The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 102 – The Oklahoma Story - Part I
Written by Deanne Bertram

Lucas, Milly, and their children arrived at the train station two mornings later, surprised to see who else was standing on the platform.

“Here to see us off, brother?” Lucas asked as he saw Johnny and Colleen Gibbs and their three children.

“No, our bags are on the cart over there.”

“Bags?”

“Lucas, we heard Mark left Wednesday to take his family back to Enid. Kind of figured if he could return, then I could too. Also did some figuring that your wife might convince you to travel back there,” replied Johnny.

“Actually, Harvey told us yesterday that you had purchased tickets for the rest of your family to Oklahoma,” Colleen replied.

“You’re right about Milly. She put up a fairly good argument the afternoon Mark left,” Lucas stated pulling Milly closer to his side, letting her know he appreciated their argument and their making up afterwards.

“Do you think Enid’s going to be ready for the McCain-Gibbs families’ reunion?” Johnny asked.

“I don’t think Enid will be ready for the population explosion that’s about to happen,” Lucas commented.

“Luckily, it’s only temporary,” Colleen laughed, as she understood the underlying meaning of her husband’s question.

*****

The hotel owner returned to the front desk after a friend helped him carry a heavy crate from the train station into the kitchen and unpack the shipment. As the friend waved goodbye, the clerk hollered for him.

“Yes, Lucius?” the man replied.

“If we’d a known you’s having kin folk coming in on the morning train, we coulda gotten the big room ready for them. You know we don’t give it out for just anybody and it’s been a while since anybody used the room,” Lucius answered while the man removed his hat as he stepped to the front desk.

“What do you mean, kin folk coming?” the man asked as he scratched at his beard.

“The morning train arrived, late as usual.” Seeing the impatience on the man’s face, “A family named McCain signed the register book, not more’n a half hour ago. The man saw his wife and young’ens upstairs, came back down, and he asked about the livery. Saw him ride, kind of casual like, headed out of town.”

The man looked at the last entry written in the register, Mr. & Mrs. McCain, North Fork, New Mexico.

“Who are they?” Owen, the hotel owner called out as the man turned and purposefully strode from the hotel.

*****

“Mac?!” the man yelled as he entered the livery.

“O’er here. Be wi’ ya inna moment,” was spoken with a thick Scottish accent. A bald-headed, burly man wearing a leather apron came from behind a wagon, “What kin I do fer ya, Abe?”

“Lucius stated a man came in here, got a horse, and rode out.”

“Sure he did. Very nice looking man. Real polite. Real quiet.”

“What did he look like? Did he have sandy colored hair and taller than me?”

“If Lucius told you about him, why didn’t you ask him?” Seeing the impatience in the man standing in front of him, the Scotsman continued, “Naw, he had dark hair and maybe was five foot eight, five foot ten at the most--maybe mid 20’s. He asked about directions to the McCain Ranch.”

“He said ranch and not farms?” Abe hurriedly asked.

“Sure did, I ask ‘im about tha’, too. I hope ya don’t mine me atellin’ ‘im. I think he’s a relation of yors; said ‘is name was Mark McCain.”

“Mark…” Abe mulled the name over, turned, and ran from the livery, heading to the General Store. “Peter!” he yelled as he entered, almost knocking over the broom display.

“Geesh, what trouble did you and Owen get into unpacking that crate. You look…” Peter called back.

“Forget how I look brother, we got to get to Matthew and Laura’s!”

“To Laura’s, what for? She and Matthew don’t need us…”

“Peter, Mark’s in town. He asked Mac for directions and rode out to Laura’s,” Abe hurriedly called out trying to get his brother to move.

“Mark? Mark who?”

“Lucas’ boy. Lucius stated he and his family arrived on the morning train, and are staying at the hotel.”

“That was Mark?” Peter’s wife, Tiffany, asked.

“You saw them?” asked Abe as he turned to face his sister-in-law.

“Just in passing, I was walking in front of the hotel and they were the only family I saw entering, they stopped to let me pass.”

Abe’s wife, Julie, came from behind a row of shelving in hearing the discussion.

“Why would Mark come back here?” Peter asked. “You don’t think something happened to Lucas, do you?”

“My God, Abe! You and Peter best get to Laura’s!” Julie exclaimed.

“That’s what I’m trying to get across to Peter,” Abe shot back.

Peter’s expression displayed he didn’t understand the implications of what Abe and Julie were trying to convey.

“Peter, it’s almost June third!” Julie’s voice tried to express the need for Abe and Peter to get to Laura’s.

“So?” Peter replied.

“Peter! Honestly! Mark’s back here because it’s been twenty years since Margaret passed away! Get out there, you can’t let him visit his Ma’s grave alone! And do you trust your youngest sister to not take a pot shot at him for trespassing, if she sees him.”

Abe and Peter ran from the General Store, jumped in their saddles, and headed to their sister’s home.

*****

A blonde-haired woman trotted her horse along the ridge of the hill. In one side of her saddlebags, she carried work gloves and several small hand tools; in the other side, she carried two small potted marigold plants. As she crested the rise, she saw a lone man standing inside the fence, in front of the tombstone, hat in hand, head bowed. She became incensed at the trespasser and urged her horse on to a fast lope. From under her leg, she pulled her rifle from the scabbard and as she halted her horse, she pointed her rifle and demanded to know what right the man had to trespass?

