Summary: A REALLY lost episode. Pa Teaches Me To Be a Man of Few Words
Word Count: 2650
Adam’ Memoirs: Chapter 111
It was the about a year after I returned to the Ponderosa after college at Back East U. To tell you the truth, I was pretty impressed with my own smarts at that point and might have had a swelled head. Not too many of the folks back in Nevada Territory had much of a formal education and being a newly minted college graduate was pretty impressive to everyone. I sort of let it get to my head but my Pa never complained about my book learning getting in the way of my common sense or that I was being a bit of a snob at times. In Pa’s own subtle way, he taught me by example what it meant to be a wise man, rather than lecturing me or arguing or name calling, except one time when we got in a shouting match over windmills and one time when I insisted on serving un-refrigerated sushi at the Cattleman’s Association Annual Dinner and embarrassed the heck out of Pa.
Anyhow… Now that I was back home and working, and since Pa wasn’t paying high costs of college tuition for me, the Cartwrights had a bit more ready cash. Pa had started diversifying his investments. He turned thumbs down on my suggestions of windmills but did look into some new livestock. Pa agreed on increasing our nauga and plether herds after I told him about the new LaZboy lounge chair factory opening up in Michigan and how my musician friends in college like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and the rest of the rockers liked wearing plether pants. Pa was quick to realize there was a huge market out there for all the hides we could provide.
Pa also had purchased shares in a couple of mining operations. The Comstock Lode was booming and we even got a jump start on a diamond mine run by seven dwarves over near Burbank and a Vicks Vapo Rub drilling deal in Utah.
Knowing as well that transportation was important with the West expanding, I advised Pa to diversify his portfolio and get involved with a financial interest in the Overland Stage. Pa wanted to improve services so he made some changes like having the drivers check their brakes before they started on that road over the mountains rather than after, and serving little bags of peanuts and those goldfish crackers my brothers liked in their lunch buckets as refreshments for the passengers. Pa also had rearranged the stage schedule to include gambling junkets to Reno for senior citizens and a special Sunday run to Stockton. Together, Pa and I worked hard to improve the finances of the Cartwright family.
One Saturday, just before supper time, I was coming around the side of the house and was almost at the front door when I realized Pa had company on the porch. From what I could hear, Pa had FEMALE company. I was sort of hungry and tired and dirty and sweaty and pretty icky yucky and not really in the mood to make polite small talk and charmingly flash my dimples and tell some lady visitor how grand it was being back from college. I also wanted to beat out my younger brothers to be the first cowboy in the tub and use the brand new bar of Ivory Soap before all the perfectly formed letters were melted off and the pristine floatiness was used up. I sort of ducked down between the rain barrel and the wood pile and Joe’s not-yet-invented Schwinn bike and tried to figure out how I could sneak into the house through the kitchen door without being seen. Pa was going to be annoyed that Joe had left his bike out again and I was about to casually toot the horn to subtly let Pa be aware that the bike was not in the barn.
Before I got to sneak inside or toot that bike horn, I overheard Pa tell his visitor sort of softly, “From the moment I met you, I knew I could never be in love with another woman…this week…umm…errr…Victoria…” Pa sort of stopped there. I wasn’t sure if he really had feelings for her or if he was just letting the widow lady down easy or that Pa’s psychosomatic laryngitis caused by cold feet was getting to him again. Pa always lost his voice when it came to breaking up with women or asking them to get married.
I peered around the banana seat of Joe’s not-yet-invented bike and could see the two of them — Pa and this Victoria lady — standing on the porch real close. She was kind of blond and sort of dangerously attractive, like a gal who could convince a fedora-wearing insurance salesman to knock off her husband for the double indemnity. She could have been a real looker when she was young but now she was just a bit past her prime, at least from my point of view, as I like them firmer and perkier. On the other hand, my brother Joe tended to like older women, but at this point he was not quite twelve and older meant sixteen. I suppose she was about the right age for Pa’s consideration. A few years later, when I was working with explosives pretending I was from Ireland, I found out Victoria’s daughter Audra was quite a looker too.
“Are you proposing, Mr. Cartwright?” the widow said tilting her head in a weak attempt at being coy or perhaps she was a bit deaf in one ear.
“Ben. Call me Ben,” Pa urged hoarsely.
