Word Count: 4900
“Adam?” Ben asks walking into the barn where his eldest son is brushing down his horse.
Ben smiles at the tall young man, thinking how much his seventeen -year -old son has been forced to handle lately. The death of his stepmother, the care of his younger brothers — Hoss, age eleven and Joe, age five — while he himself coped with the sudden tragedy. Ben knew, under the strong adult actions, a young boy was hurting for the second loss of a mother he remembered. Although Adam had not accepted Marie as a mother until a few years ago, he loved her. Ben was positive of that fact. They all loved Joe’s mother.
“I just wanted to tell you again how proud I am of the way you stepped up to comfort Hoss and Joe. I really appreciate the effort you made to console and reassure them so we could make it through this time. I apologize for leaving you alone to do this. I wasn’t myself as I’m sure you know.”
“Yes sir, I do know and I understand. I miss her too. I wish we could turn back time and stop that accident. She was such a good horsewoman; it’s just so hard to believe she would risk hurting herself by riding the way she did,” Adam replies softly.
“One can wish to turn back time, son, but it isn’t going to happen. Let’s don’t dwell on the accident any longer. I came out here to ask you for a favor. I’ve been thinking for some time on Joe’s schooling. He is five years old now and I feel he is ready to begin learning sums and to read. You would be the ideal person to help him with this. He looks up to you so much.”
“Me, a teacher? Pa, I am not a teacher. Besides, Little Joe is a boy who wants to be out and involved in life, not sit and listen or study. It’s hard enough to get him to sit at the table for meals and you want him to sit still for lessons? Pa, I just don’t see Joe sitting still for that long.”
“Adam, son, you have been your brother’s teacher since they were born. Don’t you remember teaching Hoss to count when he was three and to saddle a pony at eight? You had Joe reciting his letters by the time he was two. I’m not asking for a formal sit down schoolroom. I just know you will find a way to work with him in a way he learns best. You think on it son, let me know when you have a plan. I’m headed into town for business. I’ll be home by supper. Keep an eye on the boys please.”
“Yes sir, I’ll think on it and let you know tomorrow, if not sooner. Have a safe trip to town, Pa,” Adam answers, resuming his brushing of his horse, Sport. I guess I could try to work with Little Joe. Pa’s right; I have taught the boys things before but this is a little different. What if Joseph won’t do as I tell him? What if he can’t learn what I’m asking? Would Pa be upset with me for his not learning?” Adam thinks as he hangs the brush on its nail.
Walking out of the barn, Adam sees the front door of their house open and his youngest brother run out. He’s closely followed by their Chinese housekeeper Hop Sing, who is waving a wooden cooking spoon and yelling.
“Leetle Joe! Bad Boy! Breakee cookie jar and run from Hop Sing! Hop Sing say ‘No cookies!’ Bad Boy needs spoon to bottom! Hop Sing tell father on bad leetle boy!”
Waiting until Hop Sing is back inside, Adam walks over to where Joe is hiding behind the garden toolbox.
“Little Joe, you shouldn’t be hiding from Hop Sing this way. You need to go in and apologize to him for causing him trouble. You know how Pa feels about you obeying Hop Sing. Do you want to get a necessary talk from Pa?”
“Adam! No! I don’t wanna spankin! If I go in, Hop Sing’ll get me with his poppin’ spoon!” Joe answers turning his big, green, tear filled eyes on his brother.
“If you don’t apologize, Pa will spank you. He spanks much harder than Hop Sing. What is your decision? Either go inside and apologize to Hop Sing or have a necessary talk with your Papa.” Adam asks, not fazed at all with the sorrowful look from his baby brother.
“I choose Hop Sing ’cause Papa spanks too hard. You come with me.”
“How do you ask a question, Joe? That needs to be asked and do it politely.
“Adam, will you please come with me into the house to talk to Hop Sing?”
“Yes Joe, I will accompany you but, you have to do the talking. I won’t be doing it for you.”
Finding Hop Sing back in the kitchen, Adam speaks up. “Hop Sing, Joe has something he wants to say to you. Could you listen now or do we need to wait?”
