Summary: For those who were never satisfied with the brief glimpse of a picture on the desk. What should have happened to honor the passing of Hoss (aka Dan Blocker).
Word Count: 1,550
The sun rose on another day where Hop Sing cleaned; ensuring everything was back in its proper place. Not a speck of dust resided on the bureau nor the desk set opposite the bed with its bright comforter and multiple pillows. A small wooden stand held an empty ceramic water pitcher and basin underneath a streak-free mirror. The heavy curtains over the windows were pulled aside, revealing sheer drapes diffusing the bright sunlight streaming into the room.
Closing the door afterwards, the room waited for its occupant.
“Good morning, Jamie,” Ben Cartwright greeted while stepping across the middle landing.
“You’re up early if you’re waiting for Hop Sing’s breakfast already.” Continuing across the floor of the great room, he took his seat at the head of the table. “Did you finish all your morning chores?”
“No sir,” the boy answered setting the partially emptied glass of milk back to the table top.
Looking up from filling the red and white China cup with coffee, Ben stated, “You know the rules, we take care of the animals first. Did you forget?”
“No sir! I was up as usual, and I went to the barn….it’s just that everything was already done. Stalls cleaned, horses fed, and water buckets filled. They were even turned turn out in the corral.”
Silently, Hop Sing set a bowl of scrambled eggs and a plate of sausage patties on the table before retreating back to his domain.
“Joe?” Disconsolately, the older man’s shoulders slightly slumped.
“I guess so.” A shrug of the shoulders accompanied the red-headed youth’s answer.
“Eat your breakfast, son.”
Having been up well before dawn, the workers saw the sun begin its descent hours before their day ended. Hard work included riding the range in search of cattle, roping recalcitrant beasts, and avoiding a worried cow as they towed its offspring to the branding fires; while others man-handled the calves to the ground. The men spent long hours seeing the pine tree brand seared into the animals’ hides.
A dirty and tired Candy Canaday watched the man on the black and white pinto slowly ride across the valley floor and approach. “That’s the last of them, boss.”
“I’ll let Pa know. He’ll be happy to know it’s finally done.”
“You going with the men to town tonight?”
“No. I need to get home. Lots of work still to do.”
“Buy a round for the men, on the Ponderosa.” Pulling out a wad of cash, he handed the money to their foreman. “See ya later, Candy.”
With that, Candy turned towards the fire pits. “Extinguish the fire and load everything up! The first round is on the boss!”
Worn-out men came to life; a rousing cheer chorused after hearing the news that they could cut free and have a good time. A night on the town was just what many of them wanted and needed after a week spent out on the range.
Wearily he lifted the heavy saddle from his horse’s back and set it aside before turning his attention to grooming his mount. Even in the pale light provided by the lantern, the black and white coat gleamed by the time he finished.
Cochise nudged Joe, looking for a lump of sugar. “You earned it today, fella.”
With the horses in the barn taken care of, giving one last look around, Joe headed for the doorway.
“Joe? Is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me, Pa.” Removing his hat, he hung it on the wall rack next to his father’s and brother’s hats.
Looking up from where he sat at the dining room table, Ben relinquished the cup of hot coffee encircled by his hands, rose and walked to where Joe stood.
“The men finished the branding.” Removing his gun belt, Joe wrapped it around itself before setting it on the side board. Next came his gloves.
“That’s good news.” Casting a parental eye over his son, “You look tired.”
“You’re right, I am tired.” Joe walked towards the staircase.
“Hop Sing kept a plate warm with your supper.”
“I’m not hungry, just want to wash up and climb into bed.”
“Did you stop by to see Hoss today?”
Shaking his head, Joe raced up the stairs.
With the sunrise, Ben stepped from the house only to hear the hoof beats fading away. He wanted to talk, but another morning had slipped from his grasp as Joe threw himself into the Ponderosa.
Long blades of pasture grass mirrored ocean waves as the breeze gently blew across the land.
Riding crouched low in the saddle, legs rhythmically moved to encourage the gelding on from a quiet lope into a full out gallop. Together they circled the field before cutting across and circling around in the opposite direction. Tufts of grass and clods of dirt, kicked up by the big black with a white blaze, flew through the air before sinking to the ground in testament to their passing.
The road loomed before them; one hand patted the horse’s neck while the reins held in his other hand gave the horse his head. Years of travel had killed off most of the grass leaving a trail of hard packed earth with loose dirt settled on top. Their ride left a trail of dust in their wake as neither gave up the need for speed and the desire to lose the pain.
Heaving flanks and a burning chest forced the pair to slow up, ultimately yielding to a walk.
Slipping from the saddle, he placed a stirrup over the seat. With knees threatening to buckle, he grabbed mane and saddle horn, looked up and screamed, “DAMN YOU! WHY?! HE WAS MY BROTHER!” Tears he had tried so hard to prevent coursed freely down his face.
“Please, why can’t this be a dream?” Lowering his head and shaking it from side to side as it settled on his forearm. “Please God, let me wake up and this all be a dream.” Gradually, hands released their purchase, allowing him to slip to his knees. The side of a fisted hand slammed the ground in anger and in grief. Rising up to sit on his heels after being nudged by the large head hanging next to his shoulder, he cried, “I’m sorry Chubbs. I miss him too.” He reached under the jowl to hug the horse’s head.
Slowly he looked up and rose to his feet. Removing his hat, he walked forward.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been here for you big brother. Pa asked if I’d been by to see you last night.”
Once more on his knees he reached forward and traced the name chiseled into the granite stone, Eric ‘Hoss’ Cartwright.
“I don’t know how to be the oldest son. You and Adam… I’m trying to be tough.” Absent-mindedly he rubbed his bicep, as if having been mockingly punched.
“Hop Sing’s been keeping your room clean. He finally moved your hat from the side board; it’s hanging on your bedpost. Your covers are turned down, just like always. Guess that’s his way of coping.”
Wiping at the tears, “And I’ve got mine. I been riding Chubbs when I can. He’s right over there. Can you see him? He misses you.” He glanced at the horse standing in the shade, idly swatting flies with its tail, munching on the tall grass nearby..
“There’s been times when I thought I heard you laugh or maybe late at night, I think I hear you snoring.” Collapsing to sit with his back to the gravestone, “This isn’t where I feel you.” Twirling his hat around in his hands, forearms resting on bent knees, “You’re out there, among the trees and the cattle. You were more a part of this land than I ever was. Even though I was born here, you’re the Ponderosa. You had a way of knowing what to do and when. Me…” Hands stilled, head hung, “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t have either of my big brothers anymore.” Raising his head as an errant sunbeam caught his attention, “I know. Adam’s out there somewhere, but you know it’s been ages since we heard anything… maybe someday.”
Their conversation continued while the sun traversed the sky, warming the earth and air while birds darted among the trees. Squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits scurried among the fallen pine needles in search of food.
“Pa’s going to be worried if I don’t come home soon.” Climbing to his feet, “I’ll take it slow with Chubbs heading home. Just wish I could turn this pain into a cloud of dust and leave it all behind.” His hat placed in position, he turned one last time. “This is all so different from when Adam left.” A steady stream of tears persisted, “The Ponderosa isn’t the same without you.”
Setting a rock on the tombstone, “I miss you, big brother.” Turning, he walked towards Chubbs and to home.
Remembering Hoss Series:
Author’s Note: This story was inspired after listening to “I Drive Your Truck” – sung by Lee Brice, written by Connie Harrington, Jessi Alexander, and Jimmy Yeary. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCSMCgqlc-0