Word Count: 2210
Rain was beating upon the window as Little Joe stirred. It was a gloomy morning, to be sure, but it seemed somehow fitting as this day was the 10th anniversary of his mother’s tragic death.
Joe’s memories of the event were thankfully few. The few memories he did have of his mother were, unfortunately, like shadows themselves.
A tear slipped from Joe’s eye as he struggled to remember. ‘Mama,’ he thought. ‘I can’t believe it’s been ten years.’
At that moment, Joe heard a quiet knock at his door followed by his father’s voice. “Joseph? Are you awake?”
Quickly wiping his eyes to hide his tears, Joe answered, “Yes, Pa. I’m awake. Come on in.”
Entering, Ben went over to the bed and sat down on the edge. “How are you this morning, son?” he asked knowingly.
“I’m okay, Pa,” Joe answered, trying to convince himself and carefully avoiding eye contact.
“Are you sure, Joseph?” Ben pressed, recognizing his youngest son’s tactic.
Suddenly, tears burst from his eyes as Joe turned to look into his father’s eyes which were dark with emotion. “I can’t remember her, Pa!” he admitted.
Normally, this 14-year-old boy would not easily accept his father’s shows of deep affection, but today was different. Ben opened his arms to receive his weeping son who, on this day, welcomed the comfort.
Ben sat on the bed next to his youngest boy. Joe laid his head against his father’s strong shoulder, something which Joe had done as a young child when he was upset.
“Pa,” Joe begged. “Tell me about Mama.”
Smiling, Ben recalled Marie’s first year on the Ponderosa. “Well, son, I remember the very first place your Ma found that quickly became her favorite place was that piece of land over at the lake. She would frequently ride out to that spot, just like you do. I knew that when she wasn’t at the ranch house, I could usually find her there.”
Ben noticed Joe’s tears had subsided as he continued, “When your Ma and I wanted some time to ourselves, we would ask Adam and Hop Sing to take care of Hoss and we would ride out and camp at that spot. It was while we were camping that your mother told me that you were coming.”
“Pa?” Joe interrupted. “Do you still love Mama?”
“Yes, son,” Ben admitted as his own eyes began to glisten. “I still love her very much.”
“Do you ever forget, Pa?”
“Sometimes I think I have,” Ben began; taking his son’s chin in his hand forcing Joe to look directly into his eyes. “But it only lasts until I see you son.”
“Why’s that, Pa?”
“Because everything about your mother that was special is a part of you,” Ben responded with a smile. “Your passions, your zest for life, even your temperament. And let’s not forget your physical attributes.” Ben tousled his son’s hair as he spoke.
“Pa,” Joe whined and grinned.
“Are you about ready to get up for breakfast?” Ben asked as he stood.
“I guess so,” Joe smiled back.
“Okay, you get dressed and I’ll see you downstairs.”
“Sure, Pa,” he answered. “Oh, and Pa?”
Smiling, Ben answered, “Anytime, boy. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Pa,” he responded. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“All right, Joe,” Ben said as he stepped out of the room.
After breakfast, it was still raining quite hard, so Ben decided to let his younger boys focus on the barn and tack room. While Joe mucked out the stalls, Hoss worked on the tack room, making sure all the equipment was in good repair.
About 30 minutes into their respective tasks, Joe leaned against the wall with a pensive expression and said, “Hoss, do you remember Ma?”
Surprised by the question, Hoss looked up and asked, “What do you mean, short shanks?”
“My Ma,” he repeated. “Do you remember her?”
“Sure I do,” Hoss said thoughtfully.
“Well, like what do ya’ remember?” Joe demanded.
“I remember she was real pretty,” Hoss began. “And I remember she used to sing to ya’ when ya’ was little. She had a real pretty voice, too. I used to go to sleep hearin’ her singin’ to ya’.”
Hoss then looked at Joe, who now had tears threatened to break from his eyes. “It was real quiet after the accident,” he said, pausing. “I miss her, too, Joe.”
At this, Hoss pulled his baby brother into a tight hug as tears rolled easily from the eyes of both. As Hoss hugged, he began to hum a familiar tune that Ma frequently sang.
Later that same afternoon, Joe was walking down the hallway, passing Adam’s room. Noticing Adam sitting at his desk, Joe stopped and leaned against the doorway, standing silently.
After about a minute, Adam began to sense someone peering at him. Slowly turning, he saw Joe standing there.
“Hi, little brother,” Adam said.
“Hi,” was the only response.
Looking at his brother for another moment, Adam probed, “What’s on your mind, little buddy?”
“Just thinkin’,” Joe answered with a shrug.
“About Ma?” he asked knowingly.
“Uh huh,” Joe admitted.
“Well, boy,” Adam prodded as he stood and walked over to his bed. “Do you want to come in or are you going to just lurk in the doorway?”
Smiling, Joe entered and sat down on the bed, facing Adam, who was now leaning against the headboard. “Paint a picture, Adam.”
Adam smiled as he remembered the 6-year-old boy that sat before him in the very same spot making the very same request.