“This is private property. Strangers usually ask permission to cross our land,” the woman bluntly stated.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to trespass. It’s just been a long time since…” the man stopped talking as his emotions choked off his voice as his gaze returned to the headstone.

The woman called out, after seeing the change in the man’s demeanor… "My God! You're Mark?! Lucas' boy?" and proceeded to put away her rifle when he nodded. She tried to stammer out an apology. After ground tying her horse, she walked to where Mark stood, "I forgot how beautiful your Ma was. I can see her in your eyes."

"You knew my mother?" he asked.

"Mark, I'm your Aunt Laura," she replied.

"My Aunt?"

"I'm your father's baby sister. You've a whole family to get reacquainted with. It's been..."

"Almost twenty years..."

*****

While Julie headed to the hotel, Tiffany headed to the barbershop to inform Scott Gibbs.

“Scott! Scott Gibbs!” Tiffany called out upon entering the barbershop.

“You trying to get my throat slashed?” Scott called back as he grabbed hold of the barber’s hand and pushed it away.

“I’m sorry, I…” Tiffany stammered.

“What’s so important that you bolted in here?” Stuart asked as he pointed the razor blade in his hand towards her.

“It’s Mark!”

“Mark who?” Scott asked.

“Mark McCain!”

“Mark Mc…” Scott didn’t finish the name. “Did something happen to Lucas?”

“We don’t know. We just found out he and his family were in town. He’s on his way out to Laura’s, and Abe and Peter are on their way out there to catch up with him. Julie’s trying to notify everyone to come to the hotel.”

“I pray Laura doesn’t pull her rifle first and ask questions later,” spoke Scott. “Stuart, hurry up and finish shaving me.”

*****

“Owen?” Julie McCain called as she entered the lobby.

“Turning out to be quite an exciting day. I take it, they are kinfolk?”

“Yes, it’s been twenty years…” Julie answered excitedly and looked up as she heard child-like footsteps hurrying down the stairs and a woman calling, “Slow down, else you’ll trip and fall.”

Julie smiled as she saw four young children stop at the foot of the staircase, while the woman behind them carefully walked down the steps, carrying a young child on her hip.

“That’s them, Julie,” Lucius stated, as he pointed to them.

The woman stopped when she realized the comment was made regarding her and her children.

“I can’t believe you’re really here,” said Julie as she walked towards the family.

“Excuse me?” asked the woman.

“Forgive me. Where are my manners? My name is Julie McCain and I believe we’re family. I’m married to Abraham McCain. And Abraham is the oldest of the four McCain brothers, with Lucas being the youngest. I presume you’re Mark’s wife?”

“I am. My name is…”

“Hope McCain,” Julie finished. “I can’t believe it. It’s been so long. I mean Lucas sends a letter at the holidays, but… Mark’s really back.” Julie spoke with excitement as she looked over her great-nieces and great-nephews. “These are the twins?”

“Yes, Joshua Lucas and Zachariah James. And this one is Elijah Paul,” Hope answered pointing out each one of her sons.

“And just who is this precious young lady?” Julie asked as she looked to Mark’s oldest daughter.

“I’m Mykaela,” she boldly stated.

“Mykaela?” Julie asked, inquiring if she understood the three year old correctly.

“Yes, her name is Mykaela Elyse. And this one is Margaret Faith.”

“You named her after Mark’s mother?”

“The Margaret part of her name, yes.”

“My, it just doesn’t seem possible,” stated Julie, clasping her hands in front of her chest. “I mean, it’s been so long that we all kind of still remember Mark being that six year old boy, so lost in grief. And here he is a father. As I said, Lucas briefly writes at the holidays and tells of the family, but to see you here and to know you’re really real… Oh, my manners, I’m forgetting them again. Please, let’s go to the restaurant so you may sit down. You must have had a very tiring journey, and with five children no less.”

As Julie helped the last of the McCain children to their seats, Tiffany and Scott arrived.

“Hope, these are more members of the McCain/Gibbs family, Tiffany is married to Peter, who’s the third McCain brother and Scott… Scott is Margaret’s older brother. I’ll warn you, once more members of the families hear about Mark being back home, the families will be coming out of the woodworks.”

Once again, introductions of the children were made.

“I insist that you not stay here,” Tiffany insisted. “We’ve room at the family farm, plenty of room for you and your children.”

“I don’t know, we’re already registered, and Mark didn’t want to impose…”

“Impose?! Land sakes, child,” Julie interrupted. “You’re family!”

“Tiffany, it’s not just the McCain families who will want to see Mark and meet his family, it’s the Gibbs families too,” Scott spoke.

“Owen!” Julie hollered as she stood from her chair and walked to the door leading from the restaurant.

“Yes, Julie?”

“You best get to setting more tables, seems you’re gonna have a full restaurant tonight!”

“Please, we don’t want to be any trouble!” Hope pleaded.

