Word Count 8,915
Ninth in the Small Matters Series
I hope this letter finds you and your family well. Please forgive me for not writing sooner. A lot has happened since my last letter to you and the month of December has been very busy here at Lancer!
First of all, a happy belated birthday to you! I know you turned fourteen on the 27 th of September. I hope your birthday was happy! As you know, I turned fourteen on the 19 th of this month…more about that later.
When I told you that December was very busy at Lancer, I meant it! Can you believe that all of us here have December birthdays?
Little Teresa O’Brien turned seven on the 1 st , her father, Paul’s birthday was the 10 th , mine was on the 19 th , Johnny’s was on the 23 rd , and Pa’s birthday is on the 28 th . And, of course, we had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and besides Pa’s birthday coming up, we have New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day! Whew! Very busy, but very fun!
So much has happened since I last wrote you! Of course, by now, you must know that Grandfather came to California to try to win back custody of me, but Pa won! I am glad to be living here at Lancer as I don’t really miss Boston at all. Of course, I miss you, but Pa says you and Ward are welcome to visit any time you want. I hope that you can some day soon! I think you would really like it and I would love to show you all of Lancer!
Shortly after the custody hearing, my little brother, Johnny, showed up on our doorstep. He came here to shoot Pa! His mother had told him that our Pa had kicked them both off of Lancer when Johnny was only two. That wasn’t true, as Johnny found out later. His mother lied to Johnny, like Grandfather lied to me. Our Pa always wanted us both! Remember how I used to tell you how
I hated my father because he never loved me or wanted me? Turns out, that simply was never true!
Johnny and I fought for a while until we busted a bottle of Pa’s best scotch. He got upset with us because we could have gotten cut badly by the flying glass. Luckily, we weren’t cut at all, but Pa got really mad at the both of us! He made us take a bath, get ready for bed, and then spanked us! I have to tell you…it really hurt! But, I guess Johnny and I had it coming. We were pretty bad for an entire week! After Pa spanked us, Johnny and I got together in my bed to complain about Pa’s mishandling of us both and then we became best of friends, as well as brothers.
Oh, and guess what? It turns out I was right! Johnny really was Johnny Madrid, The Pee-Wee Pistolero! I tried to tell Pa that but he didn’t believe me. But, Johnny’s out of the gun fighting business now. Pa took his pistol from him and locked it up and Johnny won’t get it back for a long, long time!
But how do you like that? Johnny was ten and had a pistol! Here I am, fourteen-years-old and Pa won’t let me have a pistol for at least another year, maybe two! Oh, the injustice of it all!
Anyway, turns out, most of the stuff they told about Johnny in the book wasn’t true after all. A lot of it is made up to sell books.
Remember I told you about little Teresa and her crush on me? Well, since Johnny showed up, she doesn’t bother me as much. I think she still likes me, but she also likes Johnny so she doesn’t hang around me all the time any more! I must remember to thank Johnny for that. He doesn’t do as well as I do at hiding his feelings!
On October 30 th , Johnny and I told our father we were staying at a friend’s house to do a school project but instead we went into Morro Coyo with some friends and had some fun playing tricks on Mischief Night. We were going to camp out afterward with our friends, but the sheriff and our fathers caught us. One of our friend’s little sister told on us. I don’t need to go into details, but believe me when I say that Johnny and I have been shown the error of our ways and will never participate in Mischief Night again!
They don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving here in California so I told them all about how it started and I wanted us to have a big Thanksgiving dinner at Lancer. When I told my Sunday School teacher about Thanksgiving, she liked the idea of thanking God for our blessings. So, as extra credit, I wrote a play about the first Thanksgiving. I played Miles Standish and Johnny played Chief Massasoit. But Johnny, being Johnny, decided he didn’t want to cooperate! We started fighting on stage and Pa had to step in so the play would go on. It was a success, but I think the unrehearsed part of our play was probably the best part for our audience.
Then we celebrated all the birthdays. When my birthday came around, I decided that I needed to go to Carterville where I was born and my mother, Catherine, died. I went off all by myself by stagecoach to see where she was buried. The most extraordinary thing happened! The lady who ran the boarding house, Mrs. Dettman, was the sister of Mother’s midwife. She assisted her sister when I was born. She took me to see my mother’s grave site. It is very pretty with rosebushes, a marble bench, and a white picket fence. It felt good to be there, to finally see where she was buried. But, it was sad, too. I couldn’t help it, I cried when I saw it.
Pa and Johnny came and found me. I was afraid Pa was going to give me a licking for running off again, but he didn’t. We had a nice long talk about my mother and I found out he never, ever blamed me for my mother’s death.
I always thought that he might because he never came to get me. Of course, we both know that he did when I turned five, but Grandfather wouldn’t let Pa take me.
Then because I missed my birthday at Lancer, Johnny and I celebrated together on his birthday. We both got great gifts. I wasn’t sure that I would because I ran off on my birthday, but I got a cake and gifts, so I was happy.
