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by Michelle Palmer

“Let’s go home”

I can still hear those words now as I stand in the doorway of our old ranch house today.  “Let’s go home.”  When we were in town, or maybe at my school as a little boy, Pa would always say that.

Maybe we had just had a hard day – seems there was always someone trying to get the better of my Pa back then.  Or maybe I was being a pest.  Or maybe I asked one of those questions or made one of those statements Pa didn’t want to hear or answer.  “Come on, let’s go home,” he’d say.

I can still hear that echo now.

With those words, Pa and I would turn together and walk toward our horses or wagon.  Sometimes his arm would go around me.  Sometimes he’d hold my hand.  Sometimes, we would just walk side by side, his arm touching my shoulder because he was so much taller then me.

It seems to me that we always untied our horses and climbed up into the saddle at the same time.  Then my Pa and I would leave together, keeping up the same pace as we rode side by side home.  Often, Pa would talk to me about something I’d done wrong, or ask me how my day was.

I smile now as I think back to that time.  There were several boys at school who envied me.  They didn’t talk to their fathers about such matters as school and stuff.  Their fathers were always too busy.  But Pa and I were always talking about something.  He wanted to know everything about me in my life – and I wanted him to know everything.  It was never any different.  Even when I grew older, Pa and I remained best friends.

When we arrived home from town, Pa would give me orders before I even dismounted my horse.  “Tend to your chores, son,” he’d say sometimes.  Sometimes it was, “Get started on your homework.”  And yes, sometimes it was even “Go to the barn” or “Go to your room” when I had done something wrong.  The barn meant I was in more trouble then just getting yelled at.  That was his way of letting me know just how much trouble I could expect to be in.

Sometimes, when Pa needed some thinking time on my wrong-doing, he would send me off to do chores or send me to my room.  Then when it was dark and he was out relaxing on the porch, he’d call me out there.  I can still hear Pa call my name.  “Mark!” It was a scary, disappointing voice he would use.  That voice told me I was in trouble and he was disappointed in me.  I would slowly walk out onto the porch and give a very quiet, meek “Yes sir?”

I was never allowed to stand behind him.  At times, he would stand up to his full height and command me to stand right in front of him.  That’s when I really got it.  Sometimes he would pat the step beside him and invite me to sit down.  That’s when I knew I was going to get a stern talking to before the punishment.

Today, I put my hand on the post that my Pa built so long ago.  The roof of the porch has a hole in it now.  But this post is still here and as steady as my father was when I was a child.  I place my hand around the post now and close my eyes, remembering how Pa would walk out onto the porch, wrap his big hand around that post, and look out onto the valley.

I suddenly found my self smiling.  “Dishes done?”  That was a common question Pa would ask when I came to stand in the doorway behind him and watch him smile proudly over the land he bought and fought for.  That question would make my heart leap because without turning around, he always knew I was there.

I slowly walk into the house.  That old leather chair Pa used to sit in every night to read is still here.  I walk over to it and pick up the blanket that still laid draped over the back of the chair.  I lift the blanket to my face and take in a big smell.

It still smells like my Pa.  I smile.  In his later years, Pa hadn’t been able to move around like he used to.  All the hard work on the ranch had taken it’s tow, and when Pa turned 60, he had a stroke – a bad one.  The chill got to him after that.

I open the cigar box still sitting on the table by the door and put the cigar under my nose.  Closing my eyes, I take a big sniff and smile.  That was another smell I always remember smelling on my father.  Even though I don’t smoke, I put the end of the cigar in my mouth and slowly sit down in that chair.  “I love you more then anything else in the world!”

He had said those words many times growing up, but I remember the day I ran away.  I had been afraid he was going to whip me or yell at me, but instead he just told me he loved me.  That was nearly 35 years ago when I was only 12.  Yet it still seems like yesterday.

I lift the Bible up from the table next to the chair and open it to the first page.  It’s the same Bible Pa had when my mother died.  I smile at the markings all through the Bible.  The pages are old and torn from being read so much.

Suddenly, I pause in my page-turning and gasp.  I noticed for the first time all the places throughout the bible where Pa’s tears had fallen and dried.  I close the Bible and draw it to my chest.

I stand and walk to the window.  I almost expect to see Pa galloping up on his horse as he rushes home looking for me.

I walk to the table and slowly sit down in my chair.  “Got homework?” It’s as if Pa’s right here in the room.  I look up, expecting to see Pa bending over me to see how I’m coming along on my homework.

“May I be excused, Pa?” I suddenly ask.  I look towards Pa’s chair.  I’d give anything right now to hear Pa say a firm “Not until you clean your plate, boy.”

I look over towards the china cabinet still standing against the wall with the blue willow china still on it.  “Stop bolting your food, son.”  How many times had Pa said that?  I’d give anything to hear him say those words again.

I stand and walk into the kitchen.  “I guess the best dish washer is still a woman, huh?” I smile at that.  Pa had said that every time I pointed to a dish he hadn’t gotten clean.

I walk over and pump the faucet a few times.  Water slowly flows out.  I shake my head.  Pa refused to give into the new idea of indoor plumbing.  Now I’m glad he did.

