Summary: One man’s trash is another’s treasure.
Word Count: 800
Hop Sing padded silently into the great room and placed a fresh pot of coffee and a plate of sandwiches on the table. He knew, of course, that they wouldn’t be eaten, but it was his custom to provide nourishment at times like this. Worrying was hard work.
He stepped back and stood sentinel next to the red chair where Mr. Cartwright slumped, head resting on fist, watching his son for any movement. Joe was unconscious on the settee in front of the fire where he could be kept warm, but not too warm, his feet and one hand already loosely bandaged–the result of frostbite.
Jamie handed Candy a wool blanket from the pile warming on the hearth and together they tucked it gently around Joe’s torso and under his head. There was still no movement; no sign of life other than his shallow breathing. Joe had been this way for far too long.
“I just don’t understand,” Jamie said. “Why did he go back? We were almost to the ranch.”
Candy shook his head. “He just said he left his scarf at the camp site and told me to get you to the house before the storm got worse so your Pa wouldn’t worry.”
When Joe finally returned home half frozen, semi-conscious, and blue, they’d stripped the wet clothes from him where he stood and settled him in front of the fire while they began the laborious task of slowly warming his extremeties.
Jamie picked up a faded green object from the floor. “This ratty old thing? This is what he forgot? Why would he risk his life for this?”
“Let me see that,” Ben said. He held the muffler in his hands, fingering the irregular stitches and his eyes filled with tears. Unable to speak, he handed it to Hop Sing and bowed his head. God rest your soul, Hoss.
Hop Sing spoke simply. “Brother make.”
“What?” Candy and Jamie said simultaneously.
“Mr. Hoss young man. Break leg very bad. Much worry he not heal. Not able to ride . . . do chores. In bed all summer, no work. Father, brothers all working. Mr. Hoss very sad; very lonely. Church lady teach him to knit. Make hair weave.”
Wiping his nose with a handkerchief, Ben chuckled in spite of himself. “Heirloom, Hop Sing; the word is heirloom. It means a valuable gift.” Composed at last, Ben reclaimed the green wool.
“Hoss was frustrated, that’s for sure, and worried he wasn’t pulling his weight. He was trying to keep busy, but after he had mended every piece of tack on the ranch and whittling had lost its allure, I was desperate to find something productive for him to do. Martha Ashton’s husband had just passed and I thought it would help them both if she could teach Hoss to knit. I asked the boys not to make fun, but Joe was 12 and teased his brother unmercifully about all the dropped stitches.
“Hoss eventually got real good at knitting and we each received beautiful mufflers that Christmas. Everyone except, Joe, of course. Hoss gave him this practice piece instead as a comeuppance.” Ben spread the yarn apart with his fingers revealing large, irregular gaps in the wool. “I had no idea Joe had kept it all these years, much less actually wore it.”
Ben rose from the chair and lifted Joe’s head gently, wrapping the scarf around his neck. He tucked the ends into his son’s free hand and gasped as Joe’s fingers began threading themselves automatically through the empty spaces. It reminded him of the way Marie used to finger her rosary beads.
In through the front door, run around the back, hop through the window, off jumps Jack.
It ain’t funny, Joseph. Stop mockin’ me.
Sure it is, Hoss. You’re spoutin’ nonsense and flappin’ your elbows like a chicken. Bluck, bluck, bluck!
It’s a rhyme Missus Ashton taught me . . . you know . . . to help me stitch so I can make ya something to remember me by.
Remember you? (Giggle). I’ll remember you all right, Hoss . . . every time the wind whistles through the holes, I’ll remember you.
Dadburn your ornery hide little brother!–
Under the fence, around the sheep, bring it through, and off it leaps.
–You made me drop a stitch!
Knit one, purl two, holes in the wool, I’ll remember you. (Giggle).
When Joe’s fingers reached the end and stopped, he whispered reverently, “I remember.”
Ben understood even if no one else did. What to the others was a holey tattered relic to Joe was simply . . . holy.