We also went and cut down a Christmas tree. That was fun! We all decorated it and it looked so beautiful! Teresa, Johnny, and I all just sat and stared at it. Teresa because she’s just a little kid, Johnny because he had never seen a Christmas tree before, and me because we finally had a tree! Grandfather would never have one on Beacon Hill because he thought it was a pagan symbol.
Then we got more presents! Our best presents were hand-tooled leather saddles from Pa. Our initials were on one side and the Lancer ‘L’ was on the other side. Of course, I was secretly hoping for a handgun, but I didn’t get one. I know Pa thinks I’m too young still.
Anyway, I still love it here at Lancer, but I do miss seeing you! Do you see Grandfather at church? If you talk to him, tell him I said “hello.”
I still love it here at Lancer and I never want to move back to Boston! I do miss you, though. Pa says that you and Ward are welcome to visit any time. I hope that you will some day soon. I so want you to meet my little brother and my Pa and show you around Lancer!
I only have one complaint. Pa still treats me like a little kid! I’m fourteen, for goodness sake! I am practically full-grown! I think he treats Johnny and me the same most of the time, but Johnny is only eleven! Are you experiencing the same thing? If you are, you must know how frustrating it is!
Mia, our housekeeper, and cook is like a mother to both Johnny and me. She says I’m “Demasiado grande para mis pantalones “and laughs.
Pa says “I’m too big for my britches” and he doesn’t laugh. He says he has a cure for that.
Ha, I’m sure he does! You may think I’m laughing about that, but believe me, I’m not!
But, I’m trying to be on my best behavior right now. Pa’s birthday is two days from now and then lancer throws a big New Year’s Eve party every year. I’m hoping that I will be allowed some champagne and to stay up until Midnight to see the year 1861 come in! So I don’t want to give Pa an excuse to tell me that I can’t!
Well, I must close for now and again I apologize for not writing sooner. I hope to do better the next time.
I hope you had a very merry Christmas and that you have a wonderful New Year.
Your best friend,
Scott G. Lancer
I do not understand my older boy, Scott. It’s like a completely different boy came back with me to Lancer after running off to Carterville.
We had a nice long talk about his mother, his birth, and the reasons why I was not able to bring him home to be raised on Lancer as he was always meant to be. I felt we made huge strides in our relationship and the boys’ birthdays and Christmas were truly wonderful. I couldn’t have been happier to finally have both sons under my roof, at long last.
But, as soon as Christmas ended, Scott seemed determined to lock horns with me at every turn. Now that he’s fourteen, he feels that he is a full-grown adult and expects to be treated as one. I have no idea what it is about the age of fourteen that has made him feel he is, all of a sudden, an adult. It is certainly something I never led him to believe!
I’m trying my best to be patient with him. Believe it or not, I remember being his age and it’s a hard age. At fourteen, you are no longer a child but you are certainly not an adult as Scott seems to feel!
He actually told me that a Jewish boy is considered a man at the age of thirteen after going through his Bar Mitzvah. I told him the last time I checked, we weren’t Jewish.
Scott didn’t find that at all humorous.
Anyway, as I say, I’m trying my best to remain patient with Scott, but he’s coming close to stepping over a line he doesn’t want to cross!
I think my brother has lost his mind. Either that, or he has a death wish! He and Pa are always butting heads lately. It’s kind of funny as it is usually Pa and me that argue. Now I know how Scott felt, trying to be the peacemaker between two stubborn Lancers! It ain’t an easy job!
Today was Pa’s birthday. We were all at the table, including Mr. O’Brien and Teresa. Mia served a wonderful dinner; all Pa’s favorites and we were laughing and having a good time. Scott and I got Pa a Meerschaum pipe for his birthday and he seemed right pleased with it.
It was almost time to serve the birthday cake, a three-layer-coconut cake which was Pa’s favorite. I’m not even sure how it began, but I think I said something Scott didn’t like. I don’t even remember what it was I said, but I apologized. Scott wasn’t about to let it go, though. Sometimes, he can be just like a dog with a bone. If he gets his mind on something, there is no way you can talk him out of it!
Pa finally stepped in and told Scott to ‘drop it.’ Well, that made my brother mad and he complained about me ‘getting away with murder’ and how he’s either ‘too old or too young’ to do something he wants to do. He was right peeved about it and he made Pa peeved, too!
Pa told him if he couldn’t be pleasant company, he could just march himself upstairs and go to bed.
Well, that really lit a fire under my brother! He pitched a fit about being sent to bed so early and in front of everyone. He stood up and said, “Fine, I don’t like coconut cake anyway!”
Then he made a big mistake: he threw his napkin down on his plate and rolled his eyes at Pa.
W hooey, if there’s one thing that lights a fire under Pa, it’s rollin’ your eyes at him!
I think Scott knew he’d pushed just a little too hard because he turned pale and his eyes got real big. He took one look at Pa’s face, turned and rushed for the stairs. Scott’s tall for his age and he’s got some pretty long legs on him. Not as long as Pa’s, though…unfortunately for him.