Julie gave a flourish with her hands to indicate this was routine, “Trouble, you just sit there and relax, once Abe and Peter rescue your husband…”

“RESCUE?!” Hope reacted in alarm and tried to stand.

“Easy there. Only from a certain family member,” Scott stated with a laugh.

Julie proceeded in giving orders to Tiffany and Scott, telling them to get word around to all the members of the McCain and Gibbs families that everyone was expected at the hotel restaurant for supper, and for everyone to bring a covered dish.

Before Hope could insist that there really wasn’t a need for all the fuss, two more women entered the restaurant, with each one asking, “Is it true?”

“Yes, Mark’s come home,” Julie happily answered, returning to the table where Hope sat, “Now we don’t expect you to keep each and every one of our names straight, but the one on the left is Emily, she’s Lucas’ oldest sister, but still younger than Lucas. She’s married to Jason and he’s our town doctor, you’ll meet him later. And on the right is Emily, we call her Em, and she’s married to Jeremiah, Lucas’ second oldest brother.”

As time passed, Hope couldn’t believe all the people arriving at the restaurant, family members and their spouses, and their children and their spouses, and their children. She marveled at the way the woman named Julie organized everything and kept making introductions. Hope smiled in thinking how she would have made an excellent drill sergeant at one of the forts when her father had been stationed in the army.

Hope tried to keep names and faces straight as she was introduced to Mark’s oldest cousin Charlie, however, she couldn’t keep straight the names of the triplets, let alone who was married to whom. But with so many other cousins and people arriving and moving about the room and holding side conversations, it was a near impossible feat. So many of the women came up to Hope and started their conversations with how they were related to Mark; and commented how good it was for him to return home. The men kept asking about Lucas and Mark, ‘had they both come home?’

“Mama?” Josh asked as he tugged at her skirt. “Are they really our family?”

“From what they say, yes.”

“Mama? They say Papa returned home, are we gonna live here? What about Grandpa Lucas and Grandma Milly?” Zach asked.

“And Grandpa Seth? I wanna go home!” Eli cried as he clung to his mother’s leg.

“I wan’ Gandma Lilah,” Mykaela stated as she hid behind Hope’s skirt.

Seeing that her children didn’t fully understand what was happening, Hope truly wished she could just turn around and take the children back upstairs as more and more members of the McCain and Gibbs families arrived at the restaurant. Hope started to worry when Mark had still not returned. And she worried, from whom did Lucas’ brothers needed to rescue Mark? Hope asked to excuse herself as the children started to become more upset.

“Please, if I may?” Hope asked of the woman named Julie, “I think Faith needs to be changed and the children are.., please…”

“Hope, you can leave the others down here, they’ll be in good hands,” Julie replied.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s just it, there are too many people here and the children are being overwhelmed. They don’t understand everything that’s being said, I mean how it’s being said. Please, just let me get them back to the room upstairs,” pleaded Hope.

“Everyone, make room for Hope and her children to get through. Jeremiah, you run interference, don’t let anyone stop her,” Julie hollered above the multiple conversations being held in the restaurant and lobby.

Once Hope and the children were back in their hotel room, she shut the door and set Faith on the bed, Hope sat down and pulled the others into her arms as they continued to cry that they wanted to go back home, to their grandparents. She felt so overwhelmed and wished Mark was there to help her as she tried to explain what the others had meant when they said Mark was home.

*****

Mark watched as his Aunt Laura returned to her horse and pulled the saddlebags down.

“Here, let me help you,” Mark insisted.

“Just carry it over to her grave and set it down beside the headstone.”

As both entered through the gate, Mark commented, “I don’t remember the fence being around her grave.”

“It wasn’t, I had Scott help me build it the year after you left.”

“Scott, he’s my Ma’s older brother?” Mark inquired, hoping he remembered the family relationships.

“Yes, he is. Anyway, after the fence went up, I’d come out here and pull the weeds and a few days before the… Well, I’d come out here and plant marigolds. She always loved them.”

“That’s what Pa told me. When we settled in North Fork, after we rebuilt the house, the first thing Pa did was to plant marigolds around the porch.”

Mark removed his jacket and draped it over the white picket fence, he got down on his hands and knees to help Laura pull the weeds from around the grave and plant the marigolds. Mark walked to Laura’s horse and pulled down the canteen to water the flowers.

“If you came out here alone, how did you find Margaret’s grave?” Laura asked.

“Pa told me once, that our home in North Fork was so much like our home back here. The same hills and valleys, the only thing Pa said was missing, was the cross that marked Ma’s grave.”

“Not too many people outside of the family could give you directions to your mother’s grave.”

“He described it in such detail one night when we were talking that once I arrived, I just knew the way,” replied Mark. “It’s just as I imagined, the trees, the little stream… even the boulders over there. I’ve a pond back home and it looks so much like here…”

“Your home must be beautiful. Can I ask if you came alone or did you bring your family? I hope you brought your family. It’s been kind of…, not exactly difficult…, but knowing members of the family aren’t present...”

“I brought my wife and our children. I told Pa, I needed to do this and…”

“Mark, you don’t need to explain, we’re just happy you came ho... back. I take it that Abraham and Peter didn’t see you when you were in town? They’re usually in town Friday mornings and afternoons, running errands; Saturdays are pretty much impossible to do errands anymore, what with so many people in town.”