“Hop Sing ready to listen. What say Leetle Joe?”
“I’m so sorry I was a bad boy. I didn’t mean to break the cookie jar. It fell when I pulled my arm out. I won’t be bad no more.”
“I won’t be bad anymore,” Adam corrects quietly, standing behind Joe.
“That’s what I said! Were you bad too, Adam? What did you break?” Joe asks looking up, his eyes big in amazement that his grown brother was bad.
Biting his lip to keep from laughing, Adam shakes his head. “No Joe, I wasn’t bad. I was correcting your grammar.”
“Leetle Joe, come to Hop Sing.”
Eyes still wide, Joe moves slowly to his almost third parent.
“Leetle Joe disobeys. Told No to get cookies. Three pops. Turn,” Hop Sing tells the boy.
Turning around with his back to Hop Sing, Joe folds his hands together and scrunches up his face waiting.
“One pop, Two pop, Three pop. All forgiven. Hug now,” Hop Sing says after popping the child’s backside with a wooden spoon.
“I’m going to be your bestest boy again, Hop Sing. Are you going to tell Papa?” Joe asks after rubbing his stinging bottom and hugging the man around his waist.
“Hop Sing always tell Honorable Father about boys. Will tell father boy is punished and forgiven.”
Later that evening after a big dinner, Ben calls Joe to him. “Come here Joseph, I want to ask you something.”
“Did you cause problems for Hop Sing today?” Ben asks the boy as he cuddles him on his lap. At Joe’s hesitation, Ben says, “Remember, Joseph, telling the truth will get you less trouble than telling a lie.”
“Yes, Papa, and then I told him sorry for being a bad boy,” Joe answers, studying Ben’s face for a sign of whether he might be in trouble again.
“Hop Sing told me you apologized and accepted your punishment. I won’t punish you again this time. However, I don’t want to hear of you disobeying Hop Sing again, Joseph. You mind him or you and I will be having a very necessary talk. Understand?”
“I’ll be good, Papa.”
“Good boy. Now Joe, Adam has agreed to be a teacher for you. He’s going to start helping you learn to do sums and to read and write. I want your promise that you will listen and do as he tells you.”
“I get to have school like Hoss? I get to read? Oh BOY! Hoss! I am going to catch up to you and be at school too!” Joe calls to his brother who is focused on a checkers match with Adam.
“No Joseph, you aren’t quite old enough to go to the school. Adam is going to teach you here at home. You will go to school when it is time.”
“Yes, Papa and I promise to be good for Adam too.”
Three weeks later:
“Joe, let’s go out to the henhouse for a time.” Adam corrals his brother as the boy runs past him.
“Not now, I gotta go bad, Adam! Let go ‘fore I wet!” Joe says squirming in his brother’s arms.
“Go on but come to the henhouse after you are finished,” Adam answers, letting the boy run.
When Joe returned, Adam asked, “Alright now Joe, how many eggs are in this basket? Count for me.”
“Seven, Adam. I don’t have to count out loud anymore. There’s seven eggs. Some brown and some white ones too.”
“How many are brown, Joe? Then tell me how many are white. How many does that make altogether?”
“There are four brown ones and three white ones. I can count them. That means we have seven still, Adam. We didn’t lose any or break any so we still have the seven we had when you first asked me.”
“Very good, Joe! Now take this stick and show me the problem with the numbers you said. Remember the math symbols I taught you.”
“Here it is, Adam. Four for the brown eggs, the T sign, three for the white eggs, the how many is that sign, and you have the seven for the answer.”
“Good job, Little Joe. Now remember, that isn’t a letter T, it’s called a plus sign. It stands for putting together. You put the groups together to get the answer.”
“Yes, Adam. Let’s do words now.”
“Okay. Show me the word ‘hen’. Write the h with the line high at the top, Joe. It’s a tall letter, remember?”