Pa jumped up out of his seat and chased Scott down, catching him right at the foot of the stairs. He grabbed him by the upper arm and delivered a gawd-awmighty hard swat to the seat of Scott’s pants. My brother was lifted right up off the floor! And when he landed, he flew up those stairs! I don’t think he planned stickin’ around to see if Pa was handin’ out any more swats. Least Boston had the good sense God gave him not to stomp up to his room and slam the door!
That woulda been like waving a red flag in front of a bull!
After all that, the mood at the table was dampened a might bit. The cake was real good but it kinda went down like sawdust. I wanted to go up and say ‘good-night’ to Scott afterward, but Pa told me that Scott was ‘in disgrace’ and I wasn’t to pop my head inside his door that night. It was kinda borin’ not havin’ Scott to talk to and beat at checkers and chess, so I went up to bed early myself.
‘Sides Pa was still as grouchy as a bear with a thorn in his paw, so I figgered it was safer being out of his sight, too.
December 28, 1860
It is very early and I’ve been sent to bed and I am ‘in disgrace.’ I’m not at all sleepy so I thought I would make my first entry in the journal Pa gave me for Christmas.
Speaking of Pa, I’m mad at him! He is so unreasonable lately! He refuses to treat me like the grown-up I now am.
I suppose I did have a bit of an attitude at dinner tonight and I do feel bad about kind of spoiling Pa’s birthday dinner. Still, he didn’t have to chase me down and smack me on my backside in front of Johnny and the O’Briens! I am so mortified by being treated like a baby!
Well, I better turn out the lamp because I’m supposed to be in bed asleep and if Pa catches me doing anything else, he may hand me another swat.
Scott G. Lancer
That boy is going to drive me to distraction. And, I am not talking about Johnny, for once!
My elder son, Scott, seems determined to fight me at every turn! I don’t know what has gotten into him lately. He seems to have decided that at the ‘advanced’ age of fourteen, he knows all there is to know and he doesn’t need his father’s guidance.
Well, if he keeps it up, he will get my guidance and it will be right on the seat of his britches which, by the way, he is getting a little bit too big for. I’m trying to remain patient, but he is sorely testing that patience.
For example, he and Johnny argued at the dinner table last night. Johnny apologized for his part in it, but Scott was determined to keep the argument going. His attitude and his backtalk were bad enough when I ordered him to leave the table and go to bed, but when he rolled his eyes at me, I saw red!
He knew he had pushed just a little too far and he tried to outpace me. My son soon found out that the Old Man can move pretty fast when he has to…I caught up with him at the foot of the stairs and I gave him a good whack on his skinny little backside. He jumped into the air and flew up the stairs. I was tempted to give chase, but I went back to the table to finish my birthday dinner. Mia had baked me a delicious coconut cake, but the mood was definitely somber after my run-in with Scott.
Then, this morning, Scott was sitting down at the breakfast table before anyone else. That in itself is unusual as I usually have to call both boys several times before they are up and moving around. They do not like to climb out of bed, especially in these colder winter mornings. I am always the first one up, so I was very surprised to see Scott at the table.
There was something suspicious about his behavior, though. He refused to look at me, merely mumbled ‘good morning’ and stared at his plate. I assumed that he was peeved because I corrected him last night, but then I realized something else was going on.
Scott sits to my left and he was resting his head on his right hand. I reminded him that elbows are not allowed on the table and when he was slow to comply, I pulled his arm down.
I gasped when I got a glimpse of his face…he had several nicks and cuts on his chin and jaw.
“Scott Garrett Lancer…did you try shaving this morning? No, don’t bother to answer…I know you did! You have no need to shave as you do not have a beard; you have peach fuzz! Johnny will probably have to shave before you do!”
Scott was silent as I chewed his ear, but at this last statement, he narrowed his eyes and glared at me. I’m sure he did not want to be reminded that his eleven-year-old brother might make this rite of passage before he does.
I ignored the glare and went on, “Where did you get the razor?”
When he didn’t answer me, I asked in measured tones, “Young Man, I will ask you only one more time… WHERE DID YOU GET THE RAZOR? ”
Scott wouldn’t look at me as he mumbled, “I borrowed it from you…”
“You ‘borrowed’ it from me? ‘Borrowing’ would imply that you asked my permission first and I don’t remember that happening. What you did, young man, was ‘steal’ my razor and you cut up your face and you ruined my razor. If you insist on being a man, you should know you do not use another man’s razor! I swear….I am this close…this close….to dragging you out to the barn,” I said to him as I held up my thumb and forefinger about an eighth of an inch apart.
“However, you’ve already punished yourself enough by inflicting plenty of damage to your chin and jaw. You are NOT to shave again until I tell you that you can and you are going to buy me a new razor out of your allowance…Do I make myself clear?”
I could tell that Scott was not happy with my demands, but he is not a stupid child…stubborn maybe, but not stupid. He nodded his head and quietly replied, “Yes, sir.”
“Scott, look me in the eye when I’m talking to you,” I instructed.
He looked up at me then, with his slate-blue eyes. Scott’s eyes are a barometer to his moods; more gray than blue…my firstborn is in a stormy mood. More blue than gray; my firstborn is in a sunny mood. His eyes were as gray as thunderclouds this morning as he stared at me, jaw set.
