the café with some money to eat, then told me to get home and start on my homework. “Can’t I eat with you, Pa?”
“Um…” Pa looked at Mrs. Dodd who was holding onto his arm. She smiled into his eyes. “No, son. I…um…think you need to hurry up and eat so you can go home and work on your homework.”
I started to argue but saw the finality in his eyes. I did as he told me to.
When he got home, I was sitting at the table working on my homework. Pa had a smile on his face and announced she was leaving on the afternoon stage tomorrow. “I’m sorry she has to leave,” I stated.
“Me too,” Pa stated. “Well, I’m turning in. I’m tired. You…um…make sure you’re in bed soon.”
I nodded. A few minutes later I closed my book and headed for the bedroom. I heard Pa’s steady breathing in the dark and knew he was tired.
The next day, I could hardly concentrate in school. I kept looking outside, wondering if I was going to get to say goodbye to Mrs. Dodd. I did my best to stay home for the day, but Pa insisted that I go to school. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I raised my hand. “There’s something I simply must do with my Pa today, Miss Adams! Can I please leave early?”
“May I?” Miss Adams quickly corrected me.
“Uh…May I?” She nodded. I gathered up my books and rushed out the door.
I got to town in time to see the stagecoach ride down the street. I was upset I had missed the stagecoach. Pa assured me she’d come back though.
As Pa and I sat on the bank fishing that afternoon, I looked at him. I saw something in his eyes. I decided to ask some questions that had been weighing on my mind. “Um…Pa?”
Pa turned and looked at me. “Did you like Mrs. Dodd?” Pa nodded. “I don’t mean like.” I sighed. “I mean LIKE.”
Pa suddenly looked out over the water. He sat down his fishing pole and wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “Son, I loved your mother so very much. She will always be the best woman I’ve ever met. We were like…well, soul mates. What Mrs. Dodd told you the other day about your mother changing me – that was true. She was so very special.” He sighed as he squeezed my shoulders. “I guess that seeing Mrs. Dodd again…well, it…it stirred up all those feelings inside me again and I guess I let those feelings overwhelm me.”
I looked over the water then. “So, you didn’t LIKE Mrs. Dodd in that way?”
“I honestly don’t know, Mark. All that I know is that…” Pa suddenly turned my face toward his and smiled into my eyes. “All I know is that I loved your mother so much and I long for her back. That’s enough for now.” He smiled at me. I smiled at him.
I never did see Mrs. Ann Dodd again.
*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
A Case of Identity
around The McCain Ranch