Summary: Hoss is the best one to understand when Joe feels put out about his size.
Word Count: 1,875
“What does it feel like to be so big Hoss?” Joe asked in all seriousness.
Hoss looked over the checker board at his youngest brother with a puzzled expression on his face. “What sort of question is that Little Joe?” he asked.
Joe frowned and leaned back in his chair. The pounding he had taken earlier in the day was beginning to show on his face and he flinched slightly as he ran his hand down his bruised cheek.
“I just wondered what it felt like, that’s all,” Joe sighed. “To be able to walk in a room and have everyone afraid of you.”
Hoss shook his head, uncomfortable with Joe’s observation. “People ain’t afraid of me, Joe; at least, I hope they ain’t.”
Joe laughed mockingly. “They’re not likely to push you around, though, are they?”
“No, I guess not,” Hoss answered slowly. “But I don’t go looking for trouble.”
“Oh, and I suppose I do,” Joe snapped back at him.
“That’s not what I said,” Hoss replied quietly. Joe had been in a funny mood all evening and Hoss could tell that the least little thing was likely to set him off again.
“You have no idea what it’s like,” Joe went on angrily. “Always to be the little one…at school…at home. To be ‘Little’ Joe all your life. No one ever takes you seriously.”
“Being big ain’t always easy,” Hoss reminded him.
But Joe snorted derisively. “When was the last time someone slugged you in the face for no reason?” he questioned.
Hoss looked at him for several minutes before replying. “So I guess what you’re telling me is that you were set upon today for no reason whatsoever.”
Joe squirmed in his chair but did not answer.
“And as for the last time someone slugged me for no reason, I believe it was you, Joe.”
Joe had the good grace to look embarrassed. Hoss was right, of course; he had punched him for no reason. Joe had been breaking a particularly ornery horse the week before and it had thrown him hard on his butt when he lost concentration. Joe’s pride was hurt and several of the men, including Hoss, had laughed teasingly at his dilemma. But instead of taking it like the man he professed to be, Joe had climbed out of the corral and, in a fit of temper, punched his middle brother hard on the chin before stomping off to the barn.
The punch hadn’t hurt Hoss in a physical sense but Joe had hurt him nevertheless. Hoss didn’t retaliate and he didn’t sulk the way Joe would have done; he was the bigger man in every sense of the word.
“What’s eating you Joe?”
Joe frowned and looked down at his hands. How could he ever explain? What did Hoss know about being small? “Guess I’m just tired of being the youngest and the smallest,” he finally replied. “Just for once, it would be nice for people to see me as an equal and not as the ‘baby’.”
Just round the corner, Adam and Ben couldn’t help overhearing the conversation as they sat at Ben’s desk going over papers. Adam made to rise — he would certainly give his youngest brother some home truths — but Ben placed a restraining hand on his arm and shook his head. Hoss would deal with this better than anyone; after all, he had faced the same dilemma many years earlier — granted from a different perspective, but the principles were the same.
“Pretty big baby if you ask me,” Hoss chuckled.
This brought a half-hearted smile from Joe and his body finally began to visibly relax a little.
“It’s okay for you,” Joe then complained again. “All your life you’ve been the biggest; you never have to fight to make people take you seriously.”
“So you think fighting is the way to be taken seriously?” Hoss asked with incredulity. “Fighting should be your last resort, not your first one.”
Joe didn’t seem convinced and Hoss knew he was still smarting from the hiding he had taken at the hands of Jim McCabe earlier that day. Jim was a big loud-mouthed man who couldn’t hold his drink, and when Joe had arrived in town that afternoon to pick up supplies, he made the mistake of going into the Bucket of Blood for a quick beer before returning home.
As Joe ordered his beer, Jim McCabe sauntered over and started to needle him about his family. Joe really had tried to ignore him, but what Hoss didn’t know was that it was only when McCabe had inferred that Joe’s middle brother was rather dumb that the red mist had come down and Joe had let fly with his fists. Even though he was only eighteen years old, Joe was a competent fighter, but Jim McCabe’s bar room brawls were notorious and even in his inebriated state, he was still able to give Joe quite a beating.
“But that’s it, Hoss! I don’t want to fight, and no matter what you think, I don’t go looking for it.”
Hoss raised an eyebrow.
“Well, not always,” Joe conceded. “But if I have a difference of opinion with someone, they don’t take me seriously…..I-It’s as if I don’t even count. Whereas if it was you, or Adam, or Pa, people would listen to what you said, they wouldn’t…..”