“I wasn’t looking for family. I saw that Hope and our children were settled in the hotel and went to the livery, rented a horse, and asked which way to the McCain Ranch.”

“Well, if I know our family, and I do, we had best get you back to Enid. Your wife is probably being overwhelmed with McCain and Gibbs family members.”

*****

Abe and Peter raced their horses across the land towards Laura’s. Matthew was just stepping down from his horse, in front of the barn, when they arrived.

“Matthew, where’s Laura?” Peter yelled pulling his horse to a halt.

“I think she was going to Margaret’s grave this afternoon. You know how she always tends to it. Why?”

“We’ll tell you on the way. Get back on your horse.”

Matthew did as told and rode with the two McCain brothers.

The three crested the hill and saw Laura and a stranger getting to their feet, wiping dirt from their hands. The men urged their horses forward.

“Well, true McCain’s and Piedmont’s, you show up once the work is done!” Laura laughingly called to her bothers and husband as they halted just outside the fence.

“Laura!” Abe’s voice held a tone of warning.

“I’m not an eight year old girl anymore, so don’t use that tone with me, big brother!” Laura quipped. Turning to Mark, “Mark, the brash one there is your Uncle Abraham, and next to him is your Uncle Peter, and the handsome man, is my husband, your Uncle Matthew.” The three stepped down from their horses and shook hands with Mark.

“It’s been a long time,” Abe ventured to say, looking Mark over to make sure he really was standing in front of him. Unbelieving it could possibly have been so long.

“Too long. I’m sorry I didn’t come back sooner,” Mark answered.

“No, Mark. Don’t let him make you feel guilty. You and Lucas have your own lives. It took time, but, we finally accepted it... And Abe, stop looking him over like that! Yes, I drew my rifle on him, never seen anyone else out here except family members. But once I saw him up close, I knew right away who he was.”

“How is your Pa?” Peter asked.

“Healthy, he said to send his regards,” Mark answered, regretting it wasn’t the truth. “Aunt Laura told me I’ve plenty of family to meet.”

“You sure do at that. If you’re through here, we’ll escort you back to town,” Peter stated.

“I don’t mean to be a bother to anyone…” again Mark’s voice faltered.

Laura looped her hand onto Mark’s arm and walked him back to the horse he rode. “You’re no bother, you’re family.

As Mark mounted his rented horse, he looked to these members of his family, “I was wondering…”

“Go on Mark,” Abraham encouraged.

“Our old home… Does it still stand? Does anyone live there?”

“It’s where Matthew and I live. Though, we have made some changes to it. It has indoor plumbing.”

“Laura!” Matthew chastised his wife.

Mark didn’t know exactly how to ask what he wanted to ask.

“Mark, if you’d like, we can stop by and let you look, before we head to town,” Laura offered.

*****

The others had stepped from their horses and tied them to the hitching rails in front. Mark took in the sight of all the marigolds planted around the front porch.

“Mark?” Peter asked as he turned to see Mark still in the saddle.

“Just trying to remember. That tree over there…” pointed Mark.

“That’s the one you fell out of and broke your arm. I think you were, maybe, five,” Abraham stated.

Mark slowly stepped from his horse and started to follow the others inside. He stopped at the door, taking a deep breath before entering.

The first thing Mark noticed and remembered was the fireplace. His memories took him back to the cold winters where his parents would sit with him in front of the fire after playing outside in the snow. Mark walked to the mantle and ran his fingers across the worn wood. He remembered seeing his Pa coming inside and placing his rifle over the mantle. Mark smiled as he realized the pegs were still there.

Abraham, Peter, Laura, and Matthew watched while Mark re-explored the home where he had once lived, so long ago.

‘This house, it’s just like the one back in Enid,’ Mark heard his Pa’s voice say. With one exception Mark remembered, this one had two doors, side by side. One door to the bedroom his parents had shared and the other, his. Mark turned the knob to the room that had been his; he kept his hand on the knob, and slowly pushed it open. His mind replayed scenes from his youth, him sitting on the floor playing with his blocks. Another scene of him being afraid to go to bed one night because of a scary story his cousin Charlie had told him about monsters under the bed.

Mark turned and looked back to the front room. He remembered sitting at a table in the room, while his Ma struggled with his refusal to memorize his alphabet, and how to spell his first year words. His arguing he should be out on the range with his Pa.

Mark looked to the second bedroom door; he couldn’t bring himself to turn the knob. The last time he was in the room… tears fell down Mark’s face as he tried to remember… Mark felt a supporting, gentle hand on his arm.

“It’s okay Mark. It took a long time before I could bring myself to enter the room, but Matthew told me, by entering, I could celebrate Margaret’s life. We could bring life back to a home that had been so filled with love. This home needed to hear laughter within the walls.”

Laura opened the door to show Mark the room, the large four-poster feather bed. Sunbeams streamed through the window and shone brightly on the colorful quilt that adorned the bed. In the corners sat two large, overstuffed chairs. By the wall, next to the door, was a small dresser and mirror, with a small bench in front of it. At the foot of the bed was an oak wood chest. A large dresser stood against the far wall.

