Summary: Just what does it take for a Cartwright to be ready for Christmas?
Word Count: 2500
The first fall of snow was blanketing the Ponderosa, coating the trees with soft, powdering snow, while long icicles hung from the roof of the ranch house.
“We’d better start making preparations for Christmas,” Ben announced one morning. “You boys had better go up to the attic and hunt out all the decorations.”
“We’ve got an attic?” Adam asked in amazement. After all, he’d designed the house and he couldn’t remember putting in an attic. Then again, now he came to think about it, he was still unsure why Joe’s bedroom kept moving and changing shape, or why there was sometimes an inconvenient gap at the side of the stairs. However, this was hardly Adam’s fault, for according to the accepted chronology he had been no more than eleven years old at the time.
Before Ben could answer, there was an icy gust of wind that whipped around the entire ground floor and Hoss came in, followed by a minor snowdrift. Hop Sing came beetling out of the kitchen and surveyed the mess with disgust.
“Next time you design a house, sonny, remember to put in a hallway! They’re there for a good reason!” Adam cringed visibly. It was probably a good thing that he had abandoned architecture for ranching.
The blonde decided it was time to change the conversation. ”It’ll be Paw’s first Christmas!” she announced proudly. “How lovely to have Christmas with a baby in the house!”
“I’ve been stitching a lovely stocking for him to hang up!” the redhead confessed. “But he’ll have to send his letter to Santa first.” She took the little bear by the paw and lead him over to the fireplace, where she carefully held a letter above the flames and then let the hot air waft it up the chimney. “There now! The fairy sitting on top of the chimney will take that to Santa for you.”
Paw looked ecstatic, Joe and the blonde looked entranced and Adam looked as if he would really rather not have a furry nephew. What on earth did one get a bear for Christmas anyway?
“Do you think Paw’s old enough to go to Midnight mass?” asked the blonde and the Cartwrights nearly fell off their chairs with shock.
Joe recovered his composure first. “We go to a non-denominational church,” he explained. “Of course, no such thing actually exists, either then or now, but we don’t want to offend the viewers, do we?”
“How could anyone be offended?” the redhead wanted to know but she just received blank looks in return. After all, this was the family that had quite happily buried Catholic Marie in unconsecrated ground and found nothing unusual about that at all.
“What would you like for Christmas?” The blonde smiled charmingly at Ben, who sat up just a little straighter in his chair.
“Well, not another horse, that’s for sure!” Why did his boys insist on giving him horses as presents? He had a hard enough job with Buck, even when the creature was sedated courtesy of Doc Martin, but he certainly didn’t want another horse. His three sons looked mortally offended, especially Joe, who had nearly died trying to deliver an incredibly ugly white horse to his father as a birthday present in The Gift. And then it turned out that Pa was quite happy just cuddling Joe and didn’t want anything else! How much trouble could have been saved if only he’d said that in the first place.
“How about a nice rifle then?” suggested the redhead. After all, this did seem to be Ben’s gift of choice to his sons. For some unexplained reason, he didn’t seem to realize that the gun racks were stuffed to the gunnels already.
“But rifles are so hard to disguise and you can always tell what the gift is, no matter how many little bows you use!” Ben complained, not quite realizing this was the pot calling the kettle black.
“We could see if we could get a Santa hat to brighten up those horns above the fireplace?” the blonde ventured. After all, they did tend to dominate the room and they weren’t the most attractive piece of décor she’d ever seen. She smiled winningly at Hoss, who blushed. “You had a lovely one in Gabrielle, Hoss.”
“Aw, shucks,” Hoss muttered. “Weren’t little Gabrielle jist the cutest thing you ever saw?”
“What about a nice cardi?” the redhead suggested to Ben. She hated the things with a vengeance, and both girls had been vetoing Joe’s attempts to buy himself one, but it seemed more fitting for Ben’s age group. And besides, it was decidedly drafty in the Ponderosa and a cardi would keep him warm.
“Thermal underwear?” suggested the blonde.
“A new waistcoat?” added the redhead. Boy, they were on a roll now! “Complete with conchos, of course.”
“A waistcoat?” Ben echoed. “My dear, we more properly call them vests.”
“In Scotland, you wear a vest under your shirt,” the redhead told him. “Not over it!”