“Yes, sir. I heard you; I will not shave again until you give me permission. And I will buy you a new razor. Now…may I be excused?”
If I hadn’t been so angry with him, I could have almost laughed. Scott thought he was so grown-up, but looking at me like that, with his lower lip jutting out, he looked more like the five-year-old I first set eyes on in Boston nine years ago.
“After you have eaten, you may be excused to do your chores,” I replied, regarding him over the rim of my coffee cup. “But, before you do your chores, see Mia about putting something on those cuts.”
Scott shoveled down the remainder of his breakfast in record time, mumbled ‘Excuse me,’ then drug himself out to the kitchen to have Mia doctor up his cuts. He then went out the back door to avoid dealing with me any more. He was gone from the table before Johnny came stumbling in, wiping the sleep out of his eyes.
“Mornin,’ Pa…” he greeted me. “Where’s Scott?”
When I didn’t answer right off, my younger boy looked at me curiously. The look on my face must have tipped him off to the trouble brewing between his big brother and his father because he didn’t ask again. He merely sat down to my right, accepted a plate of breakfast from Mia and quietly began to eat after thanking her.
“Yep, it’s official. Scott had a death wish. I know Pa was about ready to throttle him after the shaving mishap (Scott word.)”
But, the rest of that day and the following day, it was like the old Scott was back and Pa and me were glad for the respite (another Scott word.)
Scott was actually pleasant to be around again, but it didn’t last long.
Then the trouble began all over again when we were eating our noon meal on New Year’s Eve. Pa had an annual New Year’s Eve party at Lancer and this was the first year Scott and me would be at it. Tell ya the truth, I didn’t much care one way or another about it ’cause I never liked my fun organized.
Scott, though, was all for it. He wanted to taste champagne and he wanted to stay up until midnight to see in the year 1861.
And, there it was…the reason Scott had behaved himself for a day-and-a-half. He had ulterior motives (more Scott words!)
Pa set him straight pretty quick, though. I was gonna get to stay up until ten and Scott was gonna get to stay up until eleven. And no way was Scott gonna get any champagne!
Steam practically came out of my brother’s ears.
“Why do I have to go to bed at eleven? Why can’t I stay up until midnight to see in the New Year? And why can’t I have a little taste of champagne?” whined Scott.
Then steam practically poured out of Pa’s ears.
“Because I said so, that’s why!” bellowed Pa. “You have been so owly lately that I don’t think you’re getting enough sleep. There’s no need for you to stay up until midnight; there will just be adults there. And, you are too young to drink champagne…”
“But, I’m fourteen!” complained Scott, for the umpteenth time.
That’s when Pa nearly lost it.
“ SCOTT GARRETT LANCER ! If I hear the words ‘but I’m fourteen’ come out of your mouth one more time, I am going to give you fourteen good swats to your backside!”
Scott turned beet red and his eyebrows disappeared under his bangs. He was truly peeved at that, and when he heard me choke down a laugh and saw the smirk on my face, he nearly came undone.
I had to agree with Pa, though. I was so tired of hearing, ‘but I’m fourteen,’ I would have helped Pa hand out some of those fourteen swats!
Scott’s face darkened like a thunder cloud, but he bit his lip and wisely said no more. I knew the look that came over my elder brother’s face, however. He had on his ‘stubborn’ face and it was clear to me that Scott wasn’t through with wanting his own way about this.
Well, I saved Scott’s butt once in Carterville, but if he was foolhardy (another Scott word) enough to go up against Pa after all this….well, it was his behind that was on the line and his butt to save!
The annual New Year’s party held at Lancer was well-attended. I was very proud to have both of my sons with me this year; I confess I liked showing them off.
They were both polite and courteous and I was proud and a touch relieved.
Johnny made the rounds, but spent more time in the kitchen around the food. He is a bit shy around new people and there was no one at the party that was even close to his age. He was very happy to head upstairs at 10:00 pm; in fact, he may have retired even earlier….no doubt with a big plate of desserts!
Scott was a pleasant surprise. He mixed well with all the guests and was his formerly polite and charming self.
I almost relented and allowed Scott to stay up until midnight, even though I had previously told him he was to go to bed at 11:00. But, I figured that if I started to go back on my word, promises, or even threats, the boys would lose respect for me. And, all in all, he had been such a little brat for the most part, I was not prepared to reward him.
I was dreading 11:00 pm as he had complained so strenuously about not being allowed to stay up until midnight. I figured I would have to drag him upstairs by his heels and cause a bit of a scene. But at 11:00 pm, he went quite willingly and with a smile on his face.
That boy is a puzzle lately.
I knew I was flirting with fire, but I was determined that I was going to stay up until midnight and try some champagne. I just had to be sure that Pa didn’t catch me. I was going to see if Johnny would help me out. After all, I’ve helped him out plenty of times in the past. I think he owes me.
I was sleeping when Scott knocked once on my door and then barged on in. Kinda peeved me and made me understand why he gets so peeved when I do the same to him. Not that it’s going to stop me, though.
My brother told me all about the party and meeting a girl named Lara Sue Garvin. She and her widower father just brought a spread close to us.
