For weeks I did everything for that steer I had watched Pa do. I fed him the best of the best, I gave him plenty to drink, looked after him as if he were my own child, and even watched him grow from a calf. This steer was special to me. Pa told me I would soon be able to take him to the state fair in Santa Fe and enter him into the judging contest.
I sure was proud!
But as I was on my way back from caring for my steer, I saw one of our cows laying down on the ground crying. I hurried over to her and realized that she was having trouble giving birth. I had seen Pa help in the birthing process many times, so I got on my knees behind her and tried to help with all my might! The calf was stuck and just simply wouldn’t budge. I knew we both needed help so I ran to the ranch as fast as I could. “Pa, Pa!” I screamed from atop the hill. The door opened. “Come quick! The cow’s having trouble birthing!”
I hurried back up to the cow and began pulling again, but the calf wouldn’t budge. Pa came up with his chains. I hated seeing a cow go through such horrible suffering, but I knew it was the only way. Pa hooked the chains to the part of the calf that was out. “Let’s pull, Mark!” Pa ordered.
At his count, we did pull! The cow began crying something awful, but the calf finally burst out. When I turned to look at the calf, something horrible met my eyes. The job had been a hard one and she couldn’t hang on. I bent down behind the cow and examined where the calf had come out only to discover there was another calf inside her.
“She’s dead Pa,” I announced sadly. “But there’s another calf, Pa. She’s still alive.”
Pa ordered me to go get one of our butchering knives. I stared at him wide-eyed. “I…I can’t…” I started.
Pa shook his head. “The calf is going to die if we don’t hurry! Now go!”
We got the second calf out. Pa breathed life into her mouth and she softly began crying. I watched as Pa began cleaning the first calf while I put the second one on my lap and lovingly began wiping the birthing fluid off of her. “They have no mother,” I stated sadly.
Pa turned and laid a hand on my shoulder. “I know, son.” He sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“What’ll happen to them?” I asked.
Pa looked over at the mother. “We’ll keep them in the barn and feed them, son. I have some bottles in a locker there. It’ll be a lot of work.”
I turned again and looked at the mother. I felt so bad for her, but I knew there was nothing I could do. Pa saw the moistness in my eyes. He smiled at me. “So sensitive, son. You are so much like your mother.”
“Yeah,” I whispered as I began carrying the calf to the barn. Pa helped me fix the bottle and I worked until supper trying to get the calves to eat. They finally did and I smiled. “That’s my good little calves!” I praised them as they both began sucking on the bottles. I laughed as they anxiously drank down the milk. “You two little things are just a starving, ain’t ya? Well, I suppose being born is a pretty hard job at that! Don’t you worry about being all alone! I’ll take care of you – I will indeed!”
I heard laughter from the door and popped my head up. Pa covered his mouth with his fist. “Supper’s on, son.”
As we began eating, Pa asked me if I’d noticed the cow acting funny the last few days. I shook my head. “She died cause the calf was stuck and we had to pull so hard, right Pa?”
Pa held his fork to his chin as he thought. “Pa?”
Pa turned and looked at me. “Oh no, everything’s fine, son.” Pa took another bite of his steak. “It’s just that…I found some blisters around the cow’s mouth. She may have already been sick and weakened.”
“With what?” I asked.
Pa looked really worried. “Hurry up and eat so you can wash the dishes.” I stared at him for a minute. Pa suddenly looked up at me. “Well, go on son. Eat.”
The next morning I went out to check on the calves. After feeding them and playing with them for a few minutes, I went to check on my prized steer. As I walked toward him, I saw Pa walking slowly among the cattle. I could tell his shoulders were slumped. He was worried. I walked up to the Steer and laid down his good hay but he wouldn’t eat it. “Well, come on, boy. Eat it,” I said.
Pa walked up to me and suddenly hurried forward to lift the steer’s head. He studied around the mouth and closed his eyes with a groan. The bull lay down and wouldn’t get back up. “Pa?” I said.
Pa dropped to his knees. He studied his rifle then looked at my prized steer. “He’s in a bad way, son. I’ve been watching him all day and he’s been getting worse. A couple of the other cattle too.”
“Well, we just have to care for them. They’ll get better.” I said that to try to convince myself Pa wasn’t saying what I thought he was saying. I couldn’t bare the thought of putting down such a fine steer!