“It’s so different from what I remember,” Mark commented.

“It should be Mark. It’s our home,” Matthew stated as he came to stand behind his wife, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Mark, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for your father, those first few weeks after your ma died.”

“How so?” Mark asked, not really thinking. His memories were still trying to envision his mother.

“A husband in grief, knowing…” Matthew started to speak.

Laura continued, “Knowing he still had a son to raise; seeing you each and every day, and how much you look like your mother… your eyes, your smile.” Laura’s eyes warned her husband that he almost divulged the secret.

“It’s hard for me to remember her. I know her face, but I can’t remember her arms around me anymore. I can’t remember her voice singing as she worked around our home.”

“Mark, it’s not because she’s no longer here. It’s because you’re an adult and a father. Those memories stay with you for as long as you need them, to help comfort you, but once you become an adult and a parent, it’s your turn to pass those same kinds of memories on to your children,” Abraham stated.

As Mark’s eyes looked around the front room, he saw pictures on the far wall. Mark walked to the wall and looked closely at them. He ran his hand along the bottom of the frames and realized they all had to be recent family pictures, save one, Lucas, Margaret, and a very young Mark. Tears formed in Mark’s eyes as he saw the life the others had lived, husbands, wives, and their children, now grown… with children of their own.

“Mark, let’s get you back to your wife,” Laura stated, as she realized where Mark’s mind might be taking him.

*****

While they rode back to town, the others allowed Mark his silence and time to regain his composure. As the group stepped into the hotel lobby, Mark was surprised; he couldn’t believe all the people inside.

“Abraham,” a woman called, as she approached Mark, he saw the broad smile on her face. “Is this Mark? Can’t be anyone else, now can it. Tell you what, I think we’ve scared your children some, your wife is upstairs in your room with them.”

Mark allowed the woman to push him to the staircase where he took the steps two at a time and knocked on the door. From the other side he heard, “Who is it?”

“Hope, it’s me, Mark.”

He heard hurried footsteps and the door being unlocked and quickly opened. Mark barely closed the door behind him before his four oldest children had their arms wrapped around him, trembling and crying they wanted to go home.

“Hey, now, what’s this all about? Why are you crying?” Mark asked with an upbeat tone, trying to lighten the mood of the room.

Josh was the first to speak through his tears, “They said you came home. We don’t want to live here!”

Eli cried, “I don’t wanna live here.”

Zach replied, “We want to live with our Grandma’s and our Grandpa’s!”

Mykaela stood to Mark’s side, tears falling from her face, and said, “Not home!”

“Mark, the children kept hearing everyone say how good it was to finally have you home and the children aren’t old enough to understand what they meant. I tried to explain that we were only here for a visit, like you told them on the train, and that this isn’t our home,” Hope stated.

Mark looked to Hope and said, “I’m sorry I left you and the children alone. I wasn’t thinking.”

Mark felt for his family. He hadn’t counted on how meeting the other members of his family would affect his children; he also hadn’t counted on them being found out so quickly. Mark got on his knees and wrapped his arms around his sons and daughter while Hope held Faith.

“Hey there, listen to me… Your Grandpa Lucas and I lived here when I was the same age the twins are. All those people downstairs, they’re my family, our family. I’m sorry. I’m sure they didn’t mean to make you cry. North Fork is our home and we will go home.”

“When?” Josh asked through his sniffles.

“How about next week? We talked about this on the train, this as an adventure, you’re meeting members of your family -- cousins and aunts and uncles.”

“We go home?” Mykaela sniffled.

“For you and your brothers and your sister, yes, I promise.” Mark hugged his children closer.

Mark looked to Hope, “I didn’t think they’d find out so quickly that we were here. Are they all McCain’s?”

“No, there’s a good representation of the Gibbs side of the family downstairs, too,” Hope stated as she started laughing, hoping it would make their children feel more relaxed.

“Tell you what, why don’t you let your Mama help pretty up your faces…” Mark spoke to his children.

“Our faces don’t need prettied up!” boasted Zach.

“Okay, let your Mama pretty up your sisters’ faces and for the young men in this room, she’ll help clean away your tear stains. Okay?”

“Yes, Papa,” Eli answered, with Josh and Zach nodding.

Mark stood to his feet and turned to the door when Hope asked, “Where are you going?”

“Downstairs, I think I need to talk with the family and explain what happened. I’ll be back in a few minutes and this family will make a grand entrance.”

*****

Mark carried Faith down the stairs as Hope held Mykaela’s hand. The boys quietly preceded them down the steps. Stopping on the landing, Mark smiled as he looked upon all the members of his extended family.

Julie and Abraham stepped forward and welcomed Mark and his family to Enid and began the introductions all over again.

As she completed the introductions, she felt a tug on her skirt and Julie looked down, “Yes, Josh?”

“Something smells good. I’m hungry,” Josh replied.

“Joshua!” Hope scolded.

“Well I am,” Josh answered with all the seriousness of a soon to be six year old.

With laughter in her voice, Julie answered, “That’s all right Hope. Supper is almost ready. Owen’s just finishing the roast.” Elevating her voice, Julie called for everyone to find a seat. The tables were arranged in a big U shape in the restaurant, with smaller tables for all the younger children in the middle, even more tables were set up in the adjoining lobby of the hotel.