Scott said she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. Ha, he says that every time he ‘falls’ for a girl! She’s originally from the South and has the most ‘delightful accent’….says Brother.
Oh, yeah….and she’s eighteen years old. And, Scott told her he was eighteen, too!
I told Scott the girl must either be blind or just plain stupid. I know Scott is tall for his age, but he just turned fourteen (as he has informed the world) ad nauseum (another Scott word!) How could Lara Sue even begin to believe my brother is eighteen?
“Please, Johnny, you have to help me! I told Lara Sue to meet me in the barn right before midnight so we could see in the New Year together. I need you to be my sentry…warn me if Pa or any other adult comes near!” he pleaded.
I raised an eyebrow and said, “Scott, you are plain crazy! If Pa catches you, he will murder you! And, if I help you with this cockamamie scheme, he’ll kill me, too! Sorry, Brother…I was able to save your butt in Carterville, but this time you’re on your own…your butt is in your hands!”
I realized what I had said and rolled on the bed, laughing. Scott, however, was not amused. He has no sense of humor any more! He sat and frowned at me.
“Fine,” he says. “I don’t need your help! I’ll take care of this myself. But don’t think I won’t forget this, Johnny!”
I shrugged and said, “It’s your funeral, Scott” and rolled over and went back to sleep.
Dammit, I couldn’t get Johnny to help me out! I’ve saved his butt plenty of times…little ingrate!
Well, I had to get ready for my New Year’s Eve ‘date’ out in the barn with Lara Sue. I snuck into the kitchen and there was a half-bottle of champagne which I ‘borrowed.’
I really needed to convince Laura that I was eighteen, so ‘may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb’ if I got caught!
Lara Sue would never believe that I was an adult unless I took a gun out to the barn to protect a fair damsel. I was going to try and sneak Pa’s gun belt out to the barn with me. I hoped that there would be too many people around and he would be so busy playing host that Pa wouldn’t notice.
So, I walked down the back stairs, cautiously opened the front door, peeked around it and didn’t see Pa. I had taken off my boots so that I would be quiet and, glancing over my shoulder quickly, I grabbed Pa’s gun and gun belt off the hook and ran out the door with it.
My heart was beating so fast, I thought it would beat right out of my chest!
And, anyway, I wasn’t actually going to touch Pa’s gun…I was just going to hang it on a nail inside the barn so Lara Sue would notice it and see that I would protect her, if need be.
We greeted the New Year at the stroke of midnight with shouting, laughter, the singing of Auld Lang Syne , and stolen kisses.
Paul was gracious enough to be my dark-haired first-footer as it was Hogmanay in my homeland of Scotland. Right after the stroke of midnight, he brought in a silver coin for financial good luck, bread for food, salt for flavor, coal for warmth, and whisky for good cheer.
Shortly after ringing in the New Year, my guests began to depart in ones and twos, back to their homes.
My new neighbor, Dan Garvin, looked all over for his young daughter, Lara Sue.
She was nowhere to be found.
We looked all through the hacienda and even checked the privy. No Lara Sue.
It was then that someone noticed a soft glow coming from the barn and I thought I’d better investigate.
Since everyone was either asleep or celebrating the New Year, I could not figure out who would have any business in the barn.
Lara Sue and I drank champagne out of the bottle and we heard loud cheering and singing coming from the house and knew it was midnight. We kissed as that is what you are supposed to do at the dawn of the New Year.
Of course, I was really enjoying myself, being with an older woman. Truth be told, I didn’t have a lot (well, any) experience with older women and when she kissed me first, I found myself staring into her closed eyes.
I guessed I was supposed to be closing my eyes, too, instead of staring at her, so that’s what I did. I put my arms around her and gave her a hug and she did the same. I was in heaven!
But that’s when all hell broke loose!
The barn door flew open with a bang and there was my father, Mr. Garvin, Paul, and Cipriano. Lara Sue and I looked at them all, a stunned expression on our faces.
I was going to die…I could tell by the look on Pa’s face.
It was then that Mr. Garvin threw a fit!
“Lara Sue Garvin! What is the meaning of this? All alone in the barn with a young man…no chaperone! Do you know what this would do to your reputation if it got out?!”
He then turned to my father and said, “Isn’t that your oldest boy, Murdoch? I should report him to the authorities! I should make him marry my daughter! At the very least, I should horsewhip him!”
Even though Pa was going to murder me, he did take my side, probably because he didn’t want anyone else murdering me first!
“Dan, your daughter is eighteen and an adult in the eyes of the law. Scott is fourteen. He just turned fourteen twelve days ago. Perhaps, I should be the one notifying the authorities?”
Mr. Garvin’s mouth dropped open. So did Lara Sue’s.
Then she screeched, “Fourteen? You’re only fourteen?” and she hauled off and slapped me right across the face! I wasn’t expecting it and I nearly fell off the hay bale.
Mr. Garvin grabbed his daughter, pulled her to her feet, shoved her toward the door and said, “Lara Sue Garvin…I should send you to the convent! How could you? Just wait until I get you home! I have a few choice things to say to you, Girl…now git!” he yelled, giving her a swat and a push towards the open barn door.