“Now hold on, Little Joe,” Hoss interrupted. “Surely you can’t think that people listen to us because of our size.”
“No, not exactly.”
“Well, what are you saying Joe?”
Joe fell silent. How could Hoss ever understand what it was like? The way people’s eyes would focus on you for a few seconds and then dismiss you out of turn.
“Listen, Joe,” Hoss began. “You have such a chip on your shoulder about being the smallest of us, but do you really think it was any easier for me being the biggest?”
Joe looked at his brother with skepticism. Who was Hoss trying to kid?
“You always complain that everyone treats you like a baby, but try seeing it from the other side. I was never ever little, or cute, for that matter. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to put up with people calling me names and inferring I was dumb. By the time I was eight years old, I thought ‘fatty’ was my middle name.”
Joe flinched at the reminder. “You were never fat,” he stated unnecessarily.
“That’s not the point, Joe, and you know it. By the time I was ten years old, I was the biggest kid in school and all the bullies wanted to have a pop at me.”
“But I bet you beat them,” Joe said with misplaced pride.
“Yeah, I beat them,” Hoss agreed. “But that just meant another one would come forward and have a go. Do you really think I liked fighting, Joe? All I really wanted was to have friends.”
Joe was only a small child at the time Hoss was referring to, but he remembered Hoss fighting each day at school and then having to face his Pa when he returned home; it wasn’t a happy time.
“You may have been small, Joe, but you always had lots of friends at school. And then there were girls. Oh, you were always a popular one with the girls, weren’t you, Joe. Ask me how many girlfriends I had at school, Joe, go on ask me?”
Joe knew the answer he didn’t need to ask.
“Not one, Joe, not one. My size didn’t give me confidence; it made me shy and awkward. And it certainly didn’t get any better when I left school. I was fifteen years old and bigger than most men working on the ranch. Do you think they cut me any slack? No. They expected me to work as hard as them from the beginning, they made no allowances.”
Joe shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The men had been great when he started working full time on the ranch at the age of sixteen. They helped him with his chores and generally looked out for him, which made the transition from school to work a smooth one.
“Every time I walked into a saloon, I worried who the next idiot was going to be to try and prove he could beat me,” Hoss continued.
“So what changed?” Joe finally asked.
“Me, Joe, I changed,” Hoss confessed. “Pa made me see that I couldn’t control how the people around me acted, but I could control how I behaved.”
“But how can that work?” Joe asked perplexed.
“Easy,” Hoss responded. “Just accept yourself for who you are, Joe, not what people expect you to be. Just because I’m big doesn’t mean I have to prove how tough I am. I know I’m strong, but I don’t have to prove it to anyone. By the same token, just because you may not be as big as the rest of us doesn’t mean to say you have to act like a kid. If you act like a grown up, you’ll get treated like one, Joe. What I’m trying to say is, it’s in your hands, and believe me, it has nothing to do with size.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Joe agreed, thinking hard about what Hoss had said.
“I know I’m right, Joe,” Hoss continued, but could see his brother was not totally convinced. “Tell me, Joe. Mr. Bates, the Judge. Do you think he’s a powerful man?”
“Sure,” Joe replied. “He must be one of the most respected men in the territory.”
“Yet he ain’t as tall as you, Joe, not by a long way. But I’ll tell you this, when Mr. Bates talks to you, you listen, no matter what size you are.”
Joe started to laugh. “You got that right,” he replied, remembering the time he had faced the judge when he was sixteen years old.
Joe and a couple of other boys had played a prank on the townsfolk with some fire crackers and somehow things had got out of hand. A horse was spooked and a passerby had been knocked to the ground, breaking his ankle. The hiding he got from his Pa was nothing compared to the dressing down he had taken from the judge after a night in jail.
Judge Bates may have been diminutive in stature, but when it came to standing by his principles, he wouldn’t be swayed, even when his own personal safety was at stake. He wouldn’t be bullied, not by anyone.
“Just one more thing Joe.”
“What’s that?” Joe asked, beginning to tire a little of the lecture.
“Acting grown up is all well and good, but just remember you’re only eighteen years old. Maybe a lot of your problems have nothing whatsoever to do with size, but more about maturity.”
A sulky expression appeared on Joe’s face. “So how do I get round that one Hoss?”
Hoss laughed out loud. “Just be patient, Joe. Time has a way of curing that problem all on its own.”