“Ben….I could die if I couldn’t have you,” said the visitor.
“You can die if you do have me. Haven’t you heard about the Cartwright Curse? “
“I did but I just thought it was one of those legends like Tahoe Tessie and Loch Ness and men with big feet having big….”
“Ahem!” Pa interrupted. Pa didn’t like discussing his favorite manly parts with anyone but Doc Martin. “And I would hate to be the death of you, Victoria” Pa sighed. “So that’s that and let’s move on and just be friends? Ok? Ok?”
”Ok,” she agreed. “Friends.” She extended her gloved hand and she and Pa shook on the deal.
Pa sighed two or three times more. I could see he was relieved or developing bronchial asthma in addition to his psychosomatic laryngitis from cold feet. …cold big feet. Years later, when I was a doctor in San Francisco, I had other patients with that exact diagnosis: big cold feet and bronchial asthma. It was written up in the AMA Journal and I cured them with Ecotrin and bed rest.
“In that case, Victoria, I will withdraw my offer of marriage,” Pa quickly said. He slapped his hand on his boot and added “Touch black, no backs!”
“Besides,” the widow said showing her vast knowledge of animal husbandry, “why buy the cow if you can have the milk for free?” I figured the lady owned some dairy cattle and must have come visiting the Ponderosa to check out our bull, Ferdinand.
“Indeed!” grinned Pa, kissing her on the cheek as he helped her into her rig with a lingering hand on her bottom. “Being a man of few words…GOODBYE!”
I stood in the shadows as Pa’s lady visitor rode off in her surrey with the fringe on top and Pa did a little happy tap dance up the porch steps and went into the house with a smile of relief on his face. I raced around the back of the house and just missed beating Pa to the first bath with the pristine bar of Ivory Soap.
So the next morning, there we Cartwrights were at church, early on a spring Sunday. Pa told me to keep track of my brothers while he spoke to someone about the stage schedule. There are easier things in life than keeping track of my brothers — things like nailing Jell-o to the trunk of a pine tree. But before I could refuse Pa or worm out of it or say “Hey Pa! Am I my brothers’ keeper now that I am back from Back East U?” Pa smoothed his lapels, checked the shine on his black boots and quickly strolled to the other side of the church yard. I saw him talking to a familiar tall blonde widow woman who was visiting Virginia City.
“Is Pa going to the dance with that there widow lady from Stockton who was visiting here in Virginia City? They sure seem to be seeing a lot of each other,” my brother Hoss asked.
I didn’t mention that she had a dairy herd that gave milk for free and was checking out the Ponderosa bull just a few days earlier.
“Look! Pa is over there talking to her! Look! Look! LOoOOOOk!” Joe screamed, tugging at my sleeve and pointing across the church yard. “Think Pa is gonna marry her, Adam?”
”Mind your manners, boy. Lower your voice and don’t go pointing your finger at people,” I cautioned, hoping not to humiliate neither Pa nor myself.
Little Joe hitched up his trousers, then hesitated for a second, and started removing his boot, then his sock and started lifting his bare left foot. Joe was a lefty.
“What are you doing?” Hoss quickly asked Little Joe.
“Adam said I shouldn’t point my finger…” the boy started to explain.
Relieved that Little Joe had pulled off his boot rather than dropping his pants, I quickly said, “Don’t you ever go pointing any part of your body at anyone, Joe! Especially a lady. Not your finger, not your toe, not your….”
Hoss then turned as red as his red flannel underwear after it was dyed in borsht. Hoss’ mind followed just where mine was going and where Joe’s little brain might have been traveling if we didn’t rein him in. We Cartwright brothers often thought alike, but I was just quicker to put words to my thoughts than Hoss. “Not your nothin’, Joseph! No pointin’ nothin’!” Hoss declared and swatted the boy.
“I doubt Pa is going to marry her,” I said emphatically.
I sure wasn’t going to admit that I had been eavesdropping on our father when he explained to the widow that their romance was over and they should be “just friends”. I would let my brothers just assume I was brilliant and insightful rather than a Peeping Tom or an Eavesdropping Ed.
(By the way, speaking of Peeping Toms, years later, Hoss got accused of being a peeping Tom by Calamity Jane when she was taking a bath on the Ponderosa and using the Ivory soap before all the float was gone but that is another story.)