The food bowls were placed on tables lining the outer walls of the restaurant, where the members of the families could fill their plates before taking their seats. Conversations throughout the room varied as members of the families asked questions of North Fork, Lucas and Milly, and anything else they could think of.

The sun had set sometime earlier before the last of the family bid goodbye. Julie, Abraham, and Owen helped Mark and Hope carry their sleeping children up the stairs and to their hotel room.

*****

“Mark, we’ll let you explore the town on your own tomorrow. But if you need any help, just ask anyone to point out a McCain or a Gibbs family member,” Abraham stated.

“Oh and on Sunday, Church services begin at nine o’clock. We’ll meet you in the restaurant for breakfast at seven, thirty,” Julie stated.

“We don’t want to be any trouble…” Mark tried to say.

“You’re no trouble. We’re happy to have you home for a visit,” Abraham replied as they stepped from the room.

*****

It was Sunday, May 30th when Lucas and Johnny stepped from the train with their families in Enid and headed to the hotel to register and drop off their luggage. Owen looked at the names written, Mr. and Mrs. Lucas McCain and Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Gibbs, “My, oh my, I’m thankful I didn’t put away all the tables from the other day. Mr. McCain, your son and his family arrived safely.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Lucas answered as he looked around. “Are they up in their room?”

“No, sir. I’ll take your bags up to your rooms. Your boy and the rest of your family, and you too, Mr. Gibbs, they’re all over at the church. It’s Sunday,” Owen commented.

“Thank you. I think we’ll head on over to the church.”

“I’ll see your rifles are placed in your rooms,” Owen offered.

“I’ll take it with me,” Lucas replied as he reclutched his rifle.

“Lucas,” Milly spoke. “We’re going to church. I think you can leave your rifle here.”

“You too Johnny,” Colleen stated. “Hand your gun belt to the porter.”

Reluctantly, both men set their weapons on the luggage and watched as the hotel owner instructed two other young men to move the luggage upstairs.

Together the families walked the few blocks to the church. Lucas with his arm draped across Milly’s shoulder and holding Levi on his opposite hip, watched as Myra held Little Ted’s hand and walked in front of them.

Johnny and Colleen carried Andrew and David on their hips while Lillian walked the other side of Myra.

“Lucas?” Milly asked as she sensed Lucas tense.

“I know what you’re feeling, brother,” Johnny offered and placed a hand to Lucas’ shoulder. He explained to their wives, “The last time either of us were inside this church was for Margaret’s funeral service. We ain’t been back since.”

Lucas nodded and led the families to the doors that he quietly opened. The families slipped into the back pews and took their seats. Both Lucas and Johnny thought they recognized a few of the people who turned around upon their arrival, which started an ever-growing buzz among the parishioners.

Reverend Upshaw realized his sermon was going unheard as more and more people turned their attention from him due to a distraction among his congregation. He paused in the middle of his sermon, raising his voice, “It seems that we have more visitors this morning, and they’ve created an excitement among those in the back.”

“Dang right, Reverend!” Mose Sanderson hollered, “It can’t be none other than Lucas and Little Johnny, come home!”

With that announcement made, everyone turned around in his or her seats, except Mark, who stood with disbelief, and walked to the back of the church.

“You came,” Mark whispered, he wanted to hug his Pa, but instead offered his hand.

“You should have asked me to come with you,” Lucas answered.

“I wanted to Pa, but after your initial reaction... I knew how you felt. But I had hoped you’d change your mind and offer to come.”

“Took Milly to make me understand that,” Lucas said as he relaxed his grip and pulled Mark into a hug.

Reverend Upshaw spoke from the pulpit, “So, are these newcomers more members of the McCain’s or Gibbs’ families?”

“Both,” Abraham called as he, Jeremiah, and Peter walked down the aisle to greet their youngest brother.

Emily and Laura, and their sisters-in-law had tears in their eyes as they stood with their families, knowing the heartaches that everyone had felt when Lucas and Mark left Enid. Now, joy and excitement filled the church. The family circle was completed as Scott and Beth walked to the back of the church and greeted their little brother, Johnny.

“Well, I think today’s church services should just be a lesson in compassion and realizing it’s never too late to come home,” Reverend Frasier proclaimed.

*****

After church services, Mark nodded as the various family members said they were going to return to the hotel.

“Pa, I’d like to talk…” Mark suggested.

Lucas nodded and motioned for Milly to take the family and go with the others.

*****

“Milly? I’m Abraham, what’s that all about?” he asked, pointing to Lucas and Mark walking away.

“Twenty years of buried memories and heartache. Lucas was against Mark’s coming,” Milly quietly answered.

“Figured it had to be something like that; Lucas never did like to look back. To say the least, I was shocked when Mose said Lucas’ name. I never figured to see him in Enid again.”

“It was a hard sell. I know he’s still hurting, but in an effort to make peace in the family, he agreed it was time for the North Fork McCain’s to meet the Enid McCain’s.”

*****

“Pa, I’m sorry I left home on such awkward terms. I just didn’t know exactly how to tell you why I was drawn to make this trip.”