Pa shook his head as he looked up at me. “I’m afraid not, son.” He cocked his rifle slowly. “You best ride for the doc. Tell him the cattle have hoof and mouth.”
The blood drained from my face. I’d heard of hoof and mouth happening, but I had never seen it. I slowly shook my head. “You don’t know that, Pa.”
“I do,” Pa answered. Pa slowly stood up and moved away from my steer. “I have no choice.”
But I grabbed him. “Pa, no!” I cried. “I’ve raised him from a calf! I’ve taken good care of him! It can’t end this way!” Pa shook my hand off without saying a word. “You can’t!” I cried selfishly. “He doesn’t deserve this, Pa! He’s worked so hard to-“
Pa suddenly turned to me. “I have no choice, Mark!” Pa screamed at me. “Don’t you understand that, boy? Now go for the doctor!” I suddenly backed away from Pa as tears filled my eyes. “Hurry!” Pa shouted.
I ran to Blue Boy and jumped on him bare-back. I wanted to go for the doctor and get out of earshot before the-
A shot sounded, echoing through the range. My prized steer was now dead. I heard three more gunshots. Tears filled my eyes as I raced to town. From what I had heard, I knew things were bad.
But when I got into town, things went from bad to worse. The vet was out with other cattle. There was a hoof and mouth epidemic and almost every rancher in North Fork was suffering. I was desperate and insisted that my Pa needed the doc now. But Micah pointed out something obvious to me – everyone needed the vet. There were many who stood to loose a lot more then my father – and they had to be helped first.
I jumped on my horse and raced back to the ranch. It was getting dark now and Pa was still out on the range. He was standing near a fire where he was burning the carcasses. “Pa,” I cried out.
Pa just stood there staring into the fire. He didn’t say a word. I called his name again. This time I heard him. His voice was broken and shaky. “Tomorrow we’ll round up the herd.”
“You think more have it?” I asked softly.
“I’m sure,” Pa answered. “It came so….fast.” Pa’s voice was so broken and worried. “You best go get something to eat and get in bed. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.” He continued staring into the fire.
“May I feed the calves first?” I asked.
“The calves,” Pa breathed. “Mark, I’m afraid-“
But I wouldn’t let him finish. I wouldn’t stand to hear him say the words. “No!” I screamed. “No!”
Pa’s shoulders slumped in defeat. He just stared into the fire. “Feed the calves then go to bed.” I asked him if he was coming. Pa didn’t answer right away but continued to stare into the fire. “No, I’ll wait until the fire has burned down. Good-night.”
I slowly turned and walked toward the house with my horse. Before Pa disappeared from my view, I turned to look at him once more. His face was buried in his hands and he was sobbing. I couldn’t bear to see it. Tears filled my own eyes and I hurried to the ranch as fast as I could.
Feeding the calves took longer then I expected. They weren’t eating as well tonight. I supposed they were just lonely for their mother. That was all I would allow my heart to accept. As I sat there trying to get them to eat, the door opened and Pa stepped inside. I looked up at him from the calves. “I’m sorry, Pa. It’s taking longer then I expected.”
Pa reached out and took one of the bottles from me. There was barely any milk missing from it. Pa stared into my eyes and our eyes locked. I saw so much unspoken emotion in his eyes. I could tell Pa was about to say something, but he took the other bottle from me and said, “You get on to bed, son. I’ll tend to them.”
I slowly walked into the house and undressed. I sat down on my bed and started to lay down, but I looked at the floor. Before I knew it, I was bent over my bed on my knees with my hands folded in prayer. “Dear God,” I said softly. “You know that the cattle are my Pa’s only income now. We’ve been building it up for so long – three years now. Well, you know how hard Pa’s worked, and we have more cattle now then we’ve ever had before.” I opened my eyes and looked toward the window. The moon would be full tomorrow night. “God, just let the calves live. As long as they live I’ll believe things will be okay.”
It took a long time to fall asleep. I heard the door to the bedroom open quite a while later and knew Pa would check on me. I closed my eyes pretending to be asleep. Pa sighed heavily and took his boots off. I heard ruffling, then his broken voice spoke out loud.
“God, you know I’ve always tried to be a God-fearing man. I make mistakes, God and I’m not going to ask for any special favors because…well, because I think you’ve given me plenty. All I ask is that you…help me understand.”