“Think Pa and that Widow Lady are gonna get married?” Hoss asked nervously repeating Little Joe’s question as if it was his originally.
“To each other?” Joe added as if I didn’t get the drift.
“Cartwright romances are fugacious,” I said, dismissing my two brothers with a brief comment using a word I had learned from Professor Gwynne at Back East U. Gwynne had a vast, enormous and huge vocabulary and was one of my favorite teachers. The last I heard, Gwynne had retired to Hawaii to invent pineapple upside down cake and surf boards and zippy alcoholic drinks served in coconut shells and garnished with teeny, weeny little fuchsia pink paper parasols and spends time writing swell stories about folks like us.
“Pa’s romance is fugacious? Hoo ha!” Joe winked and poked Hoss in the ribs with his pointy little elbow. “Hot diggety! Fugacious! Pa may be old but he is still able to fugacious some swell looking female….”
”Adam! If’n Pa hears talkin’ about him and a lady like that!” Hoss sputtered. Hoss turned bright red, again as red as red flannel long johns. He swallowed hard as if he was choking down a sack of greasy, stale not-yet-invented Krispie Cremes in one gulp. Then Hoss grabbed our little brother and clamped his big, beefy hand over the kid’s mouth, almost smothering Joe in the process. He added, “And Adam, you shouldn’t be usin’ such language in front of Little Joe! Pa’s going to want to wash your mouth out with soap as big as you are! The both of you boys!”
“Hoss! Fugacious isn’t a foul word,” I pointed out as Little Joe kicked at Hoss in the shins trying to extricate himself from Hoss’ grasp.
”It ain’t? It sure sounds like it,” Hoss said, still valiantly attempting to keep his hand clamped over Joe’s mouth despite the fact the kid was gnawing at the hand like a rabid cougar. Roy Coffee was chatting with Doc Martin #1 and Doc Martin # 2 and Doc Martin #3 and their brother Dean. All five of them glanced our way curious as to what was going on.
”Is there some sort of problem boys?” Roy inquired.
Hoss just turned purple instead of scarlet and said “Ummmm…..ummm….”
Finally Little Joe bit Hoss, almost severing his pinky and broke free. The half suffocated boy flopped, limply on the ground at the Reverend’s feet, gasping for air like a trout that had been tossed on the creek bank while Hoss hopped around on one leg and tried to wrap my clean handkerchief around his Joe-bitten hand.
”Your brother looks a touch peaked, Adam,” Doc Martin #1 said.
“Which brother?” I asked glancing at Joe lying on the ground and Hoss wrapping up his bloody hand.
“Little Joe. Has he fainted?” Doc Martin #2 asked, cautiously poking at my limp kid brother with the toe of his shoe.
“Does he have bronchial asthma brought on by a case of cold feet?” questioned Doc Martin # 3. “That is sometimes a hereditary disorder.”
“Like hemophilia?” Hoss griped as I helped him bind up his bloody hand.
“Yo Doc, can you write me another gym note?” Little Joe asked pitifully from where he was flopped on the ground. “Miss Jones won’t let me ditch gym without a note. And we are doing square dancing this week. Phooey!”
“Indeed!” the other two concurred. I sure hoped they weren’t going to send Pa a bill for the diagnosis and the note writing.
“Well, that little boy sure hasn’t been drinking!” declared their brother Dean, eyeing Little Joe “You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.”
I smiled, trying to appear nonchalant since Pa was approaching us. Pa had a wide grin on his face, having escaped a walk down the aisle with the widow Barkley, who went back to Stockton on the very next stage. It sure was a mighty good thing Pa had revised that stage schedule!
A few months latter, when I casually asked my father about the widow, Pa mentioned that they had agreed to exchange Christmas cards on alternate decades and that she had decided go home as soon as possible to avoid any awkwardness, or potential for scandal or premature death on her part.
I always said my Pa is a wise man who taught us boys how to act by being a good example.
AUTHOR’S NOTES: Thanks to Gwynne for the inspiration! Fugacious means ephemeral, evanescent, fleet, fleeting,fugitive, momentary, passing, short-lived, temporal, temporary, transient….much like Cartwright romances.
Dean Martin really did say: “You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.”
And there is absolutely no scientific correlation between sizes of feet, noses or anything else with anyone’s favorite manly parts.