Taking a deep breath, Adam began, “It was early 1840 when Ma first set foot on the Ponderosa. I was 11 and Hoss was 5. Hoss fairly lit up when Ma came home, but not me. She was nice enough, but I couldn’t see past my own resentment. Ma tried but all she got from me was attitude. I didn’t know it at the time, but Ma, on more than one occasion, talked Pa out of taking me to the barn for a ‘necessary little talk’.”
Adam noticed a grin on his brother’s face at the mention of himself getting in trouble, and then continued, “I treated Ma badly for almost a year. Until one night as we sat at dinner, my resentment surfaced in a most hurtful way. Ma said something to me and rather than be civil, I spat out, as if it were fact, a rumor that I had heard in town as to what type of woman she was. She was obviously stunned that I would call her a whore, the words cutting like the blade of a knife. I really hurt her, and unlike the other times, I immediately regretted saying it. Pa was furious. He sent me out to the barn while he calmed down, and this time, Ma didn’t stop him. That isn’t to say she didn’t try, but Pa had enough.”
Adam took another deep breath. “I waited for what seemed an eternity. When Pa calmed down enough, he came out to have a long ‘little talk’ with me. He first asked me where I had heard such a horrible thing and if I even understood what it meant. Of course, at the time, I really didn’t. When Pa explained it to me, I knew it was a vile lie. Pa lectured a lot that night, but I heard nothing from the time he explained what I said until he called me over to him, belt in hand. By that time, I felt so guilty about what I had said and the way I treated Ma since she married Pa, I was begging Pa to forgive me.”
Adam paused again to look at Joe, who was now lying on his stomach with his head propped in his hands, before going on. “Well, as I said, Pa tanned me that night; worst I’d ever had, at least to that point, too. But that night was a turning point. When Pa had finished ‘talking’ to me, he did forgive me, but he told me I needed to ask forgiveness of Ma. It was hard, but she accepted my apology for what I said and for the way I’d treated her from the first. She also forgave me and then did something that I will never forget. Up to that point I had refused to be hugged, but that night she pulled me into a hug. That was…mmmmm…the spring of 1841. The following months, I made extra effort with Ma and discovered that she was quite a wonderful person. A few months later, Ma and Pa came home from a camping trip with an announcement: a baby would be coming in the spring.”
Pausing once again, Adam was glad to see a smile was dressing Joe’s face.
“Adam?” Joe began. “Do you miss Ma?”
“Yes, Joe. Very much,” Adam admitted.
“How come it took so long for you to like Ma?”
“I think I resented her because she was there. Never having known my own mother and losing Inger so soon after Hoss was born, I think I was afraid of letting someone else get close, so I lashed out. After my ‘talk’ with Pa, I guess it was plain that Ma wasn’t going anywhere.”
“When did you start callin’ her Ma?” Joe questioned.
“Well, I guess it was not too long after we found out you were coming. I think I started realizing that she loved me and I was actually starting to love her,” Adam admitted, careful to hide any emotion.
Hoss appeared in Adam’s doorway announcing, “Hey, you two! Pa and me are gettin’ ready to go out ta’ the lake. He wants to know if yer’ comin’ or not?”
Excitedly, Joe jumped from the bed and ran past his middle brother. Meanwhile, Adam calmly got up and walked toward Hoss, expressing his gratitude with a brotherly slap on the shoulder and a smile, which was quickly returned.
The four Cartwright men rode quietly to Marie’s final resting place. As they dismounted, almost immediately the three elder Cartwright’s busied themselves making camp, giving Joe a chance to be alone at his mother’s graveside.
“Hi, Ma,” Joe spoke. “Well, it’s been 10 years. So much has happened. I’m a man now; I’m soon to be 15. Maybe you could tell Pa and my brothers I’m a man ‘cause they don’t believe me. You’d be so proud of me, Ma. I’m gettin’ to be real good at tamin’ the horses.”
“Well, they don’t actually let me break the horses yet.” Hushing to a whisper, he added, “Don’t tell Pa, but I did tame a wild one when I was over at Mitch’s place. Mr. Devlin thought it was one of the hands but it was really me.” Quickly looking over his shoulder to be sure he was alone, he whispered, “If Pa knew it was me, he’d skin me for sure.”
“I thought about you a lot today. I’m sorry, Ma,” he began with a tear streaming down his cheek. “I couldn’t remember you this morning. Pa had to tell me about you. Hoss and Adam, too. They all helped me remember. Thank you, Ma, for bein’ you.”
Quietly, Joe wept as his father crept up behind him and placed a strong hand on his shoulder. At this point, no words were necessary; both simply knelt in thought at the graveside of the dear woman whom both cherished.
Soon, Adam and Hoss joined their father and brother, kneeling on the opposing side of the grave. Hoss laid down a bouquet of wildflowers at the headstone that he had picked for Ma.
After several moments of silence, Adam began to softly sing:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear…
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares…
we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
This story is written in the memory of my own mother, lost in a car accident on October 1, 1996, and to all who have experienced tragic loss. May you cherish your memories and may your loved ones live on through you.