“There’s always a new saddle,” Joe interjected. “That’s useful.”
“Not if you don’t like riding!” Ben thought darkly. “I think I’d quite like a new vest,” he said tentatively. “After all, I’ve had my silver brocade vest since season one.”
“You do look lovely in it, though!” flattered the blonde, batting her eyelashes like mad. “But perhaps a new vest would be nice – maybe shot through with gold or bronze?”
Ben smiled happily at her. “Quite right! And maybe even a new string tie to match!” Of course, he really should get a new suit too – his best suit had never been the same since the time Hoss insisted on trying to squeeze into it for his violin recital during Maestro Hoss.
“I’d like a new winter coat!” Hoss said firmly. “Adam and Joe both have decent coats, but mine all look like reconstituted horse blankets and it ain’t fair!”
The sisters made a note of this and looked enquiringly at Adam.
“An illustrated edition of the complete works of Shakespeare?” suggested the redhead.
Adam shook his head. “Got one already,” he said apologetically.
“A shirt in a nice, bright, cheery shade?” the blonde enquired.
“Wore one in the first season, but it didn’t quite convey the impression that I am the dark, brooding, thoughtful son.”
Joe looked perplexed. “What on earth do my pants say about me?”
“Everything that’s necessary!” the sisters assured him.
Hop Sing shuffled ostentatiously into the room, hoping desperately someone would ask him what he would like for a present, as he was fed up with wearing the same silk jammies week after week. He never seemed to get a present, which wasn’t very fair. It didn’t matter to him that he didn’t celebrate Christmas per se; a present would be nice to show he was remembered and being thought of. Little did he know that the sisters had bought him some slippers in the right size, so that he made less noise as he slipped around the place. They had included some nice dusters and floor polish, too, as a subtle hint that the housework needed seeing to.
“A complete works of Dickens?” suggested the redhead. “All the Waverly novels?”
“Got them,” Adam mourned.
“Singing lessons?” Joe murmured, quite audibly. Adam threw him a black look which Joe pretended he didn’t see. “Well, what would you like?” Joe demanded, fed up of suggesting things that Adam vetoed.
“I shouldn’t have to suggest Christmas presents,” Adam told him. “You should know instinctively what to get me.”
“We just suggested a whole pile of nice things and you turned them all down!” the blonde exclaimed. Perhaps he would like a nice purple Barbie unicorn, like Elen wanted…? He certainly wouldn’t get one from anybody else! She still couldn’t quite work out how she’d been conned into that one, but one thing was sure, Paw certainly wasn’t getting any nasty tat like that! Some nice wooden building blocks, perhaps, or some lead soldiers or… Suddenly, she realized that she had the very idea!
“Joe!” she caroled delightfully! “I’ve seen both you and Adam playing with dollies! It’s nice to see you’re in touch with your feminine sides! Do you think that would be a good pressie for Paw?”
The brothers exchanged grim glances. “My dolly belonged to a little girl!” Adam explained, through gritted teeth. He’d often longed for a dolly of his own, but first Inger and then Marie had thought that a baby brother would fill that gap nicely. It just wasn’t the same though. Babies tended to squeak at an alarming volume if you casually swung them by their ears. Adam cast a guilty glimpse at Joe: the boy did wonders with his hairstyle, but there was no doubt that his ears stuck out!
“I gave that doll as a present to a poor, lonely girl,” Joe explained and then looked across at the redhead and grinned broadly. “Its hair was almost as red as yours!”
Ben was still ruminating over his vest. “Do you think conchos are appropriate on an evening vest?”
“Well, it depends,” began the blonde, for she was a tactful soul.
“What exactly are conchos for?” asked the redhead, who was rather more direct.
“They match Buck’s outrageously camp bridle,” Ben began and then broke into a broad smile. “And they come in jolly handy for levering off bottle tops!”
“How come we don’t celebrate Christmas every year?” Hoss was wrinkling his brow in perplextion.
“Because there still aren’t calendars out here?” Joe suggested weakly. “We do live on the fringes of civilization, even if we do appear to have an extensive and inexhaustible wine cellar!”
“No calendars! I bet that plumb confuses the viewers!”
