Summary: A REALLY Lost Episode
Word count: 1900
Adam’s Memoirs: Chapter 27
How I Got A Lifelong Reputation for Being a Hard Worker or How Little Joe Learned to Iron Sheets
Years ago, when Little Joe was still a kid in school and my brother Hoss and I were working with our father on the Ponderosa, Pa came up with a way to organize the work efficiently. Each week after church and Sunday dinner, Pa had each of us sit down at the table. He gave us each a sheet of paper and had us write a list of tasks each of us planned to complete in the coming week. Being older, Hoss and I just wrote our lists without much discussion or having Pa review what we wrote. Then we folded the papers and put our list in our pockets.
Little Joe, on the other hand, was another story.
Pa insisted on examining Joe’s page and checking what the kid scrawled. No matter what Little Joe put on his sloppy, misspelled wordy list, Pa crossed most of it off and wrote “Go to school. Do homework. Wash my ears and neck and fetch the fire wood” in place of “breaking broncos”, “move herd to north pasture”, “ sample beer at the Bloody Bucket”, and most of the things the boy had written. Then Pa took some not-yet- invented refrigerator magnets and posted Joe’s list on the not-yet-invented refrigerator for all of us to see for the entire week.
Saturday was pay day and Pa would review the lists from the previous week and comment accordingly.
Hoss’ list was never completely crossed off, but mine always was.
Pa would look at Hoss’ list and nod and say something like “Good work, son. Put those jobs you didn’t finish on the top of the list for next week.”
Like I said, my list had everything crossed off.
Totally crossed off.
Every chore on the list had a perfectly straight line neatly drawn through it.
Most weeks, Pa smiled at me and said something about his being proud of me for being such a hard worker and how he appreciated my being his right hand man and ordered me to take the afternoon and evening off for a bit of relaxation in Virginia City (wink wink).
“And, don’t forget son,” Pa would say in a low voice, indicating that this discussion was just between us, not for my two brothers’ four ears. “No glove, no love”.
I would nod and give him one of my best dimple smiles and Pa would nod sort of content and proud.
Then he would tell my brother Hoss to add the unfinished chores to the next week’s list and that he had to work until supper and then could have the evening off.
Puzzled, Little Joe followed me into the barn one Saturday afternoon. I had already taken a bath, shaved and put on a fresh shirt, spritzed myself with Hai Karate and checked that I had a new “glove” or five in my wallet. I was going into town to spend the afternoon with a lady friend and then take her to the dance that night and have a bit of wink wink relaxation in Virginia City.
”Adam, can I ask you a question?” Little Joe asked.
I took in a breath. “Um… sure, Kid,” I said. I silently prayed that the question had nothing to do about the specifics of my plans for my day off and wouldn’t take too long as I was looking forward to being with my lady friend before the shine wore off my boots or my Hai Karate got too faded.
Then Little Joe asked me how I managed to get every single chore crossed off my list and get Saturday afternoon and evening off. “You do it every week, Adam. Pa is mighty pleased with you, Adam. How do you get everything done and make Pa so proud of all the work you do? Tell me your secret. I want Pa to be proud of me too!”
“Its just hard work, Little Joe,” I said, trying to quickly satisfy him. That Hai Karate was only potent for so long after it got exposed to the air and the clock was ticking.
“Hard work? Hoss works mighty hard and he never gets the full list done,” Little Joe pointed out. “Even Pa says Hoss is a hard worker.”
I hesitated. Joe was right. No one worked harder than our brother Hoss and, before I could answer my baby brother, Little Joe said “If you tell me how to do it, I’ll tend to your horse all week, Adam.”
”All week?” I hesitated a bit more hoping the kid would raise the ante.
“…and even polish your boots. For two weeks?”