“Milly tried to explain it to me. Thadd said pretty much the same thing.” Lucas stated as he pushed his hat back on his head. “Have you been to her grave?”

“The day we arrived. It’s like you said, the land was the same, just the cross was missing. I met Aunt Laura there. I helped her plant marigolds at Ma’s grave.”

“Surprised she didn’t pull her rifle on you,” Lucas said half-heartedly.

“Actually, she did. Only once she saw me up close, she put it away.”

Lucas and Mark walked to the side of the church and sat down on a bench under a large oak tree. Mark pulled his hat from his head and fiddled around with it in his hands, unable to bring himself to look at his Pa.

“Pa, when we left here, I know you were hurting over Ma’s death. And in time, we buried the hurt deep inside. We had to in order to go on living. But… when I trailed after you to Burns Flatt and later came through Oklahoma City… all the memories from my childhood started haunting me. The hurt and the bitterness I felt, because you had taken me from here. I tried to deal with it on my own and I know in the process that I hurt Hope and the children. And you.”

Lucas removed his hat from his head as he continued to listen to his son.

“I was finally able to understand when Ma came to me in my dream. She told me she would always be here, I realized the only way I could get back to the normal me was to come to say goodbye, here. Not just acknowledging her death from North Fork, it wasn’t enough that we named our youngest daughter in her memory…”

“How do you feel now?” Lucas asked.

“I’m still grieving. The families have planned a memorial on Thursday, at her grave. I won’t ask you to be there, but just the fact that you are here, now. It’s taken a lot of the guilt I’ve felt the past week off my shoulders.”

“I don’t know if I can be there,” Lucas stated as he looked down the road, in the direction of the ranch where he had lived and lost, so long ago.

*****

It had been twenty years since Lucas had been in Enid, and he enjoyed becoming reacquainted with his brothers and their wives, Abraham and Julie, Jeremiah and Emily, Peter and Tiffany, as well as his sisters and their husbands, Emily and Jason, and Laura and Matthew. Then there were Margaret’s other brother and sister, Scott and his wife, Amanda, and Beth and her husband, Orville. He couldn’t believe how much all his nieces and nephews had grown over the years and they had children, but then, look how much Mark had grown during the same time.

All the family members were thrilled to meet the rest of the McCain children, Myra, Theodore, and Levi, as well as the Gibbs’ children, Lillian, David, and Andrew.

Scott laughed out at hearing the tale of the birth of Johnny’s twin sons and that there were now three sets of twins were in North Fork. “Hey Lucas, how come you didn’t manage to squeeze out a set of twins yourself?”

Milly inhaled sharply at the question, worried with how Lucas would answer.

Lucas paused before answering; knowing his own hurt from Margaret’s miscarriage and Milly’s, in that she could no longer carry another child. “Now see here Scott… I think I got my fill of having to deal with twins with Mark here. Lord knows he was worth more trouble than any set of twins could ever be,” Lucas jovially replied.

“I don’t know about that, Pa,” replied Mark.

“They’re your sons, I think you’re just getting pay back for all the trouble you got into when you were their… younger,” Lucas replied.

While the men were catching up on life, the women took over the hotel kitchen to prepare a wonderful supper for the families.

*****

Monday morning Scott Gibbs returned to the hotel to meet Lucas, Mark, and Johnny; he asked the women to excuse them, he wanted to talk in private. Owen showed them to his office.

“Thank you for seeing me like this, but I have something I need to know, and felt it best not to bring it up in front of the families.”

“Spit it out brother,” Johnny stated.

“Mark, when Pa died… later… we received word, that you had been there,” Scott stated.

“Yes, sir. I was.” Seeing the uncertainty on his uncle’s face, Mark continued, “He’d come to North Fork a year or so earlier, when the Sherman brothers were after him.”

“We heard about that and when we went to check up on him, we found he‘d left. No one would say where he went. Then one day, we got word that he was back.”

“He came asking Pa for help…” Mark stopped and looked to Lucas, who nodded for him to continue. Taking a deep breath, Mark continued, “That was the day Pa told me what happened the night Ma died.”

“I’m sorry you had to find out,” Scott stated. “I can’t imagine how much you must have hated him at that moment.”

“Looking back, I can’t believe that I could hate someone that much. Anyway, while Micah wanted to talk with Pa, Pa sent me to wait at the buckboard… instead… I sorta snuck over to the hotel, I wanted him gone. I didn’t want my Pa or our friends to get hurt trying to help him. In the hotel room, he asked for my forgiveness, he tried to explain to me what happened. That everything Pa had told me… was true.”

“Did you... forgive him?” Scott asked.

“Not right then, I couldn’t.” Mark hurriedly continued, trying to make his uncle understand, “Uncle Scott, I’d just found out that my Ma could have lived… had he not been a drunk.”

“Mark, you don’t need to explain to me. But something must have happened, if you were there when he passed.”

