While the Lancers would not have recognized a holiday called Father’s Day, Murdoch might have experienced it in his own way….
A soft evening breeze blew over Murdoch Lancer, bringing welcome relief after another hot summer day. It was still June, but the summer heat had already arrived in the San Joaquin Valley. He stopped reading momentarily, closing his eyes and letting the cooler air run over him.
“Gwampa! You didn’t finish,” the little boy in his lap broke into his momentary respite. “Gwampa? Are you sweepin’?”
Murdoch opened his eyes and smiled into the big blue eyes of his grandson. The child’s golden hair hung in his eyes and the big man swept his bangs to the side. “You need a haircut, young man,” he chuckled.
“Don’t wanna haircut,” the boy said. “I wanna hear the west of the stowy.”
“Yes, me too,” Murdoch said as he adjusted the boy to a more comfortable position and picked up the book. “How do you think Tom is going to get out of trouble now—“
“I imagine he’ll come up with something. Tom is very resourceful,” Scott Lancer said as he stepped through the French doors from the great room into the courtyard.
“Papa! I been keepin’ Gwampa busy!” the little boy said. “So he don’t get undafoot!”
The two men exchanged a look of amusement and Scott squatted down next to the chair, bringing him eye level with his son. “You have? Well, thank you for doing such a good job,” he said as he ruffled the boy’s hair, a slightly lighter version of his own.
“How are things going?” Murdoch asked quietly. “It’s been a while….”
“Everything’s fine. I think Johnny’ll be out any minute.”
As if on cue, Johnny Lancer appeared behind him, holding a baby bundled in a soft blanket. “Pa,” he said with a huge grin on his face, “I’d like you to meet your newest grandson.” As he spoke, he leaned down and placed the squirming bundle into his father’s arms.
“The baby’s here aweady?” the blonde boy asked. He looked around to the front of the hacienda and toward the marble arch. “How did he get here?”
Scott Lancer smiled and took his son into his arms to make way for the newest little Lancer. “Oh, babies have ways of getting where they’re supposed to be. You’ll learn all about that, when you get older.”
“And in the meantime,” Murdoch Lancer added, “you’re the big cousin now. This little guy is going to need someone to show him around, and keep him out of trouble. That’ll be your job.”
Scott and Johnny exchanged a look of shared experience. “Givin’ out chores already?” Johnny said.
“It’s never too early,” his father said. “There’s more than enough work to go around—“
“On a working ranch,” his sons chimed in to complete the sentence.
“The work nevew stops on a workin’ ranch,” the little boy in Scott’s arms said, echoing words he’d clearly heard many times.
“Hmph,” the older man said, trying to contain a smile. “I guess I should be glad that not everything I say falls on deaf ears….. Now what do we have here?” He had taken the baby carefully into his big arms and now he gently pulled the blanket aside and looked into the face of his new grandchild. The baby promptly cooperated by opening his eyes and looking directly at the man. “A full head of hair, just like you had when you were born, Johnny.”
The older boy leaned over to take a look and the baby refocused his attention in his direction. He stared for a moment, then gave the older child a big toothless grin and reached out with one hand.
“Hey! He got my finger!” the older boy exclaimed. He tried to pull it back but the baby held on tight.
“Well, he’s got a good grip, that’s for sure,” Murdoch chuckled.
“I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Scott added. He lightly smacked his brother’s stomach. “Congratulations, brother.”
“We got a apple twee?” the little boy asked curiously, bringing another laugh from the men. “Gwampa tole me about Johnny Appleseed. Did he come here?”
“No, I don’t think he made it to Lancer,” Scott answered. “But we have plenty of cows to make up for it.”
“De biggest herd in all of California,” the boy agreed.
“Oh, someone’s been spending a lot of time with Grandpa,” Johnny said, giving the boy a big grin.
“I’m making up for lost time with you and your brother,” Murdoch said with conviction. He looked down into the face of his new grandson. “And enjoying every minute of it.”
“When can we teach him how to ride a pony, Gwampa?” the older child asked, still leaning over the arm of the chair.
Murdoch smiled indulgently. “I think that will have to wait a while. First he has a lot to learn. It’ll be your job to help keep an eye on him, keep him out of trouble, and help him learn the ropes around here.”
“Okay,” the boy responded seriously.
“And in about six months or so, you’ll have another little charge,” Scott said. “A little brother or a sister.”
Murdoch and Johnny both looked surprised, then Johnny threw an arm around his brother’s shoulders. “You’re havin’ another one? Congratulations, big brother!”
“Yes, son,” Murdoch echoed. “Congratulations. Well… this has been an eventful Sunday. And… finally, the house will be filled with Lancer children…..” His voice cracked and he blinked back a tear. “Just as I’d always hoped.”
The blonde child beside him let out a deep, world-weary sigh. “It’s gonna be a lot of work…..”
The three men bit back smiles, not wanting him to think they were laughing at him. Then Murdoch reached out and caressed the back of his head. “Yes, boy, but luckily for you, you come from a long line of hard-working Lancer men.”
“Yeah,” the child happily agreed, pleased to be included among the “Lancer men.”
“Well, it’s time to get this little ‘un back to his Mama,” Johnny said, taking the baby carefully back into his arms and heading back into the house. “I think dinner’s almost ready and I’m starvin’. This was a lot of work….”
Scott and Murdoch shared an incredulous look. “ I hope he doesn’t share that observation with his wife,” Scott murmured.
“Or any of the other women,” his father laughed.
The little boy had crawled over the side of the chair onto his grandfather’s lap so Scott stood up. “With your permission, Pa, I’m going to break out one of your best bottles of wine for dinner,” he said. Disappearing through the French doors, he called back, “We’ve got a lot to celebrate.”
“Yes, we do,” Murdoch said quietly, almost to himself. Feeling his grandson snuggle into his chest, his massive arms instinctively wrapped around the child. He tried to remember the long, lonely years when he fought to get one of his sons home to no avail, and futilely searched for the other. But the pain of those memories had vanished at some point, replaced by love shared with those sons, pride in the men they had become, and certainty that the dream he’d had when he first arrived in this place had come true. If there were any such thing as Father’s Day, he couldn’t imagine a better one. Suffused with gratitude, he murmured, “Every day is Father’s Day for me.”
“Is that better than a birfday?” the child asked, looking up at him with wide eyes.
“Better than Cwistmas?”
“Better than the last day of the cattle dwive?”
Murdoch Lancer laughed heartily as he stood up, setting the child on his own feet. “Well… the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said, holding out his hand. As the child placed his hand in the grandfather’s, Murdoch was once again struck by a sense that all was right with the world. “Let’s go make sure supper’s on time,” he said as the two of them headed back into the house.
“At Lancer, we ALWAYS eat on time,” the child responded with the certainty only a three-year-old can muster. “It’s the law….”