He stormed past Paul and Cip who were also standing there with their mouths wide open.
“Paul,” said my father, but looking at me, “As my Segundo, would you please say my ‘good-byes’ to my guests in my stead? Please tell them I’ve been detained in the barn…Oh, and would you and Cipriano please close the barn door behind you?”
Paul nodded and stepped out the door with Cip trailing behind. It might have been my imagination, but in the low glow of the lamplight, I think they both shot me sympathetic looks.
Then I was alone in the barn with Pa, my hand up to my face where Lara Sue had slapped me, and gaped up at him.
He stared me down and said, “I had hoped that both my boys would behave as gentlemen when they were with a lady. I had hoped there would never be an occasion when a young lady felt justified in slapping their faces. Yet, you managed to achieve this dubious honor at the tender age of fourteen!”
Then, before I could even grasp what was happening, Pa had switched places with me and was now sitting on the hay bale and I was on my feet, but only for a very short time.
Pa pitched me face down over his lap and I found myself staring down at his boots. He hooked his long right leg over both of mine and pinned me down. He had my arms pinioned at my sides.
I was trapped and felt like one of those poor impaled butterflies we had studied in my Science class back in Boston.
I was going to have to take whatever Pa dished out and I didn’t think it was going to be pleasant.
Here I was, practically an adult, and Pa was going to spank me over his lap like a little kid!
Oh, the injustice!
And he did just that.
He brought his big work-hardened hand down hard on my backside and with each swat given, I got a lecture to go along with it!
“Sneaking around behind my back!” Whack! Whack! Whack!
“Ungentlemanly behavior!” Whack! Whack!
“TOUCHING MY GUN!” WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
Pa says I’m stubborn, probably the most stubborn of all us Lancers when I set my mind to it.
And, if you knew Pa and my little brother, you’d know that was saying something!
However, I had no idea how long my list of transgressions were and my backside was about to burst into flames!
I may be stubborn, but I’m not stupid!
I had been determined not to apologize, beg, or cry but I wasn’t sure if Pa was ever going stop paddling me! I knew I needed to at least apologize, maybe do all three to get him to stop!
“Pa…I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!” Whack!
“Pa, I’ll change my attitude, I promise!” Whack!
He wasn’t stopping! Damn! It was time to bring out the big guns!
“POR FAVOR, PAPI…LO SIENTO!” I whimpered.
Not sure whether my pleas for mercy were going to work, I steeled myself for another swat which, thankfully, never came!
Oh, thank God!
Pa stood me up and said, “And that, my lad, is the remedy for a young man who has gotten too big for his britches!”
I couldn’t look him in the eye and I wanted to turn and run into the house. However, the way I felt, there was no way I was running anywhere! It would be such a slow walk, it might be Valentine’s Day before I got to my room!
I was mortified and embarrassed. And, honestly, I knew I’d deserved what I’d gotten.
I hung my head as I couldn’t look my father in the eye. So, he reached over and gently raised my chin up with his hand.
I expected to see a look of disappointment or a glare of anger, but what I saw was a look of sympathy and understanding and his blue eyes were soft, not hard.
My lower lip started to tremble and I felt the chip on my shoulder start to crumble.
I began to cry and rested my head on Pa’s shoulder, my face turned into his neck.
So much for being a grownup!
“I’m sorry,” I said again.
Pa rubbed my back and gave me the handkerchief from his pocket. As I buried my face in it, I was reminded of Pa – the smell of his cologne, his pipe tobacco, and the smell of leather. It was a comforting scent. He waited until I pulled myself together to speak to me.
In the meantime, though, I had a horrifying thought.
‘Was I too much trouble? Would he send me back?’
I knew he couldn’t do that with Johnny, but there was nowhere for Johnny to go. Pa could send me back to Boston, back to Grandfather, if he felt I was a burden to him. I cried a little harder at that so Pa had to wait a little longer for my sobs to finally subside.
“Scott,” said Pa, quietly. “Son, believe it or not, I know how difficult it is to be your age. You are no longer a little child, but you are not an adult yet, either. You will make mistakes, and as your father, it is my responsibility to guide you. I know you and Johnny probably won’t believe it, but I did not enjoy what I just had to do.”
Pa sighed and went on.
“Johnny looks up to you and I do depend on you to set a good example for him as his older brother. I know that may seem unfair but you have had more experience and you have been raised right and led a privileged life. I know you will make mistakes on your way to manhood, but I’d like you to try and keep what I just told you in the back of your mind.”
I sniffed and nodded my head as he continued to speak softly to me.
“Scott, I understand that you are in a hurry to grow up. However, I would like you to enjoy what’s left of your childhood. Believe me, childhood is over much too soon…please don’t rush growing up. It may be selfish of your Old Man, but I wasn’t around for much of Johnny’s childhood and none of yours. Please don’t be in a hurry, I’d like to enjoy what’s left of both your childhoods.”
I nodded again as I finally looked into my father’s face.
“You won’t…you won’t send me back?” I asked hopefully.