Pa blew out the light then. He came over to me and tucked the covers up around me. Then he smoothed my hair back and went to bed. I waited for a few moments before turning to stare at him. He hadn’t even asked God to spare the cattle. He’d just asked for understanding. How could he?
The next morning I got dressed and started to walk out the door. Today was Sunday but there would be no church for us. We had a job to do. As I opened the door, Pa’s voice stopped me. “Where you going, Mark?” His voice sounded tired and strained.
I kept my hand on the door and didn’t turn around. “To check on my calves,” I answered.
“I want you to eat first.”
I lifted my head and stared at the door. “I’m not hungry,” I answered. I hurried out the door. Pa was calling me to come back in and sit down. There was a sternness in his voice but I didn’t listen. I simply continued walking as tears burned my eyes.
I opened the door to the barn and saw the calves. They were struggling to breathe now. I filled a bottle with milk and tried to feed them but they would simply not eat. I hugged the cattle to me and closed my eyes. “God, please save these calves! Please save them!” I prayed. “As long as they are alive, I have hope! Please help them!”
Pa opened the door again. He came in and bent down in front of me. I opened my eyes and looked into his. There was a deep sorrow there. He gently took the bottle from me and lifted me up. “Let’s eat so we can get to work.”
I didn’t want to eat but Pa insisted. We slowly made our way out to the field. There were ten head of cattle sitting together. They were all crying. They were all sick. “Oh Dear God,” Pa breathed beside me. “Oh, Dear God in Heaven!” Then he cocked his rifle and shot them as fast as he could, killing them all.
The shots sprang tears to my eyes. I turned from them, not being able to stand watching the life snuffed out of them. I ran to a tree and leaned against it as I buried my face in the crook of my arm. The shots finally stopped and I dropped to my knees. I felt Pa standing behind me. He simply breathed. “There’s no time for that now, son. We got more cattle to find.”
He walked away. I turned and stared at him. He was bitter and uncaring. I couldn’t believe he was acting like this. I slowly stood as he turned and gave me a hard stare. We walked across the field. Every head of cattle we owned was sick. They all had to be shot and burned.
We worked all morning locating sick cattle and killing them. By the time we found them all, every single one of them were dead. We hitched up the wagon and threw the dead carcasses into the back. Then we built a fire and began burning them. First one, then another and another. When the last carcass was in the fire, I stood back and watched them burn. Pa walked up beside me and put his arm around my shoulder. I allowed the tears I’d been holding inside to flow down my cheeks. My body began to shake with sobs and I fell to my knees and cried out loud.
I heard Pa’s sobbing then. He fell down beside me and took me into his arms. He cradled me and rocked back and fourth. “I’m so sorry, son! I’m so sorry!” He spoke softly to me as the fire burned up all our dreams and hard work. We sobbed as we sat there until we were spent.
Then we were empty – so empty. Pa continued to hold me. He sat cross legged on the ground and I sat on his lap, my back against his chest. His arms were wrapped securely around me. He kissed the top of my head several times. “We’ll get through this, Mark. We’ll get through this,” he cried.
I watched as the fire began to get smaller. That meant there wasn’t much of the cattle left. “Seventy head – all wasted,” I whispered. Then I turned and threw my arms around Pa as I buried my face into his chest. “All wasted!”
It was some time later that Pa gently picked me up and we started down the hill to the ranch. When we got there, he led me over to the wash basin outside and helped me wash my face. I looked toward the barn and slowly made my way over. I put my hand on the door, hesitating. I hadn’t seen the calves all day – there had been no time for me to care for them today. I slowly walked inside and walked over to them.
Their bodies were cold. They had been dead for awhile. I slowly stood and shook my head. “No! No!” I cried again. I slowly backed out the door and called for Pa. He hurried over to me to see what was wrong. “What is it, son?”
“It’s the calves. They’re dead. Both of them,” I cried as I stared at them.
Pa gently put his hands on my shoulders and spoke in a soft voice. I knew he was trying to soothe me, but his words didn’t help. “Had to expect that, son. Newborn calves.”
Pa didn’t understand! He didn’t understand at all! “There must have been something we could have done – at least stayed with them!” He didn’t understand what those two baby calves had meant to me!
But Pa informed me that nothing would have helped. The rest of the cattle needed us more. His words angered me something awful! But they hurt me too. I remembered the other night – was it last night or the night before? I don’t even remember anymore…But I remember that Pa didn’t even ask God to make the cattle better. He just asked God to help him understand.