“I forgot, I’ll fix it,” Joe says as he scratches a longer line in the dirt for the letter h. “Now, watch this Adam. I can make more words.” He carefully writes the letter under ‘hen’ and the letter under ‘men’. “See? I wrote more. The one with m is men. You and Hop Sing and Papa are men. This one says ‘ten’. Hop Sing needs us to bring in ten eggs for him this morning.”
“Joe, you are one smart little boy! You spelled all of those without my help. Papa is going to be so proud! Let us men take Hop Sing his ten eggs from the hen house. There, I used all of your words in a sentence.”
Giggling, Joe takes hold of the basket under Adam’s hands as they walk together to the ranch house.
At supper that night, Adam boasts to Hoss and his Pa about how well Joe is doing.
“Pa, Hoss, after we finish supper, Joe has something to show you both. He is going to read for you.”
“You can read, Shortshanks? Gosh, you must be awful smart to read already!” Hoss gushes with his mouthful of potatoes.
“Eric! Mind your manners, please. Swallow first,” Ben replies to Hoss’ questioning look.
“Sorry, Pa. I just got excited ’bout Joe.”
“You’re forgiven this time. Good manners are the mark of a gentleman. My sons are always going to behave as gentlemen.”
Soon, they were all gathered in the front room as Adam sat Joe on the settee with a pad of paper and a pencil.
“Joseph, show us how to write the word hen,” Adam instructs his pupil.
Joe writes it and hands the pad to Adam, who nods and returns it. “Great, now spell it out for everyone as you show us what you wrote.”
“I wrote hen and it is spelled h-e-n!” Joe exclaims, flashing the pad under Hoss’ nose and then holding it for his Pa and Hop Sing to see too.
“Alright now, Joseph. Let’s write a new word,” Adam announces after Joe has written the words hen, men and ten on the pad. “Joseph, listen. Write the word pen. Listen to the sounds, p-e-n.”
Sticking his tongue out of the side of his mouth, Joe laboriously writes the word and hands the pad to Adam. When Adam nods, Joe nearly wiggles off the settee in his excitement at getting the new word correct.
“Now, we’re going to have Joe read for you. Joseph, hand me the pad and pencil please. I’m going to write a sentence and then you read it out for all of us.”
Adam prints: The men go to the pen to get ten hens. “Here you are, Joseph. Look at it and read what I wrote.
Taking the pad and studying the words, Joe whispers them to himself several times and then reads quickly, “The men go to the pen to get ten hens.”
“That is just excellent, Joe! I’m so proud of you,” Ben says picking him up for a big hug.
“Gosh, Shortshanks, you read better than the littler kids in school. When they read, they have to stop after every word to figure out the next one! You read just like you are talking it!”
“Adam, you are an excellent teacher. Thank you, son. I look forward to another showing of how well Joseph can do in a few weeks, or earlier if you like.”
His Pa’s compliments make Adam blush a little. “Pa, Joe’s a smart boy and he wants to do this. I helped but he did all the work.”
“Leetle Joe smart boy. He read, write and plan way sneak cookies!” Hop Sing declares smiling.
“I like cookies, Hop Sing!” Joe complains, defending himself.
“You NO get cookies unless Hop Sing say so,” Hop Sing pretend scolds as Joe giggles.
“Well Hop Sing, in honor of Joe’s great job on his lessons, may we all have some cookies?” Ben asks, winking at Hop Sing.
“Cookies, milk, coffee will be ready in jiffy, Mr. Cartwright!” Hop Sing replies walking to the kitchen.
After two months of lessons with Adam, Ben decides to enroll Joe in the local school. Meeting with the teacher — a Miss Norton — he explains “My youngest son, Joseph, is nearly six years old. I feel he is ready to begin now rather than wait until next October. Since there are three months left of this school term, he can attend now and be ready again when the next term comes around.”
“Well, Mr. Cartwright, you are on the Board of School Trustees, so it really isn’t for me to say Yea or Nay. If you feel Joseph is ready for school, then I will do my best to teach him,” Miss. Norton replies with a broad smile.
“Thank you, Ma’am. I will bring him tomorrow morning.”
