Word Count: 1100
The cold winter wind blew four frozen Cartwrights into the kitchen of the Ponderosa ranch house. Some snow managed to sneak in but it was unavoidable given the foot and a half that remained outside.
“After we shovel out the chicken coop, we’ll start on the road,” Ben — the patriarch of the clan — decided peeling off his gloves and putting them over the rack near the fireplace to dry a bit before he needed them again.
“Boy, could I use something to warm up,” Joe — the youngest who also had discarded his gloves — rubbed his hands together and stamped his feet. “I think I lost the feeling in my right big toe.”
Ben’s middle son Eric — also known as Hoss, which he preferred to be called — draped his coat over the back of a chair and sat down in that chair. “That’s nothing. I think I lost my right big toe.”
“Well, some coffee ought to warm us up in a hurry,” Adam — the oldest Cartwright son — reached for the pot that sat perpetually on the back of the cook stove. “And it looks like Hop Sing must have made a fresh pot,” he hefted it and determined that it was full.
“Well, get some cups and let’s have it before my other four fall off this foot,” Hoss had taken off his right boot and was rubbing his toes.
Their father chuckled, grabbed four cups off the shelf above the fireplace, and put them on the table in front of Adam.
“You know,” Adam sat down in the chair opposite Hoss. “Coffee was discovered by accident by a Sheik Omar.”
“Do tell?” Joe, who was warming his behind in the heat radiating out of the fireplace, straightened up and looked at his oldest brother. “Is this someone you know?” he giggled.
“Hardly,” Adam shook his head. “Coffee’s been around for thousands of years. Anyway, the story goes that Sheik Omar* was starving in the desert…”
“He could have ate the ‘sand which is’ there,” Joe giggled again and took a seat at the table.
Hoss guffawed and Adam covered his eyes in exasperation.
“Behave, Joseph!” Ben spoke sharply to his youngest. “Go on, Adam.”
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” Adam glared at Joe who made a face right back at him, “Sheik Omar was starving. Somehow he managed to find some really bitter tasting berries that were growing on a bush. Well, he thought and he thought and he finally decided to try to improve their taste by roasting them over an open fire…”
“Where’d he get the wood for the fire?” Hoss decided to interrupt this time.
“Maybe he used sand-alwood,” Joe suggested cackling like a blue jay.
“Boys!” Ben was becoming more and more irritated. After all, they had a lot to do outside and he intended for them only to have a short break.
Adam sighed, cleared his throat and began again, “Well, roasting didn’t work. It just made them real hard and inedible so he decided to boil them to try to soften them up…”
“Where’d he get the water?” Joe looked puzzled.
“Yeah, he was in a desert, wasn’t he?” Hoss added trying not to laugh.
Adam gaped at his two brothers. “Probably at an oasis or he might have had some with him! How in the world would I know?” he threw up his arms in frustration.
“Well, you’re telling the story,” Joe told him emphatically. “Why don’t you know?”
“Continue, Adam. Please,” Ben himself was getting frustrated.
“Well, even boiling the berries didn’t work but it did make the liquid that they were in a very dark rich color. So he was so desperate he drank the liquid and that’s how coffee was discovered,” Adam finished finally and looked smugly at everyone around the table.
“So why didn’t he just drink some water?” Joe propped his chin in his hand and stared at his oldest brother.
“What kind of question is that?” Adam demanded finally pouring the liquid from the pot into the cups and pushing them toward his family members.
“Well, who in Sam Hill would drink something that they had no idea what it was?” Hoss demanded putting the cup to his lips.
“Cart-lights that’s who,” Hop Sing who had just entered the kitchen snatched Hoss’ cup from him before any of the liquid hit his lips.
“Hey! What did ya do that for?” Hoss demanded straightening up in his chair.
“Cart-lights’ think I make coffee…hee-hee-hee…,” the Chinese cook giggled. “It’s leally rye soap and water and Mistah Hoss’ socks,” he opened the lid of the coffeepot and, using a wooden spoon, fished out one to show them.
“Yuck!!!!” Joe groaned and pushed his cup away. “You mean we all could have had…”
“My foot in your mouths,” Hoss howled and slapped his thigh.
“Well, boys,” Ben pushed the chair back and stood up when the laughter died down. “I guess we’re warm enough now and we’ve wasted enough time so let’s get going,” he snagged his gloves from the rack and put them on. “Before the snow all melts,” he added wryly and slapped Hoss on the back as he passed by him on his way outside.
“Ah, come on, Pa…” Joe began to protest but Adam grabbed him by the back of his collar and hauled him out the door after their father. Hoss took a bit longer since he had to put his boots back on but he too soon departed.
“Good thing they didn’t try what’s in cook pot,” Hop Sing lifted the lid off same and stirred the contents with the wooden spoon. He then pulled out a pair of long red flannel underwear.
*In case anyone wants to know, Adam’s story about the origin of coffee is based on information from Eichler, Lillian, The Customs of Mankind, p. 671, Doubleday, Page and Company, Garden City, NY © 1924.
** Many thanks to David Dortort for his creation of Bonanza in general and the Cartwrights, Hop Sing and the Ponderosa in particular.