I was bitter. We had come so far. My father worked hard all day and fell into bed exhausted many nights. These two little calves – they were the only hope I had left. I couldn’t stand it any longer. “What’s the use?” I cried. “They’re all dead anyhow.” I suddenly felt the bitterness boil up inside me. I was angry, hurt, lost, and so very sad all at the same time. I added that if they weren’t all already dead, they soon would be.
Then I ran. I heard Pa call to me, but I ran away from him. I went to my room and gave my door a hard slam. I slammed it so hard, in fact, that a picture fell off my wall. I threw myself on the bed and cried some more. I didn’t think I had any tears left, but I did.
I suddenly felt a deep hopelessness settle over me as I laid there. I didn’t understand how God could give us so much, then take it away. I didn’t understand how my Pa – a man who always turned to God for help – hadn’t even bothered to ask God to save the cattle. He only asked for understanding.
Understanding? I didn’t want understanding! I wanted our cattle! I wanted those calves! How were we going to live? How would we eat and live – I gasped as I thought on that. How would we make payments on our ranch? Could we loose it? Would we ever be able to climb from this pit of debt we’d suddenly found ourselves in.
I buried my head in my arms and just laid quietly. Soon I fell asleep.
It was some time later that I woke up. I quickly sat up and looked around me. Pa was sitting in a chair beside my bed – just sitting there staring at me. He didn’t have a smile on his face, but he didn’t have a frown either. We locked eyes in the darkness only for a second before I turned back to the wall. Pa leaned forward. “We don’t keep our feelings from each other, Mark,” Pa said quietly.
“I don’t want to talk,” I stated harshly. I was angry. Couldn’t he just leave me be?
I must have said it out loud without realizing, because Pa’s next words burned through me. “No, I can’t leave you be. I love you.”
I suddenly jerked my head toward him. “Then why didn’t you ask God to save the cattle?” I yelled.
Pa’s face showed shock – even in the darkness I could see that. I immediately turned back to the wall when I realized what I had shouted. Pa stood and lit the lantern. “Sit up, Mark.” The tone in his voice made me do it quickly. Pa sat down on the bed next to me. “Why did you say that? How do you know I didn’t ask God to save the cattle?”
I couldn’t look at him. “I just know,” I stated.
“You heard me praying?” I nodded. “Well, I knew you were awake.” Pa put an arm around my shoulder and sighed. “Seems I messed up again.” I turned and looked at him. There was a comfort in his voice. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from. “Mark, as a father, I want to show you how to have faith in God. When someone dies and we bury them, we say a set of words. I said them over your mother’s grave that day. ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’” Pa sighed as he patted my shoulder. “Do you know why we say that?”
I looked into his eyes and shook my head. “Because it’s true, son. We borrowed this house from God. We borrowed the air from God. We borrowed those cattle from God. They are all His – all of it.”
“Then he just…snatches it back?” I spit out in anger. “With no warning at all – he just snatches it back?”
“You remember me telling you the story of Job?” I couldn’t help but smile. I loved my Pa’s telling Bible Stories. He changed them to fit a rancher’s life; and he used them to make a point. That day was the day Billy Leigh and his friend came onto our ranch and tried to take it. They had burned our house and dragged my Pa. I felt God was against us then too.
Pa stood and walked across the room. He picked up his Bible. “Since you fell asleep, son, I’ve been thinking on the Bible. There’s a story in the very first book where a man is asked by God to give up the most important thing in his life – his son. But he was more special to him then even you are to me.”
I gasped and shook my head thinking that was impossible. Pa smiled. “You see son, he was so special because Abraham waited a long time for that son. His wife was nearly 100 year old when that boy was born. Abraham himself was old. Isaac meant the world to him and one day God asked him to sacrifice his son.”
I had heard that story in church and Sunday School. Miss Adams had read that passage to us once in school too. I thought back on it. “God sent a ram in time.”
Pa nodded. “That’s right, but how far did he have to go in his faith? How far did Abraham have to go, Mark?”
I thought back to the story. “Well, from what I recall, he had Abraham tied up and had the knife lifted over him.”