After supper that evening, Ben clears his throat to get the boys’ attention. “Well, boys, tomorrow is a big day for the family. It’s a really special day. It’s going to be Joseph’s first day of school! I talked to your teacher today, Joe, and she is ready for you to attend the spring school term. You will go with me tomorrow and then with Hoss every day after that.”
“School? I can go just like Hoss and Adam did? I thought you had to wait until you were six, Papa.”
“Most children start school around the age of six but some begin earlier and some wait until they are seven. It’s up to the parents to decide. I see you are ready now, so I want you to attend. You will have lessons with Miss Norton now instead of with Adam. We know you will make us proud, both with your deportment and with your academics.”
Thinking of this for a few minutes, Joe tries to puzzle out what those two things might be. Screwing up his face and thinking hard, he just can’t recall the terms. With a brief sigh, he asks, “Adam, did we talk about the words ‘academics’ or ‘deportment’? I don’t remember.”
Smiling at his Pa, Adam answers, “No Joe, we didn’t discuss those words. Do you want to know their meaning?”
“Academics is the subject matter you learn, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Spelling, Geography and more. Deportment is your behavior. Pa is saying we will be very proud of you for doing well in school and for behaving, well also.”
“Joseph, you must behave yourself at school and do exactly as the teacher tells you. You know my rules and expectations for behavior, and I expect them followed. Is this understood?”
“Yes sir. I know if you get in trouble at school, you get in bigger trouble here at home. I remember that from when Hoss got into a fight at school. You walloped him here at home for fighting,” Joe answers sweetly, with a side look at his scowling middle brother.
“You just mind your manners and the rules so you won’t have to worry about any spankings,” Ben says with a stern look at the boy.
The next morning, Joe was up and dressed before anyone else in the house. Coming into the kitchen to begin breakfast, Hop Sing finds the child sitting at the table waiting.
“Leeetle Joe! What you doing up early? You never up with chickens! What you up to?”
“Nothing. I’m just waiting here for breakfast so I can go to school. I’m going to start school today! I’m a big boy now, Hop Sing. I can dress myself for school too.”
“Hop Sing sees you dressed yourself. Leetle Joe, shirt not buttoned right, boots on wrong feet, hair not combed. You go back up and comb hair while Hop Sing starts eggs and pancakes.”
“Yes sir, Hop Sing. Hop Sing, can we have fruit on the pancakes, please?”
“Fruit will be on table. Now go.”
When Joe arrives back downstairs with a small hop from the next to the bottom step, he finds the rest of the family waiting for him at the table.
“Well, Joseph, today’s your big day. Let me look at my big boy,” Ben says, taking Joe by the arm and twirling him in a circle. “Well you did a great job dressing yourself today. You even have your boots on the right feet! Very good, Joe! Now let’s have the blessing and eat our delicious looking breakfast.”
Sliding into his seat, Joe catches Hop Sing’s wink and grins before bowing his head.
“Hoss, you are in charge of saying Grace this morning,” Ben tells his middle son.
“Yes, Pa. God, please bless our family as we start our day. Please help me and Joe do good at school as it’s Joe’s first day, and thank you for Hop Sing. He cooks good. Amen.”
Having to cover a snicker with his napkin, Adam can’t speak for a few minutes.
“Did I say something wrong, Pa?” Hoss asks noticing Adam’s troubles.
“Not at all, son. Adam just has something tickling his funny bone right now. Alright, Joe, pass me your plate and I’ll put the ham, eggs and pancakes on for you. You can then serve yourself bread and fruit.”
After handing Joe his plate and as the other boys were eating, Ben asks “Adam? Why don’t you share with us what was entertaining you so during the prayer,” Ben says with a stern look at his eldest.
“Yes, sir. I was remembering the time when Little Joe had just turned four and you asked Hoss to say Grace the same way you did this morning. Joe piped up and wanted to know ‘who Grace was and why Hoss needed to save her’,” Adam finishes, chuckling again with Hoss at the memory.
