Summary: No noose involved, but it is getting colder on the Ponderosa.
Word Count: 1900
Autumn had hit the Ponderosa early: bitter, biting winds and sharp hail-showers were making life miserable for everyone. Joe burst through the door, stamping his feet and blowing on his hands in a vain attempt to get some warmth back into the frozen digits.
“Come over here to the fire and get warm, son!” Ben called. The vast fireplace dominated the living space of the downstairs room, but although there were fireplaces in the bedrooms, no viewer had ever reported seeing a fire burning in one of them. However, as winter episodes were restricted to a maximum of one every two years, perhaps this was not totally surprising.
“You should be wearing a warmer jacket,” Ben chided gently
Joe gave him a skeptical look. “That’s not possible, Pa – you know it ain’t!”
Ben tried not to let exasperation color his tones too greatly. “Now listen here, Joseph…” he boomed, sounding like a lonely bittern whose mate had migrated south for winter. The glass in one of the picture frames shattered, just missing Adam’s face by a scant inch. Ben lowered his voice by a couple of decibels. “I know that little green jacket shows off your slim waist, lean hips and long legs to perfection, but the viewers will understand!”
Adam chortled gently. “Too vain to wear the baggy blue-checked, three-quarter length jacket with the silly little half belt at the back?”
“Nothin’ wrong with that coat!” Hoss said stoutly. “It were mine when I was back in fourth grade.”
Joe fumed silently for a couple of moments. “I’ve got that new sheepskin-lined jacket now!” he reminded his brothers. It was a much better fit than the old blue number, but he always felt a little uneasy wearing it. All that fur meant there was an ever-present risk that Adam would mistake his little brother for a wolf and shoot him again.
“So why weren’t you wearing your furry jacket?” Ben asked, trying very hard to be patient.
Joe looked desperately to the wardrobe lady for help, but she was busily engaged in hemming his trousers. He’d never quite had the heart to tell her that his pants were inevitably far too short and in danger of exposing his kneecaps to the viewing public whenever he sat down, but then she did make sure the fit around his butt was unparalleled in the history of TV. She seemed to have similar problems fitting Adam’s trousers, which were admittedly much looser in the butt, but were also so long that he was required to sport six-inch turn-ups.
“Pa, you know we have that ridiculously small coat rack by the front door?” Joe asked.
Ben nodded. Sometimes he wondered about his youngest son: the boy could be rather dense on occasion. Of course he knew the coat rack! He hung his hat there everyday, after carefully draping his neckerchief around the brim.
“Well look at it!” Joe exploded. “There’s only room for three hats! Anyone who comes in late has to put their hat on the sideboard. And there’s room for two jackets at the most.”
Hoss got quite animated. “That’s right! I’ve always wondered why you’d be out in just a shirt while ol’ Adam had that custard-colored coat on in the middle of summer!”
“It is pale beige!” Adam said stiffly. His back had playing him up dreadfully and he thought he would scream if he ever saw another horse. “And it provides a delightful contrast with my normally somber attire, giving a light-hearted glimpse into my playful side.”
At the word “play”, the Giggly Sisters whimpered pitifully and their pet bear, Paw, hid his head under a sofa cushion.
“Please don’t play that guitar again!” Joe pleaded.
Adam looked mortified, but Ben decided to ignore him. Adam was having one of his pompous days, and all this talk about his playful side made Ben’s teeth hurt. “What was your point about the coat rack, Joseph?” he asked.
“How can I hang my sheepskin coat up there when there isn’t room for my little green jacket?” Joe demanded.
“Good point,” noted the redhead. “And where on earth did your little blue jacket disappear to? Or that lovely grey cord one you wore in season one?”
“And where did you have your sheepskin coat during The Other Son when you weren’t wearing it?” asked the blonde. She was gently extracting Paw from under the cushion, reassuring the little bear that Adam wasn’t going to be singing. “It wasn’t on the back of your saddle and your saddlebags weren’t big enough to take the little green jacket, never mind a big warm one.”
“Nice gloves, though,” commented the redhead, who had a bit of a thing about Joe’s well-shaped hands, with his nice, clean, unbitten fingernails. In fact, she had one of his hands in hers, trying to rub some warmth into it. This would have been more effective if her own long, slender fingers weren’t blue with the cold… “They were a much better fit than the black ones you wear in later seasons.”
“Those were mine!” Adam said loftily. “You can always tell Joe’s gloves…” He left a pregnant pause, because the script girl was making those frantic circling motions that signaled a commercial break. It was nice to leave the viewers in suspense for a few minutes.
During this time, Hoss had a quick snack and the sisters made some of their delicious mud-like coffee for everyone, using the famous Cartwright coffee-pot that kept beverages hot for at least 3 hours. NASA was currently investigating its remarkable insulating properties with a view to converting it into the next space shuttle.