Pa nodded. “He was willing to go all the way to show God he was faithful.” Pa turned and put his hands on my shoulders as he looked sternly into my eyes. “Mark, I begged God…in my heart…to save the cattle. But what I really wanted you to hear was that I have faith in God. I believe He will take care of us. When I prayed asking God to help me understand, it’s because I felt my faith wavering. I wanted my faith back.”
“Well, did he give it back to you?” Pa nodded. “But the cattle.”
“They’ll come back. We’re still in the middle of this dark time, but when the sun shines through, they’ll come back.”
I thought on that as I lay down that night to go to sleep. I knew I didn’t have as much faith as my Pa. I knew that things were bad right now and I couldn’t see the other side. Would we ever get out of this?
The next think I remembered was Pa shaking my shoulder. “Mark, son. Wake up, son.” I slowly opened my eyes. “Breakfast is ready. Time to get up. You need to hurry with your chores.”
I sat up. “What’s the hurry?” I asked.
“Today’s Monday, son. You have school.”
“Sc-school?” I argued. “I ain’t going to school!”
Pa swirled around from the door he was about to walk out of. “What did you say?” I lowered my head, not wanting to repeat my words. “Hurry. You need to milk the-“
My head jerked up and my eyes widened. Pa put his head against the door jam and closed his eyes as he realized what he was about to say. “You need to put fresh hay down for the horses.”
I did as Pa said. As I walked out of the ranch house, everything was so bleak. I could still smell the stench of the burning carcesses from the night before. There was no smell of manure – no sound of cows mooing. As I looked out over the range, I suddenly realized how empty it was.
It was hard riding into school that morning. I didn’t pass a single cow on my way in. I smelt the same stench in the air as I rode into town. But before I got there, I heard a horse neigh. I looked over and saw Freddie’s horse tied to a tree. Freddie was sitting on top of the hill. His head was buried in his hands.
I slowly got off my horse and tied him to the same tree. Then I made my way up the hill. When I was standing beside him, I bent down and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Freddie?”
Freddie lifted his head. There was a deep sadness on his face. He wasn’t crying, but I could tell he was fighting the tears back. “What is it?” I asked.
“We’re leaving.” It was his saying those words out loud that suddenly brought his tears. He didn’t want me to see though so he quickly stood up and hurried away.
I came up behind him as he hid his tears from me. “What do you mean you’re leaving?” I asked. His words had shocked me, but I found myself to be more confused then anything else.
“I mean Pa’s packing up the wagon right now. We’re leaving.”
“For how long?” I asked.
Freddie’s shoulders slumped and he raised his head as he tried to compose himself enough to answer the question. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but I knew now wasn’t the time. I heard a huge sigh come from deep inside him. “For ever.”
Those two words felt like a fist punching me in the gut and twisting me. I suddenly turned away from him as his words echoed in my head. “Oh, no!” I stated quietly. “No!” I said louder. “Freddie, you can’t leave!”
“We’re going at sunup tomorrow. Pa’s setting up his own blacksmith shop in a small town in California.” Freddie and I turned to face each other at the same moment. We both had tears in our eyes. As we looked at each other, tears slid down our cheeks. Freddie quickly wiped them away and started toward his horse. “Well, I best get going. Pa sent me for supplies.”
I suddenly grabbed his arm. “Freddie, wait.”
Freddie stopped but didn’t turn to me. “I gotta go.”
“This is it?” I asked. “Three years of being best friends and this is it?” I tightened my grip on his arm. “Just a week ago we were going swimming, laughing and joking, talking about our futures. We thought we’d always be best friends. And now…”
“This is it,” Freddie whispered as tears streamed down his face. “It’s over. Just like that.” Then he turned to face me. “And I…I hate what’s happened!”
The next thing we knew, we were hugging. We cried as we hugged, knowing the chances of seeing each other again were very slim. Freddie suddenly pushed away from me and turned. “Good…Good-bye, Mark,” he managed to choke out.
I watched silently as tears streamed down my face. He mounted his horse and quickly rode off. Soon, he and his horse were gone – forever. “Good-bye,” I whispered through my tears.
My heart ached something awful. But I knew I had to get to school. I composed myself and walked inside where Mr. Griswald was already teaching. But as I stood in the back of the room I looked around. The room was only half full. Friday, we had so many kids there was hardly a place to sit. Today…
“Mr. McCain, please take your seat,” Mr. Griswald ordered in a sad voice.
I slowly walked up front. “Freddie’s gone,” I whispered, choking back my tears. “They’re leaving for California tomorrow.”