Pa’s mouth dropped open and he drew in a surprised breath.
“Send you back? Send you back where? To Boston? Of course not! Do you really think I would consider that?” he asked me in amazement.
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean I hoped that you wouldn’t. But you aren’t used to being a father and I’ll admit that Johnny and I can be a handful. I know you can’t send Johnny back, but you could send me back to….”
Pa cut me off as he grabbed me by the shoulders, gave me a little shake, gave me a fierce hug, then pushed me away to look deep into my eyes.
“Do you honestly think that I would ever even consider sending you back to your Grandfather? Of course, I wouldn’t! I promise you here and now that there is nothing you could do that would ever make me stop loving you or send you away. You’re my son; you will make mistakes, and some you will be punished for. But, once you have been punished, you will be free to start over with a clean slate. Both you and Johnny.”
I sighed. What Pa had just said had lifted a weight from my shoulders. Yes, my backside felt like all the cattle on Lancer had been driven over it, but I would be all right. Pa loved me and he loved my brother, so all was right with my world at that moment.
Pa smiled, patted me on the shoulder and said, “It’s late; you should be in bed. You have my permission to sleep in and not come down to breakfast if you so choose. I will have a breakfast tray sent up to you. Just remember to be at the table at two o’clock as we are having New Year’s Day dinner with the O’Briens.”
I gave my father a teary smile, a brief hug, then made my way…. slowly …into the house, up the stairs to my room and falling asleep on my stomach.
Scott wasn’t at breakfast. I could pretty much imagine what happened last night, but Pa wasn’t talking. All he would say was that Scott was excused from coming to breakfast and he was allowing Scott to sleep in.
He asked if I would mind taking a tray up to Scott later. Of course, I agreed, as I wanted to hear the story straight from the horse’s mouth.
It was 9:30 and no Scott and I figgered it was plenty late enough for him to haul his skinny backside out of bed. Speaking of his backside, I also wanted to know how it was faring this morning.
Mia got his breakfast tray together and I bounded up the steps, kicked the door once to let Scott know I was at the door, and barged into his room before he could even call out.
“Mornin,’ brother,” I said. “What did you do to make Pa let you sleep in and have breakfast upstairs? Did you and Miss Lara Sue get caught last night? Did Pa whale on ya?”
Scott frowned at me, rolled his eyes, and said sarcastically, “Well, what do you think, Brother? I’m laying on my stomach and Pa knew I wouldn’t be able to sit down at the table. You’re a regular Pinkerton Agent, aren’t you?”
I got riled at that.
“Listen…if you’re gonna be like that, I’ll just turn right around and take this tray right back downstairs! And, quit rollin’ them eyes at me…you know how Pa feels about eye-rollin!’ “
“Pa only disapproves of eye-rolling when I do it to him. He doesn’t care if I roll my eyes at you!” Scott came back.
“Oh, really? Well, how ’bout if I go downstairs right now and ask him?” I barked back.
Scott sighed and relented. “No, no…I’m sorry, Johnny. I’m mad at myself; I didn’t mean to take it out on you. Thanks for bringing up my tray.”
I sat down in the chair next to him, my mad all gone now. Placing the tray on his bedside table, I asked, “Was it bad?”
“How much time do you have?” questioned Scott, one eyebrow raised. He looked just like Pa when he did that!
“I got ’till two when we both have to be downstairs for New Year’s dinner. Think you’ll be able to sit by then?”
Scott groaned, “Doubt it! Well, I made a whole series of tactical errors last night. I snuck out of the hacienda after curfew, took a half-full bottle of champagne, took Pa’s gun and gun belt…”
I drew in a deep breath; Scott really had made a tactical error with that last one. He peered sharply at me and went on.
“Then I met Lara Sue in the barn, we drank the champagne, then kissed at midnight. Pa and Mr. Garvin caught us and Mr. Garvin was all set on a shotgun wedding until Pa told him I was only fourteen. That set Lara Sue off and she slapped my face. And that slap was only a prelude to the bodily harm that Pa was later to inflict upon my person after the Garvins’, Paul, and Cip left the barn.”
“Boy howdy, Scott,” I whistled. “When you go astray, you do it up right, don’t ya? Are ya mad at Pa?”
“No, I’m not. If I’m being honest, I have been pretty insufferable the past week or so, haven’t I? Truth be told, I’m surprised Pa didn’t tan me sooner.”
I looked at my brother in surprise.
“Don’t turn fourteen, Brother,” he said. “It addles your brains!”
I laughed at that. “Well, unless Pa kills me before then, I don’t know how I can avoid it! So, did you get a lecture from Pa, too?”
Scott winced. “Oh yes…the lecture went along with every swat he laid upon my backside. I finally had to pull out your special weapon to get him to stop!”
“What special weapon?” I asked.
“Lo siento, Papi!” he said. “It seems to work because he stopped. I think it was the element of surprise that did it and I thank both you and Luis for teaching it to me!”
I laughed again. Scott seemed to be back to normal again, and not overly upset that Pa spanked him as he could laugh with me that morning.”