Having to wipe the tears out of his eyes from laughter, Ben replies, “Thank you, son, for that memory. We need to laugh again. Marie would have enjoyed that memory! Joe, we aren’t laughing at you, son,” he says quickly after seeing the scowl form on his youngest child’s face. “We enjoyed that question from you when you were a little tyke. We know you are much older now.”
“Yes Pa, I’m old enough for school. I’m ready. so let’s get going Hoss!” Joe announces, hopping down off the chair.
“Hold your horses, Shortshanks! I’m not finished breakfast and school isn’t going to start for a bit yet,” Hoss answers. ” ‘Sides once you get there, you’ll find out it ain’t such a wonderful place to go!”
“ERIC! Don’t be filling his head with nonsense. Let Joseph enjoy his first time at school. Joe, climb back into the chair, son. You have to eat more before you may leave for school,” Ben tells the boys.
Finally, it was time for them to leave. Adam said he would ride with them to help Joseph get to school.
“Please, Papa, can’t I go with just Hoss? You already rolled me for school. I’m big enough to ride with Hoss,.” Joe begs.
“The word is enrolled, son. Alright I will let you go with Hoss. Be sure to mind him and do as the teacher tells you. Remember, all we have talked about, Joseph, and behave as a young gentleman. We’ll be anxious to hear all about your day when you come home. Hoss, don’t forget to take your lunch pails,” Ben answers.
“Yes, Pa; let’s go Shortshanks. We don’t want to be late on your first day.”
Watching the two boys ride off on Hoss’ horse, Ben sighs. Standing beside him, Adam says, “I wish Ma were here to see Joe go off to school for the first time.”
“So do I, son. She would be so pleased and probably a little sad to see her baby boy off to school.”
Walking into the schoolroom for the first time, Joe feels just a little anxious. “Hoss? Can I sit beside you?”
“No, Little Joe, you have to sit up front with the other first years. C’mon, let’s go meet the teacher,” Hoss answers, leading his brother up to the front of the room.
“Miss Norton? This is my little brother Joe. He’s coming to school for the first time today. He doesn’t have a seat yet,” Hoss explains to the amusement of his teacher.
“Well, I’ll fix that, Eric. Joseph, you may sit right here on the front row. Now, did you bring the schoolbooks I told your Pa you would need?”
“Yes Ma’am and I have a slate too,” Joe answers softly.
“Very good. Now, I want you to sit right here and study this first lesson in this book. I will get you to come recite it for me soon.”
When the other children are brought into the classroom a few minutes later, Joe is eager to meet his seatmate.
“Theodore Albertson, this is Joseph Cartwright. You two will be seatmates and I expect you to get along,” Miss Norton tells the boys as she motions Joe to scoot over in the seat.
“My name is Joe when I’m not in trouble. What do they call you?” Joe whispers as the teacher walks back to her platform at the front of the room.
“I’m Teddy. I’m six.”
“I’m almost six! My birthday is in October.”
“Theodore and Joseph! NO talking during lessons! Study your primers now,” Miss. Norton scolds loudly, causing Joe to scoot down in the seat. Waiting for the teacher to look somewhere else, he quickly turns to look at Hoss. Seeing Hoss shake his head and point to turn around, Joe obeys. Opening his book to the lesson numbered one, he reads it silently. In just a few minutes, he realizes he knows those six words and can spell them already. Turning the pages of the book to the same lesson he sees Teddy studying, he begins to read to himself.
“Joseph Cartwright!” he hears beside him, causing him to jump in his seat. “Ma’am?”
“What lesson were you assigned to study?”
“The first one.”
“Then you stay on that lesson. You do not skip ahead without my permission. Now come to the front and recite.”
Walking up, Joe hears a few quiet giggles and a whisper, “I bet the baby doesn’t know how to recite! He’ll probably wet his pants when he has to talk.”
“Alright Joseph. Spell the word ‘ rat’ for me.”
“R-A-T, rat; M-A-T, mat; P-A-T, pat; S-A-T, sat; H-A-T, hat,” Joe says, flying through the words quickly and easily.
“Don’t be a show off, young man. I only asked you to spell the word rat. Let’s see how well you know numbers. What is two added to three?”