Everyone knew Freddie was my best friend. I turned and looked out among the seats. “Where are the Connor’s?” I asked. “Jeff and Steve – they are both gone.”
“The Connors are leaving today,” Mr. Griswald answered gravely.
The day was sad. None of us could really concentrate on what Mr. Griswald was saying, and even Mr. Griswald had trouble staying on topic. We didn’t even want a recess, so he allowed us to sit quietly at our desks and read our Bibles – something we all felt like we needed to do today. At lunch, I pulled out my sandwich and found a piece of paper under it. I slowly opened it. “Carry the Faith of Abraham with you today.”
I slowly folded the paper and smiled. My Pa sometimes put notes like that in my lunch when I needed extra encouragement. Billy came to sit beside me. “We may be leaving at the end of the week,” he announced quietly.
I said nothing but just sat there silently as he stood and walked away.
I took my time getting home that afternoon. Pa was getting ready to go work on the fence. I knew he needed to continue feeling like a rancher. Who were we kidding – there was no reason to fix the fence now.
I slowly walked into the house and sat my books down. I didn’t feel like doing chores – wasn’t really that many to do anyhow. I just sat at the table and began thinking once again on what had happened in only mere days. Pa walked inside. “I want you to come help me mend the fences,” he announced.
“What’s the use?” I asked. I felt a dark feeling settling over me. I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
“We must stay busy son, now come on.” Pa walked to the door and turned. “Well, come on boy.”
As we worked on the fence, I stayed quiet. But then I just spit out what was on my mind. “Toomey’s are leaving in the morning.”
Pa turned. “I was trying to find some way to tell you, Mark.” I heard the all-too-familiar sadness in his voice. “I’m sorry.”
“You still think I should have the faith of Abraham?”
“I do,” Pa answered confidently. “We must.”
Nothing more was said on the Toomey’s leaving. Pa tried to act cheerful, but I knew his mood was as dark as mine – he just tried to hide it.
That Friday, Mr. Griswald announced that the school would be closed until further notice. It was just another sign of the dark times we were facing. Pa was shoeing my horse that morning, so I walked into town to meet him. I walked inside the General Store. Millie saw my sad mood and instantly wanted to cheer me up. “Here,” she said in a broken voice. “Have a piece of candy.” But I shook my head. I didn’t have the stomach for candy; and I knew she couldn’t afford to give it away.
I turned at Pa walked into the store. He had a strange look on his face. He didn’t even look at me. “Millie, I think the three of us should talk,” he stated.
We walked to the back and sat down. Millie coaxed me into drinking some milk, stating she didn’t want Pa worrying about me anymore then he already was. I took the milk as Pa made an announcement.
“Listen, I…” Pa cleared his throat. “I…um…may need you to keep the boy for awhile, Millie.”
My head shot up. Millie nodded. “Where are you going, Lucas?”
Pa shook his head. He couldn’t even look at me. “I…I may leave for awhile to…to look for work.” Pa looked to Millie, then to finally to me. “I’m still thinking about it.” There was a sound in his voice, though, that told me otherwise. He was trying to sugar coat his announcement. He hadn’t even talked this over with me first.
Millie bowed her head as the room grew quite. “Can’t I go with you, Pa?” I finally asked.
Pa shook his head. “You have school, son.” He looked up at me and shook his head again. “Please don’t make this any harder on me then it is. I don’t want to leave you anymore than you want me to.”
I quickly stood and hurried out of the room. I quickly ran around the side of the building where I would be alone. I threw a hand to my mouth and began sobbing again. This wasn’t happening! This couldn’t be happening! Everything in my world – everything – was quickly disappearing. Pa told me to have faith. Well, how could I when every day things continued to get worse?
When my tears were spent, I walked back around to the front of the building. Pa hurried up to me but I didn’t want to feel his touch at the moment. As I shifted out of his reach, I saw an instant hurt cross his face. “Let’s go home,” I stated.
We rode home in silence. Things had never – ever been so dark in my life! There was no light before me. We had lost our dream in a matter of two days. I lost my best friend. And now…now…I was loosing the most important person in the world – my beloved father. How could this be happening?
Pa finally broke the silence. “Mark, I hate us being like this. We’ve always been so close.” I kept silent. I had nothing to say. “Son, I love you and-“
I didn’t give him a chance to finish. “Then don’t leave me.”