I slowly walk toward the bedroom.  The door is closed, and I slowly move my hand toward the handle.  I think back to that first day.  “Why only one bedroom, Pa?”  I had had my very own bedroom back in Oklahoma.

“I want you close to me.”  That’s all he ever said.  “I always want you close to me.”

I put my hand firmly on the handle.  Shadows of the setting sun cast an eerie glow in the room.  I hadn’t been in this room in a long time.  The way it looks now sends a shiver up my spine.  There are still two beds in this room.  I walk over to the bed that was mine and sit down.  Then I lean over onto the shelf at the head of my bed and take down the carved man that sits there.  “Mark,” it said.  Pa must have found it and placed it there.  I had put it in a box.

It’s getting dark.  I slowly stand and go to light the lantern.  Electricity was something else Pa refused to get.  He said he had never needed such a confounded thing before, and he didn’t need it then either.  I strike a match.  “It’s hard to think sometimes when it’s dark.  Hard to talk sometimes too.”

Funny how I’m suddenly hearing Pa’s voice everywhere.  I light the lantern and slowly put the glass back on it as the room fills with a dim glow.  “You’re growing up, Mark.  You really are.”  I can still remember the day Pa said those words.  I suddenly felt so much older – I had waited for that day for so long.

I suddenly find myself sitting down on the bed and looking around the room as my eyes fill up with tears.  I had come here for a reason, but now my heart tells me I can’t carry out my task.

The front door suddenly opened.  “You in here, Pop?” I hear.

I wipe the tears from my face and stand from the bed.  “I’m in here, son.”

Luke walks into the bedroom.  He’s my oldest son – At 27 years old, he looks just like my Pa.  I close my eyes at the emotions seeing him in this room suddenly brings.  I feel unsteady and suddenly reach out and grab the wall.

Luke grabs me and slowly lowers me to the bed.  He sits down beside me and puts an arm around my shoulders.  “You okay, Pa?”

I slowly nod my head.  “I’m okay.”

Suddenly, his daughter Margie runs into the room.  She’s seven and so much like I was at that age.  “What you two doing in this old house?”

“It’s not an old house,” I declare as I reach out and pick her up.  I plop her down on my lap and say, “This is my home.”

She looks around and shrugs.  “Where’s the light?”

“This is it,” I point at the lantern.  “This is all we have.”

“Boy,” she declares with a swift shake of her head.  “I sure wouldn’t wanta live here!  It’s too creepy!”

I suddenly pick her off my lap and plop her down on the floor.  I suddenly feel like I’m suffocating.  I hurry out the door and to the barn.  Opening it, I’m met with a barn full of cobwebs.  I hurry over to the wall and smile at the poster still hanging there.  “You know Pa, I may just be a mind reader when I grow up.”  I suddenly smile as I lay my head against the poster and remember my Pa sending me on my way to do my homework while he finished the job.

“Pa?” I hear from the door.  I say nothing.  What does one say at a time like this?  Luke comes up behind me and lays a hand on my shoulder.  “Something wrong?”  I just shake my head.  “Well, let’s sit down and talk it out.”

Luke takes my arm and leads me over to a wall.  We sit down on some crates, but I remain silent.  Luke puts his arm around my shoulders.  “Pa, you remember when us kids were little what you always told us?  You said we were to always speak our minds?”

“You’ve never lied to me before.  You sure there nothing else?”  I mumbled now.  “You seem awfully worried about something.”

“Pa?” Luke says worriedly.

I suddenly lift my head.  “You look just like him,” I suddenly whisper as I put a hand on his cheek.  “You…you look just like my Pa.”

Luke’s arm around my shoulder tightens in sympathy.  “I know,” he answers.  He sounds just like Pa did when I was little and would tell him something sad.  It is the same voice.  I look up at my son.  His facial expressions…his eyes….they are just like Pa’s.  “I know it’s hard, Pa.”

I close my eyes as tears again spring to them.  In spite of how tightly I closed them, I can’t keep the tears trapped.  They slowly fall down my cheeks.  I turn my head from my son, not wanting him to see me cry.  “Pa, you said it takes a real man to cry.  I’m not ashamed of your tears.”

I suddenly feel like that little boy again talking to my Pa.  My son is being so mature about this.  I slowly turn and look at him.  Luke takes a hand and wipes the tears from my cheeks.  “You were close with him like I am to you.”

I slowly stand and go to the old locker.  It hadn’t been used in years.  The hinges are falling off.  I pull on it just a bit and it falls open.  “It’s been two week,” I say with a sigh.  “We buried Pa two weeks ago and yet, I still can’t believe he’s gone.”

“It happened so fast,” Luke says as he stands and walks over to me.  “He was here one minute.  The next he was gone.”  I lower my head as I stare into the locker.  “Pa, you know that’s the way grandpa would have wanted it…” Luke rests a hand on my shoulder.  “Don’t you?”

I lower my head and nod shortly.  I know he didn’t want to sit around.  My Pa was never one for sitting.  “I just wish I had time to say goodbye.  A quick kiss on the cheek was all there was time for.”  I lift my hand to my cheek where he had placed that last kiss.  “I love you,” he had said just before his lips touched my cheek.  He died before they left my cheek.  It had happened…right here in this very spot.