“Three weeks. And?” I said, raising one eyebrow quizzically. We Cartwrights had agile eyebrows, all except Hoss’ left one which got singed and permanently damaged in that fireworks barrage from the Yippee Trading Company. A stray rocket snagged him when Hoss didn’t duck fast enough behind the porch chair. He lost his eye lashes too but they grew back pretty fast. All of us inherited our agile eyebrows from Pa’s father, Joseph Cartwright, who competed in the international eyebrow gymnastics in the 1808 Olympics. He won a bronze medal….anyway.
”Ok, Ok! I’ll tend to your horse, polish your boots and take your turn putting on Pa’s bursitis ointment!”
“Hot diggity!” I said. I couldn’t help it.
Pa had bad bursitis in his left shoulder. He told folks that it was from tossing a harpoon at Moby Dick when he was a sailor but I knew it was from bowling with Roy Coffee in the playoffs of Cattleman’s bowling league.
Doc Martin # 2, the one who was lanky and tall, had concocted some salve that smelled like a dead raccoon with bad kidneys that Pa needed rubbed into his shoulder where he couldn’t reach. That salve was wondrous. It also removed the soot from the chimney and bloodstains from the rug, which was quite fortunate considering all the time we had shoot-outs in the dining room, and was swell for greasing the wheels on a Conestoga wagon. Hoss claimed it wasn’t too bad as a substitute for mayo on a BLT and didn’t go bad on hot days but I sure wasn’t about to experiment with it. No sir.
Pa and Doc Martin #3, the white-haired gent, both were on the bowling team with Pa and Roy. They almost made it to the finals against a team from Placerville but Roy’s hemorrhoids flared up, and even though the Virginia City Cattlemen were a competitive foursome, no one was willing to put salve on the sheriff’s butt. Not even Clem, who was pretty loyal to Roy, would take on that task.
Anyhow… Each of us boys took a turn helping Pa out by rubbing on the salve and it was a good thing we loved our Pa so so so so so so soooooooooooo much or we would have refused. As long as you held your breath while you slathered on that stinky goop, it wasn’t too bad. Pa certainly would have done the same for us. No one was more devoted to their sons than our Pa but that salve was mighty nasty stuff. No matter how hard you scrubbed your hands after, you could never quite get the stink of that strong stuff off your hands. Once, Hoss stuck his hands in the fire place to singe off the stink but even that didn’t much help.
“So, Adam, will you tell me?” the kid pleaded. Joe looked desperate. The boy was like putty in my hands.
“ Do Pa’s salve. And iron my, sheets and pillow case each night?” I added. I love nice, smooth bedding after all the years of sleeping on the lumpy ground or on itchy Indian blankets. And I sure won’t tell you about all the nasty jail cots, nasty beds in flea bag hotels in small one-horse towns and nasty beds of nasty women in border towns when me and Ross Marquette and my frat brothers went on road trips. When Pa briefly dated Martha Stewart, I even learned about the delights of 400 thread Egyptian cotton sheets and fluffy duvets. There was no going back.
“And iron my, sheets and pillow case each night?” I repeated. Little Joe nodded in agreement. He counted off his promises on his fingers, “Tend the horse, polish the boots, Pa’s salve and iron your bed linens?”
”Every night! And be extra special careful with my dimple button on my pillow case when you iron, kid,” I added. I had sewn a collar button on my pillow slip when I was about nine and had realized women went wild over men with dimples. I slept on that button for years to get and maintain my dimples. I always slept with a dimple dent button on my pillow case to make sure my cheek dimple didn’t cave. Women loved when I flashed my dimples… but that is a whole other story.
“Absolutely Adam!” Joe promised. He and I spat on the ground in a manly exhibition of expectoration and vigorously shook hands on the deal.
“Now, Adam,” Little Joe begged, “tell me how you manage to work so hard and do all the chores on your list “
“Simple,” I answered with a satisfied grin. I flashed my left dimple for good measure. “I do the chore first, and then I put it on the list and cross it off!”
And that is how Little Joe learned to iron sheets.
By the way…. Did you know that if you wrap a cheese sandwich in not-yet-invented aluminum foil and then iron it, you can make a grilled cheese sandwich without a stove? I learned that at Back East U …but that is another story for another day.