“Not to mention the fact that winters in the High Sierras only seem to last for a couple of weeks!” the blonde added. She’d personally visited Lake Tahoe in October and could attest to the fact that the motor boats appeared to have been shrink-wrapped in thick, blue plastic to protect them from the extreme temperatures. However, no viewers appeared to have noticed that the seasons were dictated by the more temperate southern California climate.
Joe gave her a reproachful look. “Would you really want all my boyish charms swaddled in several layers of wool?” he asked gently. It all became clear – that was why Adam had his coat firmly buttoned in the opening scenes of My Brother’s Keeper, whereas Joe rode jauntily along in his shirtsleeves. Things were definitely autumnal, but the viewers wanted to see Joe’s shirt unbuttoned and admire his slinky hips. They couldn’t do that when he had his winter coat on, even if it was the nice sheepskin one from The Other Son. The hideous blue-checked one from Escape to Ponderosa was better forgotten.
“You’re quite right,” the blonde agreed. “It wouldn’t do at all.”
“Ah, if only Scottish winters were so obliging,” muttered the redhead, thinking of the hours she spent scraping frost and snow off the car. At least horses didn’t need to be de-iced all that often.
Gritting his teeth, Ben asked, “What would you girls like for Christmas?” he still lived in the hope that they would fall heir to the Curse of the Cartwrights, but he had yet to see them in any kind of ordinary dress, never mind a blue one and after being in residence for 11 months, it seemed a forlorn hope.
Smiling the girls chorused, “We have what we want for Christmas – Joe.”
Ben gave Joe an appraising look. He was definitely the smallest and slimmest of the Cartwright boys, but even so, gift-wrapping him would be a nightmare. Especially when it came to his ears. Observant viewers will have noted that Joe had one teeny, tiny little flaw, namely his ears, which were ever so slightly sticky-out. Perhaps he could find a stocking large enough to pop the dear boy into?
Hoss decided that it was time to move the conversation onto more important matters. “What are we having for Christmas dinner?”
“How about a nice roast goose?” Adam suggested. His pillows were getting rather thin and some extra goose feathers would plump them up a treat.
“Splendid idea!” Ben agreed. “And we’re nearly out of goose-grease for rubbing on Joe’s chest when he gets a cold!”
Hoss looked mutinous. “How come me an’ Adam don’t get goose-grease rubbed into our chests too?”
“Think about it Hoss – the goose-grease would matt all the hairs on our chests together!” chided his brother. Unlike Joe, the two elder Cartwright sons had marvelously furry chests, which provided them with their own thermal heating. It saved Ben a fortune, as he didn’t need to heat their bedrooms in winter. In fact, the insulating properties of Adam’s hairy chest were so great that he often didn’t need to wear a pajama jacket. A fact that got his fans very over-excited.
“And are you having Christmas pudding and trifle for afters?” asked the redhead. She personally hated Christmas pud, but trifle suited her quite well. “Or even ice-cream.”
By now, Hoss was drooling freely. “And mince pies, too,” he added. “And cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, peas and carrots.” He sighed in bliss. “Can we have a trial run?” he asked.
In the background, Hop Sing sighed. He’d been hoping to do something less time-consuming this year. These huge meals took so much cooking! Perhaps Number Seven cousin might have a take-away restaurant open in Virginia City by this time next year!
“And what about your own Christmas shopping?” Ben enquired, patting the blonde on the knee. “What are you buying for all your friends?”
“All done!” she announced happily. “We found the ideal present for everyone!”
The redhead grinned broadly. “A subscription to Bonanza Gold for each of them – a whole year’s worth of the Cartwrights – what more could anyone want?”
There were times that Ben was almost reconciled to the presence of the Giggly Sisters on the Ponderosa. Nevertheless, he vowed to make sure he bought a small barrel of brandy to see him through the festive period, for medicinal purposes only, of course!
“After the shopping is complete, there’s only one thing left to do,” the redhead announced.
“What’s that?” Ben asked, wondering if he should have let someone else do the asking.
“Why, plan our New Year’s party, of course!” she replied.
Ben fixed her with a beady glare: “Have you ever heard of too much of a good thing?” he asked testily. The Giggly Sisters smiled beatifically as they gazed at the perfection that was Joe.
“Never!” the blonde assured him fervently.