“I have to do what’s best for the family, son,” Pa answered. I said nothing as we rode in silence. Pa sighed in the silence and said, “When you grow up-“
“Pa, what’s good for the family is to stay together! Don’t ship me off to live with someone who’s not part of our family-“
Pa interrupted me then. “Millie and Micah are as much a part of our family as…as…” Pa’s voice died as he got choked up. He closed his eyes then turned and looked at me again. “Son, sometimes we have to do hard things. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is be separated from you. I have to provide for you somehow.”
We were at the ranch now. I silently got off my horse. “I’ll go make the flapjacks tonight.” I stopped before I walked away from him. I didn’t even turn around to look. “They’ll be no syrup. We’re all out and we can’t afford to buy anymore.”
From the gasp in Pa’s voice, I knew I had hit a sore spot. But the hurt in my own heart was simply too deep.
That night I begged Pa not to go. I begged him to take me with him, but he wouldn’t listen. He said I had to stay here and take care of the ranch. He didn’t want me to go with him. He wanted to go find a way to make money without me – what if…
I ran from him and slammed the door to my bedroom. I just laid there in bed thinking on just how unfair life was at the moment. I couldn’t find anything good – not anything! The one solid thing I had always had was leaving me.
Pa walked in later. I pretended to be asleep. “I know you’re awake, Mark.” There was a pause. “You don’t have to say anything, son. But I want you to listen to me. I’m taking that job and I’m leaving tomorrow. I know you are angry, and I can’t help that. Someday when you’re a father and have a family to care for you’ll understand. I pray to God you can get passed this depression you’ve built up in yourself. I pray that when we come to the far end of this it’ll be together and our relationship will be restored.”
That’s all he said.
The next morning I got up. Pa walked in and announced that the chickens were sold to a farming neighbor. The extra horses went to Mr. Jackford until he got back. “We’re all packed. Best get started.”
I washed the few dishes we had used for breakfast, then I walked toward the door. I hadn’t said a word all morning. I couldn’t speak – I didn’t know what I felt. I felt angry, I knew that much. But I also felt so very hurt. I was sad and confused. I stood at the door and stared around the rooms.
I couldn’t help remembering the laughter that had just so recently filled the room. It wasn’t that long ago that I sat at the table with Pa as we worked together on my homework – that being the biggest problem in my life.
I closed the door, wondering how long it would be before my Pa and I walked back inside together.
I walked toward my house and looked out over the range. It hadn’t been that long ago that Pa and I raced our horses out on the range roping cattle, getting calves out of minor scrapes, and trying to count how many head we had.
Then I mounted my horse and slowly rode away with my Pa. I remembered the first time we had taken this path. It was the day Pa and me – I was ten then – rode onto the Dunlap place and decided to settle. I wondered suddenly when the next time would be.
I didn’t say a word all the way into town. When we got there, Millie took my bag and carried it inside. She and my Pa talked quietly, looking toward me every once in a while. Finally, Pa cleared his throat, announcing he had to leave.
I stood outside the General Store, which would serve as my home until Pa returned.
How would I get through this? How would I survive what could be the darkest hour of my life? How could I stand here and watch my Pa ride away from me like this?
“You take care, Mark.” I heard my Pa’s voice – there were tears there. I tried to stay strong – to nod and act all grown up as if I didn’t care he was leaving.
But I couldn’t. “Pa?” I suddenly called. I suddenly longed from his arms. For a moment, I was no longer angry with him. My heart ached and I couldn’t bear being apart from him. Pa held out his arms. It’s what he’d been waiting for. That had been my first word spoken all day. I practically fell into his arms and wept. “Pa, please take me with ya.”
I just clung to him, aching and trembling. There was silence. But then Pa put his hand under my chin and lifted it. He was crying. I could see so many emotions in his eyes, but they were all mixed up. It almost looked like he was…he was saying good-bye. “Son, I…I can’t.”
That was it. He turned, got on his horse and rode off. “What if he doesn’t come back?”
I had been wondering that the whole time, but I hadn’t had the nerve to say it out loud until just now. My heart was broken into a million pieces. I suddenly turned and ran off, blinded by the tears as to where I was going.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Wyoming Story 2
Wyoming Story - piddlin stuff.....
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Face of Yesterday
around The McCain Ranch