Scott then got all serious and told me something about his life with his grandfather. I straightened up and listened ’cause Scott don’t talk much ’bout that.
“Remember I told you that Grandfather never laid a hand on me when I was growing up and misbehaved?” he asked.
I nodded and said, “I was surprised by that and thought you was lucky to escape any lickings!”
Scott nodded. “Don’t be. I won’t pretend to like it when Pa tans me, but what Grandfather did was far worse. He would get a disappointed look on his face and sometimes he refused to speak to me for a while. That scared me; Grandfather was all I had because I thought Pa didn’t want me and my mother was dead. If Grandfather didn’t want me and didn’t love me any more, what would happen to me? At least when Pa tans me, I know he does it because he loves me and worries about me and wants to raise me right. I don’t ever have to worry that Pa doesn’t love me. Our slate is wiped clean and we can begin all over again.”
I looked at my brother in disbelief. “It took you this long to figger that out about Pa? Boston, I thought you was supposed to be the ‘smart one!’ “
Scott gave me a long look and then gave a howl of laughter as he rolled over on his back. He let out a howl of a different kind when his backside met the mattress, then rolled back over real quick-like!
I snickered. “Stand up and eat your breakfast, Brother. I’ll see you downstairs at two!”
Johnny never ceases to amaze me. He’s a pretty smart cookie considering that he didn’t get a lot of book learning. He figured our Pa out before I did.
I ate my breakfast standing up, read a book while lying on my stomach, then began to leisurely get ready for our New Year’s meal. I washed up, dressed in my Sunday clothes as I gingerly pulled my pants on, and, carefully and slowly, walked down the stairs to join my father, brother, and the O’Briens’.
Pa sat at the head of table with Johnny to his right and Teresa to Johnny’s right. Mr. O’Brien sat at the foot of the table, and I sat to the left of Pa.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off, but I pulled out my chair, prepared to ease myself down very carefully and try to keep the whimpering to a minimum. But, to my surprise, as I pulled out my chair I glanced down to see a feather pillow on my seat.
I pivoted my head around, but no one at the table was paying any notice. I glanced at Pa and he smiled at me and winked. I blushed, dropped my head, then looked up to give him a grateful half-smile. I was going to be able to enjoy the delicious meal that Mia had made for us and the pleasant company without squirming and grimacing the whole way through.
Things seemed to be all right between Scott and myself. I watched him carefully as he pulled out his chair. He gave a slight start, looked around the table, then caught my eye. I winked at him and gave him a smile which he shyly returned. He sunk down slower than usual, and I swear I heard him let out a soft sigh.
He was further delighted that I had poured him a half-glass of wine. I had poured Johnny a fourth of a glass of wine and even Teresa had a thimbleful of the sweet wine so that we could all toast each other.
I stood up, held out my glass to them all.
“A toast to the New Year!’ I said. “Here’s to Paul, my Segundo and amigo. Lancer would never be what it is now without his help. I thank you, my friend!” Paul smiled, dipped his head, and raised his glass to me.
“Here’s to Miss Teresa. After dealing with rough-and-tumble boys all day, it is very nice to have a pretty and sweet little girl to cuddle. Thank you, darling!” Teresa dimpled prettily, clapped her hands, and held her tiny thimbleful of wine up to me.
“Mia,” I called. “Would you please step in here for a second?” Maria bustled in, wiping her hands on her apron, and looking somewhat confused.
“Porque, Patron? Is something wrong?” she asked.
“No, Mia,” I replied. “Nothing is wrong. I wanted to say thank you for providing such wonderful food for the Lancer table and for doing your best to fatten up both of my skinny boys. You’ve been a good friend and a wonderful mother figure to both my sons. Thank you for putting up with me and my two young hooligans!”
All of us, Paul, Teresa, myself, and my two boys held up our glasses and cheered for Mia. She smiled, put her hands up to her cheeks, blushed, thanked us all, and rushed off to the kitchen but not before we all noticed grateful tears in her eyes.
I then held up my glass towards my two boys.
“I don’t know how the old year can be topped as last year at this time, neither of my boys sat at my table and now here both of them are! I am a very grateful man and proud father. I love them both more than every blade of grass on Lancer. There is nothing they could ever do that would make me stop loving them or wanting them here with me. My life is much busier, much noisier, and much more hectic than it ever was before…and I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for the life I had before my boys were with me. Or the peace and quiet, either!”
I beamed and said, “To Scott and Johnny Lancer, my sons and my pride!”
Paul and Teresa clapped, Mia cheered from the kitchen, Scott blushed, and Johnny beamed. We all held up our wine glasses and clinked them together.
“God bless us everyone!” shouted Johnny.
“Johnny,” Scott corrected. “That’s for Christmas!”
“Nuh-uh, it’s for any time you want it!” retorted Johnny, sticking out his tongue at his big brother.
And Scott, my ‘oh so mature’ fourteen-year-old son stuck his tongue out, right back at his little brother.
Paul chuckled, and little Teresa giggled behind her hands.
“Boys….” I admonished, but I couldn’t keep the big smile from creeping across my face.
~ end ~
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