“Later that night, as Pa and I were leaving town, Pa decided to go back and see Micah, just to make sure he was going to be okay. While I sat there, in the buckboard, I got to thinking on all the lessons Pa tried to teach me about forgiveness. It hurt finding out about… my Ma… but his hurt had to be more, not only did he play a part in losing a daughter, he… he also lost me… Samuel Gibbs came seeking forgiveness and through that, I realized he was the better man… When Pa returned to the buckboard, he told me what happened with him having to rescue Micah and Miss Lou, and that we needed to stay in town for a little while longer… Mr. Gibbs didn’t know anything had happened since he was preparing to do as I asked, to leave town. Anyway, I was feeling guilty and I guess Pa realized it.”

“So you told him you forgave him?”

“Not in so many words, but I think just by the fact that I called out to him… and called him Grandpa.”

“Probably lifted a huge burden off his shoulders…” Scott stated as he looked down.

“Yes sir. Anyway, a year or so later, I wanted to spend some time with him, to get to know him and find out more about my Ma. I thought long and hard before I asked Pa if I had his permission to come to Oklahoma for a visit. I spent about ten days with him before his heart gave out. I’m sorry, I know I should have probably come to Enid and told you, but, I didn’t really remember all of you that well. I had just found Samuel Gibbs, I mean my grandpa and he practically died in my arms, I wanted to get home. I needed my Pa.”

“No Mark, that’s not why I brought the matter up, it’s just that, well… We don’t rightly know why Pa took to drinking. Then the night your Ma died, Pa never recovered from that. He moved away, to Bensonville. We’d write, only all the letters would come back unopened. I tried a couple of times to go see him. He never answered the door when I knocked. I’m just glad to hear that he reached out to someone in the family. And glad he didn’t die… alone,” Scott finally said.

“Uncle Scott, when I was there, with Samuel… I mean Grandpa…” Mark hesitated.

“Go on, Mark,” Lucas encouraged.

“After the services, the town bought me tickets on the stage and the train, so I could return home. Said it was the least they could do for the only grandson of Samuel Gibbs… What they said never really sank in, but… After being here… I’m not his only grandson.”

“Mark, in his eye’s you were. You were taken away from him before you had a chance to form your own opinion. Your Ma, she always wanted to see the good side of Pa. You take after her in that way, you’d sneak out of school on your lunch hour when you’d see him in town… No, my children, and Beth’s, they knew how we felt and they felt the same way and Johnny wasn’t married back then. Maybe we were wrong to turn our backs on him as we did. But we felt he could have stopped drinking if he’d really wanted to, if he really loved us. We did receive a letter once, from a lawyer in Bensonville telling us we had been disinherited. So, in Pa’s eyes, you were his only grandson.”

“I’m sorry, must have been hard on you, getting that letter,” Mark answered and dropped his eyes to the floor.

“No harder than you, finding out what else happened the night Margaret died,” Scott replied. “We all knew that if one good thing could come out of Lucas taking you from here, it was that you’d never have to find out…” Scott stopped talking as the years of guilt welled in him. “Well, we best not stay in here too much longer, else the women will get to wondering what we’re doing.”

Lucas, Mark, Scott, and Johnny returned to the lobby. While they had been in Owen’s office, the women had made plans to show the returning McCain’s and Gibbs’ around town and to tour the various homesteads the families worked.

By the time they had visited and toured each homestead, except for one, it was Wednesday evening when Lucas and Milly settled back into the bed in the hotel. The two looked to the other beds in the room and saw their children peacefully sleeping. Milly rested back to Lucas’ bare chest, while he held one hand around her ribs and the other he rubbed up and down her upper arm.

“I don’t know if I can do it Milly,” Lucas whispered as he pressed a kiss to her head.

“Lucas, it won’t just be you and Mark, your whole family will be there to support you,” Milly answered.

“It’s not just visiting Margaret’s grave, it’s also going to Laura and Matthew’s afterwards. I lost the ranch to the bank… I never told anyone, I just left. Doctors were expensive and he demanded payment...”

“You mean Jason?”

“No, there was another doctor in town back then, Jason and Emily had gone back east for additional schooling and to visit his family. Margaret’s health was never as good as it was prior to her getting sick while she was pregnant with Mark. And after she miscarried, her health suffered even more. Jason never really charged me for all his services because we were family. However, this new doctor, his charges were a lot higher, and not just for me, but for everyone. I sold off some of my cattle to help make the mortgage payments on the ranch and to pay for the doctor and the medicines he prescribed. Before the epidemic started… I’d had to kill what remaining cattle I had because of hoof and mouth. No money coming in and I still had a wife and child to feed, a mortgage payment on a ranch that I was so far behind in paying…”

“Now I understand why you were so stubborn when hoof and mouth struck North Fork,” Milly’s voice was sympathetic, yet supporting.

"I worked so hard to build the ranch, our home, and I lost it all, I wasn’t about to lose my home for a second time. Anyway, three days after Margaret's death, the banker came and told me he had foreclosed on the place... It was no longer mine. That's why I'm so protective of our home in North Fork, it is so much like what I had with Margaret."

"And now your sister and her husband call it home," Milly paused. "Lucas, had I known the full story... I wouldn't have pushed you to come. I didn't know, you never told me."

"I never told anyone." Lucas lowered his head and Milly felt his tears fall on her cheek.

The Next Step — The Oklahoma Story - Part 2

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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