I suddenly see something in the locker and lift it out.  I unwrap it from the cloth.  It is a rifle.  “What’s that?” Luke askes.

I turn and hold it out.  “The rifle your grandfather won for me at a turkey shoot when I was just twelve years old.”

“What’s it doing here?” Luke takes the rifle from me and looks at it.  “Pa, it looks like it was never used.”

I shake my head.  “I wasn’t allowed to shoot then.  Not until I was fourteen years old did I got my Pa’s permission to use a rifle.”

“Let’s see,” Luke says as he thinks back.  “That’s about how old I was.  In fact, I got my first rifle on my fifteenth birthday from grandpa.”

I nod.  “I carried this rifle around with me all day long.  The rifle was the way my Pa was defined by so many people.  It almost got him killed so many times.  By the end of that day, I decided I didn’t want to use one yet.  I never saw it again until today.”

“You’re good with a rifle now, Pa.”  Luke put the cloth back over the rifle and put it back in the locker.  Somehow, he knows that’s where I want it to stay.  “You can swing it really good.  Almost as good as I remember grandpa swinging it when I was a little boy.”

I suddenly turn and look at Luke.  Tears fill my eyes again.  “Luke, I…I can’t.”

We stare at each other for a few moments.  Luke nods and smiles.  “After today, I wouldn’t ask you to, Pa.  We’ll build John’s house on the other side of yours.”

I had come down here to remove the things from the house, but I no longer want to do that.  I want it to stay like this…just like this for now.  “You and Ma may want to live here someday when the kids are grown.”

I shake my head.  “I could never live here without Pa.”  I turn and look at Luke.  “You understand?”

Luke looks me in the eye.  Then he slowly smiles that same smile Pa used to smile when I was a boy and had just said something that made a lot of sense.  Luke comes over and puts an arm around my shoulders.  “I understand, Pa.”

We walk out of the barn arm-in-arm.  Luke turns and closes the door firmly.  “I came up here because of Ma.”  Luke turns and looks at me.  “She was worried.  She said you couldn’t do what us kids were asking you to do.”

We slowly walk across the yard.  Margie was playing under an old tree.  I stop and stare at her.

I have five grandchildren in all with two more on the way.  God blessed my wife and I with four sons and three daughters.  My Pa left this world happy that he and my mother had been blessed with such a big family.

Margie stands and runs over to me.  “I’m sorry, Pawpaw!  I didn’t mean what I said!”

I scoop her up into my arms and scratch her cheek with my mustache.  “It’s alright, my pumpkin!  I felt the same way when I was a boy.  I wanted new inventions to take the place of old.  I was always thinking up new stuff.”

“Like what?” Margie asks.

“Well,” I think back and smile at the best one I had come up with.  “Like a dishwasher!”

“Really, Pawpaw?”  She asked.

“Really!”

She slides down from me and places her hand in mine.  “Come see this, Pawpaw.”  She leads me over to the tree and points to something scratched in the tree.  “What’s it say?”

I smile as I remember the day a confederate soldier walked into our yard.  After he had left, Pa and I walked back to the tree.  I scratched “remember those who suffer.”

I read it to my granddaughter.  “What’s it mean, pawpaw?” she asks.

I kneeled beside her.  “Your great grandfather and I sat under this very tree when I was a boy, honey.  He told me something that I shared with you daddy, and all your aunts and uncles when they were little.  Now I’ll tell you.  Someday you will find out about all the ugly, useless suffering in the world. In time you'll learn to accept it and bring it into balance with the good things."

 

“The bad things?”

I smile as tears again fill my eyes.  “Yes, like my Pa dying.  That’s a bad thing, but I have so many happy memories.”

“You have funny stories?” Margie asks me as she scratches my mustache – something she enjoys doing.  I nod my head.  “You have sad stories?”  I nod.  “Pa told me your mommy died when you was really little.”

“Margie!” Luke suddenly declares.

I don’t take my eyes from my granddaughter.  “I was six.  I’ll tell you all about it after supper tonight.”

I stand and lift her up onto my shoulders.  I turn to my son.  “Thanks, Luke.”

Luke smiles.  “Let’s go home, Pa.”

I smile as we start for home.  I realize now that home is where my heart is.  And even though today I leave a piece of my heart at Pa’s ranch, I know that a greater part of it is at home with my wife, children and grandchildren as I teach them and raise them.

I turn and look back at the tree as I remember Pa’s words.

"You will son because you have to. It's the price you pay on staying alive and in your right senses, it's manhood.  And I can promise that when you come to the far end of it, you’ll raise your old hands to bless this wonderful life you’ve been given, taken all together with the roast beef, and the moon rises, and a boy and his father riding out in the morning, after you’re grown up to be a father yourself.”

I put Margie down and look up at the cross on the crest that mark’s my father’s resting place.  “You were right, Pa.  Thanks for showing me what home is all about.”

“Come on, grandpa!”

“I’m coming!” I declare as I chase my giggling granddaughter all the way home.

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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