As normal service resumed, Adam continued smoothly. “Joe’s gloves have a string attached so they can be threaded through the sleeves of whichever jacket he wears!”
Even the sisters had to laugh at this one. Ben noticed the look of discomfiture on Joe’s gorgeous face and hastened to explain.
“As a little boy, Joseph had a bad habit of putting his hands in his pockets and ripping them. At first, Marie…”
“My Love!” everyone chorused dutifully. Ben nodded his head in acknowledgement.
“… used to sew them up, but eventually we just got his jackets made without pockets. And he needed somewhere to put his gloves, so the string was the best solution.”
“I jist put my coat in the barn,” Hoss said. All Hoss’ coats were various shades of brown and looked as if they had been made from left-over horse blankets, so that made sense. “Then I knows where it is an’ I don’ have ta worry about findin’ it when the weather gits cold.”
“But none of you actually hang your jackets behind the door,” the redhead pointed out. “Joe’s seems to hang on his bedpost, and I’ve never seen the custard-colored coat hanging up anywhere.”
Gritting his teeth, Ben forced a smile. He really didn’t like the redhead; she always asked the difficult questions and, rather like a terrier, didn’t let go once she had an idea in her head.
“And you must feel the cold an awful lot,” the blonde added, smiling charmingly at Ben. “You often have on a big coat, when Joe and Hoss are going about in shirt sleeves.”
“Paw’s gettin’ on a bit,” Hoss explained and Paw looked black affronted. How could he be getting on? He was only a baby, after all. He bared his nice new shiny teeth at Hoss and tried to growl, but he hadn’t quite mastered that yet, and looked surprised when a squeak came out instead. Widening his eyes (a trick he’d learned from Joe), he tried to pretend that he’d intended to squeak all along.
“I am not getting on a bit!” Ben exclaimed. “I’m in the Prime of Life!” Paw realized that Hoss’ appalling diction had caught him out once more and wished that the big man would learn to pronounce words properly. It did get a little confusing sometimes. “But my years on the ocean taught me that it’s wise to keep warm.”
“You looked rather nice wearing that black gansey in San Francisco,” the blonde assured him.
Ben smiled lovingly at her and gave her knee a quick squeeze. “It had a matching hat!” he reminisced happily. “I often wondered what happened to that outfit – it would have been really cozy when the bad weather closes in.”
Joe recalled the jacket he had worn during that adventure-packed episode: tight round the hips and with slightly blouson sleeves. Another nice item of outerwear which had mysteriously disappeared. But should he be surprised? After all, how many dear friends and close relatives of the Cartwrights had guest-starred in one episode, never to be seen again?
“Perhaps our jackets are kept up in the attic?” Hoss ventured.
Adam gave a thin-lipped mile. “Along with all our clothes set aside for Joe to grow into?” he suggested. It is likely that he would have continued, but Joe shot him a “don’t go there” look.
“You know the most remarkable thing about San Francisco?” asked the redhead. The Cartwrights shook their heads, looking remarkably like those nodding dogs you see in the back of cars. The blonde made a mental note to chat to the chaps in promotion about this valuable merchandising opportunity.
The redhead flashed a charming smile. “Ben and Joe changed pants!”
A look of complete outrage crossed Ben’s face, but Joe only laughed. As ever, this was slightly disconcerting. So much so that the producer was wondering if “Joe laughs” episodes should be preceded by a warning for those of a nervous disposition. “That’s right!” he crowed in delight. “When we got dressed for that evening out, my pants had belt loops, while Pa’s didn’t!”
Ben looked mightily relieved. He had thought for one horrible moment that he had squeezed into Joe’s tight-fitting, too short pants, even though he couldn’t remember doing so. “That was a slight aberration on the seamstress’s behalf,” he muttered. “She was under a lot of stress that day.”
“That still doesn’t really tell us where your coats are kept,” the redhead said, thoughtfully. She always knew where her big warm coat was. Lord knows, she felt the cold enough that she sometimes wanted to wear it in the house!
“That’s easy,” Adam told her airily. “They’re kept in the wardrobe.” As everyone gave him blank looks, for a wardrobe, armoire or chiffonier had never been spied in any bedroom in the Ponderosa, he smiled.
“The wardrobe department,” he finished. “Saves cluttering up our rooms.”
A grin lit Joe’s perfect face and the girls had to take several deep breaths. “And we don’t get the blame when the clothes go missing!” he crowed.
“And besides,” Ben added, comfortingly, “nobody notices when clothes vanish never to be seen again.”
At this the sisters exchanged glances. After all, they had noticed. Perhaps this was just one of the ever-growing list of things it was better not to mention during the course of daily life on the Ponderosa.