“That would be five, Miss. Newton,” Joe answers immediately.
“Hmm, what about ten added to six?”
“That would be sixteen, ma’am. I can add and subtract already, Miss. Newton,” Joe tells her proudly.
“Let’s see how well you read. Take this and read the first four sentences aloud.”
“‘Jan and Pat ran after the dog. The dog ran to the tree. Pat saw a cat in the tree. Jan wants to get the cat’,” Joe reads without any mistakes or hesitations.
“What was the storytelling about?”
“The boy and girl followed a dog to a tree. There was a cat sitting up in the tree and the girl wanted to get it down,” Joe answers.
“Very well, you may take your seat now, Joseph.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Ma’am? Where do I take it?” Joe asks, frowning at the giggles that erupt from the other students.
“Joseph Cartwright! I don’t allow impudent behavior in this school. March yourself to the corner and stay there until I tell you differently!”
At home that evening, Ben asks, “Well, Joseph, what did you learn in school today? Did you enjoy your first day? I meant to be here when you boys returned but was called away unexpectedly.”
“Papa, I don’t like school anymore. Please can I stay home and let Adam be my teacher some more?” Joe asks, lower lip wobbling and eyes full of tears.
“What happened? You loved going to school this morning.”
“Yes sir, but it’s not all like I thought it would be. That lady doesn’t want me to know things, and when I ask questions, she makes me stand in the corner.”
“Joseph! Did you cause trouble at school today after all we have talked about?” Ben asks, his voice booming.
“No sir, I didn’t. At least I don’t think I did. Hoss, did I cause trouble today?” Joe asks as the tears start running down his face.
“He was good all day, Pa. Miss Norton just doesn’t understand him very well. Joe knows more than all of the little kids in his group.”
“What was the reason she put him in the corner if he wasn’t causing trouble?” Ben asks his middle child.
“She told him to take his seat but he didn’t know that meant go sit down. He asked her where he was to take it and she got all mad.”
“I see. Thank you, Hoss. Joe, you need to stop crying. I’m not angry and you aren’t in trouble.”
“She’s mad at me because I answered all her questions right. I don’t like that school, Papa. I don’t want to go back,” Joe says, throwing himself into his Pa’s arms.
“Sshh, it’s alright, son. I’ll speak to Miss. Norton and we’ll move you up into a group where you don’t know everything. I am at fault here, not you. I should have seen to it she knew you had schooling before. She didn’t know you were not brand new to learning and made some misjudgments. We’ll work it out, Joe.”
One month later:
“Well Joseph, how was your math quiz today?” Ben asks at the supper table.
“It was good, Papa. I made a ninety percent. I missed the one where it said to add twelve plus twelve because I ran out of fingers to count with. I knew all my spelling words, though. Miss Norton asked me to help Teddy with his words. Teddy is almost seven and he doesn’t know how to spell much or read too good.”
“Well Pa, one month into school and your five year old is already taking over. We’ll have to watch him, because by the time he’s eight, he’ll try to teach the twelfth graders!” Adam says, ruffling Joe’s hair.
“It just may be true, Adam. It’s all your doing too, son. You are an excellent teacher. Perhaps that is your calling in life, to teach school.”
“No sir. Joe is easy to teach but I don’t want to work with all those other kids who don’t want to do what you ask. I want to design things and maybe build also. I want to go on to college someday.”
“Well then, we’ll make that happen,” Ben replies, smiling at his eldest son.
The following Fall, the family is gathered at the train station to see Adam leave for college.
“Behave yourself, Joe. Take good care of him, Hoss. I will write and expect good, well-written letters in return. Boston is a long way away but we can write. Goodbye, Pa. Thank you for finding a way for me to follow what I want to do. I will succeed and make you proud,” Adam says, hugging his family before boarding the train.
“I am already proud of you, Adam. You do well and take care of yourself. Tell your Grandfather Stoddard hello for me. The train is about to pull out; go on, son. We’ll be here waiting when you come home.” Ben whispers the last to himself as